This week sees the release of “Noah,” and it’s notable for a number of reasons. For one, it’s that it’s a relatively rare Biblical movie not aimed principally at religious audiences (which may or may not pay off). For another, it’s the latest film from “Requiem For A Dream” and “Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky. But perhaps more than anything else, it’s a movie that costs $125 million, almost four times as much as the director’s most expensive previous film, “The Fountain,” the helmer having been given the keys to Paramount’s war chest after the surprise smash success of “Black Swan,” which made nearly $300 million worldwide.
It’s the latest in a trend that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last decade or so, as studios have become more and more willing to give over their tentpoles to relatively untested directors from the indie world with only one or two low-budget features behind them. In the next year or so, we’ll see the $150 million budgeted “Godzilla” from Gareth Edwards, whose previous effort was “Monsters,” a film that cost only $500,000. We’ll get “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes,” from “Cloverfield” helmer Matt Reeves, there’s the $200m “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” helmed by James Gunn, whose most expensive film before now was the $15 million “Slither,” and, next summer, “The Fantastic Four” from “Chronicle” director Josh Trank,” and “Jurassic World,” whose helmer Colin Trevorrow has only one feature under his belt, the tiny indie “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
The history of such directors making similar leaps is a mixed one: some have found great success and shown they can work on a big canvas, others have been sent back to the indie world with their tail between their legs. It’s still too early to see how “Noah” will end up going down, but to give some indication, we’ve picked out twelve filmmakers from the indie world who made the leap into big-budgets, and worked out their success rates. Take a look below, suggest any others in the comments section.
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Indie Work: Marc Forster studied at NYU before making micro-budget first feature “Loungers,” which won the top prize at Slamdance in 1995. That was followed by Sundance entrant “Everything Put Together” in 2000, before he broke through with “Monster’s Ball,” a bleak drama about the romance between a death row inmate’s widow and a racist prison guard that won Halle Berry an Oscar, and proved commercially popular as a result. Forster’s next few films proved a mixed bag: Miramax’s “Finding Neverland” was a Best Picture nominee, but supernatural thriller “Stay” was a barely-released disaster. Like that film, follow-ups “Stranger Than Fiction” and “The Kite Runner” were indie-flavored but studio backed, though performed better.
First Big-Budget Film: Though Forster had worked in the studio sandbox before, there was a huge leap to his seventh feature, Bond movie “Quantum Of Solace.” Replacing the originally-tapped Roger Michell (“Casino Royale”), Forster took the reins of Daniel Craig’s second film as 007, and the result, which saw the secret agent out for vengeance against secret organization QUANTUM, and facing off against the villainous Dominic Greene, was the biggest-grossing Bond up to that point. The shoot had been hampered by the 2007 writers strike, and as a result, critical responses were decidedly more mixed than they’d been for “Casino Royale.”
Budgetary Leap: Forster had dealt with a wider range of budgets than most of the directors on this list: “Monster’s Ball” cost only $4 million, while “The Kite Runner” was $20m, “Stranger Than Fiction” $30 million, and “Stay” $50m. Even then, it was a huge leap to the $200 million cost of “Quantum Of Solace.”
Success Or Failure? If it’s possible for a film that took $586 million worldwide to be a failure, this might be one. Though the writers strike caused problems, the film had script problems that should have been sorted out long before (this is a Bond film where the plot revolves around a utilities contract), and Forster’s handling of the action was fairly poor, despite the presence of ‘Bourne’ action supremo Dan Bradley as second-unit director. The lukewarm response gave the franchise a hurdle almost as soon as it had been revived, and follow-up “Skyfall” was a reboot in all but name, ignoring the dangling plot threads from the previous film, resulting in the first billion-dollar Bond. Forster, meanwhile, has had a mixed bag since. “Machine Gun Preacher” made even less than “Stay” did, and while “World War Z” was a big hit (and suggested that Forster had a better grip on big-scope action now), the production was very troubled, and Forster won’t be returning for the sequel.
Indie Work: A music video veteran of the 1990s and early 00s, with key work for Bjork, Daft Punk and Radiohead, among others, French helmer Michel Gondry ventured into features with 2001’s “Human Nature,” a one-time Steven Soderbergh project penned by Charlie Kaufman. He reteamed with Kaufman to far greater success for the tremendous “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind,” and followed it with the doc “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party,” the self-penned “Science Of Sleep,” and the Jack Black comedy “Be Kind Rewind,” backed in part by mini-major New Line Cinema.
