Marvel’s tricky battle over director James Gunn’s role in ‘Guardians’

Karie Bible, a box office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, noted that controversy has not slowed several recent Hollywood success stories.

“Look at ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ In spite of Bryan Singer’s involvement, it opened with $51 million and grossed $213 million domestically,” Bible said, referring to the fired director Bryan Singer who has faced allegations — which he denies — of sexual misconduct.

“Another example is Best Picture winner ‘Green Book.'” It faced multiple waves of backlash and controversy — its director’s on-set behavior was questioned and the family of the film’s subject objected to the on-screen portrayal — yet still managed to gross $69.6 million domestically and land the biggest Oscar.

Shawn Robbins, a chief analyst for Box said a “Guardians” movie without Gunn could be a financial disappointment, or all the right people and decisions could fall into place and the third installment continue the franchise’s box office winning streak. The point is that Gunn’s absence as director will sustain a level of uncertainty about the project that otherwise would not have existed.

“There’s probably a stronger argument to expect a box office decline without his involvement if the change in creative vision doesn’t mesh and results in a final product that isn’t as crowd-pleasing as the first two films,” Robbins said. “When someone buys a ticket to a Guardians movie right now, they have a specific expectation of what they’re going to get. That’s the risk Disney will be taking without Gunn in the director’s chair.”

Marvel Studios declined to comment.

One of the fan favorites to take over Gunn’s directing duties is Taika Waititi, who directed another Marvel sci-fi epic: 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok.” Although the film grossed over $850 million worldwide and he has been in talks to direct another Marvel movie, Waititi has emphasized that the Guardians movies have James Gunn’s “stamp” all over them and that he has no intent to direct the third film in the trilogy.

Variety reported last summer that, in addition to Waititi, speculation has swirled around “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, and Anthony and Joe Russo, who have directed an array of Marvel films, including this year’s “Avengers: Endgame.”

“The obvious choice to take over as director would be the Russo brothers, who are already at the helm of the Avengers franchise and know this material better than anyone else besides Gunn himself,” Afra said. “The only issue here would be fitting the production into their busy schedule and overcoming whatever reservations Marvel may have about betting the entire house on one team. Typically, a studio would not be so bold.”

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