Few industries enjoy taking really, really, really long extended holiday vacations quite like Hollywood. So when we get to this time of the year, there’s really not much in the realm of “movie development news” to discuss. This is especially true in a weekly column which normally includes 10 different stories. So, this week and next, we’re going to instead review 12 of the year’s top stories, presented to you in monthly chronology. The year-in-review begins with the “Fresh Developments” which here also serve (mostly) as the “Top Stories” of the year. Our retrospective begins with one of the year’s biggest stories, which was…
One of the most confusing things about superhero movies for people not deeply invested in following them is the division between the cinematic adaptations of various Marvel Comics characters. Try explaining explaining why The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, and The Fantastic Four all reside at separate studios. Well, in FEBRUARY, after a few months of rumors and speculation, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures announced that they had come to a resolution that will bring Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films produced by Marvel Studios. The new version of Spider-Man will debut in Captain America: Civil War on 5/6/16, because Spider-Man was a big part of Civil War in the comics, and also because it’s Marvel’s next big movie. The web-slinger will then star in a new solo movie for Sony Pictures, which Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige will produce and will be scheduled for July 28, 2017. The new Spider-Man was announced in June as 19-year-old Tom Holland, answering a search for an actor who can credibly portray Peter Parker as being an actual teenager still in high school. With Spider-Man now joining the MCU, that also opens the door for various MCU characters (including those not yet introduced) to appear in Sony’s movies, in addition to Marvel’s. As for the money behind all of this, the arrangement is described as being more like a “lease” than a sale, with no money being exchanged, and Sony benefiting from Marvel’s talent, creative supervision, and input, while Marvel obviously benefits from getting a big chunk of their characters back. So, going forward, you only have to explain to your confused uncle how Marvel’s characters are only split in half instead of thirds.
Admittedly, we still don’t know whether next summer’s (7/15/16) reboot of Ghostbusters, with an all-female crew of stars, will be Fresh with the critics. But the reveals of the new cast were certainly among the biggest stories of early 2015. It started in January with the news that Melissa McCarthy was in talks for one of the four slots, and she was soon followed by Saturday Night Live alum (and McCarthy’s Bridesmaids costar) Kristen Wiig and two current members of the show’s cast, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. They were joined later in 2015 by various announcements about new roles for original Ghostbusters stars Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts. Rick Moranis apparently decided not to join them, and of course, Harold Ramis died on February 24, 2014.
When any movie earns over $1.27 billion, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising when the studio eventually announces plans for some sort of sequel or follow-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not really, really big news for all of the fans. Such is exactly what happened for the Frozen franchise in March (just as the short film Frozen Fever was premiering in theaters in front of Cinderella that weekend). The announcement wasn’t particularly lengthy, but it did include a few crucial details, such as the return of directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and voice actor Josh Gad as the voice of Olaf the comic relief snowman. What was specifically missing in the announcement was the rest of the voice cast, including Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa), but… their omissions were probably just due to continuing negotiations. For example, Idina Menzel has already talked relatively recently about plans for a Frozen sequel. As for when Frozen 2 can be expected in theaters, fans should probably dress snugly, because the wait in Arendelle might be a few years. Walt Disney Animated Features has already scheduled their next three feature films, which Frozen 2 would ostensibly have to follow. The animal comedy Zootopia is scheduled for March 4, 2016; the Pacific Islands adventure Moana is scheduled for November 23, 2016, and the “Jack and the Beanstalk” adventure Giants is scheduled for March 9, 2018. So, it’s probably going to be at least three years yet before Frozen 2 will be ready for release.
As Warner Bros prepared to launch its next franchise with J.K. Rowling, one of this year’s critical darlings emerged as the studio’s top choice to star. The spinoff franchise is called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (as you may now know since the teaser trailer has gone live since), and the key character in all of it is the book’s “author,” Newt Scamander. The actor that Warner Bros landed as Newt Scamander is Eddie Redmayne, who won the Best Actor Academy Award this year for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is seen by Warner Bros as the first of a new franchise of films featuring Newt Scamander in his adventures in the magical New York City of the 1930s. The first movie (11/18/16) will be directed by David Yates, who directed the most recent Harry Potter movies, and also has the Legend of Tarzan coming in 2016 (7/1/16), also with Warner Bros. A trailer for Fantastic Beasts is now already available, and you can watch it here.
