Any number of potential movie properties have spent years in Development Hell, but few can match the tortuous journey of Mack Bolan to the screen. The star of an incredible 900-odd pulp novels that are still being published at the rate of a dozen a year, action super-agent Bolan has so far defeated everyone who's tried to build a movie around him. Now, 45 years after Bolan's print debut, Avatar 4 writer Shane Salerno has stepped up for one more try, after making a deal with original author Don Pendleton's estate.
Pendleton wrote the first Bolan novel, War Against The Mafia, in 1969, intorducing the Vietnam vet Green Beret in a story that saw him taking personal revenge on mob loan sharks after the murder of his family. The author went on to write a further 36 Bolan adventures himself, under the umbrella title The Executioner, before selling the rights to publisher Worldwide Library and supervising an army of ghost writers until his death in 1995. The series currently has a home with Gold Eagle, and includes multiple spin-offs based around the elite commandos of Bolan's secret anti-terrorist organisation Stony Man.
Producer Joseph Levine hired James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum to write a Bolan movie as a vehicle for Steve McQueen in 1972, to no result. Burt Reynolds tried to launch a series in the 1980s, intending to produce and direct while his buddy Clint Eastwood starred, but that didn't work either. Later, Sylvester Stallone wrote his own screenplay, intending to star with William Friedkin directing. Still nothing. And most recently, Vin Diesel was developing the property in the early 2000s, but again it stalled and the rights lapsed.
The Pendleton estate had, by all accounts, completely written off any thoughts of films after that, but Salerno (Armageddon, Shaft, Salinger, Oliver Stone's Savages) is clearly persuasive and has now been given carte blanche with Pendleton's own novels and all the subsequent instalments, including the team-based spin-offs that he views as "Bolan's Avengers".
"We know how mindful Shane is about maintaining the essence of Bolan, a true hero who has touched the minds of readers for decades,” said the author’s widow, Linda Pendleton. “We look forward to Mack Bolan being shared with an even larger world audience through film.”
While the character may seem in origin like more of a Punisher type, the angle here is something of an American James Bond. Salerno says he envisages a "relevant, grounded and gritty, real-world PG-13 action-drama film series". He plans to put a package together with a director and star before taking the project to studios and launching with a trilogy.