Universal-Hasbro deal fizzles with departure of 'Stretch Armstrong'
This post has been corrected. See note below for details.
With the departure of "Stretch Armstrong," Universal Pictures has no plans for any more movies based on Hasbro toys beyond this summer's release of "Battleship"--marking an inauspicious end to a much-hyped deal signed four years ago.
In February 2008, Universal struck an agreement with Hasbro to produce at least four films derived from seven games and toys: "Battleship," "Candy Land," "Clue," "Magic: The Gathering," "Monopoly" "Ouija," and "Stretch Armstrong." The arrangement was touted as a significant one for Universal, which had fewer well-known franchises than rival studios.
At the time, the deal was widely mocked by some in the entertainment press as a sign of Hollywood's desperation to make movies based on games and toys with no story rather than betting on original ideas.
"Hasbro's portfolio of products...offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness," Universal then-Chairman Marc Shmuger said at the time.
Many of Universal's planned but since scrapped movie projects looked to be high-profile at the time. Ridley Scott was attached to direct "Monopoly," while McG was to helm "Ouija" and "Twilight" star Taylor Lautner was to play the title role in "Stretch Armstrong," with Brian Grazer producing.
But since former marketing and production presidents Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley were named chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the studio in late 2009 (replacing Shmuger and partner David Linde), the Hasbro projects have slowly fallen by the wayside.
"Battleship" was the notable exception. The approximately $200-million production, which mixes naval warfare with an alien invasion, was directed by Pete Berg ("Hancock" and "Friday Night Lights") and opens in May.
Under the agreement, Hasbro paid all costs to develop the projects. But Universal had to pay the toy company a penalty of $5 million for the properties it did not turn into movies.
All of the remaining six projects are now being developed by Hasbro, which maintains an office on the Universal lot but essentially acts as an independent producer with the ability to set up movies at any studio.
"Our deal with Universal has evolved over time, but there's still a lot of interest in our projects out there," said Wayne Charness, senior vice president of corporate communications for Hasbro.
The toy company announced Monday that it has set up "Stretch Armstrong" with independent studio Relativity Media, which intends to release the movie in April of 2014. Lautner is no longer attached to star.
Hasbro already has two properties at Paramount Pictures that were set up before the Universal pact: "Transformers," which has become one of Hollywood's biggest movie franchises, and "G.I. Joe," for which a sequel will be released this June after the original did decent business in 2009.
[For the Record, 6:40 p.m, Jan. 30: An earlier version of this post incorectly said Universal paid Hasbro a separate penalty for each movie it did not make, including $5 million for "Ouija."]
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: A scene from "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures