Welcome to Future of Movies Week. Too often this year we’ve been left baffled at the multiplex, resembling the thinking-face emoji. It’s been 10 months, and we’re struggling to come up with a viable top-10 list. Streaming platforms are encroaching on Hollywood’s share of our collective attention, preexisting intellectual property is providing diminishing returns, and moviegoers largely skipped Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Wild days.
November will be different. It’s packed with interesting releases — Oscar contenders like Loving and Arrival and Manchester by the Sea, blockbusters from Marvel (Doctor Strange) and J.K. Rowling (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), a Disney movie with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Rock (Moana), and old-fashioned fare from big-name directors like Robert Zemeckis (Allied) and Warren Beatty (Rules Don’t Apply).
This week, we’re looking at the future — of film school, horror, the Marvel Universe, movie stars, and the medium itself. But first, a little bit of fantasy. We asked the Ringer staffers who obsess over movies to draw up plans for their dream studio — the name, the philosophy, the slate of production (one piece of underused IP and one movie to develop), and the talent on hand. Lights, camera … action.
President: Chris Ryan
Over at Nakatomi Towers, we zig where others zag. We’re not trying to play Bride of Re-Animator to a bunch of moldy intellectual property sitting on the ledger of a private-equity hedge fund. We’re not interested in remaking, rebooting, and tarnishing something people fondly remember, simply because there’s a baseline of interest in it. Remake culture hems in filmmakers. It hems in the film industry. Take the reboot of John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, starring Dwayne Johnson in the iconic Kurt Russell role. This is a 30-year-old movie beloved by VHS geeks and ’80s action-comedy heads.
I love the Rock, I play paintball with him every other weekend, so I can say this: The only thing the Rock’s version of Big Trouble will do is annoy avowed fans of the original. Do we want to make a witty action-comedy starring the Rock? You bet your back end we do. But why not break from the loop? Why not create new franchise opportunities? Why cede original storytelling to television? We want to make exciting, fresh, thrilling genre movies. Let’s find the next Die Hard, the next The Matrix, or the next Big Trouble in Little China.
Underused IP: Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy.
Ridley Scott has been sitting on this for almost 10 years, and it’s hard to imagine him getting to it any time soon since he’s too busy dunking on Neill Blomkamp. It’s time to get this going while the dystopia getting is good. Combine the post-apocalyptic setting of The Walking Dead, the quasi-mysticism of Lost, the panic of World War Z, and the breathtaking action of Fury Road, and you’re in The Passage’s neighborhood. Oh yeah, how about some good old-fashioned Spielbergian character work? It’s sprawling, it’s sweeping, and it’s actually got a heart.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Dan Trachtenberg
He did 10 Cloverfield Lane. He did the Black Mirror episode “Playtest.” He understands world-building, tension, and set pieces, but can go domestic and imbue genre material with humor and heart that doesn’t feel stapled on by a script doctor. He also gets great performances out of his stars. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Wyatt Russell carry so much water in 10 Cloverfield Lane and “Playtest,” respectively, you can tell they are being guided by someone who knows how to make charming actors into actual movie stars.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Shia LaBeouf
One for me, one for him, one for both of us. Shia is a distressed asset. I still think he has movie-star chops — a kind of magnetism and charisma that they don’t teach in Hemsworth School. We can do one popular entertainment, one off-center art movie, and then see where we’re at.
Movie you want to develop: Molly’s Game
I’m a simple man with simple pleasures. Aaron Sorkin; underground poker games; Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, and Idris Elba. Yeah, I’m good with that.
Working Girl Studios
President: Amanda Dobbins
Motto: We don’t make comic book movies. Also everyone wears sneakers and “Let the River Run” plays at 5 p.m. every day.
