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State of the Franchise - Friday the 13th

Now that we’ve come to the end of the Friday franchise, it’s time for another State of the Franchise address.

Oh boy.

As of this writing, there has been no new installment since the 2009 reboot…which is a shame, given the momentum and relatively warm reception to the relaunch. Not for lack of trying. Numerous proposals came and went. Remember the ‘found footage’ craze? Yeah, there was a treatment that would have had the next film done in that style. In my opinion, probably a decent direction to take the franchise that switches up some of the conventions/tropes inherent in the series. After all, if it’s found footage, then that means you don’t have to have a final girl! However, as much as all parties involved wanted to put this project on the fast track a series of woes would pile up to a nearly insurmountable level.

Roadblock number one: well, show business is just that, business. Aside from the current Sony/Marvel deal regarding Spider-Man (which will totally fall apart once those movies stop making money), movie studios are in competition with one another and, as such, don’t necessarily like having to work with the competition. In order for the 2009 reboot to happen, Paramount and New Line Cinema had to work together – Paramount retained the rights the the Friday the 13th name while Sean Cunningham had taken the notable lead that he still retained the rights to, Jason, over to New Line. Each of these studios were limiting their output in the early 2010s due to financial reasons and as such, really didn’t assign any priority to any potential sequel…nor the prospect of working together again. As is nearly always the case, when it comes to money, each studio was of the mind ‘Why share…when I can have it all?’

This deadlock lasted until 2011 and would be broken by cinematic wunderkind, Christopher Nolan. In order for Warners to coproduce his film Interstellar, an agreement was made for their New Line Cinema to relinquish any claims to Mr. Voorhees for a period of time. As such, Crystal Lake was now firmly rooted in the Paramount backlot.

What followed is the very definition of 'development hell' as the script underwent rewrite after rewrite. Any student of Hollywood knows that if this cycle of rewrites goes on too long, directors move on to other projects…and sure enough, that revolving door started to spin. By this point, we’re in 2016, some 7 years after the reboot, but now there’s a script…yet another reboot…and a director: Breck Eisner, who helmed the damn fine remake of George Romero’s The Crazies. By this point, Paramount was both under the gun, as their deal with Warners would have the rights to Jason revert back to New Line in 2018, and yet in no hurry at all as prospective release dates were pushed further and further back into 2017.

In what had to be a relief for the studios involved, while furthering the frustration of fans, Victor Miller comes forward in January of 2016, the start of the 36th year after the original film had been released, filing for a termination of copyright, claiming that the franchise had been built on the back of his initial screenplay and, perhaps rightly so, he wanted a piece of the pie. Now, here’s where Superman comes in. [Didn’t see that coming, did you? – Ed.] Very long story short, Siegel and Shuster, Superman’s creators, sold their rights to the character in March, 1938 as part of the agreement for publishing the character and giving the duo jobs for a mere $130. Now obviously, we know the popularity of Superman and, rightly so, the boys felt hosed. By the time the original 1978 Superman film was ready to be released, Neal Adams and other more legally minded comic creators had banded together to get the still living Siegel and Shuster a pension from DC/Warners. In the early 2000s, Siegel’s widow would sue DC for the same reasons Miller was suing Sean Cunningham, termination of copyright. While the legal battle was long and drawn out, eventually DC prevailed in the end. What’s actually important here isn’t so much the outcome of that case, but the lawyer involved: Marc Toberoff. This would be the attorney Miller recruited for his case. No stranger to this type of case and how long it takes, but at the same time, he wasn’t entirely successful against DC as two courts ruled against his client, so in some ways, this was a bit of a gamble on Miller’s part. And the marathon began…

Now, while all of that unpleasantness was going on, you’ve got LeBron James and his production group offering in 2018 to co-produce the next film as well as writers and directors with pitches, treatments and scripts at the ready…just waiting for the legal battle to end.

And, in 2021, it did.

The Court sided with Miller, both in the initial case and the appeal. As such, Miller now had claim to the Friday the 13th title and the characters within. This would include young Jason Voorhees, the drowning victim…NOT the adult hockey-mask-wearing, machete-wielding focus of the remainder of the franchise. However, the biggest win here is that Miller now has the domestic rights to the franchise…so if there’s a Friday the 13th movie in the United States, Miller gets some cheese. This decision wasn’t a total loss for Cunningham though. He still retained foreign rights to the series…so if we see an artsy-fartsy French Friday film, Cunningham gets the cheese and doesn’t have to share with Miller. Most importantly, the Jason we’ve know and love remains solidly in Cunningham’s pocket.

So, at this point, in order for a new Friday movie to happen, Miller and Cunningham have to come to an agreement. Given the long legal battle, most Friday fans were pretty convinced that just wasn’t going to happen at all. Some even got morbid with it: the only way a new film was coming is if one of them died.

But in August of 2022, fans had reason to hope. The current studio with the rights to the franchise, New Line Cinema, posted a bit of a tease on their Instagram account with an image showing that “Jason Voorhees” wanted to send them a message. Further helping to fuel speculation was an entry in, of all places, Sean Cunningham’s Cameo profile, stating a new film was in the works for 2023. Then there’s Roy Lee from Vertigo Entertainment, who went halves with LeBron’s company for production of any potential next film of the series, saying that he’d love to do it and, who knows, maybe there might be some news on that by the end of this year (2022). So is a new film forthcoming? Well, if The Wrap’s reporting is to be believed, then hopes might be dashed a bit, as the studio claims the Instagram image was just for fun. Any film isn’t on their slate at this time.

Not gonna lie though…that denial just seems…weird.

Ultimately, should that be the case, this may be rooted in continued contention between the two main parties, Miller and Cunningham. Still, it does need to be argued that with the sheer recognition value of both the Friday name and Jason himself would help to ensure some pretty big box office should a return to the screen be in the cards. Now, imagine if the get it right, just as Blumhouse has with their current Halloween trilogy…resurrecting a franchise left for dead after Rob Zombie’s two divisive films. That’s a lot of money being left on the table, likely enough to satiate both men. Honestly, I remain hopeful. Now that the legal matter has been settled and all parties know what the rules of business will be going forward, why not put out a film? Given the number of fan-made productions on YouTube, including one starring Diana Prince/Darcy the Mail Girl from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, the demand is clearly there. Again, the money’s there for the taking.

It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a Friday the 13th in October, 2023. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching this entire series it’s this: Jason may die…but he never stays that way for long.

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