First Big-Budget Film: “The Green Hornet,” a long-gestating revival of the popular radio-serial hero (and sidekick Kato), that Gondry had originally been attached too way back in 1997. Various others passed through, including Kevin Smith and Stephen Chow, before “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” writer/star Seth Rogen came on with partner Evan Goldberg. Gondry came back on board the project in July 2009, and the film, which co-starred Taiwanese actor Jay Chou as Kato, plus Cameron Diaz and Christoph Waltz, hit theaters in January 2011, pushed back six months from its original 2010 date. It took a reasonable, but not jaw-dropping, $227 million worldwide, falling just short of the $100 million mark in the U.S.
Budgetary Leap: Gondry’s early films had a range of budgets, but none higher than $20 million (about what both “Eternal Sunshine” and “Be Kind Rewind” cost). Including the $10 million it took to post-convert the film in 3D, “The Green Hornet” wound up costing Sony about $120 million.
Success Or Failure? A pretty major failure. The film was pretty much an unqualified disappointment, rarely funny (the usually likable Rogen carried across little of his charm here), without especially inventive action, and with Gondry’s lo-fi visuals basically nowhere to be seen. Both director and star have essentially disowned the movie, with Gondry saying he didn’t have much freedom on the project, and Rogen simply calling it “a fucking nightmare.” The film’s eventual box office toll wasn’t bad, especially for a January release, but the film probably cost more than it should, and any hopes of a franchise were quashed almost immediately. Gondry’s pretty much abandoned Hollywood and double-downed on his own work, with “Mood Indigo” reaching something like peak Gondry, for better or worse (clue: worse).
Indie Work: Paul Greengrass (our full retrospective is here) started out as a journalist in the 1980s for U.K. current affairs program “World in Action.” Then, after the Berlin-premiering “Resurrected” in 1989 (about a Falklands soldier returning home) he became a TV mainstay, mainly writing and/or directing dramatizations of incendiary real-life events that already then blurred the line between documentary and fiction in their approach. His TV films dealt with institutional racism, an SAS action in the Gulf War and a notorious British football gambling scandal, before he tentatively ventured back into theaters with the subpar “The Theory of Flight” starring Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter. That film reportedly was a valuable lesson in the type of movie he didn’t want to make, and Greengrass returned to real-life drama in 2002 with “Bloody Sunday,” a film which, while financed by Granada TV, premiered in Sundance where it won the audience award, and played Berlin, tying with “Spirited Away” for the Golden Bear.
First Big-Budget Movie: Immediately following the success of “Bloody Sunday,” Greengrass was attached to the first sequel in the ‘Bourne’ franchise, “The Bourne Supremacy.” But unlike many directors whose visual identity is overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a Hollywood blockbuster, Greengrass actually brought his jittery, handheld docu-style with him to the tentpole, unassumingly (and jerkily) revolutionizing the action blockbuster aesthetic in the process.
Budgetary Leap: “Bloody Sunday” is estimated to have had a budget around $5m, while “The Bourne Supremacy” came in at $75m, so a factor of 15, then.
Success Or Failure? Undeniably a success. Not only was the film itself a hit, it immediately and firmly established Greengrass as a big-time Hollywood director, which yielded another ‘Bourne,’ as well as the terrific “United 93,” among others. And the influence of his trademark handheld style can’t be overstated. While Doug Liman had done a good job with “The Bourne Identity” in establishing a grittier-feeling spy-serial it was Greengrass whose scratchy, frenetic, relentlessly real-feeling style would most change the action landscape, particularly in terms of how the rebooted Bond franchise would respond. Of course, there are those (often us) who bemoan the prevalence of herky-jerk, headachey camerawork, but if “Captain Phillips” proved anything, it’s that as irritating as the imitators may be, Greengrass himself still delivers.
Indie Work: South African helmer Hood got his start making educational films before writing, directing and starring in his low-budget feature debut “A Reasonable Man.” That got him the job of helming Polish-language African-set drama “In Desert and Wilderness” in 2001 before he got his major breakthrough with gritty drama “Tsotsi,” which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and put him on studio radars. That was followed by his English-language debut, the topically terrorism-themed thriller “Rendition” with Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep.
First Big Budget Feature: “Rendition” was a critical and commercial disappointment, but by then Hood had already landed his next megabudget film: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the first spin-off of 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” franchise. Long in the works, the film, once more starring Hugh Jackman alongside Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins and Ryan Reynolds, investigated the early life of Logan. After gaining the wrong sort of attention after a leaked workprint made its way online a full month before release, and was downloaded as many as 4.5 million times, the film finally hit theaters on May 1st, 2009, and made $373 million worldwide.
