The directors linked with every blockbuster movie project

Feature Simon Brew 29 Jan 2013 - 07:03

Might it be time for us to find a fresh bunch of faces to link with every directorial opening on a blockbuster franchise?

The appointment of JJ Abrams as the director of the new Star Wars movie has brought to an end - hopefully - a game of speculation that now seems predictably rife whenever a major franchise is in need of someone to steer it. It's as if the infamous line from Casablanca - "round up the usual suspects" - has formed the cornerstone of who-will-direct-which-film speculation.

We're not playing holier than thou here, as we're as guilty of what we're about to talk about as anyone, but it's getting just a little depressing that the publicly acceptable circle of blockbuster directing talent seems so small. It's also got to the point, it seems, where unless it's Joss Whedon's name that's attached to a potential project, an avalanche of rage isn't far behind.

Star Wars isn't the only example where all of this has played out of late. We're seeing a directorial merry-go-round of sorts with Warner Bros' planned Justice League movie. And if Abrams eventually confirms that he won't be directing a third Star Trek film, then expect a new raft of speculation to begin regarding the director to take that project on. You can already sit there and jot down just who's likely to be linked with the film too.

After all, it seems that we've come to a point where a core of ten or so directors are regularly linked with pretty much anything, regardless of whether it's the kind of material that would interest them or not. To be clear, this linking is rarely done by anyone directly associated with the project, rather by a media keen to rule people out on a one by one basis. Hence, as The Shiznit pointed out here, we get stories questioning whether so and so is doing such and such a movie, and a second story or an update when the obvious answer is a big fat no.

It's certainly fun to speculate (again, we're guilty of it), but perhaps the more interesting Star Wars rumours surrounded the less predictable choices. Having sat through the compellingly wonderful Safety Not Guaranteed, we'd have been fascinated to see what Colin Trevorrow could have done with Star Wars had he actually been anywhere near the final shortlist. We find ourselves far more interested than we would have been in the Flight Of The Navigator remake, purely because of his involvement.

But who are the names on the aforementioned magical list of the 'usual suspects'? Well, JJ Abrams himself is clearly the first, and can look forward to being near the top spot for the rest of his life now. Given that he's directed just four features to date, all based around material that he's largely developed himself (his first Star Trek film has his footprints all over it), he's not always the most logical choice for some of the stuff his name is pushed towards. But then, once you've done Star Wars and Star Trek, all bets are off.

Christopher Nolan remains one of the key geek directors of choice too, but even more than Abrams, he's never given the impression of being a director for hire. Sure, he took the Batman job, but that wasn't locked into a franchise cycle at that stage, and he was on writing duties too. Was he ever really likely to do a Star Wars movie? Quentin Tarantino keeps popping up as well, in spite of the fact that he's written, directed and individualised every project that he's ever done. Granted, he was linked with Bond once (when he suggested it), but even then, few people thought it'd happen. Not least the producers of the Bond movies.

Joss Whedon is an obvious inclusion on the list. He has three movie directorial outings to his name (with Much Ado About Nothing the next to hit the big screen), and is locked into The Avengers 2 until 2015 at the earliest. If he, as is entirely possible, looks to The Avengers 3 after that, then it's hard to see him fitting another big blockbuster franchise in there, even if he wanted it. That doesn't seem to stop the speculation coming though. Duncan Jones is gradually getting mentioned in association with more and more projects too, as is Ben Affleck (who reportedly was on the wishlist for both Star Wars and Justice League). Whedon, Jones and Affleck seem to be in the circle of 'acceptable choices'.

Further names you can add? Brad Bird, Matthew Vaughn, Zack Snyder and, whenever a leftfield choice is called for, someone like David Fincher tends to round out the list of those usual suspects. Jon Favreau sneaks in there too at times, and it's a tradition to at least mention Steven Spielberg somewhere along the line.

What most of these directors have in common though is that they're generally not the kind of people who studios look for. When a studio is embarking on a major new franchise, it's increasingly looking for a more economical and slightly less powerful name, we'd argue.

