One particular movie spot during the Super Bowl must have elicited a very specific reaction among the millions watching the big game: "Huh? They've made a movie of the board game 'Battleship?' And Rihanna's in it? How does that work?" We're yet to see exactly if and how it works, but what's clear at this point is that the film is no longer going to be the first in a whole string of Hasbro adaptations from Universal.
In 2008, soon after the success of Hasbro's "Transformers" with Paramount, Universal signed a deal with the toy giant for a six-year partnership for as many as seven properties (with a minimum of four), with projects including Ridley Scott's "Monopoly," "Stretch Armstrong" to star Taylor Lautner, "Clue" from director Gore Verbinski, and "Ouija," which landed McG at the helm, among those in development. But one by one, the films fell by the wayside, and the announcement last week that "Stretch Armstrong" had moved over to Relativity, and "Candy Land" to Sony and Adam Sandler's company meant that no projects other than "Battleship" would ever make it before cameras, at least not from the initial deal.
The trouble is, the original contract stipulated that Universal had to pay $5 million to Hasbro for each project that they chose not to pursue, and Vulture reported last night that the company allegedly ended up paying one single, multi-million dollar penalty in order to break the contract. That's right, a studio paid what must have been an eight-figure sum for the privilege of not making a movie about "Stretch Armstrong" or "Candy Land." This is because the films were actually being developed at Hasbro, who were paying for the costs themselves. A person close to the deal told us that "Hasbro develop everything, and pay for the development of all of it. Our obligation was just a flat fee, based on the timing."
Universal had originally made the deal in the hope that Hasbro would provide them with franchises galore, in the way that Pixar and Marvel are doing at present for Disney. But according to the site, they soon realized that the brand names weren't worth much, with one former executive being quoted as saying, "At least 'Stretch Armstrong' was at one point an action figure, something you could build a story around. But what else is in the Hasbro catalogue that is iconic and translates to a feature film? Certainly not board games." Hence the cancellation of various projects, even those like "Ouija" which had a script, a director and even a release date.
Ultimately, a change in studio leadership was part of the reason for the scrapping of the deal. Our insider on the deal told us last week that "we're committed to viewing films on a one-off basis. We're looking for films we love, based on a set of criteria established by the new leadership. That doesn't mean that every film we were considering under that deal was something we'd [now] do."
However, don't rule out future Universal/Hasbro collaborations, particularly if "Battleship" turns out to be a giant hit. When we asked a Universal spokesperson for comment, they told us, "We love Hasbro, we've had a great relationship on 'Battleship' and we're totally focused on that film right now. Our relationship has evolved over time to better meet the needs of both the studio of Hasbro, and we're considering films on a one-to-one basis… We're looking at other projects with Hasbro now. The deal as it was is over, but it doesn't mean we're not going to work with Hasbro. They're still here on the lot."
Whether anything more comes to fruition remains to be seen, but we should start to get a clue, no pun intended, from how well "Battleship" does at the box office — the film starts its international rollout in Europe in April, before hitting U.S. theaters on May 18th.