After the success of Dolphin Tale, what can Winter the tailless bottlenose do for a movie encore?
She can give audiences a little Hope.
Warner Bros. announced late Tuesday that Dolphin Tale 2 is slated to be released in theaters on Sept. 19, 2014, although the project hasn't been officially greenlighted by its production company, Alcon Entertainment.
"I believe before we know for certain that we're making the movie, we're still probably 10 days away," said Alcon's co-CEO Andrew Kosove from Los Angeles. "We're very, very close."
The sequel would focus on an orphaned Atlantic bottlenose named Hope, who lives with Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which would again serve as a primary filming location.
Kosove said Wednesday that the project is in early stages of development with principal cast members including Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman in advanced negotiations to return. Dolphin Tale director Charles Martin Smith is already signed for the sequel, this time working with a screenplay he wrote. Filming would begin in late October or early November.
Like Winter's movie debut, the plot of Dolphin Tale 2 is a fictionalized account of real-life events. Dolphin Tale centered on Winter's rescue in 2005, the subsequent loss of her tail and its replacement with a prosthetic.
During Dolphin Tale's wrap party in December 2010, aquarium officials received word that another injured dolphin calf had been recovered on Florida's east coast, near the same lagoon where Winter was saved from entanglement in a crab trap. The dolphin, later named Hope, was transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she recovered and now resides.
The notion of a sequel to Dolphin Tale was floated soon after the movie's debut weekend in 2011 when it sold $19.1 million in tickets, finishing a close third behind The Lion King's reissue and Brad Pitt in Moneyball. In its second week of release, Dolphin Tale leaped to the top of the box office chart, a Hollywood rarity.
Dolphin Tale proceeded to gross $72.3 million at North American box offices — nearly double its reported $37 million budget — plus another $23 million overseas and $24 million in domestic DVD sales. Kosove said nearly another $100 million was spent to market Dolphin Tale worldwide.
Kosove said the sequel's proposed budget is similar to the original's, and unlike Dolphin Tale it would not be filmed in 3-D.
Over 55 production days in 2010, Dolphin Tale pumped nearly $17 million into state coffers, including paychecks totaling slightly more than $7.5 million for nearly 1,300 Floridians working as crew members, actors and extras. The rest was spent on equipment rentals, hotel accommodations, catering and other production expenses.
Thanks to Florida's Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program offering tax credits to in-state productions, Alcon Entertainment recouped slightly more than $5 million of its expenditures.
However, the incentives program fund totaling $296 million at its 2012 peak is depleted, with all monies claimed by film, television or video game productions around the state. Alcon was hesitant to move forward with Dolphin Tale 2 without assurances of somehow receiving similar financial benefits as before.
To that end, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and state Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, allocated general revenue funds totaling $5 million to entice Alcon to proceed with production. Gov. Rick Scott didn't veto the allocation using his line-item authority in May, clearing a path for Alcon.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.