Will Baby Driver make Edgar Wright a ‘Name’ Director?
Or is it proof he already is?
Yesterday, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver crossed $60 million dollars in domestic box office earnings. That’s nearly twice the gross of his previous highest-earning domestic film. Quite simply, it’s a stunning total for a well-liked director who nonetheless traveled in niche circles for years. Internet nerds rejoice, your favorite director is finally experiencing mainstream success!
The questions are: how did he get here, and where will be go next?
Edgar Wright’s recent career is dominated by his role in the Ant Man saga. Wright developed a film adaptation of his all-time favorite comic book character for many years, partnered with Marvel, and then dropped out of the film for creative differences. As a result, between The World’s End in 2013 and now Baby Driver in 2017, Edgar Wright did not complete another feature film. He not only sacrificed productivity, he stepped away from what would have been the biggest film of his career.
Had he stuck with Ant Man, it’s possible he could have catapulted to true fame earlier. Or maybe not.
Ant Man eventually went to Peyton Reed. No disrespect to Reed, but he’s not a known entity because of the film. Even though Ant Man was well-received and clicked at the box office, Reed is just another (talented) hired-gun like Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) or Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange).
On the other hand, James Gunn is a lot more famous because of Guardians of the Galaxy. It may seem unfair to compare the wildly popular space opera with Ant Man, but Guardians had essentially the same launching point within the well-respected Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thus we can speculate endlessly if Edgar Wright would have gotten a boost from the MCU association. Baby Driver suggests that he didn’t need it. It’s not making blockbuster numbers, but the positive buzz indicates his star rose between 2013 and 2017 even without a new film on his resume.
Edgar Wright might have benefited most in that time frame from a non-theatrical source: Netflix. Hot Fuzz, his highest earning film internationally ($80 million) has been on Netflix for a long time. It’s quite possible that people discovered Wright’s hyper-stylized form of filmmaking on their own and not at the theater. When they saw the name attached to Baby Driver, these previously unseen fans now had a new movie to throw money at.
Wright also benefited from changing attitudes towards theater-going in recent years. There have been a lot of hand-wringing think pieces this year about the influence of Rotten Tomatoes on millennials. No one can say for sure if bad reviews tank previously critic-proof movies (think Transformers 5) or if good reviews actually draw bigger crowds (Wonder Woman). Regardless, it wasn’t a bad thing that Baby Driver rode with a perfect 100% on the review aggregate for days up until release.
Sony marketing gurus based their campaign on that hype. The television adverts and trailers released in the home stretch before release were just as sure to mention the stellar reviews as they were to convey the concept.
It’s my guess that the next Edgar Wright film will make sure to highlight his name in the advertising. After Baby Driver, general audiences will hopefully associate his name with quality filmmaking and his unique style. That’s when studios can really say, “Don’t just go for the concept, go to see Edgar Wright in action.”
Being a “name” director really is the top of the heap.
Name directors sell their movies as an extension of personal brand. Think of Quentin Tarantino. Although he’s made crime flicks, kung fu movies, WWII films and Westerns of a few varieties, at the end of the day it’s just another Quentin Tarantino movie.
With Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, and Judd Apatow, you know what to expect too. If you are a fan, you’ll show up. I know some folks who’d watch Paul Thomas Anderson direct a paint drying or sell their first born to see Sofia Coppola’s new film a day early.
And if you aren’t a die-hard fan, it’s still a simpler sell than the movie’s plot. As long as you don’t hate the director’s style, you just have to be in the mood for it.
With $60 million bucks and counting, it seems like a solid chunk of people were in the mood for an Edgar Wright movie whether they though of it that way or not. Remember this day, so you can tell your kids where you were when Edgar Wright went mainstream.