Passengers is an original screenplay that, once upon a time, was on its way to becoming a Warner Bros. film with a moderate-sized budget, starring Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon. However, that version of the sci-fi drama/romance fell by the wayside, only for the project to be resurrected by Sony – though, at a significantly higher cost, with a different filmmaker onboard and a hotter in demand pair of actors set to headline.
The combined salary of the aforementioned stars – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt – is a major contributory factor to the rising cost for Passengers, along with the more expansive vision that current director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) has for the sci-fi drama/romance. However, it seems the box office success of the newly-released Jurassic World (costarring Pratt) helped to convince Sony motion picture chairman Tom Rothman to go ahead and formally green-light the project to begin shooting this year, rather than put it into turn-around.
THR is reporting that Passengers is moving forward at Sony, with Lawrence and Prattt slated to receive $20 million (plus 30 percent of the profit after the film breaks even) and $12 million, respective, for their roles in the movie. Pratt’s fee was originally going to be $10 million, but now that Jurassic World‘s record-breaking opening weekend has given the actor another hit franchise under his belt (along with Guardians of the Galaxy), he was able to secure a salary increase of 20 percent.
Passengers tells the story of a fellow (Pratt) who awakens from his cryogenic sleep 90 years before the spaceship he’s on reaches its destination; thus, he ends up awakening a fellow passenger (Lawrence), to avoid growing old and dying alone. The Passengers script was penned by Jon Spaihts, who also put together the Alien: Engineers screenplay that eventually became Prometheus (after a Damon Lindelof rewrite) and has recently worked in the scripts for such upcoming tentpoles as Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange and Universal’s The Mummy reboot.
Spaiht’s Passengers screenplay made the 2007 Hollywood Blacklist of Best Unproduced Scripts, and by most accounts it’s another fine example of a complex human relationship drama explored through the lens of the space survival genre – “Gravity with romance,” as one of THR‘s sources puts it. Passengers, like Gravity, is a relatively grounded work of science-fiction, featuring big-name stars and a director with real artistic cred (in Tyldum’s case, his Oscar-winning Alan Turing biopic) who’s now armed with a sizable budget at their disposal (here, $150 million or $120 million with production incentives).
Production on Passengers is set to begin July 2015 (hence it being green-lit now), and with a buzzed-about screenplay, hot-in-demand stars (Lawrence is, of course, an Oscar-winner too), and a director who’s on the rise, there’s a whole lot to like about the project (on paper, anyway). Passengers is also one of the rare original, big-budget, and live-action feature films currently in the pipeline, meaning it will have to be sold on the merits of its cast/crew and premise, rather than brand recognition. And that makes for a refreshing change of pace, in today’s Hollywood.