Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Year in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of 2019 as we look toward the future. Today we revisit the most shocking moments for genre fans in 2019.
One of the great pleasures of being a genre fan is being blown away by a big shocker of a plot twist — and, if you're a really devoted fan, spending months (or even years!) speculating online with friends and total strangers alike about what big twists might come next. This year delivered plenty of jaw-droppers on-screen — the identity of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, the deaths in Avengers: Endgame, the sheer amount of puppet murder in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance — but there were even more shockers off-screen.
Hollywood has always been a savage land of beauty and excess, with brash businesspeople, big money, and intense politics controlling the output of some of the most talented artists in the world. Showbiz has also always been an unstable business, and that’s never been more true, with technology, economics, and engaged fans reshaping the industry in real-time. As a result, there were plenty of eyebrow-lifting headlines and storylines this year that had us excitedly watching to see what happened next.
Some of those stories faded away in the churn of the news cycle. Here is a selection of those that stuck with us.
James Gunn is re-hired by Disney
The writer/director seemed to be living the dream in the summer of 2018, having turned the Guardians of the Galaxy's low-profile squad of comic book characters into billion-dollar household names. And then his past caught up with him. No, he never committed any crimes or any morally reprehensible behavior otherwise, but he did write some crude tweets between 2008 and 2011, when he was a middling cult horror film director.
Those long-buried tweets were unearthed by conservative bloggers angry that Gunn was now a vocal liberal, and amid a swirling news cycle exacerbated by San Diego Comic-Con, Disney fired Gunn from the third Guardians film.
That only enraged fans, who have grown to love Gunn and his movies, and pissed off his Guardians cast, who released a letter in support of the director (Dave Bautista released a whole lot more than that, too). When Disney didn't budge, Gunn joined up with the "enemy," signing on with Warner Bros to direct a quasi-reboot of Suicide Squad.
It seemed all done and dusted, until this March, when Disney announced that it was bringing Gunn for the next Guardians movie. He won’t begin work on it, however, until after he finishes his Suicide Squad movie, putting him in the rare position of having active big screen projects at the two major superhero studios at the same time.
Release the Snyder Cut!
Speaking of replaced directors with loyal fans and a messy corporate relationship, the saga of Zack Snyder and Justice League continues to unfold.
A full two years after the Frankenstein’s Monster version of Justice League tanked at the box office, zealous fans continue to demand the release of the mythical “Snyder Cut.” The story goes that the director left Justice League in May 2017 after the tragic death of his daughter, and Warner Bros. brought on Joss Whedon, who proceeded to desecrate Snyder’s vision with reshoots, edits, and bad CGI.
Whether an actual workable cut of Snyder’s original version actually exists is unclear, but the director continues to encourage his true believers with social media posts teasing out elements of his movie that did not make the final cut. They took out ads at San Diego Comic Con and lit up Twitter all year, with #ReleaseTheSnyderCut becoming a rallying cry and punchline at the same time.
The fact that people continue to bang on for something that WB has repeatedly say doesn’t exist is somewhat surprising, but the real shocker here was what happened on November 17, the second anniversary of Justice League's release. Stars Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, neither known for a love of pranks, tweeted out images of their characters and the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut bat signal. WB continues to say no such cut exists, but fans now have new hope that perhaps one day they can will it into existence, perhaps on DC Universe or the upcoming HBO Max.
Sonic ran into a brick wall
Sometimes, fan protests actually work — and even change things for the better. Long-time Sonic the Hedgehog fans went from hyped to horrified when the first trailer for the big screen adaptation of the video game revealed a very strange take on the titular blue hero. His eyes were smaller, his teeth were human-esque, and his torso was all out of whack — allegedly to be more realistic, as if a sonic-speed, smack-talking blue hedgehog could ever be realistic.
The pushback was immediate and intense, and within days, director Jeff Fowler announced that they would be doing a full redesign of the character, pushing the release date back to February 2020. The new design looks a whole lot more like the Sonic fans have loved for nearly 30 years.
Everyone hated Game of Thrones!
Fans spent two years theorizing and conjuring up potential endings to HBO’s super-hit Game of Thrones, yet it's very unlikely that any of the wild ideas they put down in Reddit threads and message boards could have pissed them off as much as the actual ending. People had cooled on the show a bit before GoT's eighth and final season, but nothing indicated that the backlash to the final six episodes would be this heavy.
King Bran? Arya the ultimate assassin? Daenerys Targaryen going off the deep end so soon? A coffee cup in Westeros? Who would have thought the ending could have been that reviled?
More Star Wars director firings
It was a strange year for DB Weiss and David Benioff, the Game of Thrones showrunners. They had that rough final season at HBO, then went and signed a huge nine-figure deal with rival Netflix. Now, that seems like a decent trade-off — I get yelled at on Twitter for free — but the Netflix deal (and probably the Game of Thrones reception) bugged Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy enough that she decided to yank their planned trilogy.
That happens all the time in Hollywood — there are infinitely more aborted projects than ones that get made — but firing directors has become a bit of a tradition at Lucasfilm. Josh Trank lost his rumored Boba Fett movie after Fantastic Four tanked, Chris Miller and Phil Lord got tossed off of Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story after most of it was shot, Gareth Edwards got sidelined during Rogue One, and Colin Trevorrow was removed from Episode IX.
We won't spoil it yet, but suffice to say, a lot of jaws dropped last weekend. We'll leave it at that.
Spider-Man's web of corporate machinations
Poor Peter Parker. First he loses his mentor and father figure, Tony Stark, and then after a very stressful European vacation gone awry, he gets stuck in the middle of a battle between two corporate titans.
Spider-Man: Far From Home, Tom Holland's second solo swing as the wall-crawler, made a whopping $1.13 billion this summer; it was another rousing success for the unusual arrangement between Sony, which owns the character's movie rights, and Disney, which helps out on the movies and gets to use him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But shortly after its big opening weekend, word got out that Sony and Disney were having trouble renegotiating their Spidey-deal.
It made for a lot of finger-pointing and intrigue, and it was interesting to see negotiations spill out into the public. For a while, it looked like they weren't going to find a middle ground and the future of the MCU's brightest young star was in doubt. But for all the online chatter and fan paranoia, cooler (and financially prudent) minds prevailed.