'300: Rise of an Empire': The Making of an Impossible Sequel

UPDATED: Zack Snyder reunited with producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton to produce and co-write the follow-up, which took 7 years to come to fruition and opens this weekend around the world.

When producer Mark Canton began broaching a follow-up to the edgy ancient epic 300, he kept getting the same response from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures: "Everyone died, so how can there be a sequel?"

But Canton, along with fellow 300 producers Gianni Nunnari, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann, were determined (Nunnari and Canton shepherded the original film from the start, as well as the sequel). They found their answer when Frank Miller, upon whose graphic novel the first movie was based, came up with an idea for continuing the story.

Snyder said he would return to direct the R-rated sequel, as well as striking a deal to co-write the adapted script with Kurt Johnstad. But Warners and partner Legendary still hadn't given the go ahead to begin shooting  Rise of an Empire when they approached Snyder about directing their Superman reboot Man of Steel. Snyder took the job.

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"It was like a family when one of the children comes home and say they want to go to a university out of state," Nunnari told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview. "Zack's first call was to us. He said, 'let's get together and find a director who can take over.'"

Exactly 7 years after 300 took the global box office by storm, Rise of an Empire finally rolls out around the world this weekend after debuting to a promising $3.3 million Thursday night in North America, as well as to strong early numbers in France, Australia and Belgium.

"After this movie, people at Warner Bros would say, 'I like you less, but respect you more.' I am a battering ram for everyone," says Canton, who runs Atmosphere Entertainment.

Directed by Noam Murro, Rise of an Empire stars Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green and is set during the second Persian invasion of Greece. (Stapleton, who plays a Greek general, hasn't been available to do pre-release press for Rise of an Empire because of an accident in which he suffered a concussion, forcing his new Cinemax primetime drama Strike Back to go on hiatus.)

"It's 300 on steroids," Snyder said of Rise of Empire in an interview with THR. Snyder and Deborah Snyder, his wife, remained hands on producers throughout the making of the sequel, even as they made Man of Steel. They are now living temporarily in Detroit, where Snyder begins shooting his untitled Batman vs. Superman movie in the coming weeks.

300, earning $456.1 million worldwide, was considered groundbreaking for its visual effects and greenscreen work. The $110 million sequel has the added boost of being released in 3D.

Canton and Nunnari, who is head of Hollywood Gang Productions, are confident that Rise of the Empire won't meet the same dismal fate that recent ancient epics Hercules and Pompeii suffered at the global box office.

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"If you want to compete in this arena, you need to come up with a movie that is better in terms of originality and in terms of production," says Nunnari. "It's like Dr. Pepper vs. Coca-Cola, with us being Coca-Cola."

Nunnari says a bitter legal feud with fellow Italian producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori is now behind him, and the matter settled. Last year, the courts awarded Gori $13.2 million in damages, overturning a previous ruling finding in favor of Nunnari.

Canton and Nunnari share an abiding passion for history and mythology, having also made Immortals together. They're now turning their attention to a film adaptation of Conn Iggulden's Julius Caesar Emperor book series, which they are producing with outgoing Exclusive media chairman Nigel Sinclair and former Exclusive executive Matt Jackson.

"It will be," says Canton, "Dangerous Liaisons meets Twilight."