Underused IP: Agatha Christie novels
The Masterpiece versions are old; the Christie biopics aren’t actually mysteries; 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express is directed by Kenneth Branagh, whom we have not forgiven for the events of 1994–1995. (Also: Thor.) But the possibilities are endless here: supposedly rich people murdering each other on a creepy island (And Then There Were None); supposedly rich people murdering each other on the Mediterranean (The Mystery of the Blue Train); supposedly rich people murdering each other in the Caribbean (A Caribbean Mystery); supposedly rich people murdering each other at country estates (the rest of the 73 novels). About 120 million people watched Downton Abbey, we can find a market for this. Especially with…
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Tilda Swinton
As none other than famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. WE’RE MAKING POIROT A WOMAN, GET ON BOARD.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Movie 1: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, starring Tilda Swinton as Poirot. (Fukunaga directed a perfect Jane Eyre, he can do this.)
- Movie 2: True Detective Season Three, written by someone who is not Nic Pizzolatto, and starring Tilda and Viola Davis.
- Movie 3: An adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, starring Emily Blunt. Or an adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie detective novels, starring Idris Elba. Or both. We just want to be in the Kate Atkinson business.
Movie you want to develop: Ocean’s Ocho
I know, I know, they just started filming. But it’s on the list, and I would’ve bankrupted my entire studio to make a movie starring Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, and a heist at the Met Gala. A low-stakes crime movie in a fancy location with eight movie stars you like: This is Working Girl Studios’ Super Bowl, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Mo Money Mo Movies
President: K. Austin Collins
Motto: Who flopped? Not us.
1. The cinema is very much alive. We’ll prove it.
2. We are not actually ’90s nostalgics and please stop accosting us with Biggie lyrics.
3. We believe in artists with personal vision: not our own house style, not the self-regenerating limbs of franchises, not Tarantino post–Death Proof, and certainly not remakes of anything that isn’t The Brave Little Toaster or Willow.
4. We know what we said about franchises, but have you seen our new Bond, with Idris Elba? Please do, so we can fund Shane Carruth’s new Anne Hathaway thing.
Underused IP: The Kardashian expanded universe
“Underused” is a lie — one I will happily keep telling. But this is a movie studio. And as a fan of reality TV pulp — and of the Kardashians, in particular — I’ve grown jealous seeing this crew of L.A. and TV royalty expand beyond their family brand to other shows (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), fashion, music videos, memes, apps, knowingly self-referential commercials, Snapchat sleuthing, and literature — but not movies. As cameos, sure, but not as stars — and certainly not as subjects.
That’s not surprising: We’re zombies for the sweet hot flesh of celebrity, and brazen about it, and even more eager to pretend we’re over it. And that’s a shame. It wasn’t so long ago on Keeping Up With the Kardashians that the three sisters performed a “smell test” of their vaginas: wiping them with napkins and comparing their scent to see whose smelled the freshest. What? Yes. On another episode, Kim Kardashian (then pregnant) pranked her family into believing she was feeding them her placenta. Fresh, oven-baked placenta.
We think of the Kardashians as the figureheads of an evil empire of buxom vapidity and new-money empty headedness. I’d dispute that, but I’ll let you have it: You’ve likely seen Zoolander, which means you’re not above it. Nor are you above everything else: the Requiem for a Dream’s–worth of L.A. stories about women, whiteness, money, sexuality, depression, drugs, and… well Jesus, probably even Jesus.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Mahershala Ali
Put him in everything. I do not care what. OK, no: not your Hamilton adaptation. Anything else. Bond? I’m in. Mad Max: Even Furiouser? Cool. Woody Allen’s nebbish-of-the-week? Gimme.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Sofia Coppola
1. A loose biopic of Kim Kardashian, Bling Ring–style. Or maybe, shit, Marie Antoinette–style, if you people have your way.
2. A movie in the great American tradition of Margaret, The Squid and the Whale, and 25th Hour: i.e., Anna Paquin in an icky student-teacher thing.
3. An adaptation of Moby-Dick.
Movie you want to develop: Ride Along 3
Remember when comedies about the police still found room to upend — and more importantly, address — the police?
President: Sam Donsky
Motto: Meet America cute again.
