[Update: Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) may also be on the short list. Scroll down for details.]

Following the success of other toy brand-turned-blockbuster movie franchises, it’s no surprise that Sony Pictures’ Masters of the Universe film continues to move steadily onward – in spite of several major production setbacks. Back in November, the project took its latest hit – as G.I. Joe series director, Jon M. Chu, exited the film. The split was reported in the trades but, since then, Chu has explained that he left the film due to scheduling conflicts with G.I. Joe 3 not because of any ill will between the director and the studio.

At the time of Chu’s departure, Sony took the transition as an opportunity to revisit the script in preparation for a new helmer – bringing in writer Terry Rossio to rewrite the screenplay. For now, it’s unclear how much of the script Rossio is changing, not to mention how much leeway the studio is willing to give their next director – a director that could be announced in the near future.

A new report from The Wrap suggests that Sony has narrowed their search for a new director down to a handful of candidates and are currently taking with Harald Zwart (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), Chris McKay (Robot Chicken), and Mike Cahill (Another Earth), along with other unspecified possibilities, about the job.

The news comes only a few short months after Schmoes Know suggested that Andrés Muschietti (Mama), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Rian Johnson (Looper), Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), as well as Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders (The Croods) were all in the running to helm the He-Man movie. Given that the new short list mentions “other directors are still in the mix” (in addition to Zwart, McKay, and Cahill), it’s possible that select directors from the previous list could have been (or still are) in talks for the project – though The Wrap suggests the prior short list isn’t accurate.

That said, the new list is slightly more realistic – given that Masters of the Universe is not a flagship property for the studio (at least not yet). There’s obviously a lot of potential in the source material (and dollars to be made in multimedia branding) but an equal number of hurdles to clear before the property has a clear path to the big screen. As a result, up and comers like Cahill and McKay are smart choices for a director short list – since they’ll come to the table with interesting ideas (and plenty of passion) while still being agreeable to work within the guidelines that Sony and Mattel will likely have established.

McKay shares an interesting connection with the prior short list (since he was the editor on Lord and Miller’s LEGO Movie). Some readers might be eager to make something of the connection and wonder if Schmoes Know got their facts wrong or Lord and Miller recommended McCay to Sony in their talks but, given that the original short list could be nothing but hearsay, the LEGO Movie parallel is probably nothing more than coincidence. Still, McKay is an intriguing (albeit unconventional) choice – one that likely knows Masters of the Universe better than most directors (given that select characters regularly appear on Robot Chicken). If McKay is given the job, Sony might be looking to find a bankable balance between humor and heroics in the big screen adaptation – which would be a departure from Chu’s promise of a serious (not campy) adaptation.

For fans, Cahill is another solid pick – a sharp director that could help ensure the film maintains a grounded tone despite its fantastical elements (another promise Chu made). However, out of the three names mentioned, Cahill has the least experience with big budget movies in the studio system. That’s not a deal breaker, as Sony could surround their pick with capable industry veterans to help support the director.

The least encouraging of the picks, Zwart has been attached to a number of eye-rolling properties that underwhelmed critics and don’t show the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will be necessary for a quality Masters of the Universe adaptation. This isn’t to say that Zwart can’t surprise us but with director credits on The Mortal Instruments: City of BonesThe Karate Kid remake, and The Pink Panther 2, it’s hard to imagine the filmmaker delivering a rich and epic character story that fans as well as casual moviegoers can both enjoy.

Their might be some kinks to work out but Masters of the Universe could become a major asset for the studio. Like Michael Bay’s Transformers series, the licensing potential alone should motivate Sony to take their time and find a filmmaker that can update the cartoon series for modern moviegoers. Whether or not a version of Masters of the Universe that appeals to casual film lovers and sells a lot of toys will also be favorable to longtime fans of the animated show is another story.

UPDATE: Variety reporter Justin Kroll confirmed that he’s also hearing Cahill’s name mentioned – along with Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow. Wadlow is currently writing Fox’s X-Force movie and it’s unclear whether or not he actually has room in his schedule to tackle a project as big as Masters of the Universe. Still, if he is truly in the running, he could be a smart choice for the job.

More: 80s & 90s Cartoons that Could be Great Blockbuster Movies

The Masters of the Universe reboot does not yet have a release date.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future updates on Masters of the Universe, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: The Wrap & Justin Kroll