Matt Damon not set for next installment

Paul Greengrass has opted out of helming another installment of Universal Pictures’ successful Jason Bourne franchise, and Matt Damon’s participation is not sealed. That’s a blow for the studio looking to assemble another sequel to one of its most important franchises, but hardly a fatal one.

Hollywood’s top franchises, including the long-running James Bond series and Warner Bros.’ Batman pics, have successfully gone on with new filmmakers and stars, with many even besting previous installments at the box office.

And with successful reboots such as the latest “Star Trek,” studios are moving forward with plans to breathe new life into other franchises, like the “Mission: Impossible” and Jack Ryan pics at Paramount, or “Alien” and “Predator” at Fox, many with new cast members and creatives.

“Jason Bourne existed before me and will continue, and I hope to remain involved in some capacity as the series moves on,” said Greengrass in a statement released by Universal on Tuesday. “You won’t find a more devoted supporter of the ‘Bourne’ franchise than me.”

Well, except for Universal, which is also developing a sequel to “Wanted” and would like new installments of “Jurassic Park,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “American Pie” and “Mamma Mia.” It has “Little Fockers,” the second sequel to “Meet the Parents” filming now.

Franchise-building is a difficult exercise, but even more so in cases like the “Bourne” franchise, which was originally envisioned as a trilogy.

Yet when the third outing, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” earned more than $227 million in the U.S. alone, and the ending was left open for another adventure, the studio sparked to doing another.

Other studios have also been quick to want sequels to pics that weren’t originally intended to continue with their original plans. For example, New Line had wanted a sequel to David Fincher’s “Seven” and Fox, more recently, was looking into ways to continue the Liam Neeson abduction thriller “Taken.”

But U’s progress on “Bourne” has been hamstrung so far by the fact that the creatives were otherwise engaged in directing other movies for the studio — each with Damon as the star.

For instance, Greengrass, who, like Damon, was never officially attached to a fourth “Bourne,” has been consumed with “The Green Zone,” a big-budget film that Universal releases in March. Ironically, that pic has been described by many as “Bourne in Iraq,” with much of the marketing so far selling that image. And Greengrass didn’t launch the franchise, with the first pic directed by Doug Liman.

“I will always be grateful to have been the caretaker to Jason Bourne over the course of ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum,’?” Greengrass said. “I’m very proud of those films and feel they express everything I most passionately believe about the possibility of making quality movies in the mainstream.

“My decision to not return a third time as director is simply about feeling the call for a different challenge. There’s been no disagreement with Universal Pictures. The opportunity to work with the Bourne family again is a difficult thing to pass up, but we have discussed this together and they have been incredibly understanding and supportive. I’ve been lucky enough to have made four films for Universal, and our relationship continues.”

The development on “Bourne 4″ began with a script by George Nolfi, who did uncredited writing on the last scene of the second “Bourne,” and penned the third pic with Tony Gilroy and Scott Z. Burns.

But Nolfi wound up leaving the project to make his directing debut on “The Adjustment Bureau,” a Nolfi-scripted Damon vehicle which Universal acquired from MRC and will release next year.

When that happened, the studio brought in Joshua Zetumer to write a parallel script, but the movie hasn’t yet taken shape, despite the efforts of producer Frank Marshall, and Captivate Entertainment’s Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith, who control the rights to the novels of the late Robert Ludlum.

So where does Universal go from here? There are two possible scenarios: If Damon, who has been hands-on creatively with the franchise, is happy with the job that Nolfi did on “The Adjustment Bureau,” he might back Nolfi’s candidacy to tackle the fourth “Bourne,” maybe even as director.

There is also Gilroy, another writer-turned-director. Gilroy’s “Duplicity,” which starred Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, may have misfired earlier this year for Universal, but he has been the creative catalyst on the “Bourne” series as a screenwriter, the only scribe whose name is on all three films. Gilroy could certainly return to rewrite and direct.

Or Universal could reboot the entire series from scratch with a new spy and director. The films were never closely tied to Ludlum’s books and any future pics could take creative license as well with a new cast, characters and situations.

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