AFM: 'Blade Runner' Sequel Shows Enduring Appeal for '80s Action Reboots

Ryan Gosling Harrison Ford - H 2015
AP Images

Ryan Gosling Harrison Ford - H 2015

Producers are going bigger, and more femme-focused, as they look to follow on the success of revived action franchises such as 'Mad Max' and 'Terminator.'

A select group of international indie distributors might still get a crack at bidding on Blade Runner, the biggest, and most hotly-anticipated of what has become a tsunami of reboots and sequels to 1980s action franchises.

Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) is helming Alcon Entertainment's sequel to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi film, with Ryan Gosling to star and Harrison Ford returning in a reprise of his role as replicant-hunting cop Rick Deckard from the 1982 original. The film is set to begin shooting next year.

Most thought Warner Bros., which is releasing the film stateside and has a first on international rights, would take Blade Runner off the market and do the the film's entire global day-and-date release in house. 

But Alcon co-CEO Andrew Kosove told THR he is still open to other models, including going with a different studio for international release (he said he has offers from two, unnamed majors) or a "hybrid" model in which a studio takes the bulk of the world but "two or three territories are carved out for some of our loyal international partners." Kosove said a decision on Blade Runner will be made "after AFM but before Berlin."

That offers some hope for buyers hungry for a tentpole action film — of the kind that traditionally have driven business at AFM but that have been particularly scarce this year. If the opportunity on Blade Runner presents itself, expect regional mini-majors like Germany's Concorde, China's DMG Entertainment or France's SND Films — all of whom partnered with Alcon for its upcoming Point Break reboot — to be first in line.

Rebooting a dormant decades-old action franchise has become a common practice. In addition to new Blade Runner and Point Break films — the latter the top seller at AFM in 2013 — recent re-animated '80s actioners include Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, Transporter: Refueled and reboots of Total Recall and Robocop, which have bowed to mixed success globally. Terminator: Genisys earned more than $440 million worldwide, Mad Max: Fury Road grossed close to $375 million. The Transporter: Refueled, in contrast, closed out at under $35 million globally.

Mark Gill, President of Production at Nu Image/Millennium Films, says the trend is being driven by the need to satisfy an international market hungry for "fewer, bigger, better films. I keep hearing from our international distributors: don't make as many movies but make them bigger." And when an indie production company goes big budget, says Gill "it's a little easier if you have a brand people have heard of."

Millennium is getting into the action revival game with Mechanic: Resurrection, a sequel to the 2011 Jason Statham vehicle The Mechanic, with Statham reprising his role as elite assassin Arthur Bishop and a cast — including Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Yeoh — aimed at boosting the franchise's profile and, considered key in today's marketplace, broadening its demographic appeal to include women.

"You ignore woman at your enormous peril," says Gill. "A hard R-rated action film, mega bloody, is very hard to sell. Of course you can't turn Terminator into Cinderella but you need real, relatable characters with a character arc. You can't have cardboard cutouts killing people."

Distributors point to the strong female roles in the new Mad Max and Terminator films as one of key reasons those action sequels performed, compared to the more macho Transporter and Robocop reboots.

"These big action films cost so much, the films have to have broad appeal. You can’t just appeal to the male demographic or just to fans of these movies," says Benjamina Mirnik-Voges, head of acquisitions at Universum, which picked up both Transporter: Refueled and Mechanic: Resurrection for the German market. "The problem is the budgets are so big, you have to pre-sell them internationally, and there aren't many young, sexy actors you can pre-sell on, the way you can a Stallone or a Schwarzenegger."

Alcon's approach with Blade Runner — combining sexy young thing Gosling with grizzled global draw Ford — seems designed for maximum international impact, whether it eventually lands worldwide with a studio or with (grateful) independent distributors.