When a franchise dies, all of Hollywood sheds a tear. But when a franchise dies prematurely, while it still has years of cash to give, Hollywood goes to battle stations. And tonight, Hollywood stands on the brink.

Today the news broke that Hollywood 19th highest grossing franchise in all history may be in jeopardy. According to a report on The Playlist blog, director Paul Greengrass, who has shepherded the series through its last two installments, has walked off the film, possibly taking with him star Matt Damon.

The story is a tale of runaway egos and runaway budgets colliding in a studio under assault from incoming and outgoing corporate overlords. As reported, Greengrass, one of the contemporary cinema's most celebrated directors, has the expensive habit of "finding a movie" while shooting it; a practice which has clearly served him well, so long as you're not the one writing the checks for his retakes and extra footage. Apparently, there has been simmering frustration at Universal with Greengrass' slow-moving ways.

But then, someone at the studio decided to let him make an Iraq war film on Universal's dime. The film, entitled The Green Zone and starring Bourne lead Matt Damon, was according to The Playlist, Universal's little Christmas gift to Greengrass; that was supposed to be his small film to tide him over between Bourne blockbusters.

Well somehow, you know how it goes on movie sets, one thing led to another, someone got drunk, someone stayed out too late, someone ordered an extra bomb detonation and then you wake up and you've spent $100 - $150 million on a film about the one subject which the public has definitively stated they will not pay to see films, the past 20 films on the topic having grossed a combined total of a bubblegum wrapper, a few paperclips and a Starbucks half-price-before 5 pm coupon.

What followed is a bit unclear; it seems what with the GE and the incoming Comcast bosses paying more and more attention to costs in the dire Universal film business, tempers were strained, people were nagged and as a result Paul Greengrass has walked out on Hollywood 19th highest grossing franchise. And worse still, Damon has made a cryptic statement about being "loyal" to Greengrass, potentially pulling the plug on the whole darn thing.

The report quotes people familiar with the situation saying that the break-up could still be patched up, but at this hour, there are many more questions than answers. Among the things we must know while the fate of Bourne hangs in the balance:

  • Why would a director as talented as Greengrass even want to make a third Bourne? Yes, by the low standards of today's thriller genre he's done a classy version, but its still basically a running around and jumping behind dumpsters and shooting at stuff movie? We're all for a good thriller, but is Bourne really the only place to get one?
  • Is Matt Damon really irreplaceable? And if so, why? There's no one else who could do furrowed brow/quietly intense guy?
  • No matter what Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon do, would the laws of nature ever allow a franchise that is still turning out cash to go away?
  • Is there anyone in America who can recite the plot of the last two Bourne films (without looking)?
  • Will this, the senseless slaughter of a profitable franchise, be enough to sink Jeff Zucker? Are there enough straws in show business to break him?
  • Would this stunning development and the end of big screen Bourne put an end once and for all to the preposterous debate on whether the Bourne series is better than the Bond series?

Tonight, as Hollywood locked behind its drawn curtains and waits by candlelight for the all clear, much more lies on the line than the fate of one better than average, 19th highest grossing film franchise.