It’s been known for a while that 20th Century Fox has had plans for spinoffs of their successful X-Men franchise, including solo movies for Deadpool (2/12/16) and Gambit (10/7/16), and talk of an X-Force team movie. In May, the news broke that one of the potentially most promising spinoffs will indeed be the long-rumored title The New Mutants, which 20th Century Fox has hired director Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) to co-write and direct. In a few ways, The New Mutants might be the most appropriate property 20th Century Fox could have chosen, since, like the planned movie, it was itself Marvel’s first (of many that followed) X-Team spinoff series when it launched in 1982. With The New Mutants, the focus was less on students that moonlighted as superheroes, and more on characters who really were students first and foremost but whose mutant natures also frequently forced them into having adventures, teen romances, and journeys of self-discovery. For the most part, the core team of The New Mutants has not really been featured in Fox’s movies previously, which may have been a clue all along that the studio was planning on someday making the movie. Of course, the question that still lingers is exactly what relationship The New Mutants will have to Fox’s plans for an X-Force movie, since in the comics, the original X-Force team actually grew out of The New Mutants (which suggests that the X-Force movie might indeed be a sequel to The New Mutants).
Following the surprise runaway success of American Sniper, Clint Eastwood became an unusually hot director (especially for someone 85 years old), and his decades-old studio home at Warner Bros spent a few months trying to find a suitable deal for Eastwood’s next film. Some of the possibilities had included the Richard Jewell biopic (which remains at 20th Century Fox), and the long-in-development next version of A Star is Born (which Bradley Cooper is now believed to be directing instead). Warner Bros began negotiations in June to acquire the rights to Sully, the true story of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed a passenger airliner on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board. The script by Todd Komarnicki (2007’s Perfect Stranger) reportedly delves deeper into “behind the scenes” intrigue that the public was not aware of at the time. Clint Eastwood did eventually sign on to direct Sully, and Tom Hanks later came on to play the good Captain. Sully is now filming, and expected to be one of Warner Bros’ contenders for awards season in late 2016.
Admittedly, the second week of July (right before San Diego Comic-Con) had two big movies about characters getting their own solo films, with the first being Ben Affleck’s Batman (which he will also direct). We’re giving the advantage here to the reveal that Star Wars favorite Han Solo will be featured in a prequel that shows one of his early adventures. The Han Solo prequel, showing what the smuggler was doing before he ever met Luke Skywalker, will be directed by the team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, following their successes with such films as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, and The LEGO Movie. This Han Solo movie was written by Lawrence Kasdan, with his son Jon Kasdan. The elder Kasdan’s previous Star Wars screenwriting work includes The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and this year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We don’t know the final title yet, but this Han Solo prequel is scheduled for May 25, 2018. We also don’t know quite yet which young actor will take over from Harrison Ford, but Lucasfilm is certainly being exhaustive in their search. The producers have reportedly met or seen video from over 2,500 young actors, including actors like Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ansel Elgort, and Dave Franco. We expect to hear who will be the next Han Solo sometime in 2016.
Director Martin Scorsese has collaborated with Robert De Niro for eight movies now, but Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been in five Scorsese films, is definitely catching up. In August, it was announced that Scorsese and DiCaprio are reuniting for what will be their sixth film working together. That film is the long-in-development adaptation of the Erik Larson non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. There was a studio auction for the rights to this package, and the winner was Paramount Pictures, which is in need of hot properties (as the studio is currently #5 in market share). Leonardo DiCaprio will play one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, Doctor H.H. Holmes, who is believed to have killed anywhere from 27 to over 200 people during Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893. Holmes constructed “The World’s Fair Hotel,” which he was secretly using to lure his victims to their deaths, in “a haunt that had a gas chamber, crematorium and a dissecting table where Holmes would murder his victims and strip their skeletons to sell for medical and scientific study.” The Devil in the White City is being adapted by screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games).
