Whoever takes over the directing reigns for The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire from the recently departed Gary Ross will have to come to the table with a nimble and wide-ranging skill set. The second of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling books in the series is darker, weirder, more political, more violent, and, yes, sexier. Whoever directs its big screen adaptation will obviously need to be adept with visual effects and breakneck action sequences, but also with scenes of political nuance and powerful emotional impact.
She or he will also have to maintain a strong rapport with the established cast; make some crucial casting decisions that will impact the rest of the series; navigate the Hollywood politics of taking over a massively lucrative movie franchise; deliver a PG-13 film that remains true to Collins’ text; and reconcile their artistic sensibility (i.e. ego) with what Ross established in The Hunger Games and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) has done with his script for Catching Fire.
Most importantly, whoever Lionsgate hires will need to be available to do the job. Ross himself cited Catching Fire‘s Nov. 22, 2013 release — and its “fixed and tight production schedule” with a set-in-stone start date looming at the end of the summer — as the reason he won’t be returning to the franchise. Any prospective director will need to be free to prep this summer and see the film through post-production during much of 2013, a huge expanse of time to clear on such comparative short notice.
Many filmmakers who may otherwise be at the top of anyone’s wish list — Kathryn Bigelow, Alfonso Cuarón, Kimberly Peirce, Danny Boyle, Andrew Niccol — have ongoing projects that would almost certainly preclude them from making Catching Fire. (Bigelow will be wrapping up her bin Laden thriller. Cuarón’s in post on his sci-fi flick Gravity. Boyle is running the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in London and then finishing his film Trance. Peirce is currently prepping a big-screen reboot of Stephen King’s Carrie. And Niccol is currently filming the big screen adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host.)
So with all of those variables in play, who could realistically take the reins of the most high-profile sequels in years? We look at four possible options with schedules that could accommodate such a mighty undertaking:
JOSS WHEDON (pictured above, right)
Pros: There are very few filmmakers today who are better equipped to do justice to a “strong female character” like Katniss Everdeen. He has a strong working relationship with Lionsgate, which rescued the buzzy horror film The Cabin in the Woods — which Whedon produced and co-wrote — from the MGM bankruptcy. Plus, in comparison to the high-wire juggling act of making The Avengers, directing Catching Fire may seem comparatively easy.
Cons: Whedon rarely directs scripts he hasn’t written himself, and while the man behind TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly certainly knows from tight deadlines, he may not have the time he needs to work with Beaufoy’s script. Besides, Whedon has his self-financed adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to finish — he’s writing the film’s score himself — and he’s long stated that his next project will be the web-series Wastelanders with writer Warren Ellis.
DUNCAN JONES (pictured above, left)
Pros: He first won the hearts of sci-fi hipsters with his spare space thriller Moon. Then last year, Jones’ most impressive head-squeezing thriller Source Code — starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who goes back in time in another person’s DNA in order to solve a train bombing — made clear the British-born filmmaker can somehow transform strange concepts into wholly digestible mass entertainment. If Lionsgate is keen on finding an exciting up-and-comer to take on the franchise, Jones’ schedule is wide open.
Cons: The experience factor. Exciting up-and-comers often mean a steep learning curve.
Pros: Her last film, Winter’s Bone, helped Jennifer Lawrence land both an Oscar nod and the role of Katniss. Granik’s proven she’s not afraid of unflinching violence, and knows how to create a pervasive feeling of looming threat and dread.
Cons: Winter’s Bone likely cost as much as the catering budget for The Hunger Games, and Lionsgate could be wary of handing over their golden goose to a filmmaker inexperienced with mega-budget productions. Plus, would she even want the gig?
Pros: He’s as seasoned and acclaimed a filmmaker as they come. His recent films have touched on everything from murky political conspiracies (The Manchurian Candidate) to flawed women facing complicated emotional turning points (Rachel Getting Married, HBO’s Enlightened). And he’s a true artist who could elevate the franchise’s aesthetic cred.
Cons: His last blockbuster was 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which may not exactly inspire confidence in the Lionsgate beancounters.