As we near the release of the highly anticipated Terminator Salvation, troubled MGM Studios is hoping to get into the Terminator game by positioning itself to take over the distribution of Terminator 5, part two in the planned new trilogy.  Yep, shock waves are being felt around Hollywood, since Warner Bros. and Sony are distributing next week’s Terminator Film.

Terminator Salvation is opening in a week (May 21, 2009), and Warner Bros. is distributing the film domestically (much like it did with the under-rated Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), while the international release is being handled by Sony.  Halcyon, the production company behind the movie, is planning on creating a new trilogy starting with Salvation and director McG is already talking about potential T5 plot lines.  So it’s a surprise that there may be a battle for the distribution rights.

A little history between MGM and the Terminator franchise: Orion Pictures owned the rights to the first film, then they went bankrupt and MGM picked up the rights (for DVD, etc.).  Before that, production companies Carolco and TriStar Pictures produced and released the legendary sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Then Cutthroat Island sunk Carolco, and producers Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar had to fight to get the rights to make Terminator 3 with their new company, C2 Pictures.  The company, along with Halcyon, also produce the Fox TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which began airing episodes in early 2008.

Convoluted I know, but that’s how things sometimes work in Hollywood.  When a production company goes bankrupt, the rights get bought up and sometimes split up, too.

After Terminator 3 came out in the summer of 2003, director Jonathan Mostow and writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris were developing a fourth film with MGM Studios interested in distributing the film.  But with Arnold Schwarzenegger now the governator, and apparent infighting in C2 Pictures, Halcyon took over the rights (Vajna and Kassar remain as producers) and MGM got cold feet and backed out of distribution, following a lawsuit between them and Halcyon over the distribution (again convoluted, but that’s the story).  Enter Warner Bros., Sony, director McG, star Christian Bale, and the rest is history.

The deal for Halcyon was that MGM Studios would get 30 days to approve whether or not it would help produce and distribute a Terminator 5 (based on the first draft of the script), which was the same deal they had on the fourth film.  Now that Terminator Salvation is a red hot film (especially since Bale is a big star thanks to The Dark Knight), MGM understandably wants back in the Terminator business.

But there’s another problem: MGM Studios is in financial trouble.  It’s paying $250 million in interest on loans just in 2010, and they have to pay off that debt by 2012 to the tune of a jaw-dropping $3.7 billion.  Add to that, the troubled economy and how it’s affecting all studios, and you can quickly understand both why MGM wants Terminator 5 and why it may not be able to afford it.

It could be about a year before Halcyon presents MGM with the first draft of Terminator 5 and then put a high price tag on the production which could force MGM to pass after their allotted 30 day period.  I’m betting that Warner Bros. and Sony will then get the next crack at it and we’ll see T5 in 2011 or 2012.  Other studios are interested, but I think things will get resolved by then.  We’ll keep you up-to-date on Terminator 5 as it unfolds, and as Terminator Salvation may break some box office records.

Sources: Variety, Deadline Hollywood Daily