Big Book and Script Buys Don't Equal Big Box Office

A giant book deal and a big spec sale rocked March, but rich deals don't always translate into box-office hits.
Courtesy of Ballantine Books; Photofest
'Airframe,' 'White House Down'

A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

March has been one of the busiest months in recent memory for big deals for books and spec scripts, including two deals that saw nearly record-breaking sales.

Max Landis’ script Bright was bought by Netflix for north of $3 million. The magic-infused cop thriller package has Will Smith and Joel Edgerton attached to star and Suicide Squad helmer David Ayer attached to direct. Sources say Netflix committed north of $90 million for the whole package with attachments.

At the same time, a bidding war broke out over David Grann’s book Killers of the Flower Moon, which had nearly every studio and major producer fighting for the film rights. In a surprise twist, Imperative Entertainment beat them all by throwing down a massive $5 million for the rights.

However, if history has taught the industry anything, it's that a giant sale for the rights doesn't always translate into a box-office hit. THR looks at the mixed fates of some of the biggest book and script sales ever.

Airframe
Book by Michael Crichton
Cost: $8 million-$10 million to Touchstone Pictures in 1996
Status: Never made. Big names were attached to the airplane disaster thriller including Sigourney Weaver and Gwyneth Paltrow. The rights have reverted back to the Crichton estate (ICM handles film rights). While many adaptations of Crichton's books have led to major hits like Jurassic Park, one of his books has yet to make it to the big screen.

Bad Dog
Spec by Dale Launer in 1997
$3 million to DreamWorks
Status: Never made, even though Steven Spielberg was very aggressive in buying it for DreamWorks. “It got caught in a downward spiraling vortex of constantly changing development execs who were confused by Mr. Spielberg’s notes and couldn’t admit to him, me or themselves that they had no clue as to what he wanted,” Launer tells THR. Rights are now with Paramount, where it sits inactive.

The Longest Ride
Book by Nicholas Sparks
Cost: $5 million to Fox 2000 in 2013
Status: The richest deal for a Sparks’ book didn’t exactly pay off when the film opened soft in April 2015 with a $13.5 million debut. The $34 million romance drama, starring Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson, earned $62.9 million worldwide.

The Long Kiss Goodnight
Spec by Shane Black
Cost: $4 million to New Line in 1994
Status: New Line moved quickly with the project, releasing it in 1996 with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. But the female actioner opened soft in third place for the weekend, and earned $89.5 million worldwide.

White House Down
Spec by James Vanderbilt
Cost: $3 million for Sony in 2012
Status: Released in 2013, the Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx starrer, which cost $150 million to make, opened No. 4 domestically, and only earned $73.1 million domestically ($132.3 million worldwide). Plus, it was overshadowed by fellow White House actioner Olympus Has Fallen ($161 million worldwide).

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