Will Sony Greenlight 'The Girl Who Played With Fire,' And Will David Fincher Direct?

Over the last couple weeks, one studio announcement has been conspicuously absent.

With the launch of most major film franchises — that is, the opening of a film that is envisioned as a gateway to more of the same — it doesn't take long at all for studios to greenlight the second entry. With films based on existing properties like comic books, that announcement can come before even the end of the first film's opening weekend. Studio accounting, shady as it is, has been refined to a science, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday numbers are often all that it takes when the time comes to pull the trigger on a sequel, or to put the gun against the temple of the young franchise.

So where's the press release announcing that David Fincher will direct The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire for Sony/Columbia? It hasn't hit yet. But Sony says the film is still in development and that it will get made. We've known that Steven Zaillian is busy on the screenplay, and there has been vague talk of shooting the second and third films back to back. But will David Fincher direct?

I'm betting the answer to one of those headline questions is 'no.'

Sony put a lot of muscle behind the Christmas release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As it turns out, the plans for the film were based on at least one grand miscalculation. The studio evidently thought that it had the adult version of a superhero tentpole franchise on its hands, and treated it as such: a big-name director, big marketing and a big running time. That's not quite what the movie is.

And something happened; or somethings, more likely.

Mission: Impossible happened, for one. Paramount's movie drew audiences with the spectacle of IMAX action scenes and the easy, generally family-friendly likability of the franchise. If you're part of a family that likes to see movies at Christmas (as I am) did you travel to the multiplex en masse to see a film drenched in dread and featuring big sexual violence? Probably not. Adult movies are OK at Christmas, but Dragon Tattoo is no True Grit, as Scott Rudin, producer of both films, is probably willing to admit now.

And as I'm looking at some online responses to the film from dedicated fans of Stieg Larsson and, more specifically, of his character Lisbeth Salander, I see mixed reactions. Rooney Mara's portrayal of the character is excellent, certainly the highlight of the film, but there are grumblings that Fincher's version is less empowered. (I think his version is more honest to the book, and to the character — this is a messed-up woman more than an out and out heroine, but her actions and drive make her interesting, complex and sometimes admirable.) The film is a high Cinemark ranking, suggesting that audiences like it.

But the film has taken only $72m worldwide so far, against a production budget of $90-100m. (That budget doesn't take the massive ad budget into account.) It isn't the windfall Sony might have hoped for. With that taken into consideration, would the studio give David Fincher the same freedom he had with Dragon Tattoo? Seems unlikely. I don't see why he'd want to make the sequels at this point — there doesn't seem to be much benefit at all. There could be some dealmaking angle that would make the prospect attractive, but in the long run the sequels seem like something best handed off to someone else.

As for Sony, a rep for the company told EW,

[Dragon Tattoo] continues to do strong business and nothing has changed with respect to development of the next book.

So we might still see another Stieg Larsson adaptation out of the studio, and it could re-team Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, as they're both going to be bound by contract to make the film(s) if Sony wants them to.