Which indie directors should get to helm blockbusters?
Colin Trevorrow’s first feature film, Safety Not Guaranteed, was a tiny indie dramedy that reportedly cost less than $1 million to make. His next movie might very well cost the equivalent of 200 Safety Not Guaranteeds: Last week, Trevorrow officially signed on to direct Jurassic Park IV.
Trevorrow is hardly the first indie director to make the sudden high jump to megablockbuster. Heck, in the last decade or so, that jump has basically become the normal career arc for stylish young directors. Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan were best-known for buzzy small-scale thrillers like The Usual Suspects and Memento before they became the chief steersmen for the X-Men and Batman franchises. More recently, Marc Webb went from the indie romance (500) Days of Summer to Amazing Spider-Man and its upcoming sequel, while Chronicle director Josh Trank is currently attached to the Fantastic Four reboot. (Darren Aronosfky, meanwhile, has spent the last decade almost directing blockbusters like Batman Begins, The Wolverine, and the Robocop remake.)
Nolan is the standard-bearer of the crew. His big-budget films have all the narrative invention and psychological depth of his early work — except mixed in with more audience-friendly four-quadrant ingredients, like exciting action scenes or dudes wearing bat-costumes. Now that Trevorrow is following in Nolan’s footsteps, let’s take a look at eight other directors who could be making the jump to the big leagues soon.
Rian Johnson: The director of Brick and The Brothers Bloom had his biggest and buzziest hit with last year’s twisty Looper. Like Nolan, Johnson has developed a cult following by crafting smart entertainment with a unique visual style. If the upcoming wave of space-epic movies like Oblivion and Gravity take off, don’t be surprised to see Johnson directing a big-budget sci-fi film.
Shane Carruth: An even more distinctive (and far cultier) director than Johnson, Carruth is best known for the ultra low-budget brainteaser Primer, which came out almost a decade ago. However, the filmmaker was back at Sundance with his indescribable romantic sci-fi movie Upstream Color and is working on a new movie. Carruth has practically been a one-man-band on his films so far, writing and directing and editing and photographing and starring in both of his movies, so he may be too fringe for Hollywood.
Benh Zeitlin: The up-and-comer success story of 2012, Zeitlin earned a pair of nominations for his work on the crowdpleasing microbudget adventure Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film showed that Zeitlin has a talent for world-building — he crafted a vivid semi-fantasy world on less than $2 million.
Gareth Evans: He made The Raid, one of the flat-out coolest action movies in the last few years. Now he’s making The Raid 2. Hollywood: Don’t let him beat you at your own game.
Michelle MacLaren: For the second phase of their onscreen multi-franchise saga, Marvel Studios made a couple of intriguing directorial choices. The Thor and Captain America sequels are both being helmed by directors best-known for their TV work: Alan Taylor got the Thor job on the strength of his Game of Thrones work, while Joe and Anthony Russo are almost certanly better known for their work on Community than for You, Me, and Dupree. So don’t be surprised if you see the name “Michelle MacLaren” at the end of a big action movie in the next few years; MacLaren is a longtime TV director who has helmed several standout episodes of Breaking Bad, one of the most distinctively cinematic shows on TV right now.
Patty Jenkins: An indie director with some TV cred, Jenkins was briefly attached to helm the Thor sequel. She hasn’t made a feature since 2003’s Monster, but she made the pilot for The Killing, which was legitimately stylish and moody (though it’s hard to remember now after the show’s infamous narrative bellyflop.)
Nicolas Winding Refn: The director of Drive has actually already been tapped to direct a major film. For a long time, he’s been attached to a remake of the youthtopian thriller Logan’s Run, with Ryan Gosling attached to star. Gosling has left the project, though, and the movie’s mojo might have been swooped by The Hunger Games. But Refn specializes in stylish action movies, which is practically the only genre Hollywood makes now — it’s hard to imagine he won’t get attached to another big project.
Kelly Reichardt: Conversely, the filmmaker behind Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy specializes in the kind of delicately-observed, naturalistically-filmed, good-old-fashioned human movies that Hollywood basically never makes anymore. (Like Carruth, she’s also the kind of unique talent who may not want to make a big-budget movie.) But sometimes all it takes is matching the right material to the right filmmaker — think of Paul Greengrass, who went from the shaky-cam docudrama Bloody Sunday to perfecting the whole era of shaky-cam action movies with the Bourne sequels. Also, Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff felt more legitimately epic than any movies in the current wave of big-budget fairy-tale Snow White and Great and Powerful Giant Slaying Witch Hunters in Wonderland.
Ben Wheatley: You haven’t seen Kill List? Trust us: You should really see Kill List.
What other young directors would you like to see make the leap to blockbuster filmmaking?
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