- Disney fires the directors of the Han Solo movies and taps Oscar winning director Ron Howard
- Quentin Tarantino is working with JJ Abrams on a Star Trek movie
- Martin Scorsese is working with DC/WB on a non-continuity Joker movie
- Steven Spielberg announces he will adapt DC's Blackhawks series for his next big movie
So you have four big-time directors slumming with franchise pictures. The Ron Howard one was especially weird because when do you tap an Oscar-winning director to come out of the bullpen to take over your troubled movie? When it's Disney and Star Wars and after your last four or five pictures made less combined than The Last Jedi. Really, do think 15 years ago Ron Howard even picks up the phone if George Lucas calls and wants him to direct Episode III?
Except for Spielberg--and maybe even him to some extent--I think a lot of this is driven by the fact that these guys haven't had any really big hits in a while and if you want relevance these days, you need to connect yourself with a franchise. Even if it's non-continuity or a one-shot like Solo or the Joker movie, it's still connecting to a franchised character. Thus it's a good way to make some money and get back in the game.
The usual way with franchises is to find some up-and-comer and give him the reins like Spielberg with Jaws, Richard Donner with Superman, Tim Burton with Batman, Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins, Jon Favreau with Iron Man, Colin Trevorrow with Jurassic World, Rian Johnson with The Last Jedi...OK, it doesn't always work out so well. The reasons are first that they're younger, they're hungrier, and (probably more important) they're cheaper than a big-time established director. I mean if you wanted Francis Ford Coppola to direct Batman Begins, he might have demanded full creative control, a $500 million budget, and a bunch of weird changes to the source material and if he doesn't get that, he can walk and go back to making weird art movies and selling wine and living off Godfather royalties. Someone who doesn't have a big-time track record is more likely not to make a huge fuss (Josh Trank excepted) and if he does, you can fire him and no one will care.
The other common method is to pick someone who's had some success but maybe not for a while like Bryan Singer with X-Men or Sam Raimi with Spider-Man or Zack Snyder with Man of Steel or Joss Whedon with Avengers. They might not be as young, but they've got something to prove and again you can probably fire them if they get too rowdy without much of a problem.
But generally you're not talking about Oscar-winning filmmakers taking these jobs. Because up until recently they would be too expensive and you probably can't count on any commitment past one movie.
What's changed? Well, just look at the top movies for the last 10 years or so. It's pretty much all Star Wars and superheroes. And most were directed by up-and-comers or retreads, not big names. So if you're Martin Scorsese and you want $200 million for some new epic, the studio execs might say, "What have you done for me lately?" I mean I can get some kid who just directed a well-respected indie film to do a Man-Thing movie and make a half-billion dollars. Why risk $200 million on someone who hasn't had a big hit since 2006? But hey, you do a Joker movie, it makes some money, and then maybe it'll prove I'm still relevant and I can go back to doing stuff I really want to do.
It is selling out, pretty much by definition. But at this point it's probably also the nature of the beast, even for big-time directors in Hollywood. I think as with actors, directors are finding more and more that studios are back in control thanks to franchises being more important than names.
But then I'm also wrong on stuff a lot, so who knows?