Sure, there are exceptions to this (Star Wars seemingly being one of them), but is it a coincidence that Sony took a talent such as Marc Webb and signed him up for three films when it chose to reboot Spider-Man? He's closer to the position that Christopher Nolan was at when he started his Batman journey, rather than when he ended it, and that in turn is closer to the sweet spot between talent, control and value that a studio is presumably yearning for. Basically, a sweet spot that few of the names we've mentioned seem to hit.

As for the wider media? Speculation will inevitably continue to be part of the job. But when the next big franchise vacancy opens up - be it Star Trek, Terminator, or whatever - it'd be refreshing to see a genuinely different mix of names thrown into the mix, if we are all going to speculate (which, let's face it, we are). A Tarantino-directed Terminator film might be an absolute blast to watch, but it's never going to happen, is it?

We may as well let the campaign for Woody Allen's Batman reboot start right here...

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I'm always kind of annoyed that Neill Blomkamp's name isn't being brought up more. District 9 is a stone cold classic and a really original bit of sci-fi. It's him and Duncan Jones that have made the best sci-fi films of the last few years (I think Moon and District 9 are both better than the more lauded Inception and though I really enjoyed Star Trek I saw it more as a blockbuster action film) and I have sky high hopes for Elysium.

I think the only reason he's not mentioned more often because there's been quite a gap between his first and second film. I expect that to have changed by the end of the year.

Agreed. Elysium can't get here quickly enough as far as we're concerned.

It's probably been said somewhere before but, if the internet had been around in the era of Empire Strikes Back, the level of negative buzz / geek boy yowling over Irvin Kershner's appointment to the director's chair would probably have put paid to the making of arguably the best of the Star Wars franchise.

Kershner hadn't directed a run of sci-fi action epics, nor did he go on to make any more, yet it is the film that cements the franchises' place in many Star Wars fans minds. It shows the power of a good script and great (not obvious) choices.

The thing is though that just like any talent pool, those with the ability to get bums on seats are always more desired by studios than those who make little seen but critically acclaimed movies. Sometimes a chance will be taken on a director but the results of Batman Begins and The Amazing Spiderman show how difficult it is to predict that final result will produce what seemed like a natural fit when first signed up.

This is why Michael Bay gets the run of a studio, when he can still make a billion dollar movie that nobody seems to actually like. When he's bored of Transformers then he'll decide what will be the studio's next project for himself and make another Billion.

Avengers success was a freak no-one could have predicted. If a studio expects a movie to make that kind of money they don't put it in the hands of someone untested unless it's faring badly and they're desperate to revitalise it at minimal outlay and risk. X-men: First Class is a great example of that. Vaughn brought the franchise back from the brink following X3 and Wolverine Origins and suddenly everyone's excited about it again and his stock has risen to earn him a place at the table whenever a movie is looking for someone who can deliver. Before that he was still a mid-table director.

If we start playing guessing games with other mid-table directors it's a lottery as to what we'll actually end up with.

Neill Blomkamp to me is a weird one, like you said the guy is a genius.
However I wopuld put him in the Chris Nolan and the likes camp, such as QT and co, in that he likes a lot of control and expects to write direct and poss produce.
And when it comes to franchises studios want too much control for these guys.

Another director often mentioned is Darren Aronofsky. Batman, Wolverine, Superman...where hasn't his name popped up? Also, Brett Ratner.

Joss Whedon should write and direct every Hollywood film for the next 10 years (with Nathan Fillian staring), or until they let him make a sequel to Serenity.

Yes! Aronofsky is a genius, IMHO !!!!

To be fair, Aronofsky wasn't just linked to Batman and Wolverine, but actually worked on them for some time before leaving the project. I do wish he'd follow through on more films...

I'd certainly consider Fillion as a possible candidate as a new Indiana Jones. Either him or Bradley Cooper.

Flaky directors won't get much from the studios

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