'Jungle Book' Director Jon Favreau Recalls Marvel's Perilous Start at THR's Power Lawyers Event

The filmmaker, riding high on a $103 million opening weekend, revealed the high stakes in the first 'Iron Man' film, the possibility of a 'Swingers' sequel and talked about Hollywood's next frontier: virtual reality.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter
Jon Favreau, THR executive editor Matthew Belloni

If Jon Favreau’s 2008 film Iron Man hadn’t been a $585 million worldwide smash, Marvel Entertainment could have waved goodbye to Thor, Captain America and a slew of other now-iconic movie characters.

“There was a lot of pressure because if that first film had failed, the IP was collateral,” Favreau said Wednesday at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Power Lawyers event in Beverly Hills. “If we didn’t make money, they could have lost the rights to all their characters.” 

Favreau, riding high as the director of the critical and box-office smash The Jungle Book, sat down with THR executive editor Matthew Belloni at the 10th annual breakfast event held in conjunction with the magazine's annual Power Lawyers 100 list of the top entertainment attorneys in America. In a lively 30-minute chat before top industry attorneys, Favreau revealed his biggest challenges in making a $175 million Disney event film, as well as smaller projects like Chef and Elf. He said he sees technology — especially virtual reality — as a huge opportunity for the entertainment industry. 

“Technology has always been the best friend and the scariest enemy of the movie business,” said Favreau. With virtual reality, "we just don't know what to do with it yet." For audiences to really trust that VR is the next frontier, he said someone needs to make a definitive work — "a Hamilton of VR," so to speak.

With cutting-edge technology playing such a huge role in the CGI-live action-hybrid Jungle Book, Favreau compared the film to a ship in a bottle: In the beginning, it looked like a mess, and it only came together at the very end of a three-year filmmaking process. He said he's seen the final movie "only a few times" because it took so long to finish.

Belloni asked Favreau his thoughts on proposals to offer first-run movies in the home. Favreau, whose DVR is full after his press tour, said the access to content at home raises the bar for filmmakers, who need to capitalize on the latest visual and audio technologies in theaters. 

"There are things you can't experience at home," he said. "We have to make a more compelling case for people to go out."

Superhero blockbusters like Iron Man are certainly one way to draw a crowd, but with dozens of films in the Marvel and DC universes, will audiences tire of the trend?

Favreau doesn't think so — especially if filmmakers can capture the spirit of a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, which he says is sublime and displays all the swagger of an independent film. "If you stamp that as a 'superhero' movie, then I think superhero movies are going to be around for a long time," he said. 

Earlier in the event, which was held at Spago and sponsored by American Airlines, City National Bank and Equinox, THR honored Fox Networks Group general counsel Rita Tuzon with its Raising the Bar Award, given each year to a studio or network legal executive. Tuzon leads the legal team behind such hits as Fox's Empire, FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson and the Fox Sports networks.

Fox Networks chairman Peter Rice introduced Tuzon and described her as fearless and cool-headed. "Rita is truly a force of nature, as well as a treasured colleague and friend," he said. 

Closing the event, Belloni asked Favreau if he gets bad pitches for a sequel to his 1996 cult-classic Swingers. Favreau responded: "I think we'd have to wait another 10 years and do like a Sunshine Boys."