comic book movies

The Superhero Film Dilemma: Director vs Studio

superhero movies the problem director vs studio

With superhero cinematic universes taking over the big screen, the conversation has turned to directors, studios and what ultimately makes a good superhero movie. How can a singular director vision survive for a superhero film that takes place in a cinematic universe that’s suppose to share the same branding and vision as the rest of the universe’s films?

Now you all probably know the story of Trank vs Fox that’s been making the rounds lately. Josh Trank, director of the failed Fantastic Four reboot and the studio that made it, Fox, have been going head to head in the blame game of why Fantastic Four ultimately did not work. Basically what we’ve heard is that Trank had an original vision which Fox ended up disagreeing on, hence making last-minute changes. Those last-minute changes can be felt in the film, although the blame cannot solely be placed on Fox as reports of Trank’s behaviour on set became apparent. For example apparently he was quite cold and rude to Kate Mara, as her casting was the studio’s decision, not his.

ant-man movie edgar wright problems

Another story you’ve probably heard about is Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man. Wright who had been developing Ant-Man for 5 years, before the expansion of the MCU, departed the project over differences with the studio.

Then you have Joss Whedon who has come out about his issues with Marvel Studios during the production of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon came out of that movie weary and beaten down, because of his disagreements with the studio. Whedon fought for more quiet beats like the scenes at the farmhouse, but the studio wanted more world-building set-up (like the disjointed Thor cave scenes).



Really superhero directors having issues with the studio is a recurring theme; Jon Favreau left the Iron Man franchise because of his issues with the studio, Patty Jenkins left Thor: The Dark World, Michelle MacLaren left Wonder Woman and Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World talked about his experience saying, The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie”.

Obviously a happy balance between creatives and suits needs to be found. In the case of Fantastic Four, it’s clear that both sides had problems. Josh Trank clearly did not have the capability of handling a big budget movie like Fantastic Four after Chronicle. Although Fox didn’t seem to handle matters that much better either. Films are a creative medium, they’re art, so treat it as such, don’t just treat it as solely a money churning machine. I respect that Warner Bros pushed Batman v Superman back, even though it was a huge loss for their 2015 slate, it means we get a better quality movie because they took the time to work out the issues.

Fox was in an unusual position in that they had to release Fantastic Four to keep the rights, however if they wanted to make it just for the sake of the rights why not hire a reliable director who is known to deliver a movie that is considered “good enough”? Why go for a risky move like Josh Trank, who clearly is coming in with a unique and different vision, if you just want to play it safe? Fox didn’t seem like they had a clear plan with Fantastic Four and what they wanted it to be. And that lack of vision (and losing confidence in the film half way through) is what ended up hurting them.

fantastic four studio director problems

Marvel Studios on the other hand clearly has a very strong vision, but this is also the problem at the same time. Their vision seems to be too limiting on many of the directors they work with, however without their vision we wouldn’t have the cohesive cinematic universe that we have now. Yeah it would have been amazing to see Wright’s vision for Ant-Man, but that movie probably wouldn’t have made sense within the wider context of the MCU. And in the game of world-building, that just wouldn’t make sense for Marvel. However again a balance needs to be achieved. A balance that I felt was achieved in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Those movies felt like unique Marvel movies because the impact of the director feels more apparent in those films, especially in Guardians of the Galaxy.

However overall allowing the director to imprint their personal style onto superhero films just doesn’t seem as easy in this new world of cinematic universes. Chris Nolan had it easy. He was allowed to make The Dark Knight trilogy according to his vision because it wasn’t tied to anything else. He didn’t have to worry about making his realistic and grounded films work around incorporating Superman and the other League members, he was a true auteur with his Batman films. However now that we have a DC extended universe, a director like Chris Nolan wouldn’t work anymore. Now WB/DC needs their directors like Zack Snyder who can incorporate their own style (as can be clearly seen in the Batman v Superman trailer) with the world-building franchise needs of the studio.

batman v superman trailer gif

So moving forward, how can these cinematic universes continue to satisfy studio needs and be good films in their own right at the same time? It will be tricky but ultimately it’s about finding the right people who fit, and not getting overly involved. If Marvel wants to trump the criticisms that their films are overly formulaic then they need to give their creatives the opportunity to mix it up a bit whilst staying true to the Marvel tone. And whilst Doctor Strange isn’t up there for me as one of my most anticipated movies of 2016, it will be interesting to see how Scott Derrickson uses his horror style for the film.

