'The Walking Dead's' Andrew Lincoln Movies Land Theatrical Distribution

The Walking Dead - Season 9, Episode 3 - Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - Publicity -H 2018
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes will return to the Walking Dead franchise — but it will no longer be on AMC.

In a surprise announcement that capped two hours of back-to-back San Diego Comic-Con panels for Fear the Walking Dead and the flagship series, the latter event ended with a cryptic teaser promoting Lincoln's return: "Only in theaters."  

The 24-second teaser featured the helicopter — the one last seen carrying a near-death Rick Grimes — flying off to an unknown destination (complete with high-rise buildings) with the text: "Rick Grimes Returns: Only in theaters." (Watch the promo, below.)

A tweet from the show's official AMC show account confirmed as much, noting that the untitled Walking Dead movie would be distributed by Universal Pictures. A release date has not been determined.

Lincoln departed the flagship AMC drama during season nine with plans to reprise his role as the beleaguered former sheriff in three TV movies for the basic cable network. AMC at the time was searching for a financial partner to co-release the project. That partner has now been revealed to be Universal, the film studio where Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has a first-look deal to create movies. A feature film adaptation of Kirkman's comic book series Invincible, directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is also set up at Universal.

The three TV movies grew out of a conversation that former showrunner turned Walking Dead chief creative officer Scott M. Gimple and Lincoln had as far back as season four of the zombie drama. The duo, who both have what Lincoln describes as "young families," decided that the actor would exit the series in season eight. In an extensive interview, Lincoln told The Hollywood Reporter that the original plan was for his Rick Grimes — the face of the franchise and comic series on which it is based — to be killed off in season eight. That plan evolved. Lincoln — who loves the character and world of Walking Dead — and Gimple — the former showrunner who was promoted to oversee the franchise's expansion at AMC — jointly decided to continue Rick's story in a way that made better logistical sense for the actor and offered a way for AMC to expand the overall franchise. While details are still being sorted out, the current plan calls for Lincoln to be in production on each movie for two months. That's a far cry from the nine months he spent every year for the past decade filming the TV series in the Atlanta heat.
The movies are the first part of the Gimple-led expansion of the Walking Dead universe. The movies will be AMC Studios Original Films, and were originally earmarked to air on AMC and, in success, a second party as the cabler looked for a partner to share the costs. That plan is now out the window as AMC and Kirkman's Skybound banner as well as Universal look to add yet another revenue stream to what is already a multi-billion-dollar franchise.

News that the Lincoln-led movies would air exclusively in theaters arrives as Kirkman had long been asked about if there would ever be a Walking Dead feature film. It also provides NBC-backed Universal Pictures a massive franchise to add to its larger theatrical haul of IP like the Fast and the Furious franchise, among countless others. What's more, the films provide AMC Studios yet another revenue stream from which to draw from as the franchise continues to grow with the addition of a third scripted drama series to debut on the cable network in spring 2020.

All told, there currently are three scripted series (Fear the Walking Dead, the flagship and the young adult-focused new project set for 2020), a post-show talk show (Talking Dead) and multiple lines of toys, video games, board games apparel and collectibles. For Kirkman, there are two lines of all of the above merchandise — for the show and his comic book that served as the source material for the entire franchise. Kirkman wrapped the comic series earlier this month following 193 issues.