Universal, Dwayne Johnson, James Vanderbilt Plot Robert Ludlum Cinematic Universe (Exclusive)

First up is the adaptation of 'The Janson Directive,' to star Johnson.
Courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith; Courtesy of Mythology Ent and Captivate Ent. (2)
From left: Dwayne Johnson, James Vanderbilt, Ben Smith

Another cinematic universe is taking shape.

Universal Pictures is teaming up with screenwriter James Vanderbilt and his partners at Mythology Entertainment, Brad Fischer and William Sherak, as well as Ben Smith and Jeffrey Weiner of Captivate Entertainment to craft a series of movies based on the works of Robert Ludlum, the best-selling author behind the studio’s hit Jason Bourne spy franchise

First up in this universe will be the adaptation of Ludlum’s The Janson Directive, which will star Dwayne Johnson.

Vanderbilt will adapt Janson Directive from a story co-authored with Academy Award-winner Akiva Goldsman. (Goldsman is no stranger to cinematic universes, as he is overseeing the formation of a Transformers cinematic universe and one based on Hasbro toy properties.)

Universal had been working with Captivate on bringing to the screen many of the spy thrillers penned by Ludlum, who died in 2001 and whose books have sold around 300 million copies. The Parsifal Mosaic, The Sigma Protocol and Covert One are among them, and the shingle had already been actively developing Janson.

The new deal seeks to give cohesion to the individual titles, bringing them under one umbrella and giving them crossover points. On top of writing Janson, Vanderbilt, who worked with Johnson when he co-wrote the actor's early action movie, 2003's The Rundown, will co-author two more stories/treatments based on the Ludlum books, which have not been named, giving shape to the action universe. The treatments will then be adapted into screenplays by scribes yet to be hired.

It is unclear how Johnson’s character will figure into the future installments. For now, the actor is pumped and focused on bringing Janson to the screen first.

"The Janson Directive is classic Robert Ludlum," Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter. "Sharp, edgy and layered storylines. The character is complex, conflicted, bad ass and lethal — I can't wait to sink my teeth into this and bring him to life. Between Jamie, Akiva, Captivate and Universal, it's an exciting time to help produce and build out this awesome Ludlum universe."

Janson centers on Paul Janson, a former operative who is now the best private security consultant in the world. The action begins when he is framed for the murder of a prominent Nobel laureate and must join forces with the protege sent to kill him in order to survive.

Producing Janson will be Captivate's Smith and Weiner, along with Vanderbilt, Fischer and Sherak. Goldsman also is producing, as is Hiram Garcia of Seven Bucks Productions.

Johnson and Dany Garcia are executive producing via Seven Bucks with Tracey Nyberg of Mythology.

“I’ve been obsessed with Robert Ludlum ever since I was a kid, and the opportunity to play in this sandbox and create an interconnected universe based on the works of one of the best espionage writers of all time is a dream come true,” said Vanderbilt.

Said Smith: “James has a deep understanding of the unique themes that run through Robert Ludlum’s novels, many of which are more relevant to today’s world than when they were published. [Universal's] Donna Langley, Jimmy Horowitz, Peter Cramer and we at Captivate have discussed building a connective world with Ludlum’s works and found an ideal creative partner in James to craft this visceral, grounded, cinematic universe. Dwayne Johnson is the perfect actor to bring Paul Janson to the screen, and we are thrilled to have him as a cornerstone of this exciting franchise."

"This is a powerful project that has brought together an amazing group of individuals committed to bringing the absolute best to Robert Ludlum's work," added Dany Garcia.

The new deal gives Universal a second cinematic universe with which to work on filling its slate for several years to come. Cinematic universes have become the de rigueur franchise connector that is seen as the savior to Hollywood studios’ movie slates since it lays out a blueprint for a pipeline of movies.

Universal is working on a whole line of interconnected movies based on its classic, black-and-white monsters films and is in production on The Mummy, which launches the universe. Tom Cruise is starring.

Captivate produced the upcoming Jason Bourne, which is set to open July 29, with both Matt Damon returning in the titular role and Paul Greengrass returning to direct the Universal movie.

Vanderbilt most recently wrote and directed Truth, starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, which Mythology produced. The company has the rights to horror property Slender Man and is in the process of setting up a feature adaptation at Screen Gems.

Goldsman is a producer and co-writer of The Dark Tower, Sony’s adaptation of the Stephen King book series currently in production. 

Johnson just wrapped shooting Baywatch with Zac Efron for Paramount and will star in Sony’s new take on Jumanji.

Johnson, Vanderbilt, Goldsman and the Ludlum estate are repped by WME, as are Captivate, Seven Bucks and Mythology. Goldman is additionally repped by attorney Barry Littman.  

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