Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent 1969 western epic The Wild Bunch is the latest movie classic to be given the remake treatment by Hollywood. The Passion of the Christ and Hacksaw Ridge’s Mel Gibson has been hired to direct the movie and rework a script that the studio had already been working from for a while.
With a stellar cast being lined up and Gibson promising a retooling of the original that will feel fresh and unique enough to justify its existence, things are looking up for this remake. So, here's everything we know about the project so far.
Ask most film buffs for their thoughts on the upcoming remake of The Wild Bunch and they’ll probably say... well, the usual party line: The Wild Bunch is a classic and they nailed it the first time, so it shouldn’t be remade at all. Well, as it turns out, Mel Gibson used to think that way, too.
“I thought it was a bad idea at first," he recently admitted. "Why make The Wild Bunch again? Who would do that? I thought about it and I thought about it some more, and then I thought of a way [into the story]. A way to tell the story. So, I’ve been sitting in a room with a writer and it’s been a blast. So, it started as a bad idea, but it’s heading toward something that could be special.”
While no actors have yet been confirmed for the cast of Mel Gibson’s remake of The Wild Bunch, the producers are rumored to be in talks with a number of big stars, including Jamie Foxx, Michael Fassbender, and Peter Dinklage. Foxx and Fassbender are no strangers to the western genre, with the former having played the title character in Django Unchained and the latter having starred in the curious revisionist piece Slow West.
Dinklage, meanwhile, has been expanding his résumé in the past couple of years as Game of Thrones has been wrapping up, with roles in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Avengers: Infinity War.
Mel Gibson has explained the theme of the movie: “It’s about last chances and guys with lives of accrued violence.” This is in line with Sam Peckinpah’s original, which was set in Texas in 1913, in the final days of the Wild West era. Thematically, this lined up with the movie’s 1969 release.
Western stars were getting old and the genre was dying out, so The Wild Bunch represented the genre’s last stand in telling the story of some aging gunslingers’ last stand. Gibson’s remake won’t have the same context in film history, but it can at least follow the story’s theme.
The original version of The Wild Bunch was set in the turn of the 20th century in the final days of the Old West. Previous attempts to remake the movie over the past couple of years have seen scripts by David Ayer and Brian Helgeland submitted to the studio, while Will Smith and Tony Scott have also both been previously attached to the remake.
The running premise for those past attempts were a contemporary setting involving the CIA and a Mexican drug cartel set in today’s America. However, Gibson’s remake will retain the Wild West historical setting of the original.
Mel Gibson is currently hammering out draft after draft of the script for The Wild Bunch remake with a screenwriter named Bryan Bagby. Bagby’s only previous writing credit is a sci-fi movie called L.I.N.X., which he also directed and was released way back in 2000. So, his big Hollywood break has been a long time coming.
In addition to The Wild Bunch, Bagby is writing a historical action drama about the 1997 military coup in Sierra Leone called Once a Pilgrim for director Paul Katis. Gibson says he’s just been sitting in a room with Bagby, shooting ideas around, trying to nail the final draft.
With the original having been released in 1969, this year marks the film’s 50th anniversary, so it would’ve made the perfect time to release a remake. After all, 2016’s Star Trek Beyond marked the franchise’s 50th anniversary, and this year’s release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood marks the 50th anniversary of the Manson murders, the story’s historical setting. There's a precedent here.
However, the remake definitely won’t be out in time for this year, since it’s still in the scripting stage. There’s no release date, or even a shooting date, set for the film, although Gibson seems committed to making it his next project.
Apparently, the remake is prepping for a production date this fall. If all goes according to plan and production does get off the ground this fall, then we could be seeing the movie in theaters in time for mid-to-late 2020. That would give the producers plenty of time to run an Oscar campaign for the film.
Gibson’s previous directorial efforts have been favorites of Academy voters. The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto were nominated for smaller awards like Best Cinematography and Best Original Score, while Hacksaw Ridge saw wider recognition with nods for Best Picture and Best Director. Plus, Braveheart won Best Picture, Best Director for Gibson, and three other Oscars from ten total nominations.
In case you haven’t seen the original Peckinpah version of The Wild Bunch, it follows a gang of outlaws in the latter days of the Old West, as they attempt to go after one last score while being pursued by bounty hunters as their criminal past has caught up to them.
While some previous versions of the remake script were set in modern-day America and saw a team of CIA operatives going after a drug lord, since Mel Gibson has taken over as director, it seems as though the remake will follow the same basic plot as the original film.
Sam Peckinpah’s original The Wild Bunch – like a lot of his movies – was infamous for its portrayal of violence. Mel Gibson’s directorial work has been similarly criticized for its excessive graphic violence. The Passion of the Christ was controversial for reducing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to a two-hour gore-fest, while Hacksaw Ridge put its study of violence at the forefront as a war movie about a conscientious objector who wants to serve his country without inflicting harm on others.
His Wild Bunch remake will be no different, focusing on character and the psychological effects of violence as much as the violence itself.
One of Mel Gibson’s idols is the great Lee Marvin, and Marvin was originally approached to star in The Wild Bunch as gang leader Pike Bishop, a role that ended up going to William Holden (which changed the tone of the film). It seems as though Gibson wants to show us what The Wild Bunch would’ve looked like if Lee Marvin had been cast and it had been made as a Lee Marvin movie.
The Lethal Weapon star previously followed Marvin’s influence in last year’s Dragged Across Concrete when he played a character named Ridgeman who was identified only as “the grim fellow” in the script.