The name of my movie studio is STAR Studios — that stands for Saving the American Rom-com. At STAR, we see the inevitability of the rom-com’s American extinction as an issue that transcends movies; no less than our entire national psyche is at stake. As such, our goal is to be more than just a movie studio.
Try to think of us as a studio … crossed with a morally elliptical lobbying group … crossed with the popular late-’00s web series Katherine Heigl Smoking Cigarettes in Random Places … crossed with your friend who cried during the scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo where Rooney Mara throws away her leather jacket at the end, why would he get back together with his ex after all of that, I just don’t understand it, Robin Wright is an artificial construct created by the government to stop us from thinking that body piercing is attractive.
Anyway, at STAR, our checkbooks are open, our goals are explicit, our slogan is simple (“Meet America Cute Again”), and our hearts are Hitch 2’s green light away from full.
Thank you for your time.
Underused IP: It’s kind of a long story …
One of STAR’s most valuable functions would be to serve as a rehab center for America’s distressed rom-com IP. “Which rom-com properties are distressed?” you ask. How about: almost all of them. Think of it this way: Rom-coms are some of the most beloved movies in popular cinema. “Turning beloved movies into franchises” is one of the cornerstones of popular cinema. And yet, what’s the last great rom-com movie franchise? Exactly.
The “why” here, of course, isn’t a mystery. Implicit in the rom-com bargain is the idea that rom-coms truly are supposed to be over when they’re over — that when the movie ends, the fairy tale begins. But that’s a dumb idea, for two reasons. One: If we can’t make any money off of it, then it’s dumb. And two: same as the first, but I always like to give two reasons for everything in pitch meetings, it makes the point seem more considered.
At STAR Studios, thankfully, we’ve found a workaround to the rom-com sequel issue: If audiences don’t want us to bring contrived-sequel logic into their rom-com narratives … then we will bring rom-com logic into their contrived-sequel narratives. Here is a prototype we’ve been working on:
You’ve Got Mail: A Star Wars Story. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), using the screen-name FarFarAway152, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), using the screen-name Jedigirl, strike up a conversation in a GOL (“Galaxy Online”) chat room. Unaware that they are enemies in real life, the two fall in love over the internet.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Adam Driver and Zoe Saldana
On the actor side: Driver. We’re extremely high on Adam Driver here at STAR, and envision him as a sort of Tom Hanks of the “standalone rom-coms set in multibillion-dollar franchises” genre. And on the actress side: Zoe Saldana. As a key figure in not one but three lucrative cinematic universes (Avatar, Star Trek, and Marvel), the possibilities for Saldana-led rom-coms are endless.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Movie you want to develop: Harley Quinn
We’re taking the Harley Quinn standalone project and renaming it Quinn Cup: a take on the 1996 rom-com Tin Cup, in which Kevin Costner plays a washed up loser who falls for his new psychologist (Rene Russo) …
… who just so happens to be the girlfriend of his bitter rival.
President: Sean Fennessey
Motto: We respect honest sentiment and honest pratfalls.
Underused IP: The Tom Robbins Expanded Universe. The Still Life With Woodpecker author may not be Jack London or J.R.R. Tolkien, but he certainly does build a world. For more than 40 years, Robbins has been writing bizarre, whimsical, magically realistic stories about democratic socialists, drug dealers, assassins, redheads, anthropomorphized creatures, duelling perfumers, and psilocybin enthusiasts. What does he have to show for it at the movies? One adaptation, 1993’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, directed by Gus Van Sant. (It’s interesting, if flawed.)