Budgetary Leap: “Tsotsi” cost about $2 million, while “Rendition” leapt to about $25million. “Wolverine” was six times as much, with a stated production cost of $150 million.
Success Or Failure? Failure, for the most part. Fox probably weren’t too upset at the film’s box-office, although it was nearly $100 million less than the franchise’s previous picture “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and they were undoubtedly hoping for more. But it’s the critical and fan reaction that was really negative. The film’s a mess, easily the worst in the franchise, layering on mutant cameos, nonsensical plotting, and cliches. Response from fans was basically poisonous, and Fox decided to essentially reboot the franchise with “X-Men: First Class,” with the essentially unconnected sequel “The Wolverine,” following in 2013. How much Hood is to blame is debatable — there was clearly a lot of studio interference — but it landed him in director’s jail for a few years, before he returned with last year’s better-received “Ender’s Game.”
Indie Work: Gallic helmer Jeunet started off in animation, before teaming with artist Marc Caro to direct post-apocalyptic fantasy “Delicatessen” in 1991. The witty, heavily-stylized film was an international hit, and led to follow-up “The City Of Lost Children,” a bigger-budget steampunk fable that played in competition at Cannes in 1995.
First Big-Budget Movie: After other filmmakers including Danny Boyle, Bryan Singer and Peter Jackson turned the project down, Fox went to Jeunet and offered him his English-language, and solo, directorial debut with “Alien: Resurrection,” which they were pressing on with despite the death of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley at the end of “Alien3.” The film (penned by future “Avengers” helmer Joss Whedon, though he’s mostly disowned the finished product) sees Ripley resurrected 200 years on as a part xenomorph-clone who clashes with a group of mercenaries and scientists determined to bring back the creatures. Released on November 26th, 1997, it took a mere $47 million in the U.S., the lowest-grossing film of the franchise at that point, but did better internationally, earning a further $110 million.
Budgetary Leap: “Delicatessen” cost about $5 million, “The City Of Lost Children” about three times that. “Alien: Resurrection” clocked in around the $75 million mark.
Success Or Failure: A fairly resounding failure. The film has some interesting ideas, and Jeunet makes it look handsome, but it’s caught awkwardly between the filmmaker’s idiosyncracies, Whedon’s original script and the studio need to imitate the earlier films, and the result is something of an orphan (though compared to “Alien Vs. Predator,” and even “Prometheus,” it looks a little better). Jeunet had a tough experience (though later said that he enjoyed it), and returned to France, where he had his biggest success with “Amelie.” The director recently made his return to English-language filmmaking with the rather disappointing “The Young & Prodigious Spivet,” but he’s never returned to the studio world (though flirted with “Life Of Pi” at one point).
Indie Work: Jonze was one of the best-loved music video directors of the 1990s who, after a brief flirtation with a big-budget debut for Sony in the shape of an adaptation of “Harold And The Purple Crayon,” arrived in features with the staggeringly imaginative “Being John Malkovich” in 1999, which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination. Jonze followed it up swiftly with a reunion with writer Charlie Kaufman on “Adaptation,” which was admittedly studio-backed (Columbia released it), but cost only a little more than ‘Malkovich.’
First Big Budget Film: “Where The Wild Things Are,” an ambitious adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s novel, which others (including Disney) had mooted bringing to the screen before. Jonze was on the project for the best part of a decade, first at Universal, then eventually at Warner Bros, and he shot the film (which starred young Max Records, and the voices of James Gandolfini and Lauren Ambrose, among others) in 2006. The tumultous production took almost three years to complete (including substantial reshoots), before hitting theaters on October 16th, 2009. It took around $75 million in the U.S, and another $22 million internationally.
Budgetary Leap: “Being John Malkovich” cost about $13 million, “Adaptation” around $19m. Substantial reshoots and the lengthy post-production pushed “Where The Wild Things Are” over the $100 million mark in the end.
Success Or Failure? Creatively, if you ask us, a success: Jonze’s big budget picture wasn’t universally acclaimed, but we’d call his devastating look at childhood one of the best films of 2009. Commercially, though, it was less so, failing to make back its production budget, and likely losing Warners close to $100 million when marketing was factored in (it’s actually almost remarkable that it was only that much, given how uncommercial the final product was). Jonze returned to lower-scale territory for his follow-up, the self-penned “Her,” and won an Original Screenplay Oscar for his trouble. But it also wasn’t a commercial hit. Time will tell if he ever returns to the big-budget arena.
