Open Road to release the Max

Dolphin Entertainment's new film banner to produce live action movie with toymaker for release in 2014. Taylor Lautner no longer involved

As Mattel reboots its “Max Steel” franchise with a new line of toys and an animated TV series, the company also has revived plans to produce a live action movie based on the property, with Open Road Films picking up the project to release in theaters late next year.

Dolphin Films, the newly created production banner of Dolphin Entertainment, will produce the film. Project serves as the first film under a multi-picture distribution deal Dolphin has set up with Open Road.

Through the pact, Dolphin will focus on pics aimed at families, tweens, teens and young adults.

“Max Steel” revolves around teenager Maxwell McGrath and alien companion Steel who can combine special turbo-energy powers to generate superhero Max Steel.

Charles Cohen, former chief operating officer of MGM, was recently tapped to run Dolphin’s new film shingle. He most recently was senior advisor for Kirk Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp.

“During his long tenure at MGM, Charlie Cohen worked on several large properties across multiple platforms, which makes him ideally suited to lead Dolphin Films,” said O’Dowd said. “We couldn’t be happier that Charlie has joined us, as we feel he’s the perfect addition to a stellar cast of experienced executives involved in this partnership.”

Dolphin Entertainment, run by Bill O’Dowd, already focuses on producing TV shows and web series for younger viewers, including Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101” and “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide,” and Warner Bros. Digital’s “Aim High.”

“Launching our film division has been a natural progression for us,” O’Dowd said. “Along with our established television and digital departments, our theatrical group will complete our goal of having a fully cross-platform production and distribution business,” with Dolphin handling foreign distribution of its films that it will self-finance. The “Max Steel” film is expected to cost around $10 million to $15 million to produce. Dolphin will be at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival to shop the pic to foreign distributors.

Stewart Hendler, who helmed Microsoft’s web series “Halo: Forward Unto Dawn” will direct “Max Steel” based on a script by Christopher Yost (“Thor: The Dark World”). Hendler previously worked with Dolphin on “H+,” another web series for Warner Bros. that Bryan Singer produced.

“Dolphin has an excellent track record in creating family, tween, teen and young adult- focused entertainment,” said Tom Ortenberg, CEO, Open Road Films. “We can’t wait to work with Bill O’Dowd and his team to bring this product to the marketplace.” Open Road will release Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills” in October, followed by “Homefront,” in November, and the animated “The Nut Job” and “Sabotage,” with Arnold Schwarzenegger in January.

“Max Steel” was introduced by Mattel in 1999, and since its launch has involved toys, direct-to-homevid animated movies, videogames and other consumer products.

An animated series aired for a year starting in 2000, but Mattel pulled back on promoting the character in the U.S. shortly after 9/11 given that plots and play patterns were themed around espionage and terrorism that the toymaker considered too dark for kids at the time. The character still proved popular elsewhere, especially in Latin America where it still outsells “Star Wars” and “Transformers.”

“It’s impossible, if you’re in the kids business and sell in Latin America, not to know about ‘Max Steel,’” O’Dowd said.

Starting with a new series on Disney XD, co-produced with Fremantle Media Enterprises, that started airing in March and has been picked up for a second season, Mattel is re-introducing the franchise to kids with redesigned action figures that hit store shelves in August featuring a new color scheme — a more modern blue and white rather than green. Property received a big push at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas in June. Company sees the character as a way to launch a new super hero franchise.

Joe Roth had planned to produce a live action film based on the character in 2009, with Taylor Lautner attached to star, but the project fell apart when the actor ankled the project.

SEE ALSO: Paramount toys with ‘Max Steel’ pic

Mattel sees a “Max Steel” film as a way to excite and engage audiences around the world, and “personify the brand” as it looks to build the franchise with a new audience, said Doug Wadleigh, senior VP, global brands marketing.

While Mattel is developing films based on other toy lines like “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” “Max Steel” is expected to be the first of its franchises to make it to the big screen as a live action film.

CAA first introduced Dolphin to Mattel last year after Dolphin had already set up a distribution deal with Open Road. That deal helped cement Mattel’s relationship with Dolphin.

Dolphin chose to pair up with Open Road because of its backing by the Regal and AMC theater chains, and the distribution arm was looking for a partner to help add more family fare to its release slate.

“The fact we could make the first movie with the largest toy company in the world was a large boon for us,” said O’Dowd, who will produce the “Max Steel” movie alongside Mattel’s Julia Pistor.

Adds O’Dowd: “Today marks the beginning of an exciting new relationship between Dolphin Entertainment and Mattel, two companies that have consistently worked to delight and entertain children all over the world. We couldn’t think of a better property to kick off Dolphin’s feature film division than ‘Max Steel,’ which tells a story of the power of friendship and teamwork, with a heavy dose of humor – all qualities we hope to bring to our partnership with the Mattel team.”

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