EXCLUSIVE: Fresh from an earnings report that saw it add 10 million subscribers during the pandemic, Netflix has just set its most financially ambitious feature film so far. Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans are set to star in The Gray Man, with AGBO’s Joe & Anthony Russo directing their first blockbuster since setting the all-time global box office record with Avengers: Endgame two years ago. The intention here is to create a new franchise with a James Bond level of scale and a budget upward of $200 million.
The Russos’ AGBO is producing, and the script was written by Joe Russo, with a polish by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who scripted the Russo-directed Captain America and Avengers films and who are Co-Presidents of Story at AGBO. It is based on the 2009 Mark Greaney novel that introduced the Gray Man, a freelance assassin and former CIA operative named Court Gentry.
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The film will be produced by AGBO’s Russo Brothers and Mike Larocca, along with Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum for Roth Kirschenbaum. They are eyeing a January start date in Los Angeles with international locations being finalized.
The action thriller is a deadly duel between killers as Gentry (Gosling) is hunted across the globe by Lloyd Hansen (Evans), a former cohort of Gentry’s at the CIA. The Gray Man turned into a bestselling book series, and the expectation is that Gosling will continue in multiple installments. The project was developed years back at New Regency as a Brad Pitt/James Gray vehicle, but it stalled. The Russos quietly have been developing it for years.
“The movie is a real mano a mano between those two great actors who represent two different versions of the CIA, in what it can be, and what it can do,” Anthony Russo told Deadline. “For those who were fans of Captain America: Winter Soldier, this is us moving into that territory in more of a real-world setting. That’s what this movie really means for us.”
Said Joe Russo on the film’s scale: “The intention is for it to be competitive with any theatrical, and the ability to do with with Gosling and Evans is a dream for us. The idea is to create a franchise and build out a whole universe, with Ryan at the center of it. We have all committed to the first movie, and that’s got to be great to get us to the second movie. These are master assassins, and Gosling’s characters gets burned by the CIA and Evans’ character has to hunt him down. We have a great working relationship with Netflix, and we go back almost 20 years with Scott Stuber. We formed AGBO to be an agnostic storytelling company, where we figure out the best platform. We think Netflix is the perfect place for this film.”
This is a lot of faith Netflix is placing on the Russo Brothers, but aside from the Avengers box office record, the AGBO-produced action film Extraction with Chris Hemsworth, Golshifteh Farahani and Randeep Hooda became the most watched Netflix original movie of all time. A sequel is in the works with Sam Hargrave returning as director and Joe Russo writing the script.
The Russo Brothers formed AGBO to be a platform-agnostic storytelling production venture, but if The Gray Man works, this will give them two franchises at Netflix, each based on original IP. They are back in business with Evans, who like Hemsworth graced the four Marvel movies, and they are working with Gosling for the first time. They most recently completed directing Cherry, an indie drama based on the true story of a PTSD-suffering man (played by Tom Holland) who self-medicates and robs banks in Cleveland, which is being shopped for distribution. Script is by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg. AGBO just oversaw the IFC Midnight release of the Natalie Erika-directed Relic, the genre film that made its debut at Sundance. They also have with 101 Studios City of A Million Soldiers, written and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, which premiered at Venice and Toronto last fall. The drama is about a group of men who battle ISIS.
AGBO separately made a deal at Amazon Studios for Citadel, a global thriller series that will star Richard Madden and Priyanka Chopra. Amazon has said a local-language production of the franchise will originate from Mexico, in addition to versions in Italy and India. Madden and Chopra, who both have global profiles, will star in the U.S. “mothership” edition of the series.
The Russo Brothers also are creating a live-action version of Hercules at Disney, and they are adapting the novel Exit West with Netflix and Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.
“We hope to get that into production by late fall or early spring, COVID dependent,” Joe Russo said. “It’s based on a tremendous book, a modern day fable that deals with magical realism and telling the quintessential Middle Eastern refugee story.” Added Anthony Russo: “There is this element of magical realism to how the experience of being a refugee ends up playing out.”
CAA reps the Russo Brothers, Gosling and Evans, and the latter is managed by 3 Arts.
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