Indie Work: After debuting with the entirely forgotten straight-to-video college comedy “Getting In” in 1994, Liman broke through thanks to his work on Jon Favreau’s comedy “Swingers,” a big hit in the mid 1990s, with his stylish helming of Favreau’s eminently quotable script certainly made the director one to watch. His follow-up “Go” (actually backed by Columbia, but it feels like an indie in most ways, including cost) hasn’t endured in the same way, but as a lightweight riff on Tarantino and co, it was entertaining within its own rights. The low-budget film was a minor box office hit, catapulting Liman to greater heights.
First Big Budget Film: Liman had been of a fan of Robert Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity” since he was a teenager, and actively pursued the rights once “Swingers” made him a hot property. It took a while (and a flight right to Ludlum’s house in Montana), and went through a number of screenwriters, but Liman eventually set the property up at Universal, with Matt Damon starring. After a troubled production (see below) and a few release date delays, it hit theaters on June 14th, 2002, picking up excellent reviews and a worldwide gross of over $200 million. It’s spawned three sequels to date, with one more in the works.
Budgetary Leap: “Swingers” cost a mere $200,000 (much of which came from friends of Liman’s father), while “Go” jumped to $6 million or so. “The Bourne Identity” cost ten times as much, at $60 million.
Success Or Failure? If you asked a Universal executive during production, they would have said a failure: Liman is, or was, famously indecisive, and fell out with the studio in a big way, with screaming matches on set, four rounds of reshoots, and communications breaking down to the extent that Damon had to act as a go-between the director and suits. And yet the film felt like a breath of fresh air for the genre when it finally arrived, Liman’s mix of indie cred and blockbuster bravado creating a character-driven actioner that really connected with audiences. He might have caused them headaches, but Liman ended up giving Universal one of their most important franchises. The director kept his reputation on follow-ups “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” and “Jumper,” as each were similarly troubled (the former dropped entire sub-plots, the latter was recast entirely after a week or two of filming), with varying box office success (the movie with Pitt and Jolie was a hit, the other one, not so much). Fingers crossed that his next, the promising sci-fi “Edge Of Tomorrow,” marks a return to form.
Indie Work: David Lynch’s early feature career is fascinating because for a short time there, it seemed he was following an absolutely typical, if meteoric, path to Hollywood eminence. He got noticed when his no-budget, highly personal and idiosyncratic feature debut “Eraserhead” became a staple of the midnight cult horror circuit, tried to mount “Ronnie Rocket” (for the first of many times–it remains one of our 25 Greatest Movies Never Made), and instead was brought in as director-for-hire on “The Elephant Man.” The black-and-white story of famous “freak” Joseph Merrick, is certainly stylish, but it’s still a very classically told, “straight” story, which showed that Lynch could also court mainstream success. The obvious trajectory was for him to take a big-budget extravaganza next, and become Steven Spielberg, right?
First Big-Budget Movie: Indeed he was even offered the opportunity to direct “Return of the Jedi” by George Lucas, but turned that down in favor of taking up the mantle, much to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s dismay (you really should check out “Jodorowsky’s Dune” if you haven’t already), of adapting Frank Herbert’s epic “Dune” for producer Dino De Laurentiis.
Budgetary Leap: “The Elephant Man” was budgeted at a modest $5m, while “Dune” came in at $40-45m. (Adjusted for inflation that makes for figures of roughly $14m and $94m respectively)
Success Or Failure? Hoo boy. Well, “Dune” famously bombed at the box office, recouping less than its budget, and it tanked critically as well, so yeah, Failure. Later Lynch would say, on one of the rare occasions he’d even discuss the film, “[it] was a kind of studio film. I didn’t have final cut. And, little by little, I was subconsciously making compromises.” Now, full disclosure, Lynch’s “Dune” is probably “the worst film I love” for many, but even uncritical culty affection can’t deny that it’s a complete shambles. But it does kick off a fascinating what-if: what if it had been success? Would we ever have had the Lynch of “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Twin Peaks”? Would Lynch have been so feted as a studio director that he’d have swallowed his qualms at compromise and gone on to have a completely different career? As it is, “Dune” was a disaster, but in the wide view a constructive one, in that it can at least partially be thanked for kicking Lynch’s future filmography onto the wonderfully wonky parallel track it’s pursued ever since.
