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12 Low-Budget Directors Recruited For Major Movies

Movie Talk

12 Low-Budget Directors Recruited For Major Movies

Director Joe Cornish, Luke Treadaway and Nick Frost on set of "Attack the Block" (Photo Credit: Everett Collection)

"Attack the Block" features nasty gorilla-things from outer space making the mistake of invading a rough suburban London neighborhood inhabited by kids who don't take kindly to strangers in their territory (troof!). Now, that film's director, Joe Cornish, might be heading off to outer space himself as Paramount is apparently keen on him taking over the third installment of the "Star Trek" series, according to Deadline.

That's a pretty big leap. Cornish has lined up some pretty decent writing gigs since "Attack the Block," including having a hand with Edgar Wright in the "The Adventures of Tintin" screenplay as well as Marvel's "Ant-Man," which Wright is set to direct himself. But Cornish hasn't directed anything since "Attack the Block," and while that film was certainly impressive in its depiction of a hostile alien invasion on a budget of $13 million, to go from that to a huge franchise installment like "Star Trek 3" is quite the beam-up.

A director going from a relatively small, modestly-budgeted film to a huge studio production isn't an uncommon occurrence in Hollywood, though, especially recently. Many filmmakers have been recruited for big budget extravaganzas based at least in part on the merits of their more intimate cinematic efforts. Here are 11 other filmmakers who went from the minor to the major leagues in just a step or two.

1. Andy & Lana Wachowski
"Bound" (1996)
Then: "The Matrix" (1999)

The Wachowskis made their feature debut with "Bound," a sexy, ultra-stylish film noir thriller that made indie sex symbols out of Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. The filmmaking siblings made the movie for only $6 million — and, according to producer Joel Silver, as an 'audition piece' to prove that they knew their way around a movie set, as their only prior industry experience was as screenwriters (for Silver's "Assassins").

The audition was apparently a success, as the Wachowskis were given a $63 million budget — and the director's chair(s) — for "The Matrix," which earned over $463 million worldwide and launched a successful sci-fi franchise for Warner Bros.

2. Colin Trevorrow:
"Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012)
"Jurassic World" (2015)

One of our more head-scratching examples has Colin Trevorrow making his feature debut with cute mumblecore indie "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012) and from there being hired for the new "Jurassic Park" movie, "Jurassic World." What was it about a film in which a hipster magazine reporter (Aubrey Plaza) falls in love with a weirdo who might actually be a time traveler (Mark Duplass) that made Steven Spielberg think, "This is the guy for my next dinosaur stomp"?

However it came to be, Colin Trevorrow is indeed going from the $750,000 "Safety" to the bajillion-dollar "Jurassic World," which will invade theaters in June 2015. Impressive.

3. Marc Webb
"(500) Days of Summer" (2009)
Then: "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012)

Another head-scratcher is director Marc Webb going from the cute indie romance "(500) Days of Summer" to Sony's comic book reboot, "The Amazing Spider-Man." Made for only $7.5 million, "(500) Days" was a sleeper hit, scoring over $60 million at the worldwide box office and winning acclaims for the sweet chemistry between stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Somehow, Sony saw Webb as the perfect guy to restart their "Spider-Man" franchise, a project with a $230 million (!) price tag and a lot of "What's the point?" negative buzz, as Sam Raimi's original wallcrawler trilogy had come to a close only a few years earlier.

It would appear that people love "Spider-Man" movies even if we didn't really need a new "Spider-Man" movie, as the film scored decent enough reviews and a $752 million worldwide box office take. Webb returned to the director's chair for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which swings into theaters on May 2, 2014.

Webb with Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel on the "(500) Days of Summer" set

Webb with Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel on the "(500) Days of Summer" set (Photo Credit: Everett Collection)

4. Gareth Edwards:
"Monsters" (2010)
"Godzilla" (2014)

"Monsters" could be described as a "thinking man's 'Cloverfield'" as it slowly unveils its tense, melancholy story about a woman being escorted from Mexico to the U.S. by a photojournalist through an area infested with extraterrestrial life. The digitally created creatures were as impressive as anything you might see in a big-budget sci-fi film, though filmmaker Gareth Edwards delivered the film on a budget of "way under $500,000."

Hollywood responded by giving Edwards bigger toys and a bigger monster to play with — the King of the Monsters, in fact, as he'll be delivering the latest incarnation of "Godzilla" next summer. As for the budget, let's just say it's "way over $500,000" — Variety reports it's somewhere in the vicinity of $160 million.

5. Josh Trank
"Chronicle" (2012)
"The Fantastic Four" (2015)

Much in the same way that Gareth Edwards went from a small monster movie ("Monsters") to a big monster movie ("Godzilla"), Josh Trank has received an upgrade in the superhero genre. Trank directed the intense found-footage sci-fi flick "Chronicle" (2012), in which three high school students discover an object that gives them various super powers; the film, which was just as dramatic and exciting as any Marvel movie, cost only $12 million and earned over $126 million worldwide.

