There were offers sight unseen, some even hitting eight figures, before the project was taken to market. Producers were calling Cregger’s representatives, begging to be involved. No dice. Nobody was getting a peek until it was to hit the market the morning of Jan. 22.
In the 24 hours after Cregger’s new horror project, Weapons, was sent to Hollywood studios, a brief but intense bidding war exploded. And just as quickly, a whopper of a deal was made.
Closing whirlwind negotiations Tuesday, New Line has won the rights to Weapons, signing a deal that seems unprecedented in modern times, especially for a filmmaker with essentially just one movie under his belt.
Yes, there is the money — eight figures to write and direct — according to sources. The numbers are more than double the entire budget of his previous movie. That alone is remarkable and harkens back to an older era of Hollywood where spec sales caused weekend bidding war frenzies.
But there’s more. There’s a guaranteed greenlight. There’s Cregger receiving final cut, pending a threshold is met during test screenings. There is a controlling interest in a backend pot. And of course, there is the guarantee of a theatrical release.
“Zach proved with Barbarian that he can create a visceral theatrical experience for audiences and that he commands every tool in the filmmaker toolbelt,” said New Line’s president and CCO, Richard Brener, in a statement. “We couldn’t be happier that he, Roy [Lee] and Miri [Yoon], and J.D. [Lifshitz]and Rafi [Margules] chose New Line to be the home of his next film, and hope it is the first of many to come.”
Sources say that if things turn out well with this project, a goal would be to ultimately have Cregger become a significant horror voice and supplier for the Warners/New Line movie factory.
All of this underscores the wunderkind status that Cregger achieved thanks to his Barbarian. The writer-director was an actor and comedian, and a co-founder of the comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know. He co-directed and co-wrote a little-seen 2009 movie titled Miss March, an ultra-low-budget road comedy involving the search for a Playboy centerfold, and was part of the ensemble of the TBS comedy Wrecked.
Then came Barbarian. It’s hard to describe the movie without revealing its twists and turns, but it starred Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgard and Justin Long in a story about a woman who finds herself double-booked at an Airbnb in a very shady Detroit neighborhood. Without revealing anything, let’s just say “never go into the basement” has never been more sound advice.
The movie premiered at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2022 and then opened in September to rave reviews. Critics and audiences were slack-jawed as Cregger’s movie wove several seemingly disparate elements together to craft one of the most original, and scariest, movies of the year. The movie, released by 20th Century Studios and financed by New Regency, grossed over $40 million domestically (it only had a limited release internationally, where it racked up $5 million) on a budget of $4.5 million, and was one of the films that contributed to the strong horror wave of 2022.
It also put Cregger on the list of filmmakers that many major actors, producers and studios wanted to be in business with. When word spread of a new project in the offing, jockeying began in earnest.
Plot details of Weapons are being kept holstered, but it is described as an interrelated, multistory horror epic that tonally is in the vein of Magnolia, the 1999 actor-crammed showcase from filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.
On top of writing and directing, Cregger will also produce with Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment as well as J.D. Lifshitz and Raphael Margules of Boulderlight Productions, all of whom produced Barbarian. Vertigo’s Miri Yoon will also produce.
The fact that Cregger had a new project was an open secret, but getting one’s hands on the new material was anything but easy. Despite the blind offers, Cregger’s camp — which includes CAA, Artists First and law firm Jackoway Austen — held out.
The high security and thrill of the proceedings brought to mind the heady days that greeted certain filmmakers in the early 2000s. Post-The Sixth Sense, for example, new scripts by M. Night Shyamalan going out were practically events, a time when a hard copy was delivered to a studio head in a suitcase and had to be read in the presence of the courier.
This being the 2020s, Weapons was sent out via Embershot, a secure content-sharing app that can monitor how many times the script is read and even what page a reader is on.
Offers began pouring in immediately, but unlike other bidding wars where streamers could muscle in, this one had studios flexing hard. In the end, according to sources, it came down to Universal and Warner Bros.’ New Line division. Even after a late night session that bled into the early hours, it was unclear who the victor was. New Line finally emerged with the deal by midday Tuesday, with Warners’ Picture Group co-chair Michael De Luca also getting involved. It was less upfront money than a potential Netflix deal, according to a source, but the potential upside via an assured theatrical release that could more than make up for it was a big selling point. New Line’s track record with horror was also a selling point.
As for Cregger, this moment has been more than a decade in the making, after he felt he’d stalled out in Hollywood. As the filmmaker told THR last year of his journey to Barbarian: “I just started writing, and I wrote a bunch of scripts. Some of them were good, some of them were bad. And eventually, I got this. So it was a long process. It was like 10 years of me working back into this position.”