2ND UPDATE: Mike Fleming and Nikki Finke have just confirmed that Sony Pictures decided today to reboot the Spider-Man franchise after franchise director Sam Raimi pulled out of Spider-Man 4 because he felt he couldn't make its summer release date and keep the film's creative integrity. This means that Raimi and the cast including star Tobey Maguire are out. There will be no Spider-Man 4. Instead, Mike Fleming is told, the studio will focus on a Summer 2012 reboot from a script by Jamie Vanderbilt with a new director and a new cast. All this took place today at meeting on the lot today. An official Sony Pictures news release about it is expected out now (see below).
Immediately, the news brought celebration and consternation equally to webslinger fanboys who say the reboot plot puts Peter Parker back in high school. There's also much unconfirmed speculation that this new franchise will be in 3D. And the fans also recall that, in 1991, James Cameron wrote a treatment for Spider-Man and now they're wondering if he might helm the reboot. (Sony ended up acquiring his treatment in a legal settlement.)
Here's what went down: My sources tell me that Raimi told Sony Pictures: "I can't make your date. I can't go forward creatively." And, so, once he said "That's it", Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal and Columbia Pictures' Matt Tolmach decided they didn't want to replace him and instead chose to reboot the franchise. Insiders also tell me that Tobey Maguire heard the news in a phone call with Amy today. I'm told Tobey wasn't upset. "He's made 3 great Spider-Man movies. He's done really well. But he's the kind of guy who, if Sam wanted to go forward, would have been there for Sam and the studio. Absolutely."
Mike Fleming has heard that, from Spidey, Raimi could move to World Of Warcraft, or to The Given Day, that terrific novel by Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Mystic River. Both are worthy projects, but World Of Warcraft is a huge franchise.
Fortunately for the studio, Sony was not yet "pay or play" on some of the talent negotiations which were still only at the tail end. Raimi was insisting that John Malkovich play the villain, and the studio was looking to cast Anne Hathaway. "I'm not so sure we're going in that direction," an insider told me on January 5th. Sony had been hot for her until bigwigs realized she'd cost too much and they probably don't need "such a big star" for the pic, I was told. (See my previous, Anne Hathaway Wanted For 'Spider-Man 4'.)
As for those repeated rumors that Spider-Man 4 might shoot in 3D, I've learned it would have added at least 6 months to the production schedule and "no one on the pic has any idea how to do that," a source confided. You've got to figure 3D now is uppermost on Sony minds given the post-Avatar climate, and Summer 2012 is more than enough time to make the reboot with new technology. Back in April, Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton told Forbes magazine: "People are paying a premium to see movies in 3-D and that's a very big deal. It's never been done before that someone says you have to pay more to see Spider-Man than a romantic comedy."
The events that led to today's shocking decision to scrap Spider-Man 4 can be traced to mid-December when I saw a December 11th email alerting the pic's special effects crew that the fourquel would not be starting as planned "but Sam Raimi has story issues [that] need to be resolved before we are ready to shoot". At that point, it wasn't well known that the Spider-Man franchise director helming the 4th installment had huge problems with the script that has run through screenwriters Jamie Vanderbilt, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Gary Ross. I was told Sam Raimi had been very vocal inside Sony that he "hated" it. I broke this story on January 5th, and reported that Raimi and Sony were anxiously waiting for still another version from screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who wrote Spidey 2 & 3 and is married to Spidey franchise producer Laura Ziskin. "It is unlikely that May 11, 2011, date will be made," a Sony insider told me that day. "It depends on how quickly the script can get in." However, agents told clients in the movie to already expect the film to be pushed back.