His cultish books were once considered shorthand for “counterculture.” But they were never celebrated by the literati. There’s a reason for that — they’re really strange and really sentimental. That may not get you the Man Booker Prize, but it’s a perfect combination for movies. Film versions of his stories can delicately split the atom between fantasy stuff teens like, true-love proclamations that will be marketed at young female moviegoers, hipsterish character affections, and the sort of revolutionary ideology and investigations of spirituality that’ll play with the prestige crowd. There are eight novels, a novella, dozens of short stories, and no shortage of eccentric characterization to choose from. Want a fantastical, big-budget version of his world? Bring Tim Burton back to the world of Big Fish. Want something more precious and inscrutable? Spike Jonze would be right at home. But the director I want for Woodpecker? Sarah Polley — stylistically inventive, sincere, and unafraid of the unlikely. How much could these rights cost? It’s doesn’t matter — at Sullivan’s, we’re shelling out for the TomRobExpanUni.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Cameron Diaz
Did you know Cameron Diaz is the 21st-highest-grossing film star in movie history? That she has 11 films that have earned more than $100 million in America? That she’s equally adept at comedy as drama? That she’s accomplished in animation (Shrek), period pieces (Gangs of New York), science fiction (The Box), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), and WTFuckery (The Counsellor)? That she has upstaged Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise (twice), Kate Upton (The Other Woman), and a pack of cheetahs on screen? That she’s never been nominated for an Oscar but at just 44 years old, is firmly entering “I’m ready” territory? Barring The Counsellor, which is perfect, Diaz has been misused of late, edged into “wacky” comic roles. Look at the last five years of her career.
That’s … not great. Diaz is a gifted comedian, open to bad singing, broad physical comedy, and high-level mugging. But like our studio’s namesake, Preston Sturges, and the motto we’ve lifted from him, Diaz is about the low and the high — she can feel things. Let her feel. We will do just that at Sullivan’s. (Our studio sounds like a bar because it will be a boozy and welcoming place — that’s how all the best ideas come about, charming people yelling at each other in bars.) We want her in our best movies — she can be the lead, the villain, the best friend, or the woman alone. Let Diaz be great, we’ve been saying. We will.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Gore Verbinski
Verbinski has made nine movies in 20 years, with a 10th, A Cure for Wellness, on the way next year. Is it too much to say he’s the most misunderstood big-budget filmmaker … ever? Because he has three Pirates of the Caribbean movies to his credit, he is often saddled with a hack tag. But we forget the way the first film in that series surprised and entertained us, and we ignore the genuine innovation in his movies. Did you see Rango? What about The Weather Man? And honestly, did you give The Lone Ranger a shot? The guy is good — he cares about small, strange little notes in big messy movies. He knows that movies need explosions (or cute animated animals), but it’s rarely at the expense of beauty. He has a knack for memorable images, too: a possessed girl crawling out of a well and off your TV screen in The Ring; Nic Cage carrying a bow and arrow while walking down an NYC street; Johnny Depp discovering megastardom. (They can’t all be great.) Verbinski makes moments. Sullivan’s Pictures makes movies. We will make movie moments together.
Movie you want to develop: Professor Marston & the Wonder Women
A polyamorous Tufts psychology professor and inventor fuses the personas of his wife and their lover to create one of the greatest superheroes of all time. After Dr. William Moulton Marston died, his wife and their partner, Olive Byrne, raised their children and stayed together for more than 40 years. Sex, science, and superheroes — that’s a cool movie with commercial appeal, comic possibility, and emotional stakes. The version in the works will feature Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, and Bella Heathcote in the three primary roles. But who will play Wonder Woman, the physical manifestation of this sexually progressive, intellectually adventurous ménage à trois? I hear Cameron Diaz is available …
President: Alison Herman
Motto: Because fandom isn’t just for fanboys.
Give us your sci-fi, your fantasy, your Tamora Pierce and Octavia Butler and Strong Female Characters! We’re all about ditching all the wrong lessons of the current comic-book era — repetitive structure, ponderous interconnectedness, fan service on fan service, taking an unconscionably long amount of time to make movies with nonwhite male leads — and doubling down on the right one: that there’s nothing niche about genre storytelling. Whether you spent your childhood in the comic book store or the library, we’re taking your escapism seriously — adapted and original. Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is certainly the right idea, and we’re gonna run with it.
Underused IP: A Wizard of Earthsea
Question: At a time when every other coming-of-age story involving magic and/or good and evil and/or explosions has been CGI’ed within an inch of its life, why has this (very good!) tale gone untouched, apart from a 12-year-old Sci-Fi channel miniseries and a 10-year-old Studio Ghibli movie? A New Yorker profile officially kicked off the first phase of Ursula K. Le Guin’s canonization earlier this month, so a definitive film adaptation would be a great second step. Besides, it’s about time this micro-generation got its Harry Potter.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Amandla Stenberg
We have now reached the point of sci-fi YA franchises where one can promote the next big star from within the universe of sci-fi YA franchises. So if you’re considering someone to anchor the next Hunger Games, the first place you should probably look is … The Hunger Games. Given her raised profile, it’s sort of incredible that Amandla’s still known to 90 percent of the general public as “Rue.” After spending the last few years writing comic books, hanging out with Beyoncé, and being generally woke, maybe it’s time for Amandla to get back to her arrow-shooting, dystopia-dwelling roots. And if the sequels don’t come rolling in, that leaves room for one or two auteur-helmed, socially conscious projects that reflect her off-camera interests. It’s a win-win!
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Michelle MacLaren
Superproducer Gale Ann Hurd once said (on a podcast near and dear to The Ringer’s heart) that MacLaren hasn’t yet made the jump from television — and what television! — to movies because she’s yet to find a studio willing to give her as much freedom as the small screen, hence her very high-profile exit from Wonder Woman. Boy, do we have the studio/slate of action-oriented projects for her! Only after she wraps up on the next David Simon jam, though. Respect to the king.
Movie you want to develop: Pacific Rim: Maelstrom
Multiple postponements, an overbooked creator, a freshman director, a ferociously dedicated fanbase starved for a sequel, and John Boyega in the lead role. This thing could really go either way, so let’s have a friendly studio make sure it heads in the right direction.
Ivory Tower Studios
President: Juliet Litman
Motto: It’s time for a cup of tea and an awkward, sexually charged meeting between colleagues somewhere!
The cinema landscape has a gaping hole. There’s simply not enough appreciation for the formerly analog world of university campuses. There was a time when students had to stand in line to register for classes, and communications between professors and students happened in person. Professors and boarding-school teachers were once worth venerating and worthy subjects — or at least crucial bit players — in movies. The World According to Garp. Dead Poets Society. Animal House. These were great movies and cultural touchstones.
Underused IP: The David Lodge fiction canon
Let’s go back to school for a few laughs. We’re headed to Rummidge, a fictional city based on England’s Birmingham, and the site of David Lodge’s campus comedy novels. The first film will be Changing Places (1975), and it’s also the first novel in his award-winning Campus Trilogy. It was and will be succeeded by the Man Booker–shortlisted Small World (1984) and Nice Work (1988). These two have been adapted into BBC miniseries, but that certainly didn’t hold back Keira Knightley or Joe Wright. We’ll be fine. We’re coming for that StudioCanal circa–About a Boy glory. Once the trilogy is made (released in 2019, 2021, and 2023), it’s on to Therapy, Thinks…, and Deaf Sentence.
These are all ebullient, buoyant, vivid novels set in the same universe, so we’ve got fan service covered. There’s no way to avoid it! The devoted super fans of David Lodge’s work (I promise such a group exists) will be very pleased with Ivory Tower Studios. For the general public, there will be awkward, hilarious, sexual hijinx. These are for people who just want to have some fun at the local cineplex. Movies like this — straightforward, character driven, dialogue heavy, archly funny — are just not made enough anymore.
