Hollywood writers went on strike in 2007-2008, but we're only seeing the results now, in a crop of summer movies with half-baked scripts and abnormally dunderheaded writing. So when do we start seeing some movies that the strike didn't wreck?
The writers' strike has caused incalculable damage to genre television, including helping to kill great shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But it's also inflicted maximum damage on this summer's movies. We detailed all the ways the strike impacted movies like Wolverine, Terminator Salvation, Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe a while back — it's probably no coincidence that the one movie whose script was in perfect shape before the strike hit, Star Trek, was also the only really watchable genre film in months.
(I think part of the reason I'm so over-the-moon about Trek is because I'm grading on a curve. Put it next to Iron Man and The Dark Knight, and it might not score quite so well. I was also thinking the other day that if The Incredible Hulk had come out in 2009, we might have appreciated it a bit more.)
So how about the movies coming this fall and winter, and even into next year? Did the strike hurt them as well? I did some digging, and here's what I found out about the crop of upcoming Hollywood movies:
District 9. (August 14) Not really a Hollywood movie, this Peter Jackson-produced alien imprisonment saga was filmed in South Africa and produced by QED Films. And reading between the lines of this Variety story from November 2007, it sounds as though director Neill Blomkamp and his partner Terri Tatchell had already written the script before the film was greenlit.
Pandorum. (September 4) This Dennis Quaid-Ben Foster space-horror film was greenlit in May 2008, a few months after the strike ended, and written by newcomer Travis Milloy. Which means it was a spec script, and unless it required major rewrites, it should be fine. The film only started shooting in August 2008, which means there should have been time to make rewrites, if any were needed.
Gamer. (September 4) This Gerard Butler-starring epic about prisoners who are forced to become video-game avatars for rich kids was actually filmed during the writer's strike, so its script was long since done. It's been on ice for quite some time — rumor has it test screenings in October 2008 produced almost entirely negative responses. The movie's gone through several titles, including Game and Citizen Game. So it may not be great... but that won't be the writers' strike's fault.
Splice. (September 18, limited release). Vincenzo Natali's genetic manipulation film stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as researchers who mess with the human genome... and get burned. And there was a script in November 2007, when the writer's strike started. Or at least, producer Guillermo del Toro was able to say in a statement:
Vincenzo is taking Splice to really edgy places. The moment I cringed while reading the script, I knew I wanted to help him realize his vision.
And a still from the movie came out in February 2008, while the strike was still going on. (The movie's complex visual effects have required a long time to complete.)
The Surrogates. (September 25). This one's a bit unclear. Disney bought the rights to the robot-avatar graphic novel back in March 2007. They hired the writers of Terminators 3 and 4, Michael Ferris and John Brancato, to write the screenplay. The following November, Bruce Willis signed up to star, and T3 director Jonathan Mostow was announced as director. The film was supposed to start filming in February, but the rest of the cast wasn't announced until the following April, a few months after the strike ended. So it's entirely possible the script needed some rewrites. And got them. So it may be fine. Except that it's from the writers and director of Terminator 3.
Zombieland. (October 9) This zombie buddy comedy didn't even snag star Woody Harrelson until late August 2008, a good six months after the strike ended. And co-star Jesse Eisenberg was "in talks" to appear in the film in October 2008. So I'm guessing there was plenty of time to get a script together at some point.
The Road. (October 16) This bleak Cormac McCarthy adaptation was filmed in Western Pennsylvania early in 2008, and has been on ice for a year — it was originally supposed to open in 2008. Now all we have to worry about is that producer Harvey Weinstein forced some unwise edits on the film in the interim.
The Wolfman. (November 6) This is another one that's been sitting on ice for ages — Benicio Del Toro signed up for the lead role in March 2006 (!) and there was a script review in August 2006. (If anything, looking at this crop of movies, I'm starting to wonder why so many were delayed for so long.) Del Toro got a costar, Emily Blunt, in January 2008, and it looks like the film was filmed soon after.
2012. (Nov. 13) We covered this in our rundown of the writer's strike and summer movies — because it was originally supposed to come out this summer. (Yes, another delayed film.) But the strike didn't actually impact this film much at all, because the script was bought right after the strike ended.
Avatar. (December 18) James Cameron has been working on this film since before you were born. And yes, I don't care how old you are, it's still true. In any case, chances are he's had plenty of opportunities to tinker with the script. Here he is, talking it up in 2006.
The Book Of Eli. (January 15). The Hughes Brothers (From Hell) signed up to direct this post-apocalyptic bibliophile samurai pic back in May 2007, and they were trying to rush it into production in the fall of 2007 "before a possible strike." Obviously, this didn't work out — the film's star, Denzel Washington, wasn't even announced until September 2008, and filming didn't happen until earlier this year. So count this as another film that was delayed — maybe due to the strike.
And I think from there on out, you're looking at movies that were greenlit after the strike, so you're probably all good. Looking at the crop of movies coming up this fall and winter, the main thing that's jumping out at me is that a lot of them were delayed for various reasons — probably not all to do with the strike. There are a lot of movies coming out from August to January, which were originally supposed to come out much earlier, but they were kept in the freezer. Make of that what you will.