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When Disney fired James Gunn from directing “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” last week, it came as a shock to many, and was the unfortunate result of offensive tweets from years ago resurfacing online.
But the “Guardians” movies will go on with or without Gunn.
An online petition for Gunn to be rehired, with hundreds of thousands of signatures, is hoping to catch Disney’s attention. But in the likely event that Gunn is not reinstated for the movie — which he had recently finished the script for and was planning to shoot this fall — Disney may soon make an announcement for who will replace him. That’s a scenario that fans will have to prepare for.
Gunn managed to turn the little-known Guardians into fan favorites of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the two movies he directed — “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014 and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” in 2017 — grossed a combined $1.6 billion at the global box office. In other words, Gunn left his mark on the MCU, and any director who follows him will have big shoes to fill.
But that’s why fans should also get used to the third “Guardians” movie being quite different from the last two if Gunn is not miraculously brought back. “Guardians 3” will not be a James Gunn movie, even if the majority of his script is still used.
Luckily, there are a handful of worthy filmmakers who could be ready for the challenge. I’ve gathered together a list below of some who could take on “Guardians 3” based on their previous work and Marvel’s own tendencies when hiring directors.
There are the obvious choices such as Brad Bird, who already has a relationship with Disney having directed the “Incredibles” movies, and Taika Waititi, whose “Thor: Ragnarok” featured slapstick comedy and space adventure similar to the “Guardians” movies.
There are also less-obvious choices, but Marvel has found success in lesser-known filmmakers like the Russo Brothers (“Avengers: Infinity War”) and Jon Watts (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Kay Cannon, for instance, proved she has a great understanding of comedy with this year’s “Blockers,” and Marvel values comedic chops just as much as the ability to direct an action sequence.
And then there are the long shots, the directors who would be more than capable but the studio probably wouldn’t consider, or would likely pass given their history or current schedule.
Below are directors who could replace James Gunn on “Guardians of the Galaxy 3”:
Obvious choice: Brad Bird
Credits include: “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “Tommorowland,” “Incredibles 2”
Bird already has a working relationship with Disney, having directed “Ratatouille” and both “Incredibles” movies, whose themes of family superheroics are on par with the “Guardians” movies. He’s also proven he can handle a live-action set-piece or two with “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” one of the best movies in the franchise.
Obvious choice: Peyton Reed
“Ant-Man and the Wasp”Marvel Studios
Credits include: “Bring It On,” “Yes Man,” “Ant-Man,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
Reed came on the first “Ant-Man” late after original director Edgar Wright left, but he showed a better handling of the Marvel universe and its blend of action and comedy with “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” One could assume he’d be right at home if he were to direct a “Guardians” movie.
Obvious choice: Taika Waititi
“Thor: Ragnarok”Marvel Studios
Credits include: “What We Do In The Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Thor: Ragnarok”
Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” is as close to a “Guardians” movie in tone as any other Marvel movie, which makes him a no-brainer. The only problem is that he’s currently filming war-comedy “Jojo Rabbit,” which could cause scheduling conflicts.
Good bet: Kay Cannon
Credits include: “Blockers”
Marvel has shown that it values comedic filmmaking talent just as much, if not more than, the ability to direct action. It found that in the Russo Brothers, who came from TV sitcoms like “Arrested Development” and “Community” and went on to make “The Winter Soldier,” “Civil War,” and “Infinity War” for Marvel. Marvel could find that again in someone like Cannon, whose “Blockers” is one of the funniest movies of the year.
Good bet: Drew Goddard
“The Cabin in the Woods”Diyah Pera/Lionsgate
Credits include: “The Cabin the Woods,” “The Good Place”
Goddard’s “Cabin in the Woods” was a horror movie with a ridiculous, comedic twist that would make him an ideal candidate to replace Gunn. He’s currently attached to direct Fox’s “Deadpool 2” spinoff movie “X-Force,” but with Disney ready to acquire Fox assets, it’s unknown what will become of that movie.
Good bet: F. Gary Gray
“The Fate of the Furious”Universal
Credits include: “The Italian Job,” “Law Abiding Citizen,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Fate of the Furious”
Gray’s “The Fate of the Furious” was far from the best in the franchise, but he showed off his skill directing action sequences with a comedic punch to them.
Good bet: Travis Knight
Credits include: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Bumblebee”
Knight’s “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee” comes to theaters later this year, which would free him up to take on another blockbuster. The movie looks like a fun, family-friendly, and smaller-scaled “Transformers” movie compared to Michael Bay’s bloated and nauseating ones. And Knight’s “Kubo” was widely acclaimed, with a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for the best animated feature Oscar.
Good bet: Michelle MacLaren
Credits include: “Better Call Saul,” “Modern Family,” “Westworld,” “The Leftovers,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad”
MacLaren is one of the best television directors in the business, and while her past work has mostly been in serious dramas like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” there’s no doubt that she’d be able to make a “Guardians” movie all her own.
Good bet: Beth McCarthy-Miller
Credits include: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Modern Family,” “30 Rock”
Another television director with an impressive resume, McCarthy-Miller, as opposed to MacLaren, has her roots in comedy. As mentioned, Marvel likes to seek out up-and-coming filmmakers, and isn’t afraid to snatch TV directors up for its blockbusters.
Good bet: Christopher McQuarrie
“Mission: Impossible — Fallout”Paramount
Credits include: “Jack Reacher,” “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” “Mission: Impossible — Fallout”
McQuarrie’s two “Mission: Impossible” movies have been highly acclaimed, and this week’s “Fallout” has a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie’s action sequences are already being praised as among the best in the franchise, and the movies are able to blend action/adventure and humor seamlessly.
Long shot: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
“Game Night”Access Entertainment
Credits include: “Vacation,” “Game Night”
Daley and Goldstein have worked with Marvel before as writers on “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” But they’re currently attached to direct the “Flash” movie for DC and Warner Bros.
Long shot: Ava DuVernay
“A Wrinkle in Time”Disney
Credits include: “Selma,” “13th,” “A Wrinkle in Time”
Marvel showed an interest in DuVernay for “Black Panther,” which she declined and made Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” instead. That movie disappointed critically and commercially, and she’s on board to direct DC and Warner Bros.’ “New Gods” movie.
Long shot: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
“The LEGO Movie”YouTube/Warner Bros.
Credits include: “21 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie,” “22 Jump Street”
Lord and Miller were infamously fired from directing “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and replaced by Ron Howard. They were reportedly making the movie too much like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s too bad their relationship with Disney was likely tarnished. Nobody could have predicted they might have a chance to direct an actual “Guardians” movie.