Few industries enjoy taking really, really long extended holiday vacations quite like Hollywood, and when we get to this time of the year, there’s rarely much in the realm of “movie development news” to discuss. So, this week and next, we’re going to 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.
Marvel Studios hasn’t had a big slate announcement since 2014, and we didn’t get one in 2018 either, but project-by-project, this may have been the biggest such year since. It started in January with confirmation that a solo Black Widow was now, finally, in development. Black Widow continued to receive a steady stream of news stories, as the director shortlist started at 60 in May, was narrowed in June to just three, and led up to Australian director Cate Shortland landing the job in July. We also learned in October that Scarlett Johansson will receive a $15 million pay equity with her male co-stars for Black Widow, in the same week that Black Panther 2 moved forward in development. Other Marvel Studios movies that made the news this year included Ms. Marvel (A.K.A. Kamala Khan), The Eternals, and earlier in December, both Doctor Strange 2, and Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu.
Just a few months after the November, 2017 news that Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was developing a new Star Wars trilogy (after next year’s Star Wars: Episode IX), we learned about another set in February. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones, are now writing and producing at least one film, a trilogy, or several films in the Star Wars universe, though the nature of their project has yet to be confirmed. Having said that, the popular rumor as of this writing suggests movies based on the popular Knights of the Old Republic setting, which is best known for inspiring a series of video games. Something that we didn’t know in February (and Lucasfilm and Disney probably didn’t know this either) was that Solo: A Star Wars Story would turn out to be a box office disappointment, prompting Disney to slow down or outright cancel most of their “prequel spinoff” Star Wars Story projects. That development presumably puts the new Rian Johnson and Benioff/Weiss projects even closer to production than they have otherwise been.
In late 2017, director Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time) revealed on Twitter that her favorite superhero was Big Barda of DC’s New Gods, a comic created by former Marvel artist and Stan Lee collaborator Jack Kirby. In March, we learned that she may have been teasing talks that she had either started or was considering having, because DuVernay is now developing a New Gods movie. Warner Bros. attempted to develop an animated New Gods movie back in the late 1990s, and though the project was never realized, it now looks like it’ll happen after all, and the studio has brought DuVernay on board to direct it. No screenwriter has been named yet, but Warner Bros. will obviously be making that next hiring a priority. This piece suggests why Ava Duvernay is potentially a great choice for The New Gods, and this one explains who some of these characters are, exactly.
Director Steven Spielberg had a huge year in announcements, partly buoyed by the Certified Fresh release of Ready Player One in March. It actually started off in January with confirmation of his (previously already talked about) plans for Indiana Jones 5 and his remake of West Side Story. The first big new project this year, though, came in April, when Spielberg started development at Warner Bros. of a Blackhawk movie, based on the long-running comic about a squad of World War II pilot-adventurers. West Side Story also had a few big casting announcements this year, including Ansel Elgort as Tony, and original West Side Story star Rita Moreno, not as Anita, but as a reimagined take on neighborhood shopkeeper “Doc.” We also found out last month that Steven Spielberg is partnering with Oprah Winfrey on a musical remake of The Color Purple.
Superhero movies (like Avengers: Infinity War and Aquaman) are obviously crushing it right now at the box office, but they also tend to have pretty big budgets. Horror films do well, too, and they’re a lot cheaper to produce. One such example is New Line Cinema’s The Conjuring franchise, which includes the “creepy doll” spinoff Annabelle and its prequel Annabelle: Creation. The Conjuring 3 doesn’t come out until 2020 (9/11/2020), but we learned in May that Annabelle 3 (7/3/2019) was likely to beat it to release. The Blumhouse horror production company also quickly moved forward with plans for Happy Death Day 2U, the sequel to last year’s $123 million Groundhog Day-like hit. We also learned in October that the Warrens (based on the real paranormal investigators) will be joining one of the non-Conjuring films in the franchise for the first time, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga will reprise their roles in the third Annabelle movie.
Although 2017 was obviously not a great year for The Dark Tower (Rotten at 16%), the success of the other major Stephen King movie last year drastically offset it. IT was both Certified Fresh at 85% and a tremendous box office hit, earning $700+ million worldwide from a budget of just $35 million. This made Stephen King- sourced projects hot properties again, especially if they’re remakes (like Pet Sematary, 4/5/2019), or otherwise related to a pre-existing horror classic. That “otherwise” leads us to Doctor Sleep, the 2013 novel by King that serves as a sequel to The Shining because it focuses on the adult Danny Torrance. That role went to Ewan McGregor, with King himself reportedly having given his blessing to the choice for the sequel, which will be directed by Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game). Also in June, we learned that Universal Pictures is remaking Stephen King’s Firestarter, with the directing job going to Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (Goodbye Berlin, Soul Kitchen), with Blumhouse also co-producing. Finally, there’s IT: Chapter Two (9/6/19), and this week, we saw our first images from the set. 2018 was a big year for IT: Chapter Two (9/6/2019) casting news, including the confirmation of Jessica Chastain in February, and the news in April that James McAvoy (Split, X-Men: First Class) and Saturday Night Live alumnus Bill Hader had been cast in lead roles (as Bill and Richie, respectively).
