It’s hard to deny we’re living in a golden age of comic book movies. While we’ve had our share of duds, problems with the source material have been few and far between. Rather, it's been miscues in direction, casting, and studio involvement that have steered these flops awry.
We thought it would be a fun exercise to put together a “pie-in-the-sky” superhero and director pairings list. Some of these directors have proven successful in their approach to the genre already, some have not. Some of the superheroes have had movies or series already, or have them forthcoming. This list was made without regard to what has been or what might be for the superheroes involved. So, friends, get your director’s chairs out and imagine with us the 15 Director/Superhero Pairings We’d Love To See.
15 Joss Whedon - X-Men
We know. It’s Whedon. We know the man has his detractors. But it is undeniable that he also has vision, and has successfully done for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe what both Zack Snyder and Bryan Singer have been unable to do for their respective comic properties: build a platform stable enough that both well known and lesser-known comic heroes can leap from it into a successful cinematic run.
Whedon’s characteristic humor wraps around his ability to get to the emotional core of a story, and he’s been at the helm of a multitude of relevant projects. He's directed an assembled group of Marvel superheroes to box office immortality on two separate occasions (the Avengers films) and he's even acted as a showrunner on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a spell, successfully guiding the intertwining arcs of the individual character films through Phase Two. The creative mind behind the lion's share of the MCU to date would have been an ideal fit to run a mutant-populated cinematic universe. He's even written several well-received X-Men comics in the past. While Singer has done a laudable job with the X-Men franchise, the spin-off flicks have left something to be desired (Deadpool notwithstanding), and his films have actually proven to be somewhat divisive amongst comics fans who would prefer he more closely adhered to the source material.
Whedon's seemingly has had his fill of superheroes for now, so this is of course a pipe dream, but oh what a pipe dream it is.
14 Matthew Vaughn - Green Lantern
While the critical reviews of 2011’s ill-fated Green Lantern are not quite as bad as hindsight would have you believe, it’s safe to say that Hal Jordan and company didn’t put on their best show in the CGI-fueled flop. Luckily for all of us, Ryan Reynolds was better suited to play a certain other superhero, leaving the Green Lantern title ripe for a reboot.
Matthew Vaughn made his bones producing the slick Guy Ritchie films Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. His first directing gig was 2004’s Layer Cake, a smart action/crime film which landed Daniel Craig his role as 007. He’s no stranger to the comic book world, of course, having directed successful adaptations like Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman: The Secret Service. His sharp style and finger-on-the-pulse timing could bring the Green Lantern back to the brightest day from the blackest night in which the character currently resides.
13 Paul McGuigan - Nightwing
Since 1997’s dumpster fire of a film Batman and Robin, Dick Grayson has been persona non grata on the big screen. Still, he’s a character with a rich history and direct ties to DC’s most high value property (Batman), and despite the fact that he wasn't even mentioned in the Dark Knight's latest live-action adventure, he remains one of DC's most popular characters. But maybe Nightwing is not as well suited to the big screen — sidekicks have a hard time making sense in a hero-centric world, and Nightwing is much better known to the general public as Robin than he is as a standalone hero.
Here’s where Paul McGuigan fits right in. While McGuigan’s big-screen ventures have not found much success (Lucky Number Slevin, Victor Frankenstein), he has been much more successful in directing for television. With credits including Sherlock, Scandal, and Smash, he’s got experience helming big properties. Plus, McGuigan will dabble in the MCU this fall, directing the first two episodes of the forthcoming Luke Cage Neftlix series. DC has a dedicated following on TV already, with Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl all faring well critically and financially, and adding a character with such deep ties to its flagship properties makes a lot of sense.
If everyone's favorite sidekick doesn't have a role to play in the future of the DCEU, we're hoping he's given a chance to shine on the small screen rather getting the Jimmy Olsen treatment. In that vase, McGuigan may just be the man for the job.
12 Kathryn Bigelow - Storm
One issue on which superhero movies have consistently missed the boat is making women driving forces in the creative process. Virtually every director and studio executive in charge of comic book properties has been male, and fans have taken notice. We think adding Kathryn Bigelow to the mix would be a good place to start rectifying this glaring problem.
Bigelow is an Oscar-winning director with tons of experience directing both films driven by a strong female lead (Zero Dark Thirty) and with large spectacle films (Point Break, Strange Days). She’d be the perfect fit to helm a Storm origin flick — and we’d be the winners. Bringing a new perspective to an old franchise always freshens the air, and Storm is a magnetic character with enough solo powers to headline a stand-alone film. The combination of Bigelow’s whip-smart style and Storm’s inner fury make a compelling pairing.
11 David Fincher - Harley Quinn
There is not a director who brings barely-contained chaos to life better than David Fincher, and there isn't a comic book character whose chaos refuses to be contained more than Harley Quinn. Advance reports have actor Margot Robbie nailing the role in the forthcoming Suicide Squad, and the pairing of Fincher and Harley would be a mind-blowing combination to say the least.
