When you think of the phrase “king of the geeks,” more than a few names might come to mind – but one of them has to be writer/director Joss Whedon. This title is by no means meant to be an insult, it simply means that his work has appealed to a demographic that is extremely passionate about the pop culture that they love. And Whedon has appealed to that demographic many times, making the world a better place in at least the small – but not insignificant way – that pop culture can.
He’s most known for the TV shows and feature films that he’s written and directed, creating worlds filled with unlikely allies forming unbeatable teams, strong women, and uniquely smart and funny dialogue. But, as you’ll see, he’s made the world a better place in some ways beyond his IMDB credits.
Like Buffy once said, “This is not gonna be pretty. We’re talkin’ violence, strong language, adult content.” Get ready for the 12 Joss Whedon Creations That Made The World A Better Place.
Whedon has had mixed results with the five network television series he’s produced. Dollhouse is arguably the one that had the most trouble striking a chord with both critics and fans, lasting just two seasons and 26 aired episodes on Fox from 2009-2010. Eliza Dushku, who Whedon fans knew from her days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, starred as a “doll,” or Active, a person whose mind has been erased and can be programmed with new memories, personalities and abilities based on the needs for their mission, as judged by those who run the “Dollhouse,” a facility that rents dolls out to wealthy patrons.
It was close to cancellation after the first season, but Whedon’s die-hard fans came through and helped land it 13 more episodes. According to Fox’s president of entertainment, “If we’d canceled Joss’s show I’d probably have 110 million e-mails this morning from the fans.” As with Buffy, Dollhouse featured a strong, ass-kicking woman at the center, and while it was uneven on the whole, it was just unconventional and “Whedon-y” enough to make the world a better place.
11. SCRIPT DOCTORING
Early in his career, back when he was busy writing for sitcoms like Roseanne and Parenthood (the 1990 series starring David Arquette and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, not the NBC series that wrapped last year), Whedon also got work as a script doctor. For those of you not in the know, a script doctor is a writer who comes in to rewrite elements of an existing script that might not be working – they get paid, but don’t necessarily get a writing credit. And he did this for some very well known movies – making them better and, in turn, making the world a better place for us all.
Graham Yost, the credited writer of the 1995 action hit Speed, suggests that Whedon actually wrote “98.8% of the dialogue.” He also wrote a draft of a script for the original X-Men movie, and some of his amusing dialogue remains – like Wolverine identifying himself to Cyclops by calling him a “dick.” Sticking with Marvel films, he also punched up some of the scripts for the first and second phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He also worked without credit on Twister and The Quick and the Dead. It also could come as a surprise to some that he was one of four credited writers on the Pixar classic Toy Story early in his career.
10. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
We know we’re talking about “Joss Whedon creations” here, and obviously he didn’t create a Shakespeare play, but he did enough in adapting the comedy Much Ado About Nothing to the big screen to make the world that much better. He made a truly funny Shakespeare film, complete with visual gags, and arguably one of the more accessible Shakespeare productions you’ll see.
The amazing thing is Whedon chose to adapt a Shakespeare play in part as a way to decompress from the post-production stress of putting together his biggest-budget project to that point, The Avengers. It was secretly shot over a mere 12 days at his home, with the help of many frequent collaborators, like Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Fran Kranz, and it was inspired by Shakespeare readings Whedon held with his friends at his home. But all this begs the question: What would a Whedon-adapted Shakespeare tragedy look like?
9. AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Hot off his first experience in the Marvel Cinematic Universe writing and directing The Avengers, Whedon co-created the ABC TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which debuted in 2013. We should note off the top, though, that he doesn’t play quite as big a role in this one on a day-to-day basis, compared to his other series. However, we do get occasional tastes of his signature witty dialogue style.
Focusing on a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), it’s been fun for MCU fans to watch how the show interacts with the films, from the mystery of how Coulson died in The Avengers but was brought back in the show, to fallout from battles first seen in the movies, and even a brief cameo by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The series has also introduced the Marvel concept of Inhumans to the MCU (a potential film with an uncertain future). That being said, Whedon’s involvement with the MCU movies has also hindered S.H.I.E.L.D. on occasion – for example, the series wanted to use Loki’s scepter but couldn’t because Whedon planned to use it in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
8. HIS SPEECH ON FEMINISM
As we’ve said, Whedon has always been big on strong women at the forefront of many of his stories — they’re all over most of his work. In 2013, Whedon spoke at a benefit for feminist organization Equality Now and made a profoundly entertaining and meaningful speech. In it, he amusingly picked apart the sound of the word “feminist,” compared to the sound of the word “taliban,” in much the way a character on Buffy might have.
It’s part of his signature to bring pop culture into his fictional dialogue, and this speech was no different, using a Katy Perry quote to illustrate that it’s a natural state for people to believe that all people are equal. His thesis, ultimately, was, “You either believe that women are people or you don’t.” And he closes it on a quote perfectly suited for this list: “I don’t think that I can change the world. I just want to punch it up a little.”
7. ASTONISHING X-MEN
It’s not just in the realms of TV and movies that Whedon has made the world a better place, but in comics, too. On top of spearheading continuations of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly TV series via comics, he also gave the X-Men comic book series a boost when he penned the first 24 issues of a new Astonishing X-Men run in 2004.
