'Passengers': The Long, Strange Trip to the Big Screen
Passengers' long odyssey to the big screen finally ends today when the sci-fi space adventure opens in North American theaters.
The movie — starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt — began its life almost a decade ago as an independent project shopped by Keanu Reeves' production outfit, Company Films. Yet it found itself sitting on the launchpad for years as one company after another unsuccessfully tried to find the right kind of rocket fuel.
Heat Vision breakdown
Sci-fi films are already tricky propositions for studios, and there was also the matter of revolving actors: Reeves was long set to star, first opposite Reese Witherspoon then Rachel McAdams (Emily Blunt also briefly circled the film). Passengers even had a release date from The Weinstein Co., but that came and went. The turning point was when Sony picked up rights to the movie exactly two years ago, and teamed two of Hollywood's most desirable stars — Lawrence and Pratt. But another hurdle emerged when Lawrence's team wanted $20 million after learning via the Sony hack that she had made less than her male co-stars in American Hustle.
Passengers stars Pratt as a colonist aboard a spacecraft carrying 5,000 sleeping passengers to a new world. After accidentally awakening and becoming lonely, he rouses Aurora (Lawrence).
The following timeline shows how the behind-the-scenes journey was just as perilous.
Jon Spaihts' script pops up on the Black List, with Reeves' Company Films set to produce.
Morgan Creek Productions comes aboard to finance and produce the film, which will star Reeves. (At the time, Morgan Creek had a distribution deal with Universal.)
Gabriele Muccino is attached to direct the film.
Emily Blunt's name surfaces as the potential female lead.
Spaihts reveals that Muccino (The Pursuit of Happiness) won't direct Passengers after all.
The project lands at boutique film financing outfit Wayfare Entertainment after Morgan Creek exits. Wayfare announces that Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire director Brian Kirk will helm the film.
Not long after, Wayfare and and sales company Exclusive Media announce at the Cannes Film Festival that Witherspoon is attached to star opposite Reeves. Several days later, Harvey Weinstein's company prebuys U.S. rights to the movie.
McAdams replaces Witherspoon as the female lead.
McAdams drops out, while The Weinstein Co. withdraws from the project and scrubs the planned April 3, 2015, release date.
Just before the Sony hack is revealed, the studio boards Passengers but Reeves is no longer set to star. Sony and veteran producer Neil Moritz say they are out to a new cast and director.
Morten Tyldum is hired to direct just as his film, The Imitation Game, scores top Oscar nominations, including best director.
Word breaks that Lawrence and Pratt — who was coming off the success of Jurassic World — will star in Passengers. Days later, Tom Rothman replaces Amy Pascal as head of the film studio. Rothman OKs a $20 million payday for Lawrence, $10 million for Pratt and a net budget of $110 million to $120 million. (Village Roadshow Pictures and LStar Capital finance a majority of the production.)
Tyldum begins shooting.
by Pamela McClintock
by Lesley Goldberg