Nicholas Sparks has to be feeling lucky


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Get ready for more messages in more bottles.

The adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ tearjerker ‘Dear John’ is already tracking well at the box office, with the tissue industry bracing for the attendant surge in demand. Now another Sparks-derived romantic drama could be making a leap forward.

Producers on the Sparks adaptation ‘The Lucky One,’ which has been percolating along nicely in development at Warner Bros., are closing in on a director. Scott Hicks, best known for the 1996 hit ‘Shine,’ is the front-runner to direct the picture, with the director and executives at Warner Bros. scheduled to meet and come to their decisions shortly.


‘Lucky One,’ which is produced by longtime Sparks collaborator Denise Di Novi, involves a Marine who, while on a tour of duty in Iraq, finds a photo of a mysterious woman. He stashes away the photo for good luck and then uncovers a group of secrets when he eventually seeks out the woman. The latest version of the script, written by Will Fetters (who wrote the upcoming Rob Pattinson romantic drama ‘Remember Me’), is said to be in very good shape, and the project is considered a priority for the studio.

There’s no actor attached yet, though producers have previously had preliminary discussions with James Franco about the lead role.

If the movie reaches the screen, it could create a veritable Sparks bonanza -- three movies based on the author’s work in a very short span.

‘Dear John,’ the military-flavored romance starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, premieres tonight in Hollywood before opening this weekend. (The movie, for those who haven’t snuggled up with the book and a cup of cocoa, is about a U.S. soldier who meets an activist college student and has a long-term, at times long-distance, relationship with her.)

And in early April, Sparks could expand his core demographic when Disney releases ‘The Last Song’ as a feature vehicle for Miley Cyrus. Sparks wrote ‘Song’ initially as a screenplay with Cyrus in mind (he later adapted it into a novel), crafting a story of a teenage girl who reconnects with her estranged father over a music-filled summer.

Studios are wise to look to Sparks. Adaptations of the author’s work may not be racking up Academy Awards, but he has proven a fan favorite -- and a reliable author to lean on for mid-budget romances. Each of the four movies based on his books (‘Message in a Bottle,’ ‘A Walk to Remember,’ ‘The Notebook’ and ‘Nights in Rodanthe’) has earned at least $40 million domestically, while one (‘The Notebook’) doubled that number and earned $81 million. And Sparks has written at least one book every year since 1998, giving studios plenty of material to draw from.As for Hicks, he’s recently moved between more commercial comedies and artier films. Nominated for two Oscars for the piano-player drama ‘Shine,’ he most recently directed Clive Owen in the single-parent drama ‘The Boys Are Back,’ but before that mined relationship territory with ‘No Reservations,’ the restaurant-set romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart.


--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in ‘Dear John.’ Credit: Scott Garfield/Screen Gems