Fincher’s Fight Club and Se7en are pinnacle films of decades past. Both offer glimpses into disturbed minds in out-of-control worlds. He’s an A-list director fresh off a megahit that starred a murderous female lead (Gone Girl), and he's worked with some of the biggest stars in the business. With Robbie’s star quickly rising, she’s perhaps the hottest actress in the industry. In addition to portraying a highly-anticipated Squad member, she’ll be starring as Jane in the upcoming adventure film, The Legend of Tarzan. Putting these two together is sure to end in something dark and beautiful; we'd gladly get in line to see their portrayal of a broken mind in an even more broken world.
10 Kevin Smith - Green Arrow
Oliver Queen already has a fanbase outside of its comic devotees, thanks to the success of the CW’s Arrow. While Zack Snyder has been firm that the TV iterations of DC superheroes don’t fit with his dark vision, but with several Justice League films on the way, the team will probably have to expand at some point. Green Arrow has had some dabblings with the League, and it wouldn’t be totally out of left field to see the character appear on the big screen.
Kevin Smith is no stranger to comics, having scripted a Superman reboot (1998’s film that never was, Superman Lives) and currently stars in AMC’s Comic Book Men. He also wrote Quiver, a ten-issue story for Green Arrow which was positively reviewed. With the legendary status of his quintessential 1990s film Clerks and his experience in the comics community, Smith could make a return to the mainstream with a quirky but gritty new take on the defender of Starling City.
9 Alejandro G. Inarritu - Namor
While significantly less well known to contemporary audiences than most of the heroes who have so far graced the screen, Namor the Sub-Mariner is a Marvel staple. Originally appearing in 1939 in Marvel Comics #1, he, Captain America, and The Human Torch were the characters that brought Marvel (then Timely Comics) to the forefront of the industry. As the son of a sea captain and a Princess of Atlantis, Namor is both a mutant and a Mer-man. In addition to his undersea prowess, he can fly and possesses super strength. Through the years, he’s teamed up with the numerous units, including the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the X-Men. Of course, his legendary temper means he’s worked against each of these teams, too.
Alejandro G. Inarritu is a true innovator in contemporary film. In 2014, his Best Picture-winning film Birdman felt like it was almost one long shot with a single camera (it wasn’t). His 2015 Best Picture-winning The Revenant was so brutal a shoot that much of the crew quit. The actors were dragged naked through the snow, forced to run and swim in icy rivers, and generally put through a living hell. The result, however, is a beautiful and powerful and authentic film. We’d love to see what he could do with a film that, by its very nature, would be forced to take place largely underwater.
8 Wes Anderson - Squirrel Girl
For the uninitiated, yes, Squirrel Girl is real, and yes, her superpower is that she can communicate with squirrels. Squirrel Girl happens to be the “it” girl of comics right now, for good reason. She's the nanny to the daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and fans are hoping she makes an appearance in either the forthcoming Luke Cage series or in The Defenders, which will bring the four disparate Netflix Marvel series together.
While Squirrel Girl has some legit power, she also feels a little bit awkward as a superhero. “Oh, you can shoot eye lasers and fly? Cool. Me? Oh. I..er...I talk to squirrels.” However, there is no filmmaker better attuned to the awkward outsider than Wes Anderson. We can envision the New York of The Royal Tenenbaums as the setting for a heartfelt exploration of the complex relationship between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones told through the eyes of the eponymous heroine.
7 Mimi Leder - Nova
With ties to the Defenders, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova is perhaps one of the best suited characters in the Marvel rolodex to bridge the Earth-centric films with the space-based — and the TV MCU with the films. The character has a 40-year history with Marvel, having on-again-off-again solo titles, and appearing frequently in other properties. Nova is a member of Nova Corps, an intergalactic paramilitary force which has granted Nova his powers of flight, strength, and resistance to injury.
Mimi Leder knows how to make a big film, having directed Deep Impact and The Peacemaker. However, more recently, she’s honed her character development skills in a number of tremendous television titles: The West Wing, Shameless, The Leftovers, and the too-short-lived comic book-based The Human Target to name a few. She’s got a keen eye for detail and knows how to work to develop the relationships between characters without sacrificing the action and explosions we all love. We’d love to see Nova both at the movies and in a series, and Leder would be a fun, darkhorse candidate for the gig.
6 Ridley Scott - Cyborg
Cyborg is a more recent DC title, first appearing in 1980. Vic Stone is a young man who had been used as experimental fodder by his scientist parents, giving him a genius-level IQ but leaving him bitter and angry. When he winds up horribly injured, his father Silas determines that he can only be saved by cybernetic implants covering much of his body and face. Past iterations of the character left him aligned with the Teen Titans, though Cyborg went on to join the Justice League. He even became a founding member of the team in the New 52, and he's set to appear in the forthcoming Justice League movie, where he'll be portrayed by Ray Fisher.
