By Ziyad Saadi | Indiewire March 25, 2014 at 12:27PM
With big-budget studio films like "Ride Along" and "Divergent" starting the year off with a bang, one might be surprised to learn that the directors behind these films started out in the independent film world. But aspiring filmmakers striving to become the next Spielberg can take comfort in the fact that this is a much more common trend than one might expect. We've decided to a compile a list of studio films coming out in 2014 with large budgets and larger-than-life movie stars to fulfill their respective filmmakers' dreams -- ones they may not have ever imagined when climbing their way up from their indie film roots.
A notable aspect of the list is the unfortunate lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to female directors ("Monster" director Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct "Thor 2," but it looks like it'll be a while before we see anything of the sort).
Check out the first of three lists below. (Check back later in the week for the remaining lists.)
Director: Noam Murro
Studio Project That Came Out In 2014: "300: Rise of an Empire"
Indie Background: "Smart People"
About The Director: Murro's sole feature film directing credit came from Miramax's box-office and critical flop "Smart People," which flaunted a slew of notable actors including Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page (coming off her Oscar nomination for "Juno") in 2008. But aside from that and a TV short for HBO, the director hasn't had much to slap onto his resume before managing to get a hold of the coveted "300" sequel for Warner Bros. It must've been quite a TV short, because the first film, directed by Zack Snyder, racked up a domestic gross of over $200 million dollars, making him a go-to studio director.
Director: Neil Burger
Studio Project That Came Out In 2014: "Divergent"
Indie Background: "Interview with the Assassin"
About the Director: Though Neil Burger doesn't have too many feature directing credits to his name, his past work has demonstrated an impressive versatility. His career started out with a micro-budget conspiracy drama about JFK entitled "Interview with the Assassin" that, despite its overdone premise, gave him enough acclaim to take on the 2006 suspense drama "The Illusionist" (starring Edward Norton and Jessica Biel), the post-war drama "The Lucky Ones" (starring Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins) and the action flick "Limitless" (starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro). As a result, "Divergent," which takes him into previously uncharted science-fiction territory, is fully expected to succeed (and is already off to a winning start at the domestic box office).
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Noah" (Release Date: March 28)
Indie Background: "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler"
About the Director: Darren Aronofsky has never been known to make the most easily accessible films throughout his career. Ranging from drug addiction to psychosis, his themes are often difficult for mainstream audiences to swallow. That's perhaps why he's been working in the indie film world. But with "Black Swan" managing to boost him over the $100 million box-office mark, Aronofsky has gained much more credit as a financially lucrative director -- "Noah," starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, is undoubtedly his biggest film to date.
Director: David Ayers
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Sabotage" (Release Date: March 28)
Indie Background: "Harsh Times"
About the Director: In his upcoming "Sabotage," David Ayers may have kept the tough, gritty, violence-related spirit of his 2005 "Harsh Times" starring Christian Bale, but he's brought it to a much grander scale. Bringing in James Cameron alums Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sam Worthington and infusing the story with the kind of action only a Schwarzenegger flick could bring, Ayers has certainly nailed down the commercial elements that have proved to be box office gold in the past. Whether the artistic merit of "Harsh Times" has been preserved or improved, however, remains to be seen.
Director: Wally Pfister
Studio Project Coming Out in 2014: "Transcendence" (Release Date: April 17)
Indie Background: "Memento" (as DP)
About the Director: "Transcendence," a science-fiction flick starring Johnny Depp as a terminally ill scientist, marks Wally Pfister's directorial debut. But before making the leap into the world of big-budget studio films, Pfister worked his way up from a vast number of independent projects in the role of cinematographer. His most notable indie film work comes from his long-standing relationship with Christopher Nolan on his sophomore directing effort, the upside-down-sideways suspense thriller "Memento" starring Guy Pearce. The result paid off handsomely, with Pfister ending up as the DP for all of Nolan's commercially successful films and winning an Oscar for "Inception."