There Are Two Dueling 'Buck Rogers' Projects As Legendary And Skydance Face-Off Over The Classic Pulp Character

Hollywood is about to see double with Buck Rogers. The pulp hero, who is already getting a TV reboot starring George Clooney from Legendary Pictures, is also getting a new movie, this one from Skydance and backed by the estate of author Philip Francis Nowlan. And while competing projects about a single character are not uncommon in Hollywood, the two projects are competing over more than creative differences — the law is now involved. 

Less than a week after it was revealed that Legendary's take on Buck Rogers would star Clooney, Skydance has begun work on its own competing version, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But Skydance's Buck Rogers is competing in more places than just theaters. Backed by the Philip Francis Nowlan estate, Skydance's Buck Rogers is taking Legendary's version to court. Well, so to speak — the Nowlan estate has sent Legendary a cease-and-desist letter over the rights to the character, whose tangled copyright history has become the big battle between the two Buck Rogers projects.

What's happening is this: the character of Anthony Rogers first appeared in the 1929 novella, Armageddon 2419 A.D., the copyright for which wasn't renewed in the 1950s, placing the character squarely in the public domain. But the Nowlans are claiming that the character that would become known as "Buck Rogers" wasn't introduced until later comic book stories to which they hold rights and trademarks, all part of an attempt to keep the pulp hero out of the public domain. It's the rights to those later "Buck Rogers" iterations that the Nowlan estate has handed to Skydance for adaptation, while Legendary's version is based on the character being in the public domain.

It's now become an ongoing war. Both Legendary and Skydance are intent to go forward with their Buck Rogers projects, even as the Nowlans' cease-and-desist letter warn that Legendary's project would constitute "slander of title of the rights." The Nowlans' attorney Neville Johnson insists that Buck Rogers is not in the public domain, as "Buck is not in Armageddon, Anthony is a different character."

But Legendary is not backing down, telling THR: "We have secured the rights we need to proceed with our project and the company will not comment any further on these baseless claims. This same party has been claiming for years that they have rights which they do not have and have been trying to inhibit projects based on rights they do not legally control."

Skydance's version is still in very early stages, compared to Legendary's project, which already has several producers and writer Brian K. Vaughan on board. Skydance has no creative talent involved yet.