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Batfleck, Bombs, Booted Execs: The 15 Biggest Film Stories of 2013

Ben Affleck Avatar Charlie Hunnam Split - H 2013
Getty Images/20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Everett Collection

This year, Ben Affleck was named the caped crusader, "Fifty Shades" played casting musical chairs and executives got ousted at nearly every studio.

The drama that hit the big screen in movies was nothing compared to the drama occurring behind-the-scenes and in the studios this year. Among the many highlights in film in 2013 were the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, the casting (and recasting) of the leading man for Fifty Shades of Grey and the plethora of new films that were announced based on old franchises, ranging from Jurassic Park 5 to the new Harry Potter spinoff films.

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THR takes a look back at 15 of the biggest film stories of 2013:
 
Send Up the Bat Signal
Days before Comic-Con, THR learned that Zack Snyder's sequel to Man of Steel would not only see the return of Henry Cavill as Clark Kent, but would bring in another iconic superhero: Batman. At Comic-Con, it was officially announced that the caped crusader would star in the Warner Bros. sequel. But who would play the part? In August, it was revealed that Ben Affleck had been cast in the role, and "Batfleck" was born. The film, slated for release July 17, 2015, also has Gal Gadot in the iconic role of Wonder Woman.

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Fifty Shades of Casting Mayhem
After Focus Features and Universal announced an Aug. 1, 2014, release date for the hotly anticipated adaptation of E.L. James' erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, fans were eagerly waiting to find out who would play college student Anastasia Steele and her billionaire suitor, Christian Grey. The months dragged on until finally, on Sept. 2, it was announced that Dakota Johnson and Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam had nabbed the roles. But alas, that wasn't the end of the story for Focus, Universal and director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Just 40 days later, Hunnam dropped out of the project, with the official reason being that he didn't have enough time to prepare for the role with Sons of Anarchy's tight production schedule. Sources told THR that Hunnam also was overwhelmed by the attention, and wanted changes made to the script. A new search for a leading man led to Jamie Dornan, and the release date was pushed to Valentine's Day weekend, 2015.

Firing Fever
The year saw sweeping changes in the upper executive ranks of Hollywood studios. Hardly any company escaped unscathed from the tumult. In June, Warner Bros. film chief Jeff Robinov negotiated his exit after Kevin Tsujihara was chosen over him to run Warner Bros. Entertainment (while Robinov wasn't technically fired, Tsujihara's promotion made a future with Warner all but impossible). Two months later, DreamWorks Animation's chief marketing officer Anne Globe was let go after 17 years when Turbo — a franchise hopeful — failed at the global box office. Globe has been replaced by Dawn Taubin, Warner's former marketing president. Globe wasn't the only marketing casualty. Relativity's head of marketing Terry Curtin was fired the same month following a string of box office flops, capped by Paranoia. In the fall, Sony’s head of worldwide marketing Marc Weinstock took the fall for the studio's rough summer at the box office (two other Sony veterans were likewise shown the door: Corporate communications chief Steve Elzer and home entertainment president David Bishop). Fox marketing co-president Oren Aviv was likewise fired, making way for studio chairman Jim Gianopulos to put Fox's longtime international presidents, Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus, in charge of domestic marketing and distribution (2013 began with Gianopulos taking sole control of Fox's film studio after his fellow co-chairman Tom Rothman was fired in September 2012). Aviv's fellow co-president Tony Sella quickly exited, rather than stay and report to Jegeus and Hanneman. The most dramatic firing came just after Labor Day when Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson learned on a plane ride home from the Toronto Film Festival that he was out. Days later, newly appointed Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley announced that Focus Features founder and chairman James Schamus was being let go, to be replaced by FilmDistrict's Peter Schlessel.

Bringing Back the Force
After Disney acquired Lucasfilm in late 2012, the studio announced that it would be moving forward with a trilogy of Star Wars movies, with the first hitting theaters in 2015. In January, J.J. Abrams signed on to direct Episode VII with a script from Michael Arndt. In October, Arndt was replaced by Lawrence Kasdan -- who co-wrote Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and Abrams. In November, Disney announced a Dec. 18, 2015, release date for the first film. A cast has not yet been announced, but shooting is scheduled for the spring at Pinewood Studios outside of London.

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Kickstarter Has Its Hollywood Moment
Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website for creative projects, became a Hollywood star of its own in 2013. In March, Rob Thomas, creator of fan-favorite TV series Veronica Mars, created a Kickstart page to fund a movie based on the canceled TV show. The money poured in, and the project broke the record for the most backers on a single Kickstarter project, ending April 13, with 91,585 donors raising $5.7 million. The film, starring Kristen Bell and much of the original cast, went into production in Los Angeles in June and will open in theaters Mar. 14, 2014. Following the film's major success, Garden State star-director Zach Braff also turned to Kickstarter to raise funs for his next film, Wish You Were Here. He raised more than $3.1 million, and the film will premiere at Sundance in January 2014. And then, Spike Lee joined the crowdfunding bandwagon. In August, the director reached his $1.25 million goal for his next film, but was hit with criticism that his Kickstarter project would hinder up-and-coming filmmakers who really need the funding. "It's a misconception and it's plain-out wrong with a capital W that because [a donor] backs my film for $5, that was $5 that a young filmmaker was gonna get. And that logic does not follow through," Lee said in a YouTube video.

