Legendary Pictures emerged victorious and has landed Bad Blood, the pitch package that will be written and directed by Adam McKay, with Jennifer Lawrence starring as Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the controversial blood-test company Theranos. Legendary will pay around $3.5 million for the script to be written by McKay, who just shared a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Big Short. Universal will distribute through its deal with Legendary. The pic will have a budget between $40 million and $50 million. There is aggressive progress to production language, with McKay and Lawrence able to take the project elsewhere quickly, should it not go forward quickly. Landing the prestige picture is Mary Parent’s first major move to stamp her regime since taking the production reins at Legendary, and she prevailed over Paramount. Paramount was the other finalist in a bidding process that at one point had 10 suitors in the mix. Paramount distributed and marketed The Big Short, which got five Oscar nominations in total. One of the factors that gave the Uni/Legendary the upper hand was Legendary’s Wanda ownership, which gives the company a strong reach in China, as evidenced by the strong returns there on Warcraft.
The film will be produced by Gary Sanchez’s McKay, Will Ferrell and Kevin Messick, along with Lawrence.
The bidding battle got heated on Monday, after McKay delivered his pitch for the movie. Aside from the finalists, bidders in the mix earlier this week included Fox 2000, Warner Bros, STX Entertainment, Cross Creek, AG Capital and The Weinstein Company, and Amazon Studios. All of them responded to a McKay pitch for the hot-button film that is very much in the spirit of pics like The Big Short or The Social Network.
The pitch came after buyers were delivered an information package–watermarked to prevent leaks–that included a book proposal by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Carreyrou, who broke the story on Theranos for The Wall Street Journal last fall. A six-figure fee for the book rights is part of the deal. The whole auction was smartly played, and became the hottest pic package since the Max Landis-scripted spec Bright, which Netflix won with a $90 million commitment with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton starring. This was a different package from that tent pole popcorn film. Bad Blood is an adult drama with Oscar potential featuring Hollywood’s top paid actress who’s also been in the Oscar mix on films ranging from Joy to American Hustle and Winter’s Bone, to Silver Linings Playbook, the latter of which won her Best Actress honors.
Where McKay focused on the greed that caused the economic collapse in The Big Short, Bad Blood casts a critical eye on how innovative companies gain astronomical valuations, and sometimes prove too good to be true. Theranos is the blood-testing startup that Holmes founded in 2003, with claims it could test blood with only a pinprick instead of the traditional method of drawing blood by injection. That potential left Theranos with a $9 billion valuation as recently as two years ago. The company since has come under investigation over claims of inaccurate testing, and Holmes’ own worth — at one point valued at $4.5 billion for her 50% stake — has fallen to a fraction of that. The last valuation by Forbes placed the company’s net worth at $800 million.
He is repped by WME and Mosaic; Lawrence is with CAA and attorney Steve Warren. WME led the charge on the auction, with Messick in the mix as producer.