Ridley Scott is practically the first person who comes to mind when you say “science fiction” or “cyborg.” While his replicants in Blade Runner were actually androids, they appeared so human it was hard to see them as anything but. And Scott’s masterful work with Alien has spurred generations of imitators and inspired horror and science fiction fans and directors alike. Given the rich background of Cyborg and the contemporary technology and budget a Cyborg film would have, we’d love to see what he could do.
5 JJ Abrams — Spider-Man
J.J. Abrams has proven time and again that he has a unique ability breathe new life into a franchise that has lost its way. Spider-Man certainly feels that way, with the third reboot in two decades on the way after a cameo in Captain America: Civil War.
Spider Man is perhaps the most beloved of all of the Marvel characters, mainly because Peter Parker is as much of an everyman as superheroes get these days. He’s not a billionaire. He doesn’t have a secret lair. He either goes to school or has a low-paying full-time job, depending on which era you’re reading. Abrams is a studio guy through and through, and when he's done basking in his Force Awakens success, we'd love to see him take a crack at the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. We'd be willing to tolerate as many lens flares as he sees fit in order to make this dream match-up happen somewhere down the line.
4 Robert Rodriguez - Iron Fist
Danny Rand is a martial arts master. He’s also tapped into the power of the Iron Fist, which allows him to channel his Chi (life force) in order to attain a much higher level of acuity and efficiency with his body’s natural abilities. He can also use his Chi to heal others, communicate telepathically, and reinforce his fist, allowing it to strike outward with blazing speed and hardness while becoming immune to pain and injury. He’s pals with Daredevil, has spent much of his history on the page teamed up with Power Man Luke Cage as a part of the Heroes for Hire, and was a member of Team Cap during the Civil War storyline.
While Iron Fist is already slated to have a Netflix series and appear as part of The Defenders, it’s hard not to be excited when thinking of what a far-out director like Robert Rodriguez could do with the character. Much like the Kung-fu movies of the 1970s that inspired the character, Rodriguez does not shy away from campy, over-the-top violence, intense fight scenes, and more than a little gore. He’s worked in the comics universe before, directing both Sin City and Sin City 2. While this pairing is probably the least likely to happen, we’d sure love to see what the From Dusk Till Dawn and El Mariachi director could do with a true master.
3 Quentin Tarantino - Luke Cage
Before writing Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino was considering acquiring the rights to direct a Luke Cage/Heroes for Hire film. This was before the superhero film craze officially hit, and Luke Cage was a relatively unknown hero, as was Iron Fist, to the general populace. We think this could have been a match made in movie heaven, as both the comics and the filmmaker have drawn heavily on the Blaxploitation and Kung-fu movie boom of the 1970s.
Tarantino is clearly influenced by the black action films of Gordon Parks (Shaft) and Jack Hill (Coffy). He's also enamored with Kung-fu movies like Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, Chang Che’s Five Deadly Venoms, and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master. Especially, where these two genres meet, in films like Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite, do we see the type of film a Tarantino Luke Cage/Heroes for Hire film might have been. While certainly, many of these movies perpetuated negative stereotypes of Black Americans and Asians of all origins, they were also often films produced by non-white filmmakers for a non-white audience, and were hugely important in those cultures in their day. Tarantino’s films pay loving tribute to the genres in which they fall, and this movie would have been fun to see, plain and simple. Luke Cage may be coming to Netflix this fall, but we'd still like a film adaptation to be one of Tarantino's final two projects.
2 Spielberg - Superman
We can dream, right? Superman, perhaps the most iconic superhero ever created, paired with Steven Spielberg, perhaps the most iconic movie director ever born. Responsible for directing the Indiana Jones movies, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg knows how to create both epic blockbusters and artful character studies alike. When it comes to getting us to suspend our disbelief and feel a sense of wonder at watching a movie, nobody does it better than him.
Superman is a hero which requires some of that suspension of disbelief. Over the years, he’s been given so many powers it seems impossible to find him in any real peril. He’s so good, that he risks feeling out of place in a time of discord and strife. It might just take the steady, inspiring, and nuanced hand of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time — who often pairs with the 1978 Superman composer John Williams — to make the greatest superhero of all time feel, well, super again.
1 Hayao Miyazaki - The Great Machine
The Great Machine was the superhero alter-ego of Mitchell Hundred, a one-time city engineer and present Mayor of New York City in the brilliant 50 issue comic Ex Machina. It was published by DC, but exists outside of its main universe, in a world where The Great Machine was the first and only superhero but is now retired from hero work. Hundred’s superpowers came as the result of an interdimensional accident which gave him the ability to communicate with complex machines. From this, he designed rocket packs to fly, taser gloves, and safeguards given to trusted friends which could short-circuit his powers.
Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese filmmaker famous for his lavish anime-steampunk films like Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki’s fantastical, bizarre stories are perfect for Hundred’s mechanical powers and political machinations — especially given his steampunk inclinations. He's got a worldwide following, and lending his distinctive anime style to lesser-known superheroes could open an entirely new way to see these great characters on the screen.
What superhero/director pairings would you like to see? Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!