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Universal Pictures Spends Big for New ‘Exorcist’ Trilogy

Universal Pictures Spends Big for New ‘Exorcist’ Trilogy
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Universal Pictures Spends Big for New ‘Exorcist’ Trilogy

Universal Pictures Spends Big for New ‘Exorcist’ Trilogy

LOS ANGELES – Heads are turning in Hollywood: Universal Pictures and its streaming service cousin have struck a more than $ 400 million mega-deal to purchase a new ‘Exorcist’ trilogy, signaling a sudden desire to compete head-on with the tech giants who are shaking up the entertainment industry’s economy.

Donna Langley, the president of the movie studio, has teamed up with Peacock, NBCUniversal’s fledgling streaming service, to make the purchase, which is expected to be announced this week, according to three people briefed on the matter. The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the still-private deal, said the price was close to the $ 465 million Netflix paid in March for two sequels to the 2019 thriller “Knives Out.”

Universal did not immediately comment.

The “Knives Out” and “Exorcist” deals – both brokered by Creative Artist Superagent Bryan Lourd – reinforce a new streaming gold rush. The mind-blowing talent paydays of 2017 and 2018, when Netflix scooped up top TV creators, migrated to the world of cinema.

The proliferation of streaming services and their rush for subscribers has driven up the prices of established film properties and filmmakers. At the same time, traditional film companies are under more pressure than ever to control these same creative assets; Cinema has been severely disrupted by the pandemic and may never fully recover from it.

It’s surprising, however, that Universal and Peacock have come to the table in such a big way. NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, has started putting more resources into the little-watched Peacock. Tokyo Olympics programming is available on the service, for example. But Hollywood has so far considered the one-year-old Peacock unwilling to compete for major movie deals.

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Universal’s decision to revisit “The Exorcist” is striking in itself. The 1973 R-rated film about a baffled mother (Ellen Burstyn) and her demon possessed daughter (Linda Blair) was a global box office sensation – “the biggest thing to hit the industry since Mary Pickford, the popcorn, pornography and ‘The Godfather’, ”as Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times in 1974. It has become a cultural touchstone, the type of film that fans and critics consider sacrosanct. -Holy.

Universal is not remaking “The Exorcist,” which was directed by William Friedkin from a screenplay that William Peter Blatty adapted from his own novel. But the studio will be bringing Oscar-winning Ms. Burstyn back to the franchise for the first time. (Two forgettable “Exorcist” sequels and a prequel were made without her between 1977 and 2004.) Joining her will be Leslie Odom Jr., a Tony winner for “Hamilton” on Broadway and a double Oscar nominee for “One Night. in Miami. ”He will play the father of a possessed child. Desperate for help, he tracks down the character of Mrs. Burstyn.

Suffice it to say, Satan is not thrilled to see her again.

David Gordon Green, known for Universal’s successful 2018 reboot of the “Halloween” horror franchise, will direct the new “Exorcist” films and serve as a screenwriter. Horror impresario Jason Blum (“Get Out”, the “Purge” series) is among the producers, along with David Robinson, whose company, independent Morgan Creek Entertainment, owns the rights to the film “Exorcist”. Blumhouse film director Couper Samuelson is one of the executive producers. (Blumhouse has a first deal with Universal.)

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The first film in the trilogy is expected to hit theaters in late 2023. Under the terms of the deal, the second and third films could debut on Peacock, according to one of those briefed on the matter.

Credit…Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Cinemacon

From a business standpoint, the deal reflects the boldness of Ms. Langley, president of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. In the wake of the pandemic, which halted film production, she led an effort to develop safety protocols to get assembly lines back up and running. In the case of “Exorcist”, she led a push inside NBCUniversal to secure the big deal.

The cost of the package is so high because Ms. Langley and her business expert, Jimmy Horowitz, broke old Hollywood economics rules; they took a risk and played by new ones – the ones used by streaming insurgents like Netflix, Amazon and Apple to outbid traditional film companies, at least until now.

The old model, one that studios have used for decades to close high-profile movie deals, is to pay fees up front and then share some of the revenue from ticket sales, ticket purchases. DVD and TV rebroadcasting licenses around the world. The greater the success, the greater the “back end” salaries for some talented partners.

The streaming giants have done it differently. They pay more up front – usually much, much more – instead of any final payment, giving them full control over future income. This means that talented partners are paid as if their projects were successes before they were released (or even completed). The risk for talents: if their projects become monster successes, they do not touch part of the windfall.

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