Few industries enjoy taking really, really, really long extended holiday vacations like Hollywood. So when we get to this time of the year, there's really not much in the realm of "movie development news" to discuss, especially not in a weekly column which normally includes 10 different stories. So, this week and next, we're instead going to review 12 of the year's top stories, presented to you in monthly chronology. The year-in-review begins with the "Fresh Developments" which here also serve (mostly) as the "Top Stories" of the year. And there was no confusion about what the year's top story was...
Fresh Developments This Week
JANUARY: J.J. ABRAMS ANNOUNCED AS DIRECTOR OF STAR WARS EPISODE VII
One of the frequent theme of movie development news stories in 2012 was the ongoing rumor mill revolving around who would be hired by Disney to direct Star Wars Episode VII. Not that far into 2013, we learned that the job was going to a director who had actually already made his mark by rebooting a major science fiction franchise: J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, LOST). Although we're including this as a "Fresh Development" based on the RT Tomatometer scores for J.J. Abrams' past films, there are clearly many fans who were not as enthused by Disney's choice. Since this story came so early in the year, you might think it was just one of many revelations for Star Wars Episode VII, but really, we end the year 11 months later not knowing much more, except confirmation of the spinoffs, and a release date of December 18, 2015. Mostly, the year was filled with unsubstantiated casting rumors. So, so, so many casting rumors. There were also two other big director announcements in January: Christopher Nolan replacing Steven Spielberg on Interstellar, and Duncan Jones signing on to direct Warcraft.
FEBRUARY: PETER DINKLAGE JOINS THE X-FRANCHISE AS THE VILLAIN IN X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
It's curious how, in review, certain months have themes. January, as just discussed, had a few major director announcements. And in February, 2013, the recurring theme was talented actors getting jobs as antagonists in franchise entries. We can include in that list: James Marsden in the comedy sequel Anchorman 2, Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman as the lead humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the casting of Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Given all of that competition, it might seem arbitrary that this story was chosen above them, but the shadow cast by Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones goes a long way. His is a very big talent. Peter Dinklage has by this point already wrapped filming of his role in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which we now know is Bolivar Trask, the man behind the mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. At the time, however, much of the speculation was based on Peter Dinklage's height, namely that he might be playing the Canadian superhero Puck, despite there being no other indication that Puck or Alpha Flight would be in the movie (and oh yeah, Puck's not a villain). This was just the first of several news stories for Fox's superhero franchise in 2013, followed by X-Force being developed as a spinoff, and the announcement of the next movie being X-Men: Apocalypse, which is scheduled for May 27, 2016.
MARCH: KICKSTARTER FUNDS THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE, AND KICKSTARTS A NEW FUNDING TREND
This is definitely a story whose "Freshness" is yet to be determined, but it was unquestionably one of the year's biggest stories, from a certain perspective. Namely, the perspective of how Hollywood funds its movies, and how the industry takes advantage of online social networking. It was in March, 2013 that the Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie adaptation of the Veronica Mars TV series proved to be successful. Kristen Bell and crew have long since wrapped filming of the Veronica Mars movie, which is now scheduled for release by Warner Bros for March 14, 2014. That campaign's success led to a few imitators, such as millionaire Spike Lee's effort, and this now infamous example of how not to do it.
APRIL: PIXAR ANNOUNCES FINDING DORY, THE SEQUEL TO FINDING NEMO
Pixar sequels: yay or nay? That continues to be a source for discussion among fans of movies like Wall-E and Up, with the two Toy Story sequels holding up the other end of the discussion (and to a lesser extent, Cars 2 and Monsters University). One sequel which might help the pro-sequel side was announced back in early April with the confirmation that Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar are at work on Finding Dory, the sequel to the 2003 animated hit Finding Nemo. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres (as the title character) are returning for the sequel, and new voice cast members include Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, and Eugene Levy. Disney has scheduled Finding Dory for release on November 25, 2015. This is also a good place to acknowledge that this writer goofed at the time when he made G.I. Joe 3 news the top story instead of Finding Dory. Something that I got right, sort of, was when I did only one April Fool's Day joke this year, and it was about Marvel's The Defenders. Later in the year, The Defenders was announced as a major Netflix mini-series. That jokes can become reality is what makes writing really good April Fool's Day items so difficult some years.
MAY: DIRECTOR SAM MENDES CONFIRMED AS RETURNING FOR JAMES BOND 24
The last week of May, and the first week of June, formed something of a double feature for news concerning James Bond 24 (title obviously to be changed). The first story was the bigger, which was that after some contrary reports, we learned that director Sam Mendes, who impressed so many with Skyfall, would be returning for the next James Bond movie as well. The second story involved the possibility of Penelope Cruz joining the film as the next "Bond girl." That story was eventually debunked, but at the time, we didn't know that.