Years of frustration over situations like the split of Marvel Comics characters between Marvel Studios and Fox have conditioned fans not to expect certain “dream movies” to happen, due to rights and licensing issues. In a surprise deal in September, however, the skies did indeed part, and a potentially “awesome” movie mashup is now possible that previously seemed so unlikely that few fans or pundits ever even thought of it. In 2014, Warner Bros released a successful reboot of the Godzilla franchise, which was produced by Legendary Pictures, a company that then moved to Universal Pictures. At Universal, Legendary has been developing another new monster reboot called Kong: Skull Island, which is currently scheduled for release on March 10, 2017. That film will be directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer), and will feature a cast including Tom Hiddleston (Marvel’s Loki), Brie Larson (Trainwreck), Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, and Tom Wilkinson. Now, here’s where things get surprising. Legendary Pictures has announced that Kong: Skull Island (which may get a new title) is moving to Warner Bros, Legendary’s former studio home. All of this is being done with the expectation that the King Kong reboot will be followed by Godzilla 2 (6/8/18) (which is expected to introduce other Toho giant monsters like perhaps Mothra, Rodan or King Ghidorah). Then, both of those movies would be followed by a giant movie that would basically be a reboot of King Kong vs Godzilla, Toho’s original 1962 movie mashup. All of this is possible in large extent because King Kong itself is in the public domain, and because all of this also falls within the legacy of Toho Studios, which remains the source of Legendary’s license to make these big big budget Godzilla reboot movies.
Following the success of The Grand Budapest Hotel (including four Academy Award wins), director Wes Anderson has decided upon his next film, and it will be a return to one of his most unique directorial styles. For his sixth feature film as director in 2009, Wes Anderson made the unusual decision to direct a stop-motion animated movie called Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a children’s novel by Roald Dahl. We don’t know the title yet for this new stop-motion comedy, except that it will be about a group of dogs. It didn’t take long for us to find out who the dogs will be voiced by, because the news also came the same week, directly from one of those actors. Jeff Goldblum revealed that he will be joined by Bob Balaban (Best in Show), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Edward Norton as the voices of the four lead dogs. Goldblum also mentioned that the film will be “Japanese-inspired,” but what exactly that means right now is extremely open to interpretation.
If you’re one of those people who regularly follows film development news and have been doing so for a while, you might recall an animated project from a few years ago called Me and My Shadow. The movie first made the news in 2010 as a DreamWorks Animation project that would combine CG and traditional animation in its telling of “Shadow Stan, an incredibly frustrated shadow that yearns for a more dynamic life but happens to be stuck with Stanley Grubb, the world’s most boring human.” In 2010, Me and My Shadow was expected to be released in March of 2013, but obviously, that never happened. As of last month, Me and My Shadow appears to have been given a new chance at actually being released, and it’s via one of online fandom’s most popular directors. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who is currently filming his next project, Baby Driver, is now attached to make his animated feature film debut with Me and My Shadow. It’s not yet known if the film will still be a traditional/CGI hybrid, or how far away the film might be from release (but a good guess is that it will be a while yet).
Hollywood is increasingly divided into three camps: those who have worked with Marvel, those who have worked with WB/DC, and those who just haven’t landed their opportunity yet. (Though there are at least 15 who have done both, they are still a relative minority.) There are still some major players who have not yet signed on for their turn at a superhero role, but that list grows a little smaller with each big new film that casts up. Earlier this month, we were able to cross Cate Blanchett off that list, as she is now in talks to take an unspecified role in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok (11/3/17). Although Blanchett’s role is being kept secret for now, there are at least three major roles that are both likely to be in Thor: Ragnarok and could be played by her. Let’s address them in reverse order of Blanchett’s probability of playing them. First, there’s Brunnhilde the Valkyrie, who has already been semi-confirmed as appearing in Thor: Ragnarok, but who is the most physical of our three guesses, which is not Cate Blanchett’s most obvious wheelhouse. A second possibility is Amora the Enchantress, and although Cate Blanchett has played a sorceress before (in the Lord of the Rings movies), Marvel might be more likely to cast a young actress for the role (Blanchett will turn 48 in 2017). A third possibility is Hela, the ruler of Hel, the Norse afterworld, who in the comics is the daughter of Loki (though being immortals, this point might be more fixable). Thor: Ragnarok will also feature Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, and will be directed by Taika Waititi (codirector of What We Do in the Shadows).