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10 Million Reasons Why Kristen Stewart's Exclusion From 'Snow White' Makes Business Sense (Analysis)

The star was due a huge salary and 5 percent of the backend, suggesting that finances -- not her recent personal issues -- drove Universal's decision to pursue a sequel based on the Huntsman character.

Proceeding with a Snow White and the Huntsman spinoff starring Chris Hemsworth but not Kristen Stewart likely has more to do with money than any other consideration.

When The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of the plan Tuesday, Universal issued a statement saying, “We’re currently exploring all options to continue the franchise” and that “any reports that Kristen Stewart has been dropped are false.” The plans were made public before Stewart’s reps had been notified, and the studio no doubt doesn't want to appear to have turned its back on the actress in the wake of her recent admission of a romantic affair with married Snow White director Rupert Sanders. Universal has an option on Stewart for a second film, so sources say her team of representatives had assumed that she would be part of the plans.

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But given the fair but not outstanding box-office performance of the original film, Stewart was not assured of a role in the sequel even before there was any hint of scandal. By leaving her out of the equation, Universal could save as much as $10 million out of the gate. Sources tell THR that is roughly the amount Stewart’s initial contract stipulated that she would be paid for the second film -- twice what she received for the first Snow White, which has grossed $389 million at the global box office since opening in June. She also would receive 5 percent of the film’s backend (defined as the money the studio recoups once its costs for making and marketing the film have been covered).

The studio also is likely to save $1 million or more by replacing departing A-list screenwriter David Koepp, who commands more than $2 million a script. Koepp had been brought aboard to write a Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, but, as THR reported Tuesday, he is being settled out of his contract because plans changed to focus on the Huntsman.

A decision to accelerate a Huntsman spinoff was foreshadowed even before the original movie opened, in an April speech by Universal president and COO Ron Meyer. At a conference hosted by UCLA’s Anderson School of Business, Meyer said that the then-upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman did not appear to lend itself to a sequel but the studio believed it could do more movies based on the character of the Huntsman -- if the original was successful. Still, Universal was proceeding according to its original plan to do two Snow White movies and then turn to the Huntsman, and around the time of Meyer's speech, Koepp was hired to write a sequel that included the Snow White character.

However, with a budget north of $170 million, the film's $389 million gross was decent but not good enough to guarantee a sequel, according to several executives and producers who were not involved with the project. (One executive was told that the sequel including Snow White would proceed only if the original grossed $500 million.) “But maybe rather than completely throw in the towel, they said they’d do a lower-budget version,” says a former studio chief.

STORY: Kristen Stewart Dropped From 'Snow White' Sequel Plans (Exclusive)

If cost was the question, choosing between the stars would not be a tough call, these observers agree. Stewart has her legions of fans from the Twilight films, but the studio chief says Hemsworth, who also starred in Thor and The Avengers, in all likelihood tested higher with audiences. Indeed, an industry polling expert who has gauged audience interest in Hemsworth says: "Don't underestimate his star power in this equation. He's a much bigger deal after Avengers. Plus, he tests very high with women as well as men. So if he's bringing guys and women like him, it would make sense that Stewart isn't as necessary."

Indeed, insiders say market research indicated Stewart was a polarizing figure to the young female audience even before the 22-year-old star and Sanders, 41, apologized publicly for an affair captured by paparazzi cameras. (Stewart was dating her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson at the time.). "That's what teenage girls are like," says one executive. "They love you and they hate you."

Still, an insider suggests that the affair tilted the calculus even further toward pursuing the Huntsman solo, explaining, “The feeling was if it's a Huntsman movie it can be disassociated from the whole mess.”

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But the idea leaked at an awkward time. The head of one production company says there might have been a misplaced hope that a Huntsman-only sequel could be developed under the radar, allowing enough time to pass to avoid a backlash from fans who now think Stewart is getting singled out for punishment while Sanders is likely to return as director. “Trying to get a Chris Hemsworth action movie must have seemed like a good idea," this observer says. "But this is too press-worthy.”

Email: Kim.Masters@thr.com

Twitter: @KimMasters