Vladimir Putin cut from two upcoming Hollywood movies


Hollywood isn't ready to give screen time to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who's been excised from two upcoming studio features.

Fox's Red Sparrow (March 2) tells the story of a Russian spy (Jennifer Lawrence) wooed by the CIA to be a double agent. It's based on former CIA officer Jason Matthews' novel, which drew raves for its insights into current spy craft. When Fox exec Emma Watts optioned the book in 2013, she shifted the story from modern-day Russia to 1970s Budapest, nominally to give it a more "timeless" feel — and though Putin has a key role in the book, he was dropped.

Then, after Frances Lawrence came aboard as director, Watts shifted the story back to the present day. As Red Sparrow raced toward a January production start in total secrecy (including encrypted scripts that generate a user audit log), the studio "has been scrambling to reflect what is playing out 24/7 in the news," says a production source.

Despite the explosion of interest in the Kremlin following the U.S. election, Putin's character was not restored. Insiders describe the moves as "creative choices," but by avoiding Putin, Fox also is steering clear of any Russian hackers who might protest.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his dog named Yume, which was presented to Putin by Japan's northern Akita Prefecture in July 2012, welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upon Abe's arrival for their meeting in Sochi, Russia, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 8, 2014. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT.
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches a Przewalski's horse in preparation to release it from an acclimation pen at a reserve for wild horses outside Orenburg, Russia, October 3, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Alexei Druzhinin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin feeds Przewalski's horses in preparation to release them from an acclimation pen at a reserve for wild horses outside Orenburg, Russia, October 3, 2016. Sputnik/Kremlin/Alexei Druzhinin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a cat while inspecting reconstruction of houses for people who suffered from wildfires in the village of Krasnopolye at the Siberian Khakasiya region, Russia, September 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a Persian leopard during his visit to the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre in the Sochi national park near Sochi February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) stands near reindeers in the Siberian Federal District July 20, 2013. Picture taken July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin poses for a picture beside reindeers in the Siberian Federal District July 20, 2013. Picture taken July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin leans to touch a dolphin as he visits the Primorsky Aquarium, which is under construction, on the Russky Island in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, September 1, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin poses for a picture as he fishes in the Krasnoyarsk territory in the Siberian Federal District July 20, 2013. Picture taken July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with a walrus during his visit to the Primorsky Aquarium, which is under construction, on the Russky Island in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, September 1, 2013. Picture taken September 1, 2013. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin lies on the snow during a walk with dogs in Moscow Region, March 24, 2013. Putin walked with Bulgarian shepherd and Akita Inu breeds of dogs, according to RIA Novosti news agency. Picture taken March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's President Vladimir Putin lies on snow during a walk with dogs in Moscow Region, March 24, 2013. Putin walked with Bulgarian shepherd and Akita Inu breeds of dogs, according to RIA Novosti news agency. Picture taken March 24, 2013.REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) touches an octopus as he visits an oceanarium on the Russky Island in Vladivostok, September 6, 2012. Putin will take part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. REUTERS/Ria NovostiMikhail Klimentyev/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Dima Sokolov (front R), the boy who has proposed the dog's name for Putin, play with the Bulgarian shepherd dog named Buffy at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plays with his Bulgarian shepherd dog named Buffy at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY ANIMALS) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov reacts as Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) hugs a Bulgarian shepherd dog presented by Borisov as a gift in Sofia, November 13, 2010. Putin is in Bulgaria on one day working visit. REUTERS/Oleg Popov (BULGARIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS)
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hugs a Bulgarian shepherd dog, after receiving it as a present from Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov (not seen) in Sofia, November 13, 2010. Putin is in Bulgaria on a one day working visit. REUTERS/Oleg Popov (BULGARIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse as he takes part in an expedition to Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Preserve to inspect the snow leopard's habitat in Tyva Republic in the Siberian Federal District October 29, 2010. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Pool/Alexei Druzhinin (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS IMAGES OF THE DAY) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin feeds a young elk at the national park 'Losiny Ostrov' (Elk Island) in northeast Moscow, June 5, 2010. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool/Alexei Druzhinin (RUSSIA - Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT POLITICS)
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse during his working visit to the Siberian Khakasiya region near Karatash settlement outside the city of Abakan February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS ANIMALS)
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (2nd R), Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov (2nd L), the head of a Russian research institute for space instrument making Yuri Urlich (L), and the head constructor of a new Russian satellite global positioning system, Evgenny Belyanko, stand around Putin's dog Koni that wears a GPS device on its collar in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow October 17, 2008. Putin's black labrador Koni on Friday received a collar, which will help its master monitor her movements through Russia's news sattelite global positioning system GLONASS. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool (RUSSIA)
Russian President Vladimir Putin leads an Arabian horse at the opening ceremony of the riding school for children outside Moscow on October 20, 2002. Putin presented the horse to the new school.
- FILE POTO TAKEN 26JUL02 - File picture shows Russian President Vladimir Putin as he rides a horse outside Moscow, July 26, 2002. (Credit : REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/KREMLIN PRESS SERVICE REUTERS)
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Additionally, Putin is missing from EuropaCorp's upcoming Kursk, the true story of a Russian submarine that sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea in 2000, even though he appears in the source material, Robert Moore's best-seller A Time to Die,and was in early versions of the screenplay.

