Columbia wins auction for Asimov's sci-fi trilogy

Columbia won an auction late Thursday for screen rights to “Foundation,” Isaac Asimov’s ground-breaking sci-fi trilogy. The project will be developed as a directing vehicle for Roland Emmerich.

Emmerich and his Centropolis partner Michael Wimer will produce the film. The deal was for mid-six against low-seven figures.

Originally published as a series of eight short stories in Astounding Magazine beginning in 1942, “Foundation” is a complex saga about humans who are scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, living under the rule of the Galactic Empire.

A psycho-historian who can scientifically read the future sees an imminent empire collapse and prepares to save the knowledge of mankind.

The surprising emergence of Sony and Emmerich at the controls of “Foundation” owes at least a bit to the animosity between Warner Bros. and Fox over “Watchmen.”

The property was originally developed by Fox and producer Vince Gerardis but found its way to New Line and then to Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne as the first major project announcement after the former heads of New Line formed Unique Pictures at WB.

Gerardis, whose Created By formerly repped the Asimov estate and who is producing an adaptation of Asimov’s “The End of Eternity” at New Regency, was attached as producer. And Fox would have had to be compensated for its development costs. That became a problem for Warner Bros., and the studio allowed its option to lapse, expecting to quietly make a new deal with a clear chain of rights that would have left Fox and Gerardis on the outside.

It turned into a spirited auction. WB bid for Unique and director Alex Proyas, while Fox bid for Gerardis. Emmerich and Sony were the surprise entrants. Turns out that Wimer had been tracking the availability of the rights since he was Emmerich’s agent at CAA, and Columbia Pictures president Matt Tolmach pounced. Emmerich and Wimer just completed “2012” at Sony.

CAA and Trident Media’s Dan Strong brokered the deal on behalf of the Asimov estate.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more