At San Diego Comic Con earlier this year, Todd McFarlane announced that Spawn was officially coming back to the big screen. The supernatural superhero was first created by McFarlane when he and his compatriots originally launched Image Comics back in 1992; five years later, in 1997, Mark A.Z. Dippé directed a live-action Spawn movie starring Michael Jai White.
But now McFarlane wants to try it again, and do it differently this time. He’s now going to direct the film itself and produce it with Jason Blum and Blumhouse. Blumhouse has produced several recent popular horror movies like Get Out and Split, and McFarlane says he’s aiming for something more in that vein than traditional superhero cinematic fare.
EW caught up with McFarlane at New York Comic Con to get an update on the status of the upcoming film.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You announced a new Spawn movie with Blumhouse. What’s the status of that?
TODD MCFARLANE: We just finished some of the notes. Jason gave me some constructive criticism, and I finished my third draft with him. We’re hoping to begin budgeting by next week or the week after. Once we have the budget, then we go and get the money outside Hollywood. We’ll put that together quickly because I already have dozens of people, and Jason and I are going to put some of our own money in. Once we have that, we’ll “officially” walk into Hollywood and then go, “Okay, we have the IP, we have everything, we need your distribution and marketing.” So who wants to maybe do a pre-distribution deal? Which would mean agreeing on release date and number of screens. The release date, if we make that deal, will be the next big news for the fans. Once they see a date, it’ll be real to them. And then it forces everything else into an accelerated rate, as we’ll hire the cast and crew and get into pre-production. Jason and I don’t want to give ourselves any artificial dates, but we’re thinking we can get into pre-production by next year, after Christmas.
What brought you and Jason Blum together?
Jason and Blumhouse were doing the kind of movies that I have in my head for this, that the script’s about. So if I got Jason, I wouldn’t have to explain how I want something like these sorts of creepy, odd movies like Get Out and Split, not superhero movies. His pedigree brings that. Plus, Jason’s a hot guy in Hollywood right now, which adds to the legitimacy of what we’re doing. Jason also was a fan of the material, knows that the brand’s big, and understands that if we do this for a small budget, we can really open this. My idea is that the last movie came out 20 years ago with a $20 million opening, and if you put $20 million in 1997 dollars into the internet, it spits out $39.8 million. If we get the same number of people, not one more or less, that’s a $40 million opening. So if we get half, it’s still $20 on a $10 million movie. And what if we get lightning in a bottle? We just saw this It movie raised it to $100 million. So now the range for a successful horror movie goes from $0 to $123 million. That gap got wide, really fast. Horror movies are working, R-rated superhero movies are working — Deadpool, Logan, and now Venom, which I co-created and I hope it does well so I can say, “From the co-creator of Venom…”
It really blew it all wide open.
Yeah, all the pieces were there. You’re not gonna be able to easily replicate that, but it was in the right place at the right time, it had a brand, and they delivered a good movie. Check, check, check. We have to see if we can do the same. And even if we got half that number, we’d all be dancing naked.
This is your first time directing. What are you looking forward to about that?
Just to see if I can do it. There’s a curiosity since I haven’t done it before. Some people ask, are you intimidated or scared? No. As a normal human being, I probably should be scared, but the reason I’m not scared is I’m not 20 years old, I’m 50. I’ve done a lot of different stuff in my life, whether it was animation or directing music videos or starting a toy line, all that stuff was unknown to me, too, and we did okay. So why would this be any different? I’m going to surround myself with professionals. If I showed Get Out to my grandma and said “get this, that’s a first-time director and a comedian,” she wouldn’t see it. She would just go wow, that’s a nice movie. If you put the team together, they’ll make me look like a pro every single day. Part two, I’ve directed this movie in my head 1,000 times. Why do I think I can direct it? Because I have, in my head. My frustration is gonna be, “what do you mean I have to wait for lighting! I don’t have to wait for lighting in my brain!”
What will be the major differences between this and the last Spawn movie?
Let’s just put them in buckets. The first one was a superhero, effects-driven, action PG-13 movie. This one is now gonna be dark, drama, R, supernatural thriller in which there’s only one element that will be out of the ordinary, and that’s the thing you and I know is Spawn. And so, although at times people get confused when I say that, every creepy movie you’ve ever watched is like that. There aren’t eight sharks in Jaws, there aren’t nine Things in The Thing. Those are the movies I grew up with, I was never an action-movie guy.
As you’re looking to this new Spawn thing, we’re also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Spawn and Image Comics. How are you reflecting on all that?
I’m just showing the evolution for the character. People ask if we’re doing an origin story, but nah. Corporate comics can do that because they haven’t had the same person writing the characters for 25 years. Like, Stan Lee invents Iron Man and writes him for a few years, then someone else takes over for a few years, and then someone else, and all of a sudden it’s easy to keep status quo because you get other people to do it and they don’t get bored. I’ve had 25 years. I don’t think my fans, who are also 25 years older, want me to go back and do that original thing. If you want that, go back and watch the original or the HBO series. If you want the origin of this dude, it’s there. I want to do a movie that says, for this brand, after 25 years, this is what he looks like and feels like, this is the tone of him today, not 25 years ago. 25 years from now, I may give you another look. I can’t keep him in a stasis field.
You mentioned Venom — what’s it like to see him and your other Spider-Man contributions last?
If you look at Marvel from 1960-1990, what are the ideas that are living now and still have a big impact? And then you take another 30-year period, from 1990-now — there are very few in that second bracket that have lasted. But now you have people putting Venom in the same category as the Dr. Doom’s and the Magneto’s, and it’s very weird that there haven’t been more breakout heroes and villains in the last 30 years. Part of it is the way the system is with corporate comics, because they’re just hiring new people to go back and regurgitate that first 30-year window, instead of telling them to rock out and come up with new stuff. Whereas at Image, we give everybody equal opportunity to own everything they created, just like the original founders. We’re now saying, just give us good stories. We’re not tied to a universe. Both Marvel and DC are limited in what they can do because of that, but we just tell our creators to bring us good entertaining stories of any genre, and let the cream rise to the top. The fans will let us know what they want to read.