TRUE GRIT’s Hailee Steinfeld tapped for lead in TRANSFORMERS spinoff BUMBLEBEE

Ahead of TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT‘s theatrical debut, Paramount is already gearing up for the first spinoff from their $3 billion-plus franchise, BUMBLEBEE. In the first piece of casting news, TRUE GRIT and PITCH PERFECT 2 star Hailee Steinfeld is eyeing the “Transformers Universe” film, which recently recruited KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS helmer and LAIKA president/CEO Travis Knight to direct. Per Variety, Steinfeld is in talks to star in the film, plot details are still being kept under wraps but THR adds her character is “a tomboy who also holds a job as a mechanic after school.”

The mystery surrounding Steinfeld’s character is in keeping with the project secrecy so far. Not much is known about the film centered on the fan-favorite yellow and black Autobot except that it is intended to be a “lower cost” installment in the TRANSFORMERS franchise and apparently there was an R-rated “very Quentin” pitch on the table at some point. The current draft of the screenplay emerged from Paramount’s much-discussed TRANSFORMERS writers room, and was penned by Christina Hodson. The three-time Black List scribe was also recently tapped to write the screenplay for the Warner Bros./DC film, BIRDS OF PREY. Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Michael Bay, and Steven Spielberg are producing.

While Steinfeld’s already had a fabulously impressive career for someone her age, BUMBLEBEE would give the actress her first opportunity to lead an enormous franchise. Steinfeld has kept busy since making her Oscar-nominated film debut in 2010’s TRUE GRIT, including multiple studio leads and a career as a recording artist. Most recently, she joined the Barden Bellas in 2015’s PITCH PERFECT 2 and earned awards attention, including a Golden Globe nomination, for her performance in last year’s THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Next, she’ll be back among the pitches for the Christmas-themed PITCH PERFECT 3, which has wrapped filming.

They better get working quick if they intend to keep their prime summer 2018 release date, I would expect a release date shift arriving as soon as more details are settled. BUMBLEBEE is slated to open in theaters on June 8, 2018.

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Rumor: Dwayne Johnson being eyed for THE WOLFMAN in Universal’s Dark Universe!

As was made crystal clear last week, Universal Pictures is moving full-speed ahead on an interconnected monster movie franchise dubbed the “Dark Universe”. The first film in this plan is THE MUMMY, which hits theaters next month and is anchored by Tom Cruise, but over the past couple of years Universal has been securing talent to fill out the rest of its Dark Universe even as the films themselves don’t have directors. Johnny Depp has agreed to play the Invisible Man, Oscar-winner Javier Bardem is Frankenstein’s monster, and Russell Crowe appears in THE MUMMY as Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde. But now a new name has surfaced for another iconic Universal monster: Dwayne Johnson as the Wolfman.

Buried in a THR piece on Universal’s Dark Universe, the outlet notes “there are rumors” that The Rock himself could anchor a WOLFMAN reboot and fill that role in the Dark Universe. This wouldn’t be Johnson’s first time playing in the “Universal Monsters” sandbox as one of his first movie roles was as the Scorpion King in THE MUMMY RETURNS as well as the ill-conceived 2002 spinoff THE SCORPION KING.

It must be pointed out that THR clearly states this as rumor and is not reporting that Johnson is in any type of negotiations with Universal at the moment, but given that he’s one of the most bankable stars around it would make sense they’d want him to be a crucial part of the growing Dark Universe. Moreover, Johnson and the studio have an established relationship on the FAST & FURIOUS movies, with talk that he and Jason Statham may even be getting their own spinoff. So basically, Johnson has certainly had an audience with the higher ups at Universal, and given that Dark Universe is one of their priorities there’s no way the monsterverse hasn’t come up. The question is how serious those conversations have been, and whether Johnson would want to add a WOLFMAN franchise plus the overall Dark Universe to his already bursting-at-the-seams slate—he’s already anchoring a JUMANJI reboot, a JUNGLE CRUISE movie, and an original actioner called SKYSCRAPER all within the next year.

As for whether Johnson is the right choice for WOLFMAN, it’s hard to say not knowing what Universal’s plans for the characters are, but personally speaking he wouldn’t be my first choice. The Wolfman is a tortured soul, a man at odds with himself, and while Johnson could certainly be physically imposing I’m not entirely sure his larger-than-life stature is a good fit for The Wolfman when he’s not transformed. But again, we have no idea what Universal has planned, so he could be the perfect fit for their specific take on WOLFMAN.

The next Dark Universe movie on the release calendar after THE MUMMY is BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which has BEAUTY AND THE BEAST helmer Bill Condon set to direct for a February 2019 release date. Universal is still pursuing Angelina Jolie to fill that title role, but negotiations have yet to take place. We also still don’t have directors for THE INVISIBLE MAN or FRANKENSTEIN, but it’s possible Bardem could first pop up in BRIDE.

We know Universal assembled a writers room to develop this Dark Universe, spearheaded by THE MUMMY director Alex Kurtzman and writer/producer Chris Morgan, but we don’t know who was put on WOLFMAN duty. It’ll be interesting to see if Johnson’s name sticks, or if this is merely a rumor that disappears as quickly as it surfaced. One thing’s for sure: Universal has put a lot of work into nabbing high-level talent for this Dark Universe, and there’s plenty of pressure on THE MUMMY to kick this thing off in a big way.

THE GUEST’s Adam Wingard to direct GODZILLA VS KONG, film due May 22, 2020!

From indie, low-budget horror films, to modestly budgeted, studio-backed horror remakes, director Adam Wingard has made a name for himself among the genre community over the last decade or so. The standout thriller YOU’RE NEXT put Wingard on people’s radar, as did his segments in the anthology horror films V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and THE ABC’S OF DEATH, the 2014 original thriller THE GUEST and the 2016 sequel of BLAIR WITCH. Now, Wingard has been tapped by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. to helm his biggest film to date: GODZILLA VS KONG.

THR reports that Wingard recently closed a deal for the film and will direct from a script written by a writers room headed by Terry Rossio. Rossio has roots in GODZILLA lore, having written the ill-fated 1998 adaptation; he’s also known for his work scripting the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise. GODZILLA VS KONG is currently set to bring the clash of cinema’s most famous mega-monsters to theaters on May 22, 2020.

In the meantime, Michael Dougherty–another writer/director well known for his horror work–will head up GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS, a follow-up to Gareth Edwards‘ 2014 reboot of GODZILLA. The new film, due out March 22, 2019, stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown and is now in production. Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ KONG: SKULL ISLAND recently brought King Kong back in a big way and helped to connect the MUTOs and the Monarch organization in the shared monstrous cinematic universe.

Wingard, a reputed creature-feature fan and lover of both the GODZILLA and KONG mythologies, has a tough task ahead of him in combining three movies’ worth of storytelling and world-building into a monster mash-up that will aim to satisfy fans of both franchises. His next biggest test will be Netflix’s DEATH NOTE, an adaptation of the popular manga by the same name that pits a detective against a supernaturally-assisted serial killer in a game of cat-and-mouse. That film drops August 25th and will be our best chance to see what Wingard will bring to the table once GODZILLA VS KONG gets going.

Box Office: PIRATES take command on lackluster Memorial Day Weekend!

The very fact that a fifth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN was made should tell you just how hard-up the studios are for good ideas for movies that are adapted from already existing movies, tv, books, or articles. It’s already clear that they have bare-minimum tolerance for original movies or movies that aren’t couched in the possibility for franchising down the line, so let’s take those out of this particular conversation.

From the looks of things, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES will rule this Memorial Day Weekend with an expected $62.2 million three-day haul at the domestic box office, a likely $77 million take for the four-day domestic total, and a possible $275 million weekend worldwide. No reasonable person would consider these numbers bad news. What’s interesting is the incremental decline in opening-weekend returns for these movies. If DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES does indeed end up close to $77 million, it would be the second smallest opening weekend in the franchise’s history after the first installment, THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL. As a rule of thumb, when a franchise’s opening-weekend returns are coming closer and closer to those of the original, which had zero name recognition outside of a Disney ride, it’s probably about time to wrap it up.

