How the Child's Play rights got split between two different studios

Child's Play Tom Holland

There are about to be two concurrent CHILD'S PLAY / Chucky franchises. While MGM (through their United Artists and Orion subsidiaries) will be releasing the CHILD'S PLAY remake on June 21st, franchise writer Don Mancini is still continuing the original series over at Universal. So how did this happen? How do two different studios both hold the rights to make Chucky projects? Entertainment Weekly has posted an interesting story explaining the situation, and it involves both Steven Spielberg and a man who was once one of Australia's most wanted fugitives.

The original CHILD'S PLAY was released in 1988 by MGM / UA and was successful enough that CHILD'S PLAY 2 was put on the fast track to an October 1989 production start. Then Australian businessman Christopher Skase and his company Qintex entered the picture. Qintex claimed $2 billion in assets and intended to purchase MGM / UA, making a deal with the controlling shareholder. And the problem was, Skase did not want the studio to make horror movies under his watch.

CHILD'S PLAY franchise producer David Kirschner was contacted by the then-head of UA and notified that since the new owner-to-be wasn't a horror fan, the studio was handing the series over to him, free and clear. Kirschner tells EW,

I was upset. It was just like, ‘How could you guys do this?’ My attorney said, ‘David, just let it go.’ What he said to me was, ‘In the next 24 hours you’re going to have every studio in town bidding on this.’ Sure enough, five studios in town made offers, because the first one had done so well."

According to an August 1989 issue of the Los Angeles Times, there were even more than five studios interested. Paramount, Warner Bros., Columbia, 20th Century Fox, the Price Co., Carolco, New Line Cinema, Disney, and Universal were all open to becoming Chucky's new home. It was Steven Spielberg, who Kirschner had worked with on the 1986 animated film AN AMERICAN TAIL, who convinced him and Mancini to take CHILD'S PLAY 2 (and future sequels) to Universal.

Spielberg was friends with Universal chief Sid Sheinberg, who sent him on a mission to get Chucky for him. According to Kirschner, 

Steven said, ‘David, listen, I would like you to give Universal the first shot at this. Give them your wish list of what it is that you want, and if they don’t meet that, then I’ve done what Sid Sheinberg has asked me to do.’ And so I said, ‘Great, let’s move forward with it.’ Steven really is the one that brought it over to Universal. It was Steven Spielberg and Kathy Kennedy [Spielberg’s producer and Amblin cofounder] who that made that happen."

For thirty years, Chucky's story has been continuing at Universal, and MGM missed out on the franchise because of a deal that was never finalized. Skase did not become owner of MGM after all. It was around the time when he was negotiating the MGM purchase that his business fell apart and he became a wanted man for some shady dealings. Officially $700 million in debt, but with some money hidden away, he fled Australia and spent the rest of his life hiding out in the islands of Spain and the West Indies.

But while Kirschner and Mancini took the CHILD'S PLAY sequel rights to Universal with them, MGM / UA retained the rights to remake the original film. And that is what they have now decided to do. So we're getting a theatrically released CHILD'S PLAY remake this year while Mancini and Kirschner have a Chucky TV series, which will follow the original seven films, in development at Syfy.

This isn't the first time a franchise has been split like this. Cinestate / Fangoria made PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH while the original PUPPET MASTER series will still continue at Full Moon, Warner Bros. was able to remake the James Bond film THUNDERBALL as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN with Sean Connery the same year MGM / UA released the Roger Moore Bond film OCTOPUSSY. But it certainly is awkward. As Mancini has said, 

You know, it might be different if we were finished (with the original series), but we’re hardly finished."

Mancini's concern is that the remake will "muddy the brand" while he's trying to get the TV series into production.

With the release of the remake just four months away, we'll soon find out how well having dueling CHILD'S PLAY projects is going to work out for everyone involved.

Source: EW.com



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