Netflix recently unveiled a pretty star-studded original film called Triple Frontier, but the project has actually been in the works for nearly a decade and has gone through various A-list permutations over the years. As it stands now, the film is directed and co-written by J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year) and stars Oscar Isaac as a private military advisor who enlists his former special forces buddies to travel down to Columbia and steal millions of dollars from a drug lord. Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal, and Garrett Hedlund fill out the ensemble, as the film takes an intriguing, dark look at the power of greed.
But Triple Frontier first originated all the way back in 2009 as a high-profile project for a very different reason: it was announced as the new film from The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow and Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal, marking their follow-up feature after winning the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay Oscars.
At the time, the project was described as an action-adventure film set in the titular “triple frontera”, which is a border zone of South America known to be a haven for organized crime. The first, unconfirmed casting rumors pegged Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, and Denzel Washington as being in line for starring roles, but those never really materialized into anything substantial.
Indeed our first serious casting report arrived in October 2010, when none other than Tom Hanks was said to be circling one of five major roles. This is curious for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it’s hard to imagine someone like Hanks inhabiting a character as morally grey as the leads of Triple Frontier. While we never got confirmation as to who he was in line to play, and the screenplay at that point was different, I suppose it makes a bit of sense if he were considering the Affleck or Isaac role.
Casting on the film continued, and Hanks officially signed on to star in November 2010. Bigelow, meanwhile, met with a number of A-list actors to fill out the ensemble, including Will Smith, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Renner, and Johnny Depp—although scheduling conflicts with Dark Shadows ultimately prevented Depp from signing on despite engaging in talks.
Filming was due to begin in fall 2011 as Bigelow and Boal continued developing the film, but in December 2010, a report surfaced that the filmmaking duo were considering making an “indie thriller” based on a “true story” before Triple Frontier. Details on that project were kept under lock and key, but we would eventually discover that that project was Zero Dark Thirty, the controversial thriller about the hunt for and assassination of Osama Bin Laden. When Bin Laden was killed in May 2011, suddenly Zero Dark Thirty had an ending, and Boal dove head-first into research (including conducing interviews with CIA officials) to get the story straight. As we all know, that didn’t turn out so well.
The point is, Zero Dark Thirty suddenly became a thing, which put Triple Frontier on the backburner for a while. Bigelow and Boal made their Bin Laden film somewhat in secret, and the movie weathered one of the nastier Oscar campaigns in recent memory to only win one award, Best Sound Editing.
In December 2012, the same month that Zero Dark Thirty was released, a new report surfaced that shined a light on why Triple Frontier had yet to happen. THR noted that Paramount Pictures—the studio behind the film—balked at its $80 million budget and urged Bigelow and Boal to bring it down. Moreover, Paramount was reportedly high on casting Smith, but Bigelow wasn’t too keen on the idea—to the point that the studio had to force a meeting between the actor and director.
After this, Triple Frontier kind of went into hibernation for a bit. Bigelow and Boal moved on, and in 2015 it was announced that J.C. Chandor—the filmmaker behind Margin Call and All Is Lost—was coming onboard to direct. Little did we know, even more production troubles were ahead.
Casting this movie proved to be incredibly difficult. When Chandor signed on, it was reported that Hanks and Smith were still keen on starring, but that never came to fruition. Then in January 2016, Depp entered early talks to sign on, which also ultimately never went anywhere. A full year later, in January 2017, it appeared as though forward momentum had arrived with Tom Hardy, Channing Tatum, and Mahershala Ali circling three major roles. Then a couple months later in April 2017, the entire movie fell apart.
Indeed, in April 2017—a month before filming was due to begin—both Hardy and Tatum dropped out of the movie, and Paramount Pictures also dropped their plans to make the film, putting it in turnaround. Chandor had reportedly rewritten the script to a point that neither Tatum nor Hardy loved, which is what spurred them to leave and Paramount to drop the film altogether.
A month later, in May 2017, Netflix—and the Affleck brothers—came to the rescue. It was reported that Netflix was looking to pick Triple Frontier up as an abandoned project from Paramount, with the streaming service prepared to offer roles to both Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck. This ultimately did happen, but somewhat hilariously—because this project is cursed—Ben Affleck dropped out of the movie in July 2017 to “focus on his wellness and his family.” As we well know Affleck eventually returned to the project, and it wasn’t like he left over creative differences in the first place. But for a spell there, this appeared to be falling apart all over again.
So finally, in March 2018, Triple Frontier entered its final form as Ben Affleck signed back on and Chandor filled out his ensemble with Isaac, Hunnam, Hedlund, Pascal, and Adria Arjona. Nearly a decade after we first heard about this project, and in a very different form.
In many ways, Triple Frontier is indicative of just how hard it is to get a movie made. You can have Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, you can have an A-list cast, but if the stars don’t align in just the right way—if all parties involved can’t agree on the story direction or creative decisions—it doesn’t happen. So here’s to perseverance on the part of producer Charles Roven.
Triple Frontier is now available to stream on Netflix.