What saved the last PIRATES movie, ON STRANGER TIDES, was the international box office, which brought in over three times the amount that the domestic box office brought in. So, even in the movie business, globalization seems to be having its drawbacks stateside. That, sadly, is not the reason that Seth Gordon‘s flagrantly awful BAYWATCH is looking like it’s about to end up in the same bomb realm as KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD and GHOST IN THE SHELL. Right now, BAYWATCH is looking to end Memorial Day weekend with an estimated $21 million total for the four-day and $18.2 for the three-day, putting it below GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, which will bring in something like $24.2 million in the four-day metric and definitely benefitted from the foreign markets. This is less true of ALIEN: COVENANT and EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, which took fourth ($13.1 million) and fifth ($7.6 million) spot, but it remains an increasingly sizable truth that the foreign box office is as much, if not more important than the domestic to many of these companies.

Gina Prince-Bythewood to direct female-centric SPIDER-MAN spinoff SILVER AND BLACK!

Could we finally be reaching a turning point where female directors are getting the chance to helm superhero movies? The Patty Jenkins-helmed WONDER WOMAN arrives in theaters next week, Marvel Studios just tapped Anna Boden to co-direct CAPTAIN MARVEL, and now Sony Pictures has set a talented female filmmaker to helm one of its first SPIDER-MAN spinoff movies. Per Variety, BEYOND THE LIGHTS helmer Gina Prince-Bythewood has been set to direct SILVER AND BLACK, which could very well be the second Spideyverse film after VENOM.

The film will team up the titular Marvel Comics characters—Silver Sable is a mercenary who hunts war criminals, while Black Cat is a burglar also known as Felicia Hardy. Sony previously looked to set up Black Cat with Felicity Jones playing Hardy in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, but the franchise was subsequently rebooted with this summer’s SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, a co-production between Sony and Marvel Studios.

While the Sony/Marvel deal also includes a HOMECOMING sequel, Sony is also building out its own Marvel Universe that will exist separate from the Tom Holland-fronted SPIDER-MAN movies, but will utilize other characters from the Spider-Man comics since that’s the only major superhero property Sony owns outright. It was recently announced that Tom Hardy will be leading the long-developing VENOM movie with Ruben Fleischer (ZOMBIELAND) directing, and that film is due for release next year.

In addition to directing, Prince-Bythewood will also rewrite the script for SILVER AND BLACK, which was most recently penned by THOR: RAGNAROK scribe Chris Yost with a previous draft written by ‘Westworld’ co-creator Lisa Joy. Prince-Bythewood is a veteran of the industry having broken out with her first feature LOVE & BASKETBALL in 2000, and she also directed 2008’s THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. Recently she’s been working in television, spearheading the limited series SOTS FIRED, and she also has Marvel experience having recently helmed the pilot for the upcoming Freeform Marvel TV series ‘Cloak & Dagger’.

This is a major get for Prince-Bythewood and is a positive sign that studios are starting to hand the reigns to the most popular genre around to diverse voices. Ava DuVernay was famously courted for Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER before turning it down, but with Jenkins, Boden, and now Prince-Bythewood, we’re hopefully seeing a trend.

Josh Boone on NEW MUTANTS’ tone: “Full-fledged horror movie…in the X-MEN universe”!

After confirming that Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy would be joining Josh Boone‘s X-MEN universe spin-off NEW MUTANTS earlier this month, we’re starting to get an idea of just how this movie is going to shape up. Clearly, inspiration is drawn from Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod‘s early 80s creation about a team of young Marvel mutants, but new information gets a little more detailed than that.

