“We love our superheroes, but new intellectual property is also really important, and throughout the history of Hollywood, literary intellectual property has always flourished,” Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of Sony’s Motion Picture Group, said in an interview. “This is an innovative way to give Sony early access to HarperCollins authors. To work with Elizabeth, who is a superstar, makes authors feel not just comfortable but fortunate.”
Mr. Rothman, who has orchestrated a turnaround at Sony in recent years, beat out a competing bid from Paramount Pictures, which has been working on a comeback of its own.
Ms. Gabler is expected to take a half-dozen projects from Fox 2000 with her. On Aug. 9, Disney will release a completed film she left behind, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” based on Garth Stein’s 2008 novel, which was published by HarperCollins.
Ms. Gabler acknowledged that the box office had shifted toward franchise spectacles in the Netflix age, making it harder for dramas and comedies based on books to break through. But she rejected the notion that such films were no longer viable in theaters.
“A best-selling book brings enormous audience pre-awareness,” she said, noting that Mr. Stein’s “Art of Racing in the Rain” had sold more than eight million copies.
Ms. Gabler previously worked for Mr. Rothman, who resigned as chairman of Fox’s movie group in 2012 after a long run. HarperCollins, part of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, was a corporate sibling to Fox in that era, but there was not an official system of funneling books to the studio, Mr. Rothman said.
“I’ve wanted this equivalent of a Disneyland FastPass for a long time,” he said, referring to the new setup with HarperCollins.
One of the big five publishers, HarperCollins has had several breakout hits recently, including Rachel Hollis’s self-help books “Girl, Wash Your Face” and “Girl, Stop Apologizing.” In its recent earnings for the third quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, HarperCollins reported a 29 percent rise in earnings from the same period in 2018.