In April 2016, MGM won an auction for a Max Landis-penned underwater horror script, “Deeper,” with Bradley Cooper and “White God” director Kornel Mundruczo attached. When the timing didn’t work for the talent, MGM pressed forward on the project, hiring Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”) last fall; in February, Idris Elba was reportedly in talks to star. Today, Landis is the subject of a searing expose by Amy Zimmerman in The Daily Beast — and, according to sources who requested anonymity, “Deeper” has fallen apart. (MGM did not respond to a request for comment.)
Of course, movies come together or don’t all the time, for reasons large and small. However, this may be the first indication that Landis’ counterintuitive, decade-long career path — one that included making critically reviled films while enjoying a long-term reputation as an unabashed emotional and sexual abuser of women — is no longer one that will scale.
Landis first garnered attention as the screenwriter of Josh Trank’s 2012 everyman-superhero film “Chronicle.” It was a modest hit and helped launch the careers of stars Michael B. Jordan and Dale DeHaan. (Of note: Trank publicly disavowed Landis today in response to today’s accusations.)
It was not long after the release of “Chronicle” that rumors of Landis’ behavior swirled in Hollywood, including a 2013 interview covered by Jezebel (“Screenwriter Bro Just Might Be Hollywood’s Biggest Fuckwit”) in which he admitted to cheating on a partner to whom he also provided “crippling social anxiety, self-loathing, body dysmorphia” and an eating disorder. (Pullquote: “I consider myself rare amongst guys in that I still sort of think of hooking up with me as like a privilege someone could have.”)
Of course, this was still several years before the rise of #MeToo would see Hollywood heavyweights like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey tossed out of the industry’s inner circles. And Landis may have enjoyed a certain advantage in being perceived as both a rising star and Hollywood royalty as the son of veteran filmmaker John Landis; it suggested someone who was both familiar and fresh. Any allegations were just that: alleged. (Max Landis’ representatives have not responded to a request for comment.)
So Landis racked up a string of writing gigs, including films like “American Ultra” (starring Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg), “Mr. Right” (starring Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick), and the Fox horror thriller “Victor Frankenstein.” He wrote and directed the romantic comedy “Me Him Her,” which FilmBuff released in 2016. That year, AMC tapped him to adapt a beloved Douglas Adams novel into a TV series, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” Hell, he even directed an Ariana Grande music video.
Landis landed stuff — big stuff. However, by almost any metric, Landis made bad films. With the exception of “Chronicle,” every Landis film ranks as “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. And it’s not just critics that don’t care for Landis’ work; it’s audiences, too.
With “Chronicle” as the exception (again), no Landis title has cracked $15 million at the box office. “Mr. Right,” which enjoyed a TIFF premiere the year before, spent a single week in theaters in the spring of 2016 and made $35,000. “Victor Frankenstein,” a splashy reimagining of the “Frankenstein” mythos, cost an estimated $40 million and made less than $6 million at the domestic box office. Literally and figuratively, Landis was not a bankable talent.
That changed, sort of, with the December 2017 Netflix title “Bright.” Starring Will Smith, it received terrible — Landisian? — reviews, but to this day, Netflix claims the $90 million sci-fi thriller as perhaps its most successful original title to date. However, when Netflix’s Twitter touted the film’s imminent premiere, the account was was deluged with counter-tweets charging screenwriter Landis with a history of sexual misconduct, the first time long-whispered allegations gained a public foothold.
Still, even as Landis made bad films, and was accused of bad behavior that ranged somewhere between repugnant and illegal, Hollywood came calling. That Landis has a famous-director dad certainly must have contributed to his ability to land jobs; nepotism still holds a lot of currency in an industry that may love familiarity more than innovation.
Landis’ IMDbpro page lists 11 projects in various states of creation, including a Pepe Le Pew feature, a Harry Houdini biopic, and “Deeper.” A “Bright” sequel is in development, without Landis.
Earlier this year, Endeavor Content introduced a new Chloe Grace Moretz title at the Berlin Film Festival, a World War II horror feature “Shadow in the Cloud” written by Landis and to be directed by Roseanne Liang. In April, Moretz revealed that Landis was no longer an active part of the film. “We’ve completely distanced ourselves from him,” Moretz said. “We’ve rewritten it several times now. His name is kind of far away from the project.”
According to Zimmerman, a representative for the film’s producers said “they were not aware of any allegations prior to optioning the script,” and that “after the allegations surfaced and some time went by, the producers renegotiated with Landis to have him removed as a producer, and to allow for extensive re-writes by Roseanne Liang at the time she was hired.” The project no longer appears on Landis’ (for now, still-packed) IMDb page.
When it comes to separating the art from the artist, at least Landis made that part easy: Both are bad, and never bothered to get better.
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