EXCLUSIVE: Steven Spielberg/DreamWorks SKG have begun negotiations with NBCUniversal and they are both trying to make things work to bring the filmmaker back to Universal for a marketing and distribution deal. There is no agreement yet, but it has moved a step closer as specific deal points are being negotiated back and forth. Also, both sides seem to want it to happen and executives at the studio are letting it be known that they would welcome him back with open arms. Neither Universal nor DreamWorks would comment.
That means Spielberg could be “back” at the studio where he started some 45 years ago before the sequel of Jurassic World which is planned for 2018. JW, released in June, has through today grossed a worldwide cume of $1.664 billion.
There are points yet to be ironed out, but this deal would mark the third studio for DreamWorks SKG since its inception; it was recently at Disney and before that at Paramount. The deal at Disney expires in August 2016; The BFG is his last film through that studio.
If NBCUniversal seals a deal to market and release films produced by DreamWorks SKG (which now seems likely), the studio could be in the position of making two payments: one to Disney for accelerating the exit from the deal (if he goes early), and the other as what is being termed as “a meaningful investment” in his company down the line. And, of course, Spielberg would get — as always — his lucrative first first-dollar gross deal.
His next film is Bridge Of Spies which stars Tom Hanks and is getting some Oscar buzz. It is being released October 16 through Disney. DreamWorks’ other films — Lasse Hallstrom’s A Dog’s Purpose, Tate Taylor’s The Girl On The Train and the Scarlett Johansson live-action manga title Ghost In The Shell — would then be marketed and distributed by Universal. The Girl On The Train is scheduled as a 2016 title, while they are looking at Ghost in the Shell as a first-quarter 2017 release but that could change.
Spielberg is also directing the sci-fi film Ready Player One but that is for Warner Bros., which the Burbank-based studio already pegged for a December 2017 spot on the release schedule.
The filmmaker still maintains an office over at Universal so the transition would be seamless. And, he controls all the Amblin titles which seem ripe for remakes as well, especially in light of the mega-success of Jurassic World — it became the fastest film ever to cross the $1B mark (did so in less than two weeks).
The DreamWorks deal at Disney was sealed initially in 2009 with then-studio chairman Dick Cook. It was also done prior to the acquisition of both Marvel and Lucasfilm. The strategy at Disney was initially implemented to bolster the live-action side of things, but now with Marvel, Lucasfilm and even Pixar titles, the studio is well-heeled in that regard. DreamWorks titles have also been kind of a mixed bag.
A few weeks back, Deadline’s Anthony Dalessandro assembled a list of their box office track record. Here it is:
Under Disney (over the 11-year contract), DreamWorks SKG films have taken in $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office. The bulk of them had financial participation by India’s Reliance Entertainment. That amount is far cry from the $4.5B DreamWorks minted at Paramount across 29 titles released between 2005 and 2010, the biggest of which were Transformers: The Revenge Of The Fallen ($836.3M worldwide B.O.) and Transformers ($709.7M).
The highest-grossing DreamWorks titles at Disney include Real Steel which made $299.3M worldwide, followed by Lincoln ($275.3M) and The Help ($216.6M). There were some clunkers too including the 1980s horror reboot Fright Night ($41M global B.O.) and dramas People Like Us ($12.4M) and The Fifth Estate ($8.6M).
No matter, the return of Spielberg to Universal where he cut his teeth under the tutelage of Sid Sheinberg would be fitting for the filmmaker who is now 68. In fact, it was Sheinberg who signed the young director to his deal back then. It would be a grand homecoming as Spielberg spent most of his years there. He is one of the few filmmakers alive today who is a world-renowned brand name. Stay tuned.