"For a studio to release a movie about Putin that makes him look like a fool would be suicide," says Ajay Arora, CEO of security firm Vera, which works with studios. "That's a certain way to be targeted [for retaliation]."

Though Putin may be off-limits thanks to hacking concerns, the film industry is finding the Russia theme too irresistible to ignore altogether. From studios looking to incorporate the current Kremlin obsession into plotlines to writers taking secret meetings with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev about potential projects, there's a new Red Dawn rising in Hollywood.

"We've seen a lot of projects where Russians are portrayed as villains, but I don't think this is '80s redux," says Grandview Management's Jeff Silver, who reps several clients involved in projects that either take place in Russia or have Russians featured prominently. "The political climate is so much more fluid, nuanced and chaotic, and good screenplays and stories are reflecting that."

Read more: Jennifer Lawrence's 'Red Sparrow' First Trailer Arrives at CinemaCon

Grandview manages Charles Cumming and Arash Amel, who each penned drafts of The Tracking of a Russian Spy, which StudioCanal is prepping for a January start date. That film (not to be confused with Marc Webb's How to Catch a Russian Spy at Fox, with Oscar winner Michael Sugar producing) will tackle the au courant issue of fake news and disinformation campaigns, with Logan Lerman starring as a journalist who travels to Moscow and becomes a useful tool of the Kremlin.

Silver says the Russian subgenre is so hot right now that Grandview even had a writer whom he could not name due to a nondisclosure agreement travel to Moscow to visit Gorbachev to discuss a film on his life. Another manager with a high-profile client says, "Everything will be Russia for the next four years."

It's a path already well-worn. For many decades, Hollywood took aim at the Communist superpower with such films as Norman Jewison's comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and John Milius' Red Dawn. But by the time MGM was developing its 2012 Red Dawn remake, the studio replaced Russia with China as the invading nemesis, only to change the villains to North Koreans in postproduction in an effort to appease China.

But Russian adversaries are back and will be featured in a number of forthcoming sequels. Wonder Woman will travel back in time to fight the Soviets in the Cold War for Warner Bros.' second outing. Despite being the victim of Hollywood's most devastating hack ever, Sony will wade into the territory in The Girl in the Spider's Web, in which the character of Lisbeth Salander becomes involved in Russian hacker intrigue. And Sylvester Stallone recently hinted that the next Rocky spin-off will return to a Russian antagonist (1984's Rocky IV, perhaps the best example of Cold War agitprop from a U.S. studio, saw Russian villain Ivan Drago kill Apollo Creed in the ring) for Creed II. MGM declined comment on the direction of the next saga.

But while Hollywood is willing to feed the public's hunger for all things Russia, studios will likely continue to play it safe when it comes to depicting the current leadership. After all, even Oliver Stone, who directed the pro-Russia documentary series The Putin Interviews, left the president out of last year's Snowden.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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