The director of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF:US)’s “The Hunger Games” dropped out of the sequel, clouding the future of a film franchise that has amassed $464 million in ticket sales in its first installment.
Gary Ross, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay for “The Hunger Games,” was in talks to write and direct “Catching Fire,” the second of three or four movies planned by Lions Gate based on the teen-dystopia novels by Suzanne Collins. Ross cited time constraints for the decision.
“I simply don’t have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule,” Ross said in a statement released yesterday by Vancouver-based Lions Gate.
Ross’s exit leaves Lions Gate with the unexpected task of replacing the franchise’s creative leader just as it gears up for the next movie. Ross earned critical praise while delivering the third-biggest opening weekend of all time, helping to drive the independent studio’s stock to a 54 percent gain this year.
Lions Gate, run from Santa Monica, California, didn’t address the time frame for choosing a new director, or say whether the change will affect the release of “Catching Fire,” scheduled for Nov. 22, 2013.
“We’re very sorry that Gary Ross has chosen not to direct Catching Fire,” Lions Gate said. “We were really looking forward to making the movie with him. He did an incredible job on the first film and we are grateful for his work.”
Ross dropping out may not delay “Catching Fire” because there’s enough time before November 2013, Matthew Harrigan, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities, said in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman for Lions Gate, Julie Fontaine, declined to comment beyond the statement. Lions Gate’s Summit Entertainment on April 9 pushed back the release of “Ender’s Game” by 8 months to Nov. 1, 2013.
Lions Gate added 1.3 percent to $12.78 at the close in New York. The shares closed at a record high of $15.68 on March 21, two days before the release of “The Hunger Games.”
The movie has generated $306.6 million in domestic ticket sales, leading the box office for three straight weeks, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. Its $152.5 million opening weekend trails only the final “Harry Potter” movie in 2011 and the 2008 Batman sequel “The Dark Knight.”
Outside the U.S. and Canada, revenue totals $157 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
The departure of Ross confirms a report by the trade publication IndieWire last week that said he would drop out. Lions Gate at that time declined to comment.
Ross had agreed to do the sequel, producer Nina Jacobson said in an interview with Bloomberg News published on April 4.
The principal cast, including Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, have signed to complete the series of three or four movies, Jacobson said then.
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