Has Brad Pitt caught franchise fever?
With the successful $111.8 million worldwide debut of zombie extravaganza World War Z -- a passion project for the actor -- Paramount will now actively turn to developing a sequel, a top studio executive tells The Hollywood Reporter. The tentpole earned $66 million in North America, the best opening for an original live-action tentpole since Avatar, and $45.8 million from its first 25 foreign markets.
World War Z was initially envisioned as a trilogy, but those plans were shelved when the movie ran into trouble, requiring extensive reworking of the last act. Initially set to open in December 2012, the movie's release date was pushed back to June, prompting many in Hollywood to anticipate a blood bath.
But in a happy reversal of fortune, World War Z is off to a strong start, both in terms of its commercial and critical appeal. It will need to stay strong to make up for its $190 million budget, however. Paramount appears confident it will, judging by the fact that its reviving plans for further installments. It's the biggest debut of Pitt's career.
Skydance Productions co-financed World War Z, which also was made in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films. Pitt produced via his company Plan B, with Marc Forster directing.
Franchises are incredibly important to Hollywood studios, and can likewise reap huge rewards for talent in terms of pay. And a World War Z series could mark a big win for Pitt in terms of his aspirations as a producer.
Pitt -- one of the world's most recognizable stars -- has spent much of his career pursuing prestige projects, versus more commercial event pics. An exception was Troy and the Ocean's Eleven franchise, although those were ensemble films.
His previous best box office opening, not accounting for inflation, was Mr. & Mrs. Smith in summer 2005 ($50.3 million). A year before, in May 2004, Troy opened to $46.9 million, his now third best debut.
Pitt has starred in a number of two-handers (Spy Game, Interview With a Vampire, The Devil's Own), as well having a relatively small -- but memorable role -- in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. His last two films were indie mob pic Killing Them Softly, which bombed, and the critically acclaimed Moneyball.
Pitt aggressively helped market World War Z, attending numerous screenings across the country, as well as turning up at industry events, such as CinemaCon, the annual convention of theater owners in Las Vegas. He also has jetted around the world to attend various premiere of the movie.
"The great thing about this process was that it showed what a great partner and producer Brad is," says Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. "He made a true commitment."
Moore said that when the studio deemed that there problems with the movie, Pitt and Forster worked closely with Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman to "find the right movie. He stayed and worked when he could have gone off and shot another movie."
The result -- World War Z drew a fairly even ratio of males (51 percent) and females (49), while 33 percent of those buying tickets were under the age of 25, and 67 percent, over.
In addition to Pitt's appeal, Moore says that females were drawn to the film's storyline. In World War Z, a U.N. worker who is torn between protecting his family and leaving to find a cure for a worldwide pandemic turning humans into zombies.
Last week, when attending the Moscow premiere, Pitt himself hinted at a sequel and said there is plenty of material left over from Max Brooks' novel, upon which the movie is based.
"I think the movie captured the public's imagination with something that is fresh and different," says Moore. "And certainly, Brad gave a superb performance."