Indie Work: Singer’s first film “Public Access” (about a drifter who causes an uproar in a small town through its local cable station) didn’t get a distributor, but it did win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993, and thus managed to grab Singer some attention. This led to “The Usual Suspects,” a twisty, beautifully acted noir that hit right at the peak of post-Tarantino mania, and became an immediate cult hit as a result. That brought Singer to the attention of studios, but before he went into tentpole territory, he helmed an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Apt Pupil,” about a young man who finds out his neighbor was a concentration camp guard, for mini-major Phoenix Pictures.
First Big-Budget Movie: Singer’s first true studio movie was “X-Men,” the long-awaited adaptation of some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved and long-running characters. Singer initially turned down the project before signing on in December 1996, and after a long road of development, the film, detailing superpowered mutants, was released in July 2000, to strong reviews and a healthy worldwide box office of just under $300 million.
Budgetary Leap: “The Usual Suspects” was about $6 million, “Apt Pupil” was about $14m. “X-Men” was nearly five times that, at $75 million
Success Or Failure? That depends if you’re talking short-term or long-term. “X-Men,” more than any other film, is responsible for the glut of superhero movies we now have — the film was the first in a long time to treat the source material with respect (after the 90s “Batman” movies and things like “The Phantom,” this proved important), and showed that they could work without A-list stars, with the property doing the heavy lifting. The first film was flawed and compromised, but a good start, and Singer nailed it with sequel “X2.” But he’s become a less and less interesting director as time’s gone on, culminating in last year’s dire “Jack The Giant Slayer,” and his return to the franchise for “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” doesn’t look that much better. If you’re not keen on superhero movies, this movie is the one to blame.
Indie Work: Andy and Lana (originally Larry) Wachowski started off their career as comic book writers before breaking into movies, penning a script called “Assassins” in 1994 (later heavily rewritten as a Sylvester Stallone vehicle). They teamed with veteran producer Dino De Laurentiis for their directorial debut in 1996 with “Bound,” a taut, stylish lesbian-themed neo noir. It was picked up by Gramercy Pictures and, after premiering at the Venice Film Festival, hit theaters in October of 1996, eventually becoming a cult hit.
First Big Budget Film: Even before the release of bound, the pair had sold the rights to a secretive sci-fi project to Warner Bros’ Lorenzo DiBonaventura. It took some convincing, but the studio eventually agreed to finance “The Matrix,” a heady, action-packed sci-fi film that cribbed liberally from cyberpunk novels, comic books and video games. A smart marketing campaign that mixed unique eye-popping imagery with the film’s central “What Is The Matrix?” question led to it becoming a pop culture phenomenon on release: it took over $450 million worldwide, and influenced almost every action movie to be released in the next decade.
Budgetary Leap: “Bound” cost $6 million, “The Matrix” weighed in at around $63 million, nearly ten times as much (and the money was all on screen: it looked as though it cost much more).
Success Or Failure? For the film itself, an unquestionable success: it birthed a new franchise (sequel “The Matrix Reloaded” took over $700 million), and is one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. For the Wachowskis, it’s more debatable; lost in their own mythology, the sequels proved hugely disappointing, and audiences turned against them swiftly (the third film took less than the first one did worldwide, even after the huge bump for the sequel). Nothing they’ve done since has been nearly as successful, with both “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” tanking hard (both films are better than their reputation, in fairness). And, to be honest, we’re not sure that “Jupiter Ascending” will turn that around. Maybe they need to return to their low-budget “Bound” days?
Indie Work: Webb kicked off his career as one of the best-known directors of music videos of the ’00s, with clips for the likes of Green Day, Anastacia, AFI, Good Charlotte, Brand New, Snow Patrol, Pussycat Dolls, My Chemical Romance and Regina Spektor. This led to his first feature, indie rom-com “(500) Days Of Summer.” Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, it’s decidedly imperfect, but with the genre in dire straits, the film’s visual invention and melancholy tone clicked with audiences, and after Fox Searchlight picked it up, it became a sleeper hit, taking $32 million domestically, and almost as much again abroad.
First Big-Budget Movie: The director became a hot property off the back of the film’s success, and flirted with various projects (including “The Spectacular Now” and a re-do of “Jesus Christ Superstar”), but when Sony pulled the plug on development of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 4” in favor of a cheaper, younger-skewing reboot, Webb swiftly became the studio’s first choice to helm. Eventually titled “The Amazing Spider-Man,” starring Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger, Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as the villainous lizard, the film, released in July 2012, was the lowest-grossing of the franchise to date, but still took a very healthy $752.2 million around the globe. Webb’s sequel “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” lands in May.
