Sony Pictures is bringing two of Hollywood's hottest reigning stars together for an interstellar romance. According to The Hollywood Reporter, new studio chairman Tom Rothman has greenlit the development of Passengers, a sci-fi drama starring Oscar winner / all-around spitfire Jennifer Lawrence and newly minted box office wrangler Chris Pratt. Morten Tyldum, fresh off a directorial Oscar nomination for The Imitation Game, is signed on to direct. It's hard to imagine a more appealing pairing of performers in 2015 than Pratt and Lawrence, and Sony is hoping audiences will turn out in droves to see what kind of chemistry they can generate.
The movie's approval comes at a time when the studio is desperate for both broad commercial appeal and critical prestige. Crippled by last November's massive hacking scandal and sent into executive disarray, the studio hasn't taken strong steps toward a recovery with their 2015 releases to date. Chappie, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and Aloha all failed to connect with wide audiences and were met with critical derision to boot. There's help on the horizon in the form of Meryl Streep vehicle Ricki and the Flash and new Bond film Spectre, but Sony's still in no position to turn their nose at even a moderately risky property.
Of course, the risk in this instance is partially mitigated by the wild popularity of the movie's potential stars. Lawrence is considered America's brightest young actress by consensus, with a trio of Oscar nominations and two phenomenally successful franchises under her belt; Pratt is coming off the biggest opening weekend ever with Jurassic World, and has two other overperforming hits in his back pocket with The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. And while any original property is handled with extra care in a movie landscape dominated by sequels, prequels, and decade-spanning cinematic universes, there are precedents for successful dramatic space one-offs in Gravity and Interstellar. Those movies rode star power and directorial might to both critical acclaim and box office gold. Sony has its fingers crossed that Passengers can one day do the same.