Sci-fi sequel runs big risk: 'Blade Runner 2049' backers bet on a follow-up to 1982 film

Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

In 2010, producer Bud Yorkin and his wife, Cynthia, approached Century City-based Alcon Entertainment with an audacious proposal: to make a sequel to the landmark science fiction film "Blade Runner."

There were abundant reasons to avoid the project. Ridley Scott's 1982 original, about a futuristic society where androids known as "replicants" are almost indistinguishable from humans, is revered by notoriously protective science fiction fans.

Sequels rarely live up to expectations, especially when the originals are several decades old. Like the movie's futuristic cops tasked with snuffing out rogue robots, moviegoers know how to tell a fake from the genuine article.

"We started off like, 'Oh my God, what are we doing? This is a sacred thing. People are going to start throwing stones at us,'" said Cynthia Yorkin, whose husband died in 2015 at age 89. "The key thing was to convey that we were going to do this thing with integrity."

Alcon is about to find out if its big gamble will pay off as the long-awaited sequel "Blade Runner 2049" hits theaters this weekend. The movie cost an estimated $150 million to produce after rebates and before marketing costs.

"Blade Runner 2049" illustrates how far entertainment companies are willing to go to generate so-called franchises that result in sequels and expansive "universes" of movies. Studios and production companies have to place big bets on well-known intellectual property to survive in today's film industry, said Schuyler Moore, an entertainment attorney with Greenberg Glusker.

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"These days, if you're going to make it in the film business, you either have to swing for the fences or go to Netflix on your knees," said Moore, an expert in film finance.

Alcon, a 45-person company backed by FedEx founder Fred Smith, has invested tens of millions of dollars to develop and produce the movie, putting its future on the line in the hopes of a substantial payoff.

To help finance the sequel, Sony Pictures put up a hefty $90 million and is handling international distribution. Sony will get a cut of the movie's profits and distribution fees. Warner Bros., which released the original film and had rights to do so for any follow-up, is releasing "Blade Runner 2049" in the U.S. and Canada and will collect a distribution fee.

Alcon had already done the heavy lifting by acquiring the rights, developing the story and packaging key elements. Those included securing Scott's go-ahead and convincing Harrison Ford to reprise his role as Deckard, as well as getting Ryan Gosling to play the lead and tapping Denis Villeneuve to direct. Sony was already familiar with the French Canadian director from his work on "Arrival," which Sony released internationally.


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