With the release and subsequent success of Aquaman, James Wan has proven to be one of Hollywood's most dependable directors. He already helped to make the horror genre profitable again with his various horror films, and he proved he could handle a massive blockbuster with his direction of Furious 7.
Wan put himself on the map directing the Saw short that would eventually be made into a feature film and continued to impress audiences and critics with his horror sensibilities. His Conjuring films have been built outward into an entirely new cinematic universe, and he has continued to provide a guiding hand to other filmmakers who have directed sequels to his work.
Every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and James Wan is no exception. While the original Saw short film is often considered Wan's first outing as a director, that honor actually belongs to Wan's student film, entitled Stygian. The film was made by Wan and Shannon Young while they attended the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Not much is known about the film, as it was never formally released to the public, though it did screen at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. According to the film's page on IMDB, the plot follows a young couple who find themselves in a world known only as Exile. They must find each other and escape before it is too late.
Death Sentence was a departure from horror for James Wan, although it still carries his distinct, over-the-top style. Kevin Bacon stars as a man who, after seeing his son murdered by gangsters, decides to find those responsible and carry out his own brand of vigilante justice.
This modern take on the Death Wish formula was not exactly a critical hit. Despite boasting a cast of heavy hitters, including John Goodman, Aisha Tyler, and Garrett Hedlund, the film was a box office flop and demonstrated that Wan hadn't quite hit his stride as a filmmaker just yet.
Dead Silence was the second major film to be directed by James Wan, and even though it had its shortcomings, it was highly indicative of the direction Wan would take in directing future films. Dead Silence builds a ghost story around a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw, who seeks revenge on the family that took her life.
Dead Silence is not a perfect horror movie. It relies a little too much on jump scares and its ending is a bit contrived. Still, it demonstrated that Wan was most comfortable directing horror films and that he had a real eye for frightening imagery.
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
Insidious: Chapter 2 is a direct continuation of the events of the first film. Once again, the Lambert family is set upon by supernatural forces beyond their understanding. The film not only continued the story of the Lambert family's experience with the supernatural but also revealed how events of the first film came to be.
While it may not have quite lived up to the standards set by the first film in the series, Insidious: Chapter 2 at least still managed to deliver on the scares that Wan had come to be known for by then. It is also one of the rare horror sequels to follow the story of the same characters from the previous film.
James Wan finally got to take a crack at a giant blockbuster film when he directed Furious 7. This continuation of the Fast and Furious franchise was the final film to feature Paul Walker before his tragic death in 2013. It was also the first film to feature Jason Statham in his role as Deckard Shaw.
Furious 7 was a massive box office success and was James Wan's first film to earn over one billion dollars worldwide. It marked him as a talented director who could craft a small-scale ghost story or a huge action film filled with setpieces and an A-list cast.
James Wan got his biggest break in 2018 when he directed Aquaman for the Warner Bros. DCEU. The film revealed the origins of Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa, who already portrayed the hero in Justice League), as well as the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, which is under threat from humans and King Orm, Aquaman's half-brother (played by Patrick Wilson).
The film also starred Amber Heard as Mera and Willem Dafoe as Vulko. It was a major departure from other films in the DCEU, and quickly surpassed The Dark Knight Rises as the highest earning film based on a DC character. James Wan has not yet signed on for the forthcoming sequel, saying that he wants to see a great script first before committing to the project.
When Saw first came out in 2004, there had never been a movie quite like it, and it put James Wan and Leigh Whannell on the map. The film told parallel stories of two men trapped in a room with one another and forced to play a sadistic game set up by the Jigsaw killer and the detectives who were investigating a series of other traps and games made by Jigsaw.
Saw was a major success, and it spawned seven sequels. Wan only directed the first film but stayed on as an executive producer for the rest of them. However, without Wan's direction, the sequels really saw diminishing returns in terms of quality.
THE CONJURING 2
The Conjuring 2 saw James Wan return to horror after his successful stint directing Furious 7. The film continued the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). This time, the couple travel to England to investigate paranormal events at the Enfield Council House.
Horror movie sequels are rarely as good as their predecessors, but The Conjuring 2 managed to live up to the first film in the series. Its score on Rotten Tomatoes sits at 80%, compared to The Conjuring's 86%. A third film is currently in the works, but Wan will not return as director.
Under James Wan's masterful direction, Insidious became one of the films that put Blumhouse on the map as a major force in the horror genre (the other being Paranormal Activity). Insidious began the story of the Lambert family and how they came to be set upon by malevolent paranormal forces.
Though the film has spawned three sequels, Insidious remains the best of the bunch. James Wan's assured direction built on tension and unsettling imagery rather than unrelenting violence or gore. The shot of a red-faced demon lurking just behind Patrick Wilson instantly became a classic horror movie image.
While James Wan had already made the case for himself that he was a talented horror director, it was The Conjuring that really showcased the best of his abilities. The film, which received an R rating due only to the amount of jolting imagery within it, recounts a case where demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated a haunted house in Rhode Island.
The Conjuring received largely positive reviews and kickstarted a shared universe that includes the films The Nun and Annabelle (as well as its sequel, Annabelle: Creation). James Wan has continued to stay involved with the cinematic universe, serving as a producer and occasional co-writer for ongoing films.