'Rambo' star, MGM have remake in crosshairs

After a recent resurgence with sequels “Rocky Balboa” and the upcoming “Rambo,” Sylvester Stallone is taking aim at an MGM remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson starrer “Death Wish.”

Stallone is in talks to direct and star as an ordinary man who goes vigilante after his wife and daughter are attacked. Set to write the script are Michael Ferris and John Brancato, whose credits include “Terminator 3″ and “Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins.”

Paramount Pictures controls some “Death Wish” rights and has an option to partner. MGM will make the pic whether or not Par opts in, and if a writers strike is settled in short order, MGM will try to start production before March. Stallone’s partner, Kevin King, will be a producer.

Stallone showed surprising box office punch with “Rocky Balboa,” which grossed $80 million domestic and $150 million worldwide. MGM distributed that film after splitting the $24 million production budget with Sony and Revolution Studios.

“Death Wish” fits squarely into MGM’s long-term strategy of assembling tentpoles based on a 4,100-title library that encompasses post-1985 MGM fare plus UA, Orion, Polygram, Samuel Goldwyn and Cannon titles.

“We are looking at our library to determine which potential franchise properties make the most sense for us to produce, and ‘Death Wish’ was clearly one of that jumped out,” said MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands. “We hope to get a deal done with Sylvester Stallone to direct and star, and like the ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rambo’ films, we see this as another potential franchise for him.”

Stallone’s deal is being made by WMA.

While offerings on the current MGM slate are coming from UA and output deals with financier-producers like the Weinstein Co., Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Lakeshore, the company has placed a priority on generating its own event-sized staples, and is still on the prowl for outside production financing after an attempt to secure $1 billion was dented this summer by the credit crunch.

The gem is the James Bond series. Sony will distribute the 22nd Bond film that begins production in January with Marc Forster directing a Paul Haggis script, but MGM takes back distribution after that, and Daniel Craig is locked into a deal for the first three of those films. Studio is also counting on distributing two installments of “The Hobbit,” with hopes that a thaw between director Peter Jackson and New Line over “The Lord of the Rings” will return that helmer back to Middle-earth. Also on the docket is a sequel to “The Thomas Crown Affair,” and MGM is still waging a court claim for a stake in “Terminator Salvation.”

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