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‘Sicario’ Sequel in the Works at Lionsgate (EXCLUSIVE)

Lionsgate is developing a sequel to “Sicario” that will center on Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious hitman.

The project is being overseen by Taylor Sheridan, the writer of the acclaimed thriller. Director Denis Villeneuve is also involved, although it’s early in the process and it’s not clear if he would come on board to direct. Black Label Media, which backed “Sicario,” is co-financing the development of a follow-up.

“Before the release of this movie, I was talking to Denis and I said what happened to this character?” said Patrick Wachsberger, co-chair of the studio’s motion picture group. “Where is Benicio going?”

The studio executive was thrilled Monday after “Sicario” debuted to a sizzling $401,288 last weekend from just six theaters. Its per-screen average of $66,881 is the highest of the year.

The film centers on a steely FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who finds herself involved in an off-the-books operation to bring down a Mexican drug kingpin. Josh Brolin co-stars as a morally flexible government operative. Lionsgate is planning an Oscar campaign, Wachsberger said.

“This movie has multiple Oscar potential — best movie, best director, best cinematography, best music, and, of course, the actors,” he said. “All of the characters feel real.”

He added that he hoped that “Sicario” with its eerie shots of nighttime raids and violent border cronfrontations might finally score an Oscar for Roger Deakins, who is zero for twelve despite nominations for the likes of “Unbroken,” “Fargo,” and “Skyfall,” calling the award, “past due.”

Wachsberger also agreed with critics who have been predicting Oscar love for Blunt and calling her performance as tough agent forced to question her beliefs one of the finest of her career.

“She is totally credible,” said Wachsberger. “You end the movie wondering what’s going to happen? What happen to her character? Is she becoming a wolf?”

Despite the strong box office response, Lionsgate is going to roll out “Sicario” at a deliberate pace. It expands to eleven cities and roughly 65 locations next weekend, before going wide on Oct. 2.

“This is a movie that needs word of mouth,” said Wachsberger. “It’s not an easy title. ‘Sicario’? You have to Google that. You’re not going to wear a t-shirt of that.”

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