Helmer returns to the Man of Steel

Bryan Singer has inked a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures to direct and produce a sequel to “Superman Returns,” with Legendary Pictures expected to co-finance.

Pic is tentatively intended for release in summer 2009, although the studio stressed that there’s not even a script or budget yet.

Sequel is apparently at the very beginning of the development process and, as with any other project, there are any number of factors that must be addressed before it is greenlit.

Pact with Singer signals that Warners isn’t ready to walk away from the iconic franchise — or Singer –even though “Superman Returns,” while grossing more than $390 million worldwide, wasn’t the performer studio had hoped for.

Warners and Legendary say they will still turn a profit from “Superman Returns,” with Singer inking his deal just as the film crossed $200 million at the domestic box office.

Insiders say Warners and Legendary are sure to insist that the sequel’s production budget comes in under $200 million.

“Superman Returns” fell under endless scrutiny for its production budget, which the studio puts at $209 million after tax rebates and incentives. The number is much higher when factoring in more than $40 million in development costs — “Superman Returns” was in the works for years –even though those costs were previously absorbed.

Critically, “Superman Returns” was disparaged for lacking in action. Singer has said he would address this concern in the follow-up.

In terms of casting, Warners has an option on “Superman Returns” star Brandon Routh.

Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris penned the script for “Superman Returns” based on a story they created with Singer. It’s not clear whether Dougherty and Harris will return for the sequel.

Legendary’s involvement is key for the studio. Under the co-financing and co-production deal between the two, Legendary puts up half the money for films on which it’s partnering.

Legendary is Warners’ partner on the revived “Batman” franchise as well.

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