His run with the comic was critically acclaimed and enjoyed by fans, featuring X-Men staples like Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus and Wolverine, while introducing new characters like Kavita Rao, Abigail Brand and Armor, plus the S.W.O.R.D. agency. He also kept the storylines relatively simple, forgoing crossovers and ignoring big Marvel events like Civil War.
6. THE AVENGERS MOVIES
Just as we’re not so delusional to think Whedon created a Shakespeare play, we’re also well aware that he did not create the Avengers. But he did create a brilliant screenplay and direct it impeccably, in a way that made it not just palatable to the masses, but enthralling. He was arguably the perfect director for the first Avengers (2012) film because he’s proven over and over again that he excels at bringing together unlikely individuals to make an unbreakable team (well, maybe that’s a poor choice of words considering the upcoming Civil War, but you get the point). You see it over and over again in his work.
Then came Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). By no means did it make the world a worse place, but it just didn’t have quite the same magic possessed by the original. But it did start to lay the groundwork for the Civil War storyline that will come to fruition in the new Cap film, hitting theaters May 6, further establishing the friction between Iron Man and Cap. By all indications, we’ll have to thank him for that in the coming weeks as well.
Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff, gave us a little more of what the world will always need: more of the world of Buffy, known as the Buffyverse. Thanks to that alone, this five-season series (1999-2004) made the world a better place. But it was great in its own right. It was darker, grittier, more urban, as the 200-year-old vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) hunted demons and battled for redemption over his darker nature.
While there were differences between Angel and Buffy, the spinoff did literally borrow from the original. Snobby high-school girl Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) was a regular and showed how even the most stuck-up, secretly insecure girls can grow into strong, confident women. And punk-rock vampire Spike (James Marsters) came along for the ride as a recurring character who became a regular during the final season.
4. DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG
Back in the summer of 2008, TV audiences were starving for well-written fare, as writers sat idle during a strike. We were stuck with an overload of reality TV and talk show hosts trying to make it work on their own. Whedon himself was bored, so he decided to make something that not only he, but audiences, were starving for: a great new TV show – only on the internet, so he could circumvent union troubles.
He got together with his brothers Zach and Jed, along with Maurissa Tancharoen, and wrote the musical comedy Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the story of a supervillain (Dr. Horrible, played by Neil Patrick Harris), who video blogs his evil plans and his unrequited love for a philanthropic young woman (Penny, played by Felicia Day). It was hilarious, bittersweet, well-acted and, of course, brilliantly written, with some memorable tunes. And it made the world a better place for Whedon himself, too: He revealed last year that the three-episode series, which ran about 45 minutes in total, made him more money than directing the first Avengers film.
3. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Three days. That’s how long it took for Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard to write 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods, a film beloved by legions of critics, horror fans and Whedon fans. And that’s a testament to the pure awesomeness in human form that Whedon is. The film itself is a brilliant critique of modern horror, especially the slasher and torture porn varieties.
It brings such a unique, funny and certainly scary point of view to the genre, with a meta storyline that jumps back and forth between a mysterious corporate underground facility and a group of stereotypical pretty young people in a horror movie, who, unbeknownst to them, are being manipulated in horrific ways by the folks in the facility. Not only did we get this amazing film, but also Goddard himself, the first-time director (who had worked with Whedon as a writer on Buffy and Angel) who used Cabin as a springboard to help bring the acclaimed Daredevil series to Netflix and his screenplay for The Martian to film audiences everywhere.
On just about every list of TV series canceled too soon, you’ll find Joss Whedon’s Fox series Firefly. Though 14 episodes were produced of this sci-fi/western mashup, only 11 aired on Fox. Why? Simply due to low ratings, despite the dedication of its small following, which has since vaulted it to cult status and eventually led to the viability of the 2005 feature film Serenity.
It followed a rag-tag group of adventurers aboard the ship Serenity, led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion in his breakout role), who lead a much more painstaking lifestyle than we’re used to seeing in sci-fi. That amazing Whedon-style dialogue was there, thanks to his own writing, as well as that of frequent collaborators like Jane Espenson, along with strong story writing about friendship and survival against the odds.
Firefly also introduced us to actress Morena Baccarin as series regular Inara, who has gone on to stand out in Homeland and the Deadpool film. And it also gave us actor Alan Tudyk, who went on to brighten other aspects of the Whedonverse, among other properties, and will appear in this year’s Star Wars: Rogue One in an unknown role (although it’s believed he’ll be the film’s main droid).
1. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
How can we possibly list all the ways Buffy the Vampire Slayer made the world a better place in one little list entry? First of all, really, it gave us Joss Whedon, and thereby everything else on this list. Without it, would he have risen beyond sitcom staff writer and been given the chance to give us all of those other amazing things? Well, maybe. He’s that good. But still.
Of course, we wouldn’t even have had the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer without the original, underrated 1992 film (seriously, that Paul Reubens death scene, though), but it is the series that we’re saying ultimately made the world a better place. It’s where the spotlight first really shone on Whedon’s signature, playful writing style, his emphasis on strong women, and his fearlessly creative storytelling. There are three episodes of the series that made the world a better place on their own: “The Body” (at the risk of spoiling anything, a loved one dies), “Hush” (mostly silent), and “Once More, with Feeling” (a musical).
It launched the careers of Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz and others, influenced an incalculable number of great TV shows — from Veronica Mars to Orphan Black — and even spawned books and comics that keep Buffy and her gang of Scoobies alive in our imaginations.
What do you think was Joss Whedon’s greatest contribution to society? Sound off in the comments section.