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SYFY WIRE The Adam Project

'The Adam Project' director Shawn Levy on why making original movies is more exciting than IP

Levy and Ryan Reynolds have made another blockbuster action movie that's not based on any existing IP. Here's why they did it.

By James Grebey
The Adam Project

The Adam Project, Netflix’s upcoming time-travel action movie, is a bit unusual in the modern blockbuster landscape.

The film, directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ryan Reynolds, is not part of a franchise and it’s not based on a comic book or some half-forgotten ‘80s TV show. It’s a wholly original idea, and original genre movies are pretty rare these days. The last big one to make an impact was Free Guy, a movie that was [checks notes] directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ryan Reynolds. 

Clearly, this dynamic Canadian duo has something figured out when it comes to making original blockbusters — and if Adam Project has any of the success as Free Guy, Levy and Reynolds know how to get an audience to connect with something new. 

“It’s not that I’m opposed to making a movie based on IP,” Levy tells SYFY WIRE. “But I also think that when you can tell a new and original story, you have the possibility of surprising an audience. I love Star Wars and I love Marvel movies, and they are a delight, but I go into those movies with the existence of a certain pact between franchise and audience. When you make something like Free Guy, something like The Adam Project that has no burden of expectation, there is no pact, there is only discovery. There’s only surprise."

“Those are the kinds of movies that stick with me forever, whether it’s Back to the Future or E.T. or any new movie,” he continues. “If you can promise spectacle and fun and emotion — and the possibility of discovery and surprise — that’s a very exciting and compelling opportunity for me as a storyteller.”

The Adam Project stars Reynolds as Adam Reed, a pilot from a not-that-distant future where time travel has been invented. He uses the tech to travel back to our recent past and, once there, he reluctantly teams up with his younger self, played by newcomer Walker Scobell, to try to rescue his/their wife, Laura, who he believes is still alive and trapped in the past, despite what his superiors in the future say. 

“I find it more rewarding [to act in movies based on original ideas] because it’s such a blank canvas, and you get to really pepper in the layers that you imagine for it,” Zoe Saldaña, who plays Laura, tells SYFY WIRE. Saldaña is no stranger to IP-based movies, having stared in multiple MCU blockbusters and the Star Trek films. But, she was also the lead in a little film called Avatar, and that was an original property. 

“There’s something really fascinating about working with original content that makes me really look at the filmmaker with so much more reverence,” Saldaña says, before conceding that the franchise stuff can be fun, too. “I like working on Guardians of the Galaxy because James Gunn still also manages to protect some of the innovation and makes it very nuanced. That was also lovely. But I like working on things that were conceived out of thin air.”

The Adam Project

Audiences these days are primed to look for Easter eggs and franchise connections, so making a movie that’s not connected to anything can be a risk. That Levy and Reynolds have made not one but two such movies together in as many years is a bit unusual.

“They don’t let many people make these movies anymore. To give a director $100+ million to make something new is an incredibly risky process,” Levy says. “Thankfully, there’s some baseline trust in Ryan and me that we know how to connect with audiences.”

Reynolds, who of course stars in Deadpool, a juggernaut IP franchise, might be the secret sauce here.

There aren’t a ton of actors these days who can get potential viewers excited by their name alone (in other words, people care more about the superhero than the actor playing them). How much of Free Guy’s success and The Adam Project’s potential success can be credited to his box office allure is debatable but it’s non-negligible.   

“What I love about our collaboration, though, is that we made back-to-back big-budget original movies that are wildly different from one another. While they’re both made for a broad multi-generational audience — one is a fairly broad action-comedy, the other is a time travel genre dramedy with quite a bit more emotion and weighty themes,” Levy says. “Yes, I do think that he makes money men sleep better at night — there is a pact with the audience when you’re providing Ryan Reynolds — but we love that we can keep mixing genres and changing genres and stay inspired.”

The Adam Project PRESS

One might even argue that The Adam Project has double the Ryan Reynolds. Scobell, who plays the young version of Reynolds’ character, does an incredible and authentic-seeming impression of the A-list actor.

“It was freakish,” Levy says. “I knew I had hired a super-talented kid who had an amazing authenticity to him, but I did not know that he was a Deadpool mega-fan. We fed Walker a lot of improvised lines while we were shooting, but we never had to teach Walker how to deliver things in a Ryan-esque way because he had been studying Ryan’s delivery style since he was inappropriately young.” 

“Walker did the whole monologue from Deadpool and had all the inflection, all the tone, he said all those jokes, and did all those curses,” Saldaña recalls, noting that Scobell’s father was present on the set and consented to all the cussing. “He was phenomenal. It was really great that even Ryan was blown away and he recorded Walker doing it. It was a lot of fun.”

The Adam Project premieres on Netflix rather than in theaters, so comparing its success and reception to Free Guy is a little apples and oranges despite the two film’s similarities. Still, Free Guy was a massive success at the box office, ongoing pandemic aside, and what was once an original premise is now the first of a franchise. Will The Adam Project follow suit with a sequel of its own? 

“I would never say never, but I am disinclined,” Levy says. “We were asked about it as soon as Netflix started watching the uncut footage. There was talk of a sequel because it was clear that this idea, this world, the chemistry of these characters, was something special. But, Ryan and I feel — and we’ve talked about this — we told this story as well as we could, and I’m not looking beyond that.”

The Adam Project premieres on Netflix on March 10.