The Return of the Dinosaurs
In January, Universal announced that the long-gestating fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise would be coming to fruition, hitting theaters in summer 2014. In March, Safety Not Guaranteed helmer Colin Trevorrow was named as director, but in June, production was put on hold when the studio felt that more time was needed for development. In September, a new title and release date were announced: Jurassic World will hit theaters June 12, 2015.

Merlin's Beard!
The mega-hit Harry Potter film franchise based on J.K. Rowling's books ended more than two years ago, but it turns out that it won't be the final chapter. Rowling and Warner Bros. have announced that she will adapt Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them -- a fictional textbook -- into a film about the book’s fictitious author, Newt Scamander.

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Spidey Swings to Spinoffs
Sony announced big plans to move forward with expanding the Spider-Man universe. In December, news broke that Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon and Drew Goddard had all been enlisted to help with spinoffs set in the Spidey world. Kurtzman, Orci and Solomon will write Venom, centered on the black-costumed villain that already made his big-screen debut in the third Spider-Man movie of the Sam Raimi trilogy, which Kurtzman will direct. Meanwhile, Goddard will write, with an eye to direct, The Sinister Six, which will focus on Spider-Man’s villains.

Mendes Is Back for More Bond
In April, Sam Mendes, director of the mega-successful Bond film Skyfall, said he would not be returning to helm the 24th film. But four months later, it was announced that Mendes would indeed return as he'd had enough time off to focus on his two theatrical productions -- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the London Palladium and Shakespeare's King Lear, which will open at the National Theatre in January 2014. "I am very pleased that by giving me the time I need to honor all my theater commitments, the producers have made it possible for me to direct Bond 24. I very much look forward to taking up the reins again," he said. The film, starring Daniel Craig with a screenplay by John Logan, is set for release in the U.S. on Nov. 6, 2015, and in the U.K. on Oct. 23, 2015.

Big Stars = Big Bombs in Summer
While the Summer 2013 box office was higher than ever before overall, there were several big-name actors whose films failed to perform this year. After Earth, starring Will Smith (usually a box office draw), was a major dud for Sony, as was Disney's big-budget The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp. Similarly, the Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton starrer The Big Wedding also fizzed, as did the Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson comedy The Internship.

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Paul Walker's Death and the Future of Fast 7
Paul Walker, star of the Fast & Furious franchise, died when the limited-edition Porsche in which he was a passenger crashed Nov. 30. The death of the 40-year-old actor, who was on Thanksgiving break from shooting Fast & Furious 7, came as a shock to his fans around the world and his co-stars. After two days of emergency meetings, Universal chose to put production on the film on hold indefinitely. A few weeks later, star Vin Diesel announced that Fast 7 would be pushed from its original July 11, 2014, release date to April 10, 2015.

Plenty More Time on Pandora
In August, the Avatar universe got a bit bigger when Fox announced that James Cameron’s Avatar movie series would be a tetralogy instead of a trilogy, with the number of sequels growing from two to three. Josh Friedman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes duo Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and Shane Salerno (Shaft, Savages) will collaborate with Cameron on the screenplays for the three films. According to Fox, the new movies will be filmed simultaneously, with production beginning 2014. The first sequel will hit theaters December 2016, with the second to follow December 2017 and the third a year later.

Weinstein Wages War
Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein Co. made plenty of headlines in 2013. He launched a campaign featuring a video of actress Judi Dench to get the MPAA to overturns its R-rating of the film Philomena. They won the appeal in November. Ahead of the release of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Weinstein filed a lawsuit against Time Warner, studio Warner Bros. and its New Line division over claims to a percentage of revenue from the next two Hobbit films. Then, Bob and Harvey Weinstein made a big move when they reunited with Miramax, which they founded but left in a split in 2005, to produce and distribute films and television shows based on the studio’s library of about 750 films.

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Indy Goes to Disney
In November, Disney and Paramount reached an agreement for the future of the Indiana Jones franchise, giving Disney control over all future films -- meaning, of course, that there could be films coming down the pipeline. Paramount retains rights to the first four films.

Legendary and Warner Bros. Break Up
One of Hollywood’s most successful movie partnerships came to an end this year when Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. broke off negotiations to renew their production and co-financing arrangement (which had been established in 2005). In July, Legendary signed a five-year production and co-financing partnership, starting in 2014, with Universal. In September, Warner Bros. announced its own new big financing deal, with RatPac-Dune Entertainment, a newly formed partnership between Dune's Steven Mnuchin, filmmaker Brett Ratner and Australian billionaire James Packer. Sources peg the value of the deal at $450 million, covering Warners' and New Line's entire movie slate of up to 75 titles, and would last three or four years.

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford