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From indie to blockbuster: the directors of this year’s biggest franchises


Despite being a polarising film, one thing we can all agree on is that Woman Woman’s appearance in Batman v. Superman was jaw-dropping.

Now the return of the sword swinging demigoddess is one of the most anticipated films this year. As Gal Godot once again fills Wonder Woman’s boots, it’s Patty Jenkins, a talented newcomer to the superhero franchise, who will step behind the camera.

It’s been a stellar rise for Jenkins (pictured below) as she becomes the first female director to take the reins of a DC comics movie. Her first feature and sole directing credit, Monster, was low budget but that didn’t stop her making her mark. The crime drama earned Charlize Theron an Oscar and made $60 million worldwide.

No one can blame her for aiming high since, telling Entertainment Weekly: "Everybody knew I wanted to make a superhero movie." With Wonder Woman, she has her chance.

Jenkins won’t be the only director tapped up for a mega-blockbuster after making a successful indie film. It’s a prevailing trend in Hollywood, led by the biggest studios such as Marvel and Disney plucking talented directors from low budget films to bring their unique vision to big budget pictures.

We've already seen the likes of director Colin Trevorrow jump from small sci-fi Safety not Guaranteed to taking a bite out of the box office with Jurassic World and it shows no sign of stopping in 2017. Here’s some of the other directors who have followed a similar path and will be directing some of this year’s biggest movies…

Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok)

The incredibly funny mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows put Waititi on the international map and reinvented the vampire genre thanks to its mix of observational comedy and enthusiastic horror pastiche. But even before this, Taika’s unique vision was already gaining fans, his first short film merited an Oscar nomination and he contributed to the popular TV show Flight of the Concords.

His most recent film Hunt for the Wilderpeople was another massive comedy hit, pairing veteran Sam Neill with newcomer Julian Dennison to winning effect. His directorial flair didn’t go unnoticed and it proved enough for Marvel to hand him the keys to Asgard and offer him Thor: Ragnarok. They won't regret it, it's a highly anticipated film and the eye-popping teaser trailer broke a Marvel record, being seen over 136 million times in 24 hours.

Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Johnson first burst onto the scene with what is now considered a bit of a cult classic. His high school set neo-noir film, Brick, was produced for a modest $450,000 and was a box office and critical success. To put that into perspective his latest film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi will cost over $300 million.

Whilst Brick brought Johnson’s name to wider attention, his 2012 time travel sci-fi thriller Looper sealed him as one of the hottest up and coming directors. This futuristic tale demonstrated Rian's ability to make films that are both intelligent and entertaining, turning a few heads in the process. One such person was Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy who quickly snapped up to direct the sequel to The Force Awakens. No pressure, Rian.

James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)

Gunn started his film career working at Troma, a company synonymous with low-budget, splattery horror films and he quickly used it to step up as associate director on his first feature, Tromeo and Juliet. However, it was his homage to B-movie horror, Slither that really put him on the radar.

This was swiftly followed by his superhero flick Super, a grungier, nastier variation on the Kick-Ass formula about a man who decides to become a superhero despite not having any powers. This bolstered Gunn's superhero credentials and helped persuade Marvel to offer him Guardians of the Galaxy.

Gunn’s films have all dealt with goofy ideas and quirky characters, which suited the nature of Guardians: after all, he has turned a talking racoon and a tree-like beast into two of Marvel's most memorable movie characters. Next week he returns with Vol. 2, which is set to be one of the most successful films of the year.

Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming)

If there is one director who exemplifies this current trend it's Jon Watts, who got the job of directing Spider-Man: Homecoming off the back of his low-budget film Cop Car. This lean yet excellent thriller about two young boys who steal a police car wasn't a box office hit but created a buzz at Sundance festival and with Marvel. 

Watts was unconventional in getting attention as an aspiring director, creating a fake YouTube trailer for a film called Clown and attaching horror director Eli Roth’s name. When the trailer became popular, Roth discovered the video and was impressed, offering him the chance to make a real movie. Let’s hope some of that invention goes towards a fresh take on the Spider-Man mythology.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong: Skull Island)

Vogt- Roberts was quickly installed as the director of the latest Kong blockbuster following the success of his first film on the independent circuit. His directorial debut, The Kings of Summer is a coming of age story, (think of an indie take on Stand by Me) which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won awards at countless film festivals.

His work on Skull Island was a success (you can't argue with a mighty $554m in the bank), and he is proof that giving up and coming filmmakers a chance can really reap the rewards.

We'll witness Patty Jenkins' vision for Wonder Woman when it arrives on 2nd June.

Tom Nightingale is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.