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'Buck Rogers': Skydance Developing Competing Movie Based on Pulp Hero

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - Poster Art
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The company is working with the estate of Philip Francis Nowlan, the man who introduced the hero in the late 1920s.

Hollywood may be doubling up on Buck Rogers.

Even as Legendary and George Clooney are developing a multi-medium take on the classic man-out-of-time pulp hero, Skydance is working on its own, competing, version, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Skydance is working with the estate of Philip Francis Nowlan, the man who introduced the hero in the late 1920s. The project is in the earliest of stages; unlike Legendary’s project, which has several producers and a writer in the form of Brian K. Vaughan, Skydance’s has no talent involved at this time.

The character of Anthony Rogers first appeared in the 1929 novella, Armageddon 2419 A.D. The copyright on that particular work wasn’t renewed in the 1950s. As a result, anyone is free to adapt that story. The Nowlans, engaged in protracted litigation over the years, claim to hold rights to later comic book stories — the character soon became known as "Buck Rogers" — as well as trademarks. It’s those rights which were recently conveyed for adaptation to Skydance.

Now, Legendary and Skydance appear to both be intent on going forward with projects about the popular sci-fi character, and since some of Nowlan’s work is in the public domain, it’s indeed possible to see competing versions by multiple studios (a la Sherlock Holmes).

Then again, there is the possibility of legal intrigue.

On Tuesday, the Nowlans sent a cease-and-desist letter to Legendary that noted their new Skydance deal. The estate’s attorney warned Legendary that moving forward with a Buck Rogers project would constitute "slander of title of the rights."

Asked for clarification, the Nowlans’ attorney Neville Johnson insisted that Buck Rogers wasn’t in the public domain as "Buck is not in Armageddon, Anthony is a different character."

That, however, hasn’t been the lore around the genesis of Buck Rogers as most have assumed Anthony is Buck. Legendary isn’t backing down, telling THR, "We have secured the rights we need to proceed with our project and the company will not comment any further on these baseless claims. This same party has been claiming for years that they have rights which they do not have and have been trying to inhibit projects based on rights they do not legally control."

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