JUNE: SEQUELS IN THE WORKS FOR WORLD WAR Z AND THIS IS THE END
Two of the biggest hits of June, 2013 both involved the apocalypse: the R-rated comedy This is the End, and more surprisingly, the zombie blockbuster World War Z (which many pundits had formerly dismissed as an impending box office bomb). That both movies were successful was obvious by the last week of the month, and so we heard of sequel plans for both movies. We really haven't heard much since about the Seth Rogen (and friends) sequel, but we know now that the World War Z sequel is being developed by a new franchise director, Juan Antonio Bayona (The Impossible).
JULY: BEN AFFLECK TEAMING UP WITH DIRECTOR DAVID FINCHER FOR GONE GIRL
A month later, Ben Affleck would be in the midst of an online publicity hurricane, but in July, the actor was receiving a lot more love, which, looking back, seems to now have been forgotten. It was in early July that Ben Affleck was announced as being cast as the lead in the novel adaptation Gone Girl, which is the next film for director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network). 20th Century Fox has scheduled Gone Girl for release on October 3, 2014.
SEPTEMBER: J.K. ROWLING RETURNING TO THE HARRY POTTER UNIVERSE WITH FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
When Warner Bros released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011, it truly felt like an end of an era (and for good reason), but only a fool would have bet that the studio would never try returning to the world created by author J.K. Rowling. The event in 2013 that may have helped it all come together was the announcement that Legendary Pictures was leaving Warner Bros for Universal Pictures (an event that arguably impacted every decision Warner Bros made in the second half of 2013). Looking for future tentpoles to replace Legendary's output, the studio announced plans to adapt J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as a new spinoff film that would potentially lead to a new franchise with sequels, etc.
OCTOBER: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR FINALLY GETTING A HOLLYWOOD BIOPIC COURTESY OF OLIVER STONE
This writer has been covering movie development online since 1997, and one of the concepts that seems to have never really gone away ever since that period is a big screen biopic about civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. A book could be written (and probably will be) about the many different attempts at exactly that sort of movie. In October, we learned of negotiations between some of the elements, which include DreamWorks, Warner Bros, and director Oliver Stone (JFK, Nixon, W.), which seem to hint that the movie will finally happen. The crucial factor here is the actor who would play King, and we learned at that time that it was Jamie Foxx who the two studios and Oliver Stone were talking to for the role.
NOVEMBER: SPINOFF MOVIES TO EXPAND A NEW CINEMATIC UNIVERSE AROUND THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
There's a funny thing that happens sometimes with online movie development news. There will be a big story, and it will get an appropriate amount of attention. Then, a few weeks later, basically the same story will come back with slightly more information, and the online communities will give it much more buzz and hype than it did the first time around, even as some people (like this writer, usually) say, "hey, we already knew this..." Such was the case with the November news that Sony Pictures is planning a new franchise of spinoff films featuring supporting characters and villains that they have the rights to because of their ongoing adaptations of Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man. At the time, the speculation about what characters would be adapted included Black Cat, Venom, and the Sinister Six. Well, three weeks later, there was another story saying almost exactly the same thing, except then, we got confirmation that the first two movies would be Venom and The Sinister Six. In a somewhat schizophrenic turn here, the initial story seemed to us like a "Fresh Development," but we were less impressed by some of the creative people announced three weeks later, and so the second story was a borderline "Rotten Idea." The real response here is... we don't know.
DECEMBER: PAUL RUDD CONFIRMED TO PLAY FOUNDING AVENGERS MEMBER ANT-MAN IN 2015
This year wasn't the first time this was true, but 2013 was another year in which superhero movies dominated the headlines. And so, it's not at all surprising that one third of these top stories involve DC and Marvel superheroes, wrapping up with one of the founders of The Avengers. The curious thing, however, is that Ant-Man has never really burst out into the public consciousness the way that teammates Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor have. Of course, the same was true of Black Widow and Hawkeye (who joined the Avengers in the comics much later than Ant-Man), but after their movie debuts, the opposite is now true. So, it's exciting to learn that Paul Rudd was recently confirmed to have been cast by Marvel Studios to star as the shrinking superhero Ant-Man when the film is released in theaters on July 31, 2015. Sometime in 2014, we should know who will be playing his wife, Janet Van Dyne, AKA Wasp, the remaining founding member of the Avengers we haven't yet seen in a live action movie.