Warner Bros.’ costly Peter Pan reimagining Pan was not a box office success, no matter which way you slice it. Against a reported budget of $150 million (not including P&A), the film has only grossed $93 million worldwide. Which is a shame, because I happen to think the film is actually pretty good! I’m willing to bet that in the very near future this will be a beloved and constantly-watched favorite amongst youngsters thanks to director Joe Wright’s somewhat nutty sensibility and the film’s gorgeously realized Neverland.
But the fact remains that Warner Bros. and Wright took a gamble and it didn’t pay off. Now, if a new report is to be believed, Wright is being unfairly punished for the film’s disappointment. Per The Wrap, the Atonement and Pride and Prejudice filmmaker was in negotiations to take the helm of Lionsgate’s Julius Caesar epic, but after the box office flop of Pan, Lionsgate suddenly cut off talks with the director and is now going “back to the drawing board”. Wright’s camp categorically denies the story and one of Julius Caesar’s producers commented that Wright couldn’t have been “fired” if he never had the job in the first place (this source confirms there was a meeting and a few calls, but the deal never made). But other sources tell The Wrap that Lionsgate abruptly ended negotiations with Wright after Pan’s box office flop, signaling a direct response to that film’s under-performance.
With stories like this, where it’s essentially one long game of telephone, it’s tough to parse out the truth from the bloviating so don’t take this as 100% fact, but if Lionsgate was spurred to cut off talks with Wright due to Pan, they are, quite simply, dumb. With a massive studio film as big as Pan, it’s ridiculous to rest the film’s entire success or failure on the shoulders of its director. Aside from maybe Christopher Nolan, no one gets carte blanche with that much money on the line, so Pan’s “failure” is as much Warner Bros.’ fault as it is Wright’s. There were no doubt many cooks in that kitchen, and Wright himself admitted that his cut of the film was considerably darker and a bit stranger, so to have him shoulder the blame is unfair.
And it’s a shame too, because one can only imagine what Wright’s would’ve done with an epic like Julius Caesar, which has been in development for years and aims to kick off a franchise of films about the younger years of the Roman statesman. Again, there’s no confirmation that talks between Wright and Lionsgate broke down specifically because of Pan’s box office, but with films like this I do think it’s important to keep in mind that auteur theory rarely applies—when $150 million is on the line, Joe Wright isn’t going to get free reign to do whatever he pleases. Warner Bros. is going to ensure they’re releasing a film somewhat in line with what they envisioned.
So what will Wright do next? He’s proven to be an incredibly versatile filmmaker, moving seamlessly from costume dramas like Anna Karenina to thriller fairy tales like Hanna, so I’ve no doubt he’ll land on his feet. For now, though, it appears he won’t be venturing to the days of the Roman Empire.