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Jude Law
Jude Law will be the leading man. He won’t become a huge factor until Nice Work, our third film, but we’ll write him into Changing Places and Small World to lay the groundwork (and because he’s dreamy). If you liked Jude Law in Nancy Meyers’s The Holiday, you’ll love this. Given that was probably the most likable Jude Law ever was, everyone — including Jude himself — can thank me now. Movies one and two will be carried by Matthew Goode and Richard Madden, respectively. After the trilogy, Law can star in all of Lodge’s other campus comedies, and gracefully enter late middle age along with his characters. Leading ladies will include Michelle Dockery, Jessica Paré, Abigail Spencer, Ruth Wilson (after some lessons in how to smile convincingly), and, obviously, Emma Thompson.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Sharon Horgan
Richard Curtis will executive produce, but this a Sharon Horgan show. David Lodge needs some slight updating, and Horgan has already demonstrated an ability to get her work exported to America.
Movie you want to develop: Beautiful Ruins
Amid the Lodgefest, this adaption of Jess Walter’s novel will be the first movie from our company that features any sunlight at all. Young Dee Moray will be played by Sarah Ramos (Parenthood) and older Dee Moray will be played by Heather Locklear.
Cold Wave Pictures
President: Sam Schube
Motto: So young but so cold.
Is Cold Wave Pictures named after an extra-niche, born-in-late-’70s-Europe-but-rebooted-in-2010s-New York musical microgenre? Yes, it is — and that’s because Cold Wave Pictures is all about taking things we enjoyed as teenagers and rendering them weird, dark, and extremely attractive to youngish men deeply impressed by their own taste in cultural objects. It’s fan service, all grown up.
Underused IP: The Sega Genesis back catalog
“Video-game movie” doesn’t have to be a death sentence. The reason most of these movies (Assassin’s Creed, all the Tomb Raiders, Mark Wahlberg-as-Max Payne) are such disasters isn’t because they’re based on video games — it’s because they’re based on the wrong video games. Which is to say: contemporary titles filled with cutscenes and plotted to death, leaving little room for prospective filmmakers to work.
The solution? Mine early video games so basic and rudimentary that there is no plot. Adapt the atmosphere, but invent the narrative. This is where the Sega Genesis catalog comes in. These are games we know and love — Shinobi, Sonic the Hedgehog, NBA Live 95 — but that literally don’t contain enough plot to require us to do storytelling loopty-loops. So we’re talking Sonic and Tails, the story of two partners on the force and in life, gambling debts leaving them 10,000 golden rings short on the mortgage. We’re talking a straight-up ninja thriller in Shinobi. And we’re talking NBA Live 95: the ultra-gritty story of the mob that paid Nick Anderson a million bucks to miss four free throws, and the emotional reckoning no one saw coming. In the right hands (ours), the right treatment can give a supremely flimsy cultural product unseen depths.
Director you’re giving a three-picture deal: Denis Villeneuve
We’ve partnered with shit-hot director Denis Villeneuve, whom we love for his admirable range, or lack thereof: Dude has ping-ponged from creepy sci-fi to creepy kidnapfest to creepy drug thriller, with creepy Oscar-bait sci-fi and creepy heritage-core sci-fi on the way. And while Villeneuve usually makes Movies About Bad Men, the tide is turning. Because Villeneuve also manages to pepper his films with arresting performances from female leads given underwritten parts — and in the case of Arrival, he’s built what looks to be a movie-of-the-year contender around the incandescent Amy Adams. But we don’t want to stop there. Which brings us to …
Actor you’re giving a three-picture deal: Imminent supernova Tessa Thompson
You want a rangy performer? How about Dear White People b/w Creed? Or maybe low-key surprise run on Westworld b/w new Alex Garland? Or, y’know what? Just give me goddamn swords and sandals in space with Thor 3. Tessa Thompson is halfway through one hell of a run; in Villeneuve’s hands, it won’t be ending any time soon.
Movie you want to develop: The Hunger
Let’s get gross. I’m not the first person to call Denis Villeneuve the righteous heir to Ridley Scott’s throne, and I certainly won’t be the last. So we’re just speeding up the inheritance process by giving Scott Free Productions’ movie about the cannibalistic Donner Party to the only guy we know who can nail body horror and stunning Western vistas all at once. It’s gonna be so gross. It’s gonna be so awesome.