Netflix Dropped $60M on Pitt’s ‘War Machine’, Sony Finally Gives ‘Passengers’ Green Light

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Netflix Dropped $60M on Pitt's 'War Machine', Sony Finally Gives 'Passengers' Green Light
Photo: Paramount / Universal / Lionsgate

In case anyone thought Netflix was just toying around with the idea of putting original films into the marketplace, think again: the online streaming service turned film and television studio recently plunked down $60 million to produce and distribute War Machine. No, that’s not another Marvel spinoff announced five years in advance, that’s the name of an upcoming military satire starring Brad Pitt as a former four-star general.

The Hollywood Reporter tells it, Netflix actually stepped in and offered to fund the entire project after New Regency unsuccessfully requested that director David Michod (The Rover) and the movie’s producers lower their proposed budget for the film. Part of the reason New Regency balked? Controversial material, and a strong belief the film wouldn’t play well with mainstream audiences. Go figure.

[amz asin=”0452298962″ size=”small”]Adapted from “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” — the late Michael Hastings‘ book about Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan who was forced to resign after mocking numerous Obama officials in Hastings’ 2010 “Rolling Stone” storyWar Machine was intended to be a politically charged military satire, not a by-the-numbers biopic that could wrangle up box office numbers like American Sniper. Or, as The Hollywood Reporter puts it, “War Machine, could easily irk conservative audiences.”

As Brad original story of the purchase broke, it will be interesting to see how things go for Netflix as it officially dives into the world of film production and distribution. Given Netflix funded War Machine after New Regency ultimately decided the movie likely wouldn’t make enough money in theaters to be worth the upfront investment, I’ll be especially curious to see Netflix’s plan for distribution once the film is ready to be shown to audiences. Will it play in theaters, or won’t it?

In other “Is the potential return worth the upfront investment?” news, The Hollywood Reporter also released a story yesterday offering an update on Passengers, a long-gestating romantic science fiction drama — yeah, it’s going for almost every demo out there, isn’t it? — that years ago was set to star Keanu Reeves and either Reese Witherspoon or Rachel McAdams, but is now finally entering preproduction at Sony with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in place as its leads. Talk about star power.

Like the folks at New Regency, Sony’s Tom Rothman — who stepped in as the studio’s motion picture chairman in February after Amy Pascal warned everyone Aloha was garbage and then stepped down — asked director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) if he could trim his proposed budget to $90 million. And much as Michod did with War Machine, Tyldum said no, and his project almost wound up in the hands of another studio much like War Machine wound up at Netflix.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Rothman was at odds with whether to greenlight the project himself and keep it at Sony, put it in turnaround, or hand it over to Jeff Rubinov‘s Studio 8, which is partly owned by Sony but receives financial backing from sources outside its parent studio. Rothman told Tyldum and his team they could take the film elsewhere — Warner Bros. and Universal were ready to compete to lure Tyldum and his film to a new home — and they chose to go with Studio 8, which apparently prompted Rothman to jump back in and keep the film at Sony proper after all. Sounds a bit wishy-washy for a studio head, but whatever works I suppose.

Lawrence is commanding a cool $20 million for her role in Passengers, and with the unpredictable runaway success of Jurassic World — and not to mention Guardians of the Galaxy — Pratt’s fee has jumped up from $10 million to $12 million. But apparently Rothman is taking as few risks as possible here, as he convinced Village Roadshow and LStar to cover as much as 75 percent of the final budget for Passengers. All is well that ends well I guess, though we’ll have to wait and see whether all the drama, let alone the money, was actually worth it.