Budgetary Leap: The independently financed “(500) Days Of Summer” cost around $7.5 million. While the plan was for the film to be significantly cheaper than Raimi’s third picture, Sony still ended up spending north of $200 million on “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
Success Or Failure? A qualified success. The buzz during production was that Webb and Sony were clashing, and the results are evident on screen: the finished film is tonally awkward, and the story a little incoherent. Sony must have lost a little face when the film made less money than the Raimi trilogy, but can’t have been that disappointed, given that they’ve already greenlit three sequels, and at least two spin-offs, and any issues with Webb must have been smoothed over, as he’s directing both the new film and 2016’s threequel. As for the filmmaker, he dealt with the romance aspects better in the first film than with the superheroics: let’s see if that changes with the follow-up.
Indie Work: Wyatt had only short films behind him (most notably 2004’s “Get The Picture”) when he made his first film in 2008, the low-budget prison thriller “The Escapist,” which starred Brian Cox, who’d also appeared in the short, alongside Joseph Fiennes, Seu Jorge, Liam Cunningham, Dominic Cooper and Damian Lewis. Stylish and smart, it was pretty much dumped by its U.S. and U.K. distributors, but certainly got Wyatt in front of the right people, particularly after it screened at Sundance.
First Big-Budget Movie: After Scott Frank left the project (then called “Caesar”), Fox offered the reins of their reboot of the “Planet Of The Apes” franchise to the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and Tomas Alfredson before settling on the surprise choice of Wyatt. The film, which saw the creation of the first intelligent ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his relationship with scientist Will (James Franco) took advantage of performance-capture technology and, after a confident Fox bumped it up nearly six months into the summer, it opened on August 5th, 2011 to surprisingly strong reviews. The film proved to have long legs, and eventually made nearly $500 million worldwide.
Budgetary Leap: “The Escapist” cost a mere $2 million, while in contrast, “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” was said by the studio to cost $93 million — low by tentpole standards, but thought at the time to be the biggest-ever jump in budget for a second-time director (though Marc Webb took the crown soon after, and Gareth Edwards will likely break the record again with “Godzilla”).
Success Or Failure: Resounding success. Plenty (including Wyatt, presumably) must have been nervous about such an untested filmmaker taking on a big budget property, and an important franchise for the studio, but the film proved a surprise smash, and much of the credit (along with Andy Serkis’ remarkable performance) must go to Wyatt, who directed the film cleanly but brilliantly, and soon attracted the label of “the next Christopher Nolan.” Wyatt bailed on this summer’s sequel is already wrapped, and will hopefully hit theaters later in the year.
Honorable Mentions: To keep the numbers down, we tried to restrict this mostly to filmmakers who went straight from indies to tentpoles, without stopgaps in between. That means we excluded some obvious names like Peter Jackson (who made the effects-packed “The Frighteners” for Universal before “Lord of the Rings“), Ang Lee (whose “Ride With The Devil” cost nearly $50 million before he took on “Hulk“), Alfonso Cuaron, whose “A Little Princess” and “Great Expectations” helped pave the way for “Harry Potter,” and Christopher Nolan, who had the $45 million-budgeted “Insomnia” before “Batman Begins.”
Also in this category: Steven Soderbergh, who spent $50m on Universal’s “Out Of Sight” before he made “Ocean’s Eleven,” Sam Raimi, who’d shot a number of modestly-budgeted studio films ahead of “Spider-Man,” and Gore Verbinski, who never really made indies, and had “The Ring” before he made “Pirates Of The Caribbean.” Similarly, Sam Mendes mostly made studio pictures, even if the low-budget “Away We Go” was the film he did before “Skyfall,” and Chris Weitz shot mostly within the studio system before “The Golden Compass.” Better examples might be Catherine Hardwicke, although “Twilight” wasn’t hugely expensive, and Joe Carnahan, although “Smokin’ Aces,” which preceded “The A-Team,” was released by Universal.
Edgar Wright doesn’t feel like an indie director so much, but “Hot Fuzz” only cost $12 million, a fair gap from the $60 or so spent on “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.” Finally, there’s David O Russell, who leapt from “Flirting With Disaster” to the $75 million “Three Kings,” though that never felt like it qualified as a tentpole. — Oliver Lyttelton with Jessica Kiang