How badly does Columbia need to get the motor running on its Ghost Rider sequel? So badly that if Nicolas Cage can't commit to making it this year, they may have to make it without him. Insiders confirm to Vulture that Columbia is facing a ticking clock on the rights to the BBQ-skulled Marvel Comics character: Legally, if the studio isn't in production on a sequel by November 14, 2010, the franchise automatically reverts to Marvel — which means the comic company's new owner, Disney.
Insiders tell us that Columbia is asking Marvel for an extension. (Asking, pleading, it's a fine line.) But time is running out. Cage has spoken about his desire to make a second Ghost Rider; the issue is whether his schedule will be free before the deadline. Disney is also hoping to get him for a third National Treasure with Jerry Bruckheimer, which could be shooting as early as this fall and would presumably earn the star a hefty paycheck. And considering Cage's well-documented money troubles, that cash may trump his deep love of comic books. But Columbia (which would not comment on this story) desperately needs a blockbuster for 2011, now that Spider-Man has been pushed to 2012 — not to mention that no exec wants to lose a moneymaking franchise to a rival studio. We hear that FlashForward writers Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman, overseen by their show's creator (and Batman Begins scribe), David S. Goyer, have just turned in a draft of a GR2 script, which Columbia will bring to a still-evolving list of potential directors. (Earlier this year, producer Mike De Luca told Collider that the original film's director, Daredevil besmircher Mark Steven Johnson, will not be handling the sequel.)
But would the film work without Cage? One unconnected producer who’s worked in the comic-book genre gave Vulture an emphatic no, pointing out that the Ghost Rider character isn’t particularly well-known; any familiarity with it comes from associating the face of Cage — a worldwide box-office draw — with the title. Compare that to Iron Man 2, for which billboards all over the nation show nary a glimpse of star Robert Downey Jr. You don't need the star to sell that movie, you just need the suit.
But Columbia needs to hold onto this franchise so badly, they may be willing to risk going with someone else. After all, if they're worried about how an audience might react to a Cage-less Ghost Rider, they can then remember how they dumped the original 2007 movie into theaters in the barren month of February to miserable reviews (even the usually magnanimous Peter Travers at Rolling Stone dismissed it as “the soul-sucking devil of modern cinema: Hollywood formula”), and it still grossed almost $230 million worldwide. Logic may be irrelevant when it comes to this character: Hell, maybe they should cast the ghost of Dick Sargent to ride the motorcycle.