One of the biggest stories coming out of last year’s awards season was the underdog success of actress-turned-director Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical Lady Bird (Certified Fresh at 99%) starring Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet (whose Call Me By Your Name also did well). For her next film, Gerwig is turning to classic literature, in the form of Little Women. Gerwig also attracted some major star power for her version, including Ronan and Chalamet, as well as Meryl Streep. Emma Stone was initially cast as Meg, but dropped out to allow her time to promote The Favourite, so the role went to another Emma, Emma Watson. In August, Jurassic Park and Blue Velvet star Laura Dern also signed on. Little Women is now scheduled for release in just under a year, on Christmas Day, 2019 (up against Call of the Wild, the World War I drama 1917, and Melissa McCarthy’s Super Intelligence).
In late August, Paramount Pictures announced A Quiet Place 2 (title pending) for release on May 15, 2020, which currently puts it up against Warner Bros’ Scooby reboot and a week before another monster movie, Godzilla vs Kong (also from Warner Bros). Almost immediately, it was clear that Paramount was going to want to return to the first film’s premise (about monsters that are super sensitive to sound), given that it made over $332 million from a $17 million budget. John Krasinski gave an update in October, stating that after initially telling Paramount to hire someone else, he is now actively working on writing the sequel. It’s not yet known if Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt will also be returning to star in the sequel. Emily Blunt is following up Mary Poppins Returns with another film for Disney, their attraction adaptation Jungle Cruise, which is scheduled for release on July 24, 2020.
The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) hit a major snag in September with the news that Henry Cavill is most likely done playing Superman. Instead, the focus in the “Superman Family” will be on his cousin, Supergirl, whom we learned in August is getting her own movie. The talks with Cavill reportedly broke down over a Superman cameo in next year’s Shazam! (4/5/2019). Warner Bros.’ upcoming DC Comics projects also include Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker (10/4/2019), Margot Robbie’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) (2/7/2020), and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman 1984 (6/5/2020). Many pieces went online speculating about the future of DC Comics movies. Even without Superman on his slate anymore, Henry Cavill is expected to be keeping very busy anyway, as he also signed with Netflix this year to star in their video game adaptation series The Witcher.
One of the most shocking stories in recent memory came in July when Disney fired director James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 over a number of questionable tweets from before his original hiring for 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. In October, we learned that that Gunn is now signed to write, and possibly direct the sequel to DC Comics’ Suicide Squad. Gunn is supposedly working on a “completely new take,” which suggests it could even be a reboot instead of a true sequel to the first film. One reason to believe that is that, in the past, Gunn has tweeted negatively about Jared Leto, suggesting that he may not be in a hurry to recast Leto as Joker in James Gunn’s Suicide Squad.
Long before Guillermo del Toro won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year for The Shape of Water, it was well known that he had a long list of shelved movies in his past. That little golden man on his mantle has changed a lot for GDT, including his new deal at Fox Searchlight that basically set him up with his own mini-studio for horror/genre films. In November, del Toro took to Twitter to list over 15 unproduced screenplays that he has completely finished, which are basically “ready to go” projects for any studio that wants to work with him to get them produced. (You can read a summary of that list in our coverage last month right here.) Del Toro also made the news in August for producing Scary Movies to Tell in the Dark, and in October for landing his Pinocchio at Netflix.
After just two weeks in release, Sony’s innovative animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Certified Fresh at 97%) has already earned nearly $150 million globally. The film was always part of Sony’s ambitious plans for its Marvel properties, and last week, we leaned a lot more about possible future films. Development had already reportedly begun in November on both a sequel and a spinoff of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The animated sequel will focus on the romance between Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy, which will then lead into the spinoff Spider-Women, featuring Gwen, Silk, and the original Spider-Woman (in the comics), Jessica Drew. These two animated films join a growing slate of Marvel movies at Sony that also includes Venom 2, Morbius (AKA The Living Vampire), Black Cat, Silver Sable, Kraven the Hunter, Jackpot, Nightwatch, and Silk.