EW has the inside track on Boone’s latest project, straight from the writer-director himself. Perhaps most interesting is the tone of this project, which is apparently shifting from its earlier iteration as a YA-styled film to more of a horror focus, just one that’s set in the X-MEN universe. Based on the current cast, they really could have gone either way with it: 20-year-old Williams will play Wolfsbane alongside 21-year-old Taylor-Joy as Magik. Henry Zaga (’13 Reasons Why’) is rumored for the role of Sunspot, with Rosario Dawson in negotiations to play Dr. Cecilia Reyes, “a medical doctor who has the ability to generate a protective bio-field around herself,” and will act as a mentor of sorts, as THR reports. It’s still unclear whether or not James McAvoy‘s Professor X or Alexandra Shipp‘s Storm will appear, as we’ve heard conflicting reports; stay tuned.

As for Boone’s plans for The New Mutants, he said:

We are making a full-fledged horror movie set within the X-Men universe. There are no costumes. There are no supervillains. We’re trying to do something very, very different.

Well that’d certainly be different, considering that Disney/Marvel, Sony/Marvel, 20th Century Fox/Marvel, and Warner Bros./DC have done pretty well with costumes and supervillains over the last 20 years or so.

The movie’s plot will reportedly take inspiration from artist Bill Sienkiewicz‘s 1984 run on the Marvel comic’s series, which Boone described as, “a darker and more surreal and impressionistic X-Men series than we’d ever seen before. It felt like Stephen King meets John Hughes.”

The story is expected to explore how mutants are at their most dangerous–to themselves and people around them–when their powers are new. EW’s source says this of the plot:

“Held in a secret facility against their will, five new mutants have to battle the dangers of their powers, as well as the sins of their past. They aren’t out to save the world — they’re just trying to save themselves.”

If this all sounds a little off to you, Boone wants to get one thing straight:

“You can’t have a bigger nerd or fan making this. It’s so important to me. I’m not the 12-year-old who decided to write Stephen King a letter and loved Marvel Comics anymore, but I try to hold myself accountable to that kid. Because that kid is what keeps me from becoming a Hollywood whore,” he says with a laugh. “I look back and think: Would he think this would be cool? Would he proud of me? Did I fulfill the dream we had when we were kids? So yeah, you can definitely say I’m excited.”

We’ll find out more once the film heads towards its planned July production start in advance of an April 13, 2018 release.

TOP GUN 2: Tom Cruise confirms film is happening, OBLIVION’s Joseph Kosinski may direct!

TOP GUN 2 has been in development for a very long time, but yesterday we got some real movement on it with Tom Cruise saying that the film is “definitely happening,” and he hopes to shoot it next year. Per Variety, “This latest project will be set in a world of drone technology and fifth generation fighters and explore the end of an era of dogfighting which made the original film so exhilarating. Other plot details are vague but Val Kilmer has been on record that he was asked to come back to reprise the role of Iceman opposite Cruise’s Maverick.”

Now Variety reports that Cruise will probably reunite with his OBLIVION helmer Joseph Kosinski for the movie. Although no offer has been made, “sources say it was Kosinski’s vision for where he saw the sequel going that officially won him the job,” and that an offer is likely imminent.

Cruise has been lining up TOP GUN 2 to go as soon as he finished filming MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6, which is currently shooting in London. For Kosinski’s part, he recently wrapped filming the firefighter drama GRANITE MOUNTAIN, which stars Miles Teller and Josh Brolin, and hits theaters on October 20th.

If the project does come together, it should make for an interesting pairing. Kosinski, as seen from both TRON: LEGACY and OBLIVION, is fascinated with technology and how it rules our lives, and the plot the new TOP GUN 2, by centering on drone warfare, revolves around machines that take lives to save lives (in theory, a place you can send a drone is a place you don’t have to send a soldier). The movie could also serve as a cool retrospective piece for Cruise. Unlike the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies, which have been with us since 1996, there’s only been one TOP GUN, it came out in 1986 when Cruise was in his early 20s. He’s 54 now, and I’m curious to see how Old Maverick compares to the young one.