As 2022 comes to a close, it’s easy to forget how different the pop culture landscape was 15 years ago. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was just a glint in Kevin Feige’s eye as Iron Man prepared for a 2008 release. There wasn’t a DC Studios or DCU or DCEU. (There wasn’t even a Green Lantern movie yet.) And when a movie trailer leaked, it leaked in the grainiest of grainy ways possible.
The first full trailer for the much-anticipated The Dark Knight found its way into the world through that method. The trailer was originally supposed to be an in-theaters exclusive, running before I Am Legend. (Yes, Christopher Nolan has been doing the “in theaters only” thing for a long time, even before he was trying to save theaters during the pandemic.) But somehow, a shaky version of the Dark Knight trailer found its way online on Dec. 14, 2007, giving all of us not seeing Will Smith’s postapocalyptic movie our first full look at the sequel to Batman Begins.
As the Joker once told Batman, this trailer changed things … forever.
The worries about Heath Ledger playing the Joker quickly slipped away. “The 10 Things I Hate About You guy as the Joker?” many people wondered after Nolan cast Ledger. Stepping into the shoes of the character Jack Nicholson had brought to life in the Tim Burton film was no small task, especially as people dreamed of Crispin Glover or even Robin Williams in the role.
The constraints of this trailer couldn't hold back the performance of a lifetime Ledger had delivered in The Dark Knight, his character bursting into our lives fully formed and terrifying. Ledger would pass away the following April before the film was released, his performance winning a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009.
The moment this trailer leaked online, the wheels were set in motion for other major changes in the world of pop culture.
Warner Bros. decided to go all-in on the “dark and gritty” vibe that Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy became associated with, eventually pairing Nolan in an executive producer role with Zack Snyder as the director on Man of Steel, the film that was supposed to relaunch Superman. (The winds of the MCU simultaneously pushed Warner Bros. to begin working on its own cinematic universe at the same time …)
Despite honoring Ledger’s performance at the Oscars in 2009, the Academy failed to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture. At the time, there were only five films nominated for the Best Picture This snub was not only the nail in the coffin for the five-movie Best Picture field (which had been in place since 1944) but also for the status quo of the awards themselves.
In hopes of making up for the Dark Knight snub, the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to ten films. The next decade and a half would see the Academy toss idea after idea at the wall — less than ten Best Picture nominees! a Best Popular Film award? the Flash entering the Speed Force! — in a desperate attempt to capture the spark that was they missed by leaving The Dark Knight out of it Best Picture nominees in 2009.
At the time, this was likely the biggest trailer leak during the online era. YouTube had existed for a few years. People had iPhones. (Some people, that is. Some of us held out for the Verizon iPhone. Yes, remember when Verizon didn’t have the iPhone?) The technology now existed to not only bootleg a trailer on something better than a Motorola Razr but to also blast it across the Internet without having to build or host your own website. “I wish it were in High Definition Quicktime,” SlashFilm’s Peter Sciretta wrote of the leak at the time. QuickTime!
In the years to come, other major trailers would leak. I first watched the first trailer for Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One without its soundtrack when that leaked online over the summer. Marvel Studios was even a good sport when its trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked in 2014.
I mean, Feige probably hunted someone down, but at least they were good sports on Twitter.
The Dark Knight wouldn’t open in theaters until the following July, eventually going on to gross $533.7 million domestically and $998.6 million worldwide. (It’s still the fourteenth highest grossing film in domestic box office history.) But this trailer, this leak — after this, there was no going back.
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James Gunn reveals plans for Superman, Ben Affleck; Henry Cavill hangs up his cape
One of the fun parts about writing this newsletter is when you think it’s set for the following morning and you notice some major pop culture news happening. That was the case on Wednesday night. While watching some Bon Appétit YouTube, I saw that James Gunn was tweeting about their plans for the DCU.
The big reveals:
- They’re working on a Superman movie that focuses “on an earlier part of Superman’s life, so the character will not be played by Henry Cavill.” (Gunn and Peter Safran have met with Cavill about working together in the future.) Gunn is writing this Superman project but says they haven’t picked a director yet. (My money is still on Gunn to direct. And Saturday Night Live’s Michael Longfellow would make a great young Superman.)
- Gunn and Safran have met with Ben Affleck “because he wants to direct [and] we want him to direct.”
After Gunn’s tweets, Cavill posted a statement on Instagram announcing his “time to wear the cape has passed” and that he will “not be return as Superman” despite “being told by the studio to announce my return back in October.”
Wow, I feel for Cavill here. He clearly got suckered in by Dwayne Johnson and Johnson’s production team who were prioritizing Black Adam at the expense of the rest of the DCEU slate. All of that noise about Cavill returning, about the Black Adam credits scene, about the hierarchy of power changing — it was all nonsense.
‘I never walked away’: Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman 3 and Rogue Squadron
We learned last week that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman sequel had been scuttled, with there allegedly being creative differences between the writer/director and the execs at Warner Bros. (But not Gunn and Safran, apparently.)
Jenkins took to Twitter on Tuesday to clear up rumors about her involvement with both a Wonder Woman sequel and Rogue Squadron, the supposedly shelved Star Wars film.
“When there started being backlash about [Wonder Woman 3] not happening, the attractive clickbait false story that it was me that killed it or walked away started to spread,” Jenkins wrote. “This is simply not true. I never walked away. … It was my understanding that there was nothing I could do to move anything forward at this time. DC is obviously buried in changes they are having to make, so I understand these decisions are difficult right now.”
Jenkins went on to praise her Wonder Woman crew, Gal Gadot and fans of the franchise.
The director also broke the news that production on Rogue Squadron was still active.
“I originally left Rogue Squadron after a long and productive development process when it became clear it couldn’t happen soon enough and I did not want to delay [Wonder Woman 3] any further,” Jenkins wrote. “When I did, Lucasfilm asked me to consider coming back to [Rogue Squadron] after [Wonder Woman 3], which I was honored to do, so I agreed. They made a new deal with me. In fact, I am still on it and that project has been in active development ever since.”
Well, like any new Star Wars project, my rule of a “show me a cast, show me a release date and show me a trailer before I believe it’s real” applies to Rogue Squadron. I hope Jenkins can make it happen.
Gunn, Reeves debunk report that Reeves’ Batman will join the DCU
Speaking of the DCU, Variety reported on Wednesday that Gunn and Safran, now at the helm of DC Studios, were considering folding Matt Reeves’ The Batman and its sequels and spinoffs into whatever form DC’s cinematic universe winds up taking. Gunn and Reeves quickly took to Twitter to refute that report.
While The Batman began as a film focused on Affleck’s version of Batman (which would’ve connected it to Snyder’s DCEU), that connection was severed when Reeves took over the project and Robert Pattinson was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Like Todd Phillips’ Joker films, there’s never been the assumption that The Batman and its upcoming sequel would represent the Batman for all of the DCU.
Looks like that isn’t changing. (And what would that change have meant for Affleck’s Batman and Michael Keaton’s reprisal of the role in Flash?)
Krasinski: ‘Aren’t any discussions’ about Fantastic Four role
The Internet scored a fancasting win when John Krasinski portrayed Mister Fantastic in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Things, um, didn’t end well for the character in that movie, but fans have wondered if through the magic of the multiverse, Krasinski would return as Mister Fantastic in the upcoming Fantastic Four film.
“There aren’t any discussions at all, the only discussion I had was actually in the second-to-last week of Jack Ryan,” Krasinski told TheWrap. “Kevin Feige called and said would you ever fly to L.A. and play in our sandbox for a day? I was honored to do it. I flew right from Budapest when we wrapped and went right to the Doctor Strange set. I’m a big fan of all those characters and that world, so to get to play in that sandbox for one day was a real thrill.”
Fantastic Four doesn’t hit theaters until Feb. 14, 2025, so we’re still a bit away from any casting news. WandaVision (and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) director Matt Shakman will helm the movie.
HBO Max pulls Westworld, cancels Minx
Warner Bros. Discovery just looked at a bunch of its programming on HBO Max and announced that it doesn’t look like anything to them. An incomplete list of shows pulled from the streamer include Westworld (which had been canceled), Minx (which was in production on its second season but is now canceled), The Nevers, Raised by Wolves, FBOY Island, Finding Magic Mike, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Made for Love.
In the case of shows like Westworld, Vulture’s Josef Adalian reports that WBD may license the show to a FAST third-party streamer like Pluto or the Roku Channel, but now it’s completely gone. As in, you cannot watch Westworld unless you have a physical copy. Yeesh. What a fall for a show like Westworld.
The Minx’s situation is messier. HBO had renewed the series for a second season earlier this year, and had already begun production on the upcoming batch of episodes.
“We’ve been removed from HBO Max but we’re still finishing the season,” Minx star Jake Johnson wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “So thankfully they didn’t halt production. We’re about a week away from being finished shooting.”
Johnson also confirmed that Minx’s first two seasons (and possibly a third) will now look for a new home.
WBD’s shakeup of HBO Max is another reminder that nothing exists for real during the streaming age. Even the digital copies of movies you think you own are merely files that you’ve paid to borrow. Over the past year, I’ve actually updated my collection of UHD films to make sure I have physical copies of movies I’d hate to lose if they disappeared from their streamers.
Shawn Levy: Expect Deadpool to be ‘raw, gritty’ and rated R in the MCU
Remember how we kicked off this edition of Popculturology with a mention of The Dark Knight beginning a wave of superhero films having to be gritty?
Well, we’re still doing that in 2022. I guess it makes sense for a Deadpool sequel, though. Director Shawn Levy chatted about the character’s in-the-works MCU debut and reassured the outlet that Deadpool will be the same character he’s always been.
“We are writing, rewriting, developing, prepping Deadpool every day now. … And the violence is in your face and hardcore, and it's very much a Deadpool movie,” Levy told Collider. “I have to say, developing a Deadpool movie is one of the most fun creative experiences of my life because it's not just that it's rated R. It's that it's so filled with self-awareness, and that makes in-writing very, very fun in a way that is unique to that franchise.”
So … gritty?
“Obviously it's the first Deadpool movie in the MCU. There's going to be no lack of visual effects,” Levy added. “But it's also a North Star priority for [Ryan Reynolds] and I to keep Deadpool raw, gritty, grounded in the ways that those movies have been and that all of us love.”
In all seriousness, I’m curious to see how Deadpool meshes with the MCU. Sure the film’s rating may be a first for the cinematic universe, but it’ll be interesting to see how Levy, Reynolds and Hugh Jackman bring these characters over from the defunct Fox X-Men universe.
Don’t expect a Knives Out prequel
“What’s interesting about Knives Out and now Glass Onion, based on Johnson’s love of whodunnit films, he just may have created one of the best on-screen detectives,” Uproxx’s Mike Ryan writes in the intro to his interview with Knives Out and Glass Onion writer/director Rian Johnson.
“The mystery’s the thing,” Johnson told Ryan. And the detective is interesting is the way he solves his function within solving the mystery. And if we get glimpses beyond that, that’s great. But I feel like a little of that goes a very long way for me.”
“So we’re not getting The Young Benoit Chronicles?” Ryan asked.
“Sorry. Maybe, someday after I’m dead and gone, it’ll be streaming on a mind chip,” Johnson answered before adding: “I’ll send you a whole backstory. I’ll write out some bullshit and send it to you if that will make you happy.”
Looks like we’re going to have to be happy with Knives Out sequels that only nudge at the past of Craig’s detective character.
What’s on your mind? Leave a comment to let Popculturology know your thoughts on pop culture.
When Brian Jay Jones and I talked last week, the bulk of our conversation was focused on A Muppet Family Christmas, but over the course of our almost hour-and-a-half chat, the Jim Henson biographer and I bounced around to other Muppet-related topics.
Here are a few excerpts from that conversation, edited for time and clarity.
The big questions
Bill: What’s the difference between a Muppet and a Sesame Street Muppet?
Brian: (Laughs) There is no difference. It’s just who owns what. They’re all considered Muppet characters. And through a special dispensation with Disney, they’re allowed on Sesame to even still refer to them as the Muppets over there.
But they are all still Muppets.
Bill: And if you are performing a Muppet, you are called a … ?
Brian: Muppet performer.
Bill: Not a Muppeteer?
Brian: Not a Muppeteer. You’re not a Muppeteer. When I started the [Henson biography], I was calling them Muppeteers, but even Lisa Henson said nobody calls them Muppeteers.
Frank Oz told me no one calls them Muppeteers. “I’m not an elf.” He always said that. “I’m not a cute little elf. I’m not a Muppeteer.” And Oz got very mad too when people would talk about him voicing Grover. “Who the fuck is performing Grover then?” He hated when they talked about the voices.
Will kids like A Muppet Family Christmas?
Bill: My daughter will be a year old at the end of the month. I don’t know if A Muppet Family Christmas will click for her. It’s on YouTube, it’s grainy. I hope there’s an appeal in this for future generations.
Brian: It’s hard to say. There’s so much stuff vying for their attention now. … There’s a lot of stuff nowadays vying for kids’ attention that’s actually sort of like Sesame Street was. Well researched, vetted, has a rubric to it. There’s so many great kids’ shows. Bluey. My kid loved Arthur, which was all about reading.
It’s always hard, you’re shoving stuff on your kids. “Here, you gotta like this, please, it’s Sesame Street. You’re gonna love this.” It’s hard to figure out what’s going to land.
The future of the Muppets
Brian: We all play the game where it’s like, [what movie would you remake] and you strike out every character except one. You keep one human, and everyone else are Muppets. We all love that game, but how about doing something original now? Jim, when he did his first three movies, they were all original. They’re not adaptations of anything. They did great.
Even The Muppets TV show was The Office, essentially. It was that look and feel.
I sat down and binged [The Muppets TV show] at one point, and I liked them. It’s very different sitting down and watching them all over a span of three days than it is watching them over a span of fifteen weeks or whatever it was. You can actually almost hear the wheels coming off at one point, and they figure it out. You do get to that moment — have you watched them?
Bill: Yes. They changed showrunners partway through, with Kristin Newman coming in. When she took the reins, it started clicking.
Brian: That changed everything in that show. It got so much faster and funnier. That was one where you’re like, if they gave them one more season, they may have figured it out.
That’s one of the things working against the Muppets right now — the clock.
We do The Muppets, the Jason Segel Muppet movie, which is great. And we do Muppets Most Wanted, which some people think is awesome and some people don’t like it. But Disney’s like, that didn’t do so well, so they stop the clock. They weren’t willing to take the tax deduction on that, to write that off, and to try another one. Instead, they’re like, “it didn’t make more money than the other one, so it’s a failure.” Disney’s gotta get off that.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse can fairly lay claim to several titles. Best Spider-Man movie. Best animated film. Best superhero film. Best film of 2018. The sequel to this film is rightfully one of the most anticipated movies of 2023.
On Tuesday, the first trailer for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse premiered.
That’s a gorgeous trailer.
Into the Spider-Verse pioneered a new form of animation, and it looks like the sequel is absolutely going to build on that.
I need to watch this one on repeat so I can spot as many different Spider-Man variants as possible. (Gizmodo’s James Whitbrook doing the Lord’s work.) Also, is Oscar Isaac’s Spider-Man 2099 the villain in this one?
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opens on June 2, 2023.
Adam Driver going 65 million years into the past, crash landing on Earth and having to fight dinosaurs?
Absolutely. One hundred percent in for this mashup of Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park.
65 was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the duo behind The Quiet Place.
65 opens on March 10, 2023.
I don’t have Starz. Should I get Starz to watch the Party Down revival?
Party Down premieres on Feb. 24, 2023.
White House Plumbers
HBO Max has assembled an exciting cast for White House Plumbers, a miniseries bashed on a book about the Watergate break-in.
Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Domhnall Gleeson, Kieran Shipka and Lena Headey headline the cast with Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm/Veep writer/director David Mandel directing the miniseries.
White House Plumbers premieres in March 2023.
Rick and Morty
I thought this was a really strong season of Rick and Morty. (Hey, I’m all caught up. Just in time.) This season managed to quickly deal with the consequences of Evil Morty’s plan at the end of Season 5 while appearing to be interested in week-to-week stories instead of a massive, overarching plot line.
Turns out Rick and Morty was doing both.
In “Ricktional Mortpoon's Rickmas Mortcation,” the Season 6 finale, the show revealed that Rick had replaced himself with a robot an episode so earlier so he could abandon his family and hunt for Rick Prime — the Rick who killed our Rick’s family.
And now Morty is a part of that hunt.
“It’s the most painful shit I’ve ever had to deal with, and I’m fucking bringing you into it because you asked for it, Morty,” Rick swore to Morty as the finale came to a close.
That’s a dark twist on the classic “a hundred seasons” rant Rick gave in the pilot.
- TV has always disappeared. This feels different. (Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture)
- Will Everything Everywhere All at Once win Best Picture? Five obstacles it must overcome (Clayton Davis, Variety)
- Chappelle audience members explain why they booed Elon Musk (Kat Tenbarge, NBC News)
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Seth and Lizzo Go Day Drinking
I love the “Day Drinking” segments on Late Night. James Corden can keep his boring “Carpool Karaoke” segments. Give me Seth Meyers getting blitzed with celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and the Jonas brothers.
Another fantastic “Day Drinking” segment. Lizzo was hilarious, and this might’ve been the drunkest Meyers has been during one of these. (Or at least the quickest that he got drunk.)
I have no idea how Meyers does these segments. You give me a few shots, and I’m blacking out.
Puss in Boots on Hot Ones
Let’s get more animated characters on Hot Ones. I wanna see how those dead-eyed kids from Polar Express do.
Austin Butler hosts SNL
Austin Butler has a high bar to live up to when he hosts SNL’s Christmas episode. Steve Martin and Martin Short basically delivered a Christmas episode last weekend.
Will the Elvis star be asked to do more than just look attractive or is his SNL promo a sign of the kind of episode we’re in store for this weekend?
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Catch up on Yellowjackets
Bill, if you're not getting excited for Season 2 of Yellowjackets or haven’t even watched Season 1, you're doing it wrong. The show is sort of like a Stranger Things Season 1 for adults. It's about a girls soccer team that’s flying cross country to nationals. Their flight crash lands, and the survivors are forced to survive in the wilderness, eventually resorting to cannibalism.
The show is told through two storylines, present day and the Yellowjackets’ high school years. The first season revealed that in the first few days and weeks of the crash, something nefarious and magical is afoot around the crash site in rural Ontario. We also learned that the dynamics between various friends on the team aren't what they appear to be. The show was a surprise similar to Stranger Things.
Season 2 will reportedly focus more on the “sinister events” going on in the forest among the survivors. Things will probably devolve further into tribalism. All good fun to watch if you're into that stuff, like I am. Now is the perfect time to skip a few Hallmark Christmas movies and catch up on Yellowjackets. — Daniel Strauss (@DanielStrauss4)
Yellowjackets has popped up on my radar a few times since it premiered. I’m so behind on the cool stuff right now. Top Gun: Maverick, the second season of White Lotus. I never finished the second season of Russian Doll. (Should I finish the second season of Russian Doll?) — Bill
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