And over at WB, if they want to trump criticisms that they lack a vision and plan, then they need to have somebody or a group of people who have an influence over all the films. Snyder and co seem to be those people, the true test is when Suicide Squad comes out and whether Ayer’s vision makes sense in the greater DCEU. As for Fox they need to really figure out what they want for Fantastic Four, so that they can communicate that to the next creative team that tackles the properly. It’s clear in the movie that the studio weren’t exactly sure what they wanted, so it’s time to fix that.

But at the end of the day what the heck do I know! I just hope that these studios and their creatives find a way to balance each other out. In a cinematic universe studio involvement is necessary to create a cohesive whole, but in a film in general, the creative team shouldn’t be so restricted that any sense of unique vision is gone. I just hope we don’t hear anymore horror stories in the future about creative teams fighting studios during the production of the upcoming superhero movies!


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10 replies »

  1. This discussion is starting to annoy me. For one, there is this Fantastic 4 narrative that “tranks vision was destroyed by the studio”. But this movie doesn’t feel like, for example, The Amazing Spider-man 2, like a movie which is in its core actually pretty good but then thrown off-kilter due to elements the studio insisted on. It feels like a bad movie someone tried to salvage and made even worse in the process. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn at one point that the so called reshoots were actually Fox scrambling to finish the movie in time. It is not like Fox isn’t too blame for this mess. They didn’t have a vision for the property, made the movie for all the wrong reasons, waited until the last minute to rush it into production which ensured that they couldn’t delay the movie in order to course correct when everything went wrong and they picked a director with exactly one movie under its belt. But that doesn’t change the fact that Trank has shown that he can’t deal with a project like this.

    Now, that’s one thing, the other is Marvel. First of all, we have to get away from the term “studio interference”. Studios are always involved in movie projects in one way or another and there are just as many movies in which studios insisted on the right move. We just tend to remember the instances when it went wrong.

    I would put more stock into the idea that Marvel is “stifling their directors” if not both Favreau and Whedon bailed after the SECOND movie they did for the studio, not the first. In both cases the first movie was a big success and everything was fine and dandy, but the second movie had problems and suddenly the studio is at fault? (I mean for all we know what Marvel wanted out of the movie was not the farm scenes in general, but the specific scene between Natasha and Bruce, and if that’s the truth, I would actually cheer them on for it).

    If Marvel is really that “constricting”, why is The Winter Soldier so much different in tone than “Guardians of the Galaxy”? you have only to pay attention to things like colour schemes and music choices to see that every director has the freedom to put his own stamp on the movie, as long as they don’t interrupt the continuity. And I don’t think that a working continuity is an unreasonable request.

    In Wrights case the studio waited years for him to get off his butt and finally made the movie and then he suddenly leaves Marvel hanging when it counts. Whatever the reason was, shouldn’t he realized that he and Marvel don’t mesh well years ago? (And really, whatever Wright’s movies would have looked like, it might have been not as good as the one we actually got, which is pretty good (and would have been even better if the production hadn’t been that rushed due to Wright’s departure).

