The 127 Hours star has emerged as the new favourite to head up Sam Raimi's Wizard of Oz prequel, which is based on L. Frank Baum's classic books.
The film will be set before Judy Garland's original 1939 movie and focuses on an illusionist who flees a travelling circus in a hot air balloon, which is caught up in a tornado and swept to the land of Oz.
Downey, Jr. walked away from the movie last month (Jan11) and Disney bosses had reportedly approached Johnny Depp to take on the role. The Pirates of the Caribbean star is said to have passed on the fantasy due to other filming commitments.
Franco and Raimi are no strangers to one another's work - they collaborated on the Spider-Man franchise and last teamed up for Spider-Man 3 in 2007.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is due for release in 2013.
Update: Well, it looks like Sam Raimi managed to clear his schedule for this one. Yesterday we reported that Disney was courting the director to take the reins of Oz, the Great and Powerful, a proposed prequel to the original The Wizard of Oz, but that he had other commitments (World Warcraft) to consider before accepting. Now, Nikke Finke over at Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Sam Raimi has in fact agreed to take the directors chair in a meeting that went down with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) reps last night. Raimi will direct Robert Downey Jr. in the title role as a circus wrangler who gets whisked away by a tornado to the land of Oz, where he somehow manages to finagle his way onto the throne in the Emerald City.
Original story (June 14): Vulture is reporting that Disney has reached out to Sam Raimi to helm Oz, the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Although it had been rumored that Sam Mendes and Adam Shankman were also in the running for the gig, insiders are now reporting that Raimi received an official offer for the project this weekend.
However, it's not yet clear whether Raimi's schedule will allow him to accept. The director of the Spider-Man trilogy had planned on shooting a live-action adaptation of the popular video game World of Warcraft after wrapping Spider-Man 4, but since Sony has dumped Raimi and ordered a Spider-Man reboot, the director's next project has been a matter of speculation. World of Warcraft is now in pre-production, with a planned release date some time in 2013, but Disney is interested in beginning principal photography on Oz, the Great and Powerful sometime this year.
Even if that leaves time for Raimi to direct Oz, the Great and Powerful, Warner Bros. has been concurrently developing two competing Oz-based films of their own. One, called Wizard of Oz, is connected with studio producer Basil Iwanyk and scribe Josh Olson (A History of Violence); the other project, Oz, is being developed by Twilight producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey and writer Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) for Warner's New Line Cinema. Both would have to contend with British filmmaker John Boorman's straight-up CGI adaptation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is due sometime this year.
While it's not unusual at all for competing studios to be in development of similar subject matter (especially when said subject matter is now public domain, as the original L. Frank Baum novel has been since 1956), pressure from Warner Bros. may force Disney's hand; if World of Warcraft becomes a major commitment for Sam Raimi, I wouldn't be surprised if the studio moves ahead on Oz, the Great and Powerful without him.
Sam Mendes has become the frontrunner to direct Oz the Great and Powerful, Production Weekly said via Twitter yesterday.
Robert Downey Jr. is said to be circling the role of the Wizard. Playlist reports that details are scarce, but that the project is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz and is based on a script by Mitchell Kapner.
With Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli putting "Bond 23" on hold, Mendes is freed up from that project but Downey Jr. has an upcoming schedule that includes Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes 2 and most likely Joss Whedon's The Avengers early next year.
Last month, The Los Angeles Times reported that Joe Roth was developing a movie called Brick that delves into how the Wizard came to sit behind the curtain. That screenplay was drafted by Kapner, basing it on pieces from several other L. Frank Baum Oz books as well as his original ideas, said the LAT at the time.