“Fortress II,” expected to be a hot title at the American Film Market, has instead been abruptly yanked out of the bidding action. Worldwide rights (excluding Australia/New Zealand) to the futuristic action sequel have been acquired by 20th Century Fox.

“It’s a property we actively pursued,” said Peter Rice, Fox director of acquisitions and production. “We had the first film in a few territories and could see the immediate appeal of a sequel. It just made sense to go for the whole package.”

Rice and Fox senior VP Cliff Werber moved quickly last week to finalize a deal, according to the film’s co-producer, Greg Coote. Rice added that the studio has followed up with suggestions on script and direction.

The original “Fortress” was produced by Davis Entertainment and Village Roadshow and directed by Stuart Gordon. Miramax released the film in September 1993 to an eventual lackluster box office of $ 6.7 million. Internationally, the film grossed more than $ 35 million, largely on the appeal of Christopher Lambert.

Columbia/TriStar released the picture in a majority of international markets and also secured domestic video rights. It was anticipated that the company would pair with Miramax in creating the financial package for the sequel.

“I get the sense that Columbia is a bit dumbfounded by how quickly Fox moved, ” said Coote. “There seems to be a much more aggressive mood at Fox since Bill Mechanic was hired (as president of 20th Century Fox). They had a global sense of the picture and made an offer which worked for all parties.”

The new script, written by Troy Neighbors and Steven Feinberg, takes the story into outer space and onto an orbiting, armed fortress. Lambert has inked to reprise his role from the first outing, with production expected to begin in late summer in Australia on a budget targeted at between $ 15 million and $ 20 million.

Gordon’s return as director could be stymied by the start of his “Space Truckers” project, which is being sold at the AFM.

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