    On a different note, I really don’t like the writers Marvel picked for Dr. Strange. I am convinced that the muck it up. But hopefully they can rescue the movie with atmosphere and some really nifty visual effects.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Okay, that makes sense. Don’t take this the wrong way, but what are some instances of the studio insisting on the right move? I just don’t know of any, but presumably they’re there…


    • Yeah that was what I’m saying, obviously a studio needs to be involved it’s their money, and it’s obvious that Trank is at least as much at fault with Fox. There was issues on both ends that’s clear. We’ll never know exactly what goes on behind the scenes, but it’s clear that it will always be difficult for a director in any franchise, because at the end of the day they have to fit their ideas into a pre-determined vision. As for the Dr. Strange writers, they don’t exactly have the best resume but I’m excited for Derrickson


  2. There can be a balance between maintaining connectivity/continuity in a fictional universe, especially when it comes to what Marvel and DC are doing right now with their cinematic stuff. It’s actually like with the comics, really. There’s the creative team to do their take on one thing and there’s the powers that be to supervise. There’s always gonna be conflict, but it shouldn’t be to the point where someone calls it quits and disappointment erupts.

    Everything can co-exist yet also be their own thing. Take Daredevil, for instance. Yes, he exists in the Marvel universe, and characters pop in every now and then, but while big events happen, he rarely plays a part in them because, as he said himself, and i might be paraphrasing, “it’s bigger than me”. He means that he is solely the protector of Hell’s Kitchen, nothing more. He’ll come to aid other heroes when they need it, but his priority is Hell’s Kitchen. Same thing with Black Panther and Wakanda, X-Men and mutant stuff, Guardians of the Galaxy and…well the galaxy. And again, there can be that balance of creative vision and universe maintenance so that there can simply be a good story. That’s all that should be important: telling a good story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah well said, the end goal should always be to tell a good story. And hopefully said good story is conceived through a happy balance of creatives and studio heads. Because there’s a much better chance of getting a good story when everyone is happy and getting along


  3. Great post yo, very well written and you’ve covered a lot of bases that comes up with these kind of discussions. With superhero films the nature of business is ever evolving, at one point you only had to worry about the continuity between a single trilogy of films like with the Sam Raimi Spidey films or the Chris Nolan Batman films, but after Marvel Studios showed that a cinematic universe could work with their Phase One films, I’m sure that loads of other studios started to take notice. DC Comics are attempting this with Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad and if that works then we’ll have a lot of fun and surprises to check out over next 5 years or so. But Marvel have proven that there are complications with building a cinematic universe because then there are certain stories and characters that have to tie-in to the past, present and future, so it does limit levels of creativity and freedom, but at the same when certain things crossover it can feel forced or unnecessary.

    With all that in mind that sort of bleeds into the point of your post with studios vs. directors in the sense that some directors can’t take their vision and make the films that they want because it doesn’t fit into the grand plan of the studio. I just hope that Marvel Studios are careful in the future, I love most of their films and Kevin Feige and his crew almost never disappoint me, however, if they want to keep their audience they’re going have to keep changing things up and having a symbiotic relationship with the directors. Same rules apply to DC and Warner Bros. And Fox especially when it comes to what they plan to do with their future X-Men films.


  4. It’s simple, the studios have just one aim: make money. This industry and also this world is focused around the money. It always has been and always will be. Sometimes directors are just puppets in the hand of producers and/or big heads of the studios. When a director wants creativity freedom and the studio don’t want to give to him, the studio fires him, it’s simple.
    The big Hollywood studios want the power of control and they want to made things in their way, even if isn’t right. Trank was a problem, we know about the damages at the properties and that a lot of actors aren’t happy about him. Every directors/actors or producers needs to be respectful, is the right thing to do. We’ll never know what happened behind the scene of this kind of movies. Too many secrets and too many lies. Is sad that too many people continue to trust a studio that have fired a director after almost 8 years of work of a movie, but hey, we are free and everyone can trust who they want, even if is a liar who just want make money thanks to the inability of some fans of understand the real truth behind the lies.
    At the end of the day, I know for sure that too many people will continue to believe in the lies that a certain studio says, is an endless situation. This is the film industry.


    • It’s a tricky balance because studios are a business yet they are in the creative business so they can’t completely shut out their creatives, they need to find a way to work together and share a vision to get the best end product possible. But yeah we don’t know how they treat the writers/directors and how that whole process works, but it’s clear that especially within the superhero genre there is a problem there, and it’s because of the complex nature of building a cinematic universe that is cohesive.


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