The Film That Lit My Fuse is a Deadline video series that aims to provide an antidote to headlines about industry uncertainty by swinging the conversation back to the creative ambitions, formative influences, and inspirations of some of today’s great screen artists.
Every installment asks the same five questions. Today’s subject is James Gunn, who has become a directing superstar by way of modest origins of the Troma schlock horror factory, where he cut his teeth as writer/actor/director on films that included Tromeo And Juliet, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV and others, to breakout turns as a writer on two Scooby-Doo films and most especially the Zack Snyder-directed remake of the George Romero classic Dawn Of The Dead, which mixed irreverent humor with the clever notion of giving the formerly lumbering flesh eating zombies sprinter speed, which ratcheted up the scares considerably. That led him to Marvel where, after second unit director work on Thor: The Dark World, Gunn took the helm as writer/director of Guardians of the Galaxy, a compulsively watchable blockbuster that grossed $773 million worldwide. The sequel did even better — $864M WW.
With plans underway for a third film, Gunn’s career stock plummeted shockingly when Disney and Marvel cut him loose after a series of ill-advised tweets from those Troma days surfaced, in an inexplicable attempt by Gunn to be satirical and outrageous. His career very much on the rocks, Gunn found support in Hollywood and especially from the entire Guardians cast led by Dave Bautista, who argued the vile decade-old tweets did not reflect who Gunn was to them. It became clear the Guardians franchise might be done if Gunn wasn’t brought back. Disney’s Alan Horn and Marvel’s Kevin Feige reconsidered. This was partly because of the way Gunn blamed himself and no one else as he fell on his sword (he had apologized previously), and because it was clear these tweets were weaponized by conservative quarters irate over Gunn’s criticism of then-president Donald Trump and bent on canceling him. By the time all that happened, Warner Bros had welcomed Gunn into the DC superhero fold; after offering him Superman, they settled on The Suicide Squad, an R-rated relaunch of the 2016 film hatched by WB, DC and writer/director David Ayer. That film is expected to own this weekend’s box office and is released simultaneously on HBO Max. Squarely out of the penalty box and back in the tent pole game, Gunn is prepping a third Guardians and also wrote and helmed Peacemaker, a limited series that spun off John Cena’s bullet-headed anti-hero from The Suicide Squad. Another installment of The Suicide Squad looks likely. Here, Gunn describes the creative inspirations that inspired his own brand of big scale filmmaking.
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