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What's Blocking the 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel at Sony?

Blocking Dragon Tattoo 2 - H 2013

Daniel Craig could be written out of "Girl Who Played With Fire" as the studio looks to cut costs for a sequel.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Soon after THR reported Jan. 22 that David Fincher is in early talks to direct Fox's adaptation of the psychological thriller novel Gone Girl, questions arose about the fate of another Girl: Sony's The Girl Who Played With Fire.

The studio insists it still plans to make the long-percolating follow-up to its Fincher-helmed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but declines further comment. Although 2011's Tattoo made $233 million worldwide -- not a bad haul for a hard-R movie that came on the heels of a wildly successful Swedish-language trilogy also based on the books by Stieg Larsson -- the $90 million-budgeted film was not perceived as a runaway hit, and the studio is said to be hellbent on reducing the cost of the next chapter.

Sources close to the project say the biggest holdup isn't Fincher's involvement but star Daniel Craig's. The studio has options on Craig for two sequels, but the actor is said to want a pay raise, not a cut, in the wake of Skyfall grossing $1 billion worldwide. If Sony can't bring Craig back to reprise his role as journalist Mikael Blomkvist, the sources say the studio could write the character out of the sequel. (A Craig source says negotiations have yet to commence but the actor wants to return to the role.)

PHOTOS: The Making of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

A Craig write-around wouldn't be impossible given that the second book focuses more on Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The actress is on board to reprise her role as the heroine with savantlike hacking skills.

Still, Sony would prefer not to be forced to commission a rewrite of Steven Zaillian's script, which is considered production-ready and cost the studio mid-seven figures, one of the most expensive adaptations to date. It is unclear whether Zaillian would be available for an overhaul given that he has turned his attention to the HBO series Criminal Justice, starring James Gandolfini.

As for Fincher, a project insider says don't count him out of the running for Played With Fire. The script for Gone Girl -- being adapted by the book's author, Gillian Flynn -- is far from where it needs to be. In fact, the only film seriously vying for Fincher's immediate attention is Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but the helmer and studio can't seem to find common ground on the budget. For its part, Sony has good reason to bring back Fincher and the final two chapters in the trilogy. Tattoo was a critical hit, nabbing five Oscar nominations including a best actress mention for Mara. And the Larsson books continue to sell worldwide. "Everyone wants to make the next movies happen," says an insider. "There's a great story to tell."

Email: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com, Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27