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A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
This year, James Wan, who made a genre-defining splash with his first film, 2004’s Saw, found himself in unfamiliar waters. He was releasing a film in the middle of summer, an environment choked with sequels, prequels, remakes and brand extensions. When everything else had budgets that ranged into the hundreds of millions of dollars, his cost a mere $20 million. Instead of movie stars, he had Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga — excellent actors but nowhere near the A-list.
And yet Wan’s horror film The Conjuring opened July 19 at No. 1, pulling down $41.8 million in its first weekend en route to a $316.8 million worldwide haul. Then Wan did it again: Two months later, his shock-sequel Insidious Chapter 2 — starring Wilson and Rose Byrne — opened at No. 1, grossing $40.2 million out of the gate. Hollywood motives often are based on trying to force lightning to strike twice — but it never happens so close together. “I try to keep the number of projects I’m involved in down to one per year,” says the 36-year-old Wan, who was born in Malaysia but raised in Melbourne, Australia. “But that wasn’t the case this year — it’s been pretty incredible going at this pace.”
That pace shows no sign of slowing: When THR spoke to Wan in mid-November, he was in Atlanta directing Universal’s Fast & Furious 7 and having a blast — “Compared to my past work, the set pieces in this film are incredibly out there … it’s amazing that they’re so huge, and it’s an amazing playground for me to play in” — but this was before one of his leading men, Paul Walker, died in a car accident Nov. 30.
It’s too early to say what will come of the high-level meetings that will determine the fate of Fast 7, but regardless, it’s clear that this director has become a big fish in Hollywood’s blockbuster pool.
Photographed by Nathan Stoan
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