Dante’s Inferno famously included nine levels of Hell, and while it’s arguable that a Hollywood executive would fit nicely into any of them (Treachery, Wrath and Greed come to mind), the great Florentine never actually decided where to put unproduced movies.
Yet Development Hell is where many scripts linger for years, even decades, before going into production – if at all.
That’s precisely where Passengers has been for years. Written by John Spaihts, Passengers is a high-concept science-fiction romance set aboard a spacecraft transporting thousands of cryogenically frozen colonists to a distant planet. Because of a malfunction, one of the colonists wakes up early, and rather than spend the rest of his life alone, he decides to wake up another passenger.
The screenplay has been circulating in Hollywood for so long, I’m surprised the pages aren’t falling out of it. It’s one of those projects that kept on getting close to being made only to fall apart. Originally, it was to be a Universal Studios production. The Weinsteins were in charge of it for a time. Keanu Reeves and Rachel McAdams were set to star at one point. Emily Blunt’s name was mentioned, as was Reese Witherspoon’s.
Today, however, the film has been officially greenlit by Sony and will star arguably the two biggest movie stars currently working: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and Morten Tyldum will direct. Why is it finally going into production now? Because … money (I did say this was a story about Hollywood.)
The movie’s budget isan astonishing $150 million, a huge amount for a film which is essentially a two-hander and which will probably have as much emphasis on the lovey-dovey romantic stuff as it will on robots and rockets and assorted technological whirligigs. It’s already been talked about as “Gravity – with a love story.” When it was going to star Reeves and McAdams it would have only cost $35 million. Why the ballooning budget? Well, salaries play a big part.
Sony’s Tom Rothman pushed for the budget to be reduced to under $100 million, and for a while it looked as if Passengers would once again return to Development Hell, but Rothman didn’t want to risk losing Lawrence and Pratt. “While the cost-efficient Tom Rothman didn’t want to set a big-budget precedent with the project, he also didn’t want to turn down a project with two of Hollywood’s biggest bankable stars,” reports Movieweb. “Sources claim that the studio head secured financing with partners Village Roadshow and LStar to cover as much as 75% of the production budget.”
The film will start production in July. Hollywood loves a good moral (stop laughing), and the moral from all of this, I suppose, is if you want to get your film out of Development Hell, hire stars who will guarantee you massive profits.