Following the success of "Chronicle," Fox was understandably keen to keep Trank in the family and offered him the director's chair on their own comic book reboot: "The Fantastic Four," which the studio is hoping will erase all those bad memories of the ill-advised and woefully misguided "Fantastic Four" (2005) and "4: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007). The film is scheduled for a release date of March 6, 2015 ... and may feature "Chronicle" star Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch.

6. Alfonso Cuaron
"Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001)
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004)

True, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron had directed studio films such as "A Little Princess" (1995) and "Great Expectations" (1998), but it was his boisterous, sexy indie effort "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001) that got Warner Bros. execs interested in hiring him for, of all things, a "Harry Potter" movie. Cuaron directed the third installment, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," becoming the first director to take over the series after Christopher Columbus' initial play-it-safe installments ... and the first director to make a truly bold, brash and brazen "Harry Potter" film rather than a nervous, don't-break-anything tour through the J.K. Rowling museum.

Cuaron with cast on the set of "Prisoner of Azkaban"

Cuaron with cast on the set of "Prisoner of Azkaban" (Photo Credit: Everett Collection)

7. Gavin Hood:
"Tsotsi" (2005)
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009)

Actor-turned-director Gavin Hood had made a couple of under-the-radar features before making a big splash with the Johannesburg-set "Tsotsi" (2005), the story of a young street thug who steals a car only to discover a baby in the backseat. The film, which cost just $3 million to make, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, after which Hood scored the directing gig on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), the fourth installment in Fox's lucrative "X-Men" franchise.

No one liked "Wolverine," though it did make $373 million worldwide on a budget of $150 million. Hood seemed a lot more confident with a big-budget studio film with his follow-up effort, "Ender's Game," which just scored a respectable $28 million opening weekend.

8. Christopher Nolan:
"Memento" (2000)
"Insomnia" (2002)

Christopher Nolan made his feature debut with "Following" (1998), a black-and-white thriller shot on weekends on a budget of only $6,000. Nolan took a big leap forward with his sophomore effort, "Memento" (2000), a color film with movie stars (including Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano) and a price tag of $9 million.

"Memento" made over $39 million worldwide, but it was the twisty-turny (and Oscar-nominated) script and Nolan's confident directing that made Hollywood take notice. He was recruited to direct Al Pacino and Robin Williams in the $46 million American remake of "Insomnia" (2002) ... and, later, the franchise reboot "Batman Begins" (2005), which finally ended all of those neon-soaked "Batman & Robin" nightmares.

9. Catherine Hardwicke
"Thirteen" (2003) and "Lords of Dogtown" (2005)
Then: "Twilight" (2008)

Catherine Hardwicke staked her claim in the world of indie film with "Thirteen," an unflinching look at a young girl's sexual (and criminal) awakening that made a star out of Evan Rachel Wood and earned an Oscar nomination for Holly Hunter. Hardwicke kept her street cred with her next project, "Lords of Dogtown," a biographical drama about '70s skateboarding sensations The Z-Boys starring Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch.

None of the raw sexuality and danger of "Thirteen" nor the gritty passion of "Lords of Dogtown" made it into Hardwicke's "Twilight" (2008), though that film did make over $392 million worldwide and launched a cash cow YA franchise, so, you know, there's that.

Hardwicke and cast on the set of "Twilight"

Hardwicke with Kristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer on the set of "Twilight" (Photo Credit: Summit)

1o. Ryan Coogler:
"Fruitvale Station" (2013)
"Creed" (TBD)

Ryan Coogler made his feature debut with "Fruitvale Station," a hard-hitting true-life drama that depicts the final day of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) before he's fatally shot by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Police in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 2009. The low-budget film earned over $16 million at the box office, though what's much more impressive is the 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the many awards it's garnered, including both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

It looks like Coogler and Jordan will be reuniting for "Creed," a continuation of the "Rocky" saga in which Jordan will play the grandson of Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion played by Carl Weathers in the first four "Rocky" movies. The plot would involve the young Creed finding a boxing mentor in the form of his late grandfather's rival and later best friend, Rocky Balboa (to be played by Sylvester Stallone, we're assuming). Talk about an underdog story!

11. James Gunn
"Slither" (2006) and "Super" (2011)
"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

James Gunn brought us the underrated B-movie horror comedy, "Slither" (2006), which mixed laughs with extreme gore and earned a decent cult following if not box office success (it cost $15 million but only brought in a little over $12 million worldwide). His low-budget DIY superhero movie, "Super" (2011), barely made a ka-pow on the radar with a mere $327K domestic haul on a budget of $2.5 million.

Marvel definitely sees the potential, though, as they hired Gunn to bring his childlike enthusiasm and off-kilter sense of humor to the gonzo space opera, "Guardians of the Galaxy," a film in which a giant talking tree, a guncrazy raccoon and Andy from "Parks and Recreation" will face off against Thanos, that thing that appeared at the end of "Marvel's The Avengers." No official budget has been announced, though Inside Movies jokingly speculates that the $2.5 million budget of "Super" will "presumably pay for about three minutes of 'Guardians' screen time."

Watch footage from the "Guardians" panel at Comic-Con: