With $774 million and counting socked away somewhere in Malibu, Barbie is well on its way toward grossing a billion dollars worldwide, and as my dear friend, Legally Blonde screenwriter Karen McCullah so helpfully notes, it will soon be the highest-grossing live-action comedy of all time, passing Deadpool 2 ($785 million) if it hasn’t already attained that record by the time you read this. Given the astounding success of Barbie, many are wondering what’s next for director Greta Gerwig and producer/star Margot Robbie.
With SAG-AFTRA currently on strike, Robbie is holding off on her next move, while Gerwig is busy developing two Chronicles of Narnia movies for Netflix. But is that the right move for Gerwig, or did it just seem like the right move at the time, long before the release of Barbie, and back when that movie was tracking for a $50 million opening? As we all know by now, Barbie tripled those early estimates, which is why I now think Gerwig could do far better than another trip to the land of Narnia, and I suspect she knows it, too.
Don’t get me wrong, a huge fantasy movie based on a beloved book with a nine-figure budget would surely be an attractive gig for any filmmaker. If Gerwig were to abandon Netflix’s Narnia project for the one I’m about to propose, there’d be a long line of suitors interested in taking the reins. I know she’s both excited and terrified by the prospect of rebooting that franchise, but honestly, it feels a little beneath her right now.
Instead, there’s a project for which I think she’d be perfect and one that would also challenge her as a filmmaker and flex a different set of creative muscles. It’s a project that would keep her in the fold at Warner Bros., which should move mountains (of cash) to lock down her next movie rather than allow her to walk out the door and head to a rival, let alone Netflix. I mean, look how it worked out for Universal when Christopher Nolan left Warners… pretty damn well if you ask me.
No, Warner Bros. must do everything it can to keep Gerwig on the lot, but I don’t think that rushing out a sequel to Barbie or having her develop a Ken spinoff is the answer right now, nor is giving her a big DC movie like Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. No, the answer is hidden in plain sight… or perhaps just beneath the surface.
It’s Drowning, the bestselling action-thriller book by T.J. Newman that Warner Bros. acquired for $1.5 million against $3 million. Five studios made seven-figure bids for the novel, with WB’s Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy ultimately sealing the deal. The project attracted interest from A-list filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Alfonso Cuarón, Damien Chazelle, M. Night Shyamalan, and the Russo brothers, as well as producers like Nicole Kidman and Jerry Bruckheimer. In other words, everyone in town wanted to get their hands on Drowning, but if Warner Bros. is smart, they’ll offer Gerwig the chance to lead that rescue mission, and she’d be wise to take it, as it’s about as far from Barbieland as you can get.
In Drowning, a plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff. The survivors have to decide whether to evacuate the aircraft and take their chances on the water, which is covered in fiery jet fuel, or stay aboard the plane, even as it sinks 200 feet below the surface. The passengers include an engineer (Ryan Gosling, perhaps?) and his 11-year-old daughter.
But wait, what about the “together” part of that headline? If the engineer is a man, what role could Robbie play? Well, as it turns out, the girl’s mother is part of the elite rescue team tasked with saving everyone, and even though the role reads a bit older than Robbie’s 33 years, I could see it being a great part for the Aussie actress, who has never done anything quite like it.
I wonder if Robbie might even find herself connecting with Newman, as her first role in the U.S. was as a flight attendant in the ABC series Pan Am, and Newman herself was a flight attendant who wrote her first novel, Falling, during cross-country treks. Universal and Working Title scooped up Falling in a similar bidding war, and Drowning is just as gripping.
Shane Salerno and the Story Factory are producing Drowning, while Newman will serve as an executive producer. This is the kind of original summer blockbuster that could really turn heads around the world, especially given the story’s parallels to the Titan tragedy that killed five people in June.
Of course, Gerwig may be too far down the line with Narnia to jump ship at this point, but Drowning is a project worth watching, if not for Gerwig herself, then perhaps still with Robbie and another director she has worked with lately behind the camera — Emerald Fennell, the Promising Young Woman filmmaker whose upcoming thriller Saltburn is already starting to build buzz.
Robbie produced both of those films and was already at the top of WB’s casting lists, even before the stunning success of Barbie so stay tuned, as Drowning will no doubt be a top priority for the studio coming out of Hollywood’s double strike. Not only would it be a great way for Gerwig and Robbie to make a splash together again — potentially with Gosling — but Drowning could very well be the next Argo or The Departed, two commercial movies that practically won Best Picture by accident.
If Warners wants to keep Gerwig around, execs should let this idea sink in, otherwise, she’s in danger of becoming the latest A-list director to leave the studio high and dry while choosing to make movies elsewhere.