David S. Goyer, Hollywood’s Placeholder Director

With 'Masters of the Universe,' Goyer continues his streak of being named to projects that may not see the light of day.

Davinci's Demons

With ‘Masters of the Universe,’ Goyer continues his streak of being named to projects that may not see the light of day.

Pour one out for poor McG. After spending years developing Sony’s Masters of the Universe adaptation, the director has been cast aside in favor of Hollywood’s premiere screenwriter and almost-director, David S. Goyer. Yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Goyer would be directing the movie from his most recent draft; while this may seem like an odd choice for fans familiar with Goyer’s no-nonsense superhero adaptations, it is very in keeping with Goyer’s own history in Hollywood. Goyer may have a long career as a screenwriter under his belt, but when it comes to directing, Goyer is Hollywood’s favorite placeholder filmmaker.

In Goyer’s 27 years in Hollywood, Goyer has directed exactly four films, none of which can exactly be described as runaway successes. Excluding Zig Zag, his 2002 directorial debut that made an estimated $2,400 dollars in theaters, Goyer’s tenure as a director can be described at best as a financial net-zero: Blade: TrinityThe Invisible, and The Unborn cost a collective $111 million to produce with a return of only about $115.5 million. What’s more, the films were lambasted by critics as well, coming in at 25%, 20%, and 10% on RottenTomatoes, respectively. These negative scores actually extend into his writing career as well; outside of Goyer’s work on Nolan’s Batman films, Goyer’s filmography reads like a listicle ‘celebrating’ some of the more underwhelming science fiction and superhero adaptations of the past two decades.

Despite that ocean of mediocrity, Goyer has always been a popular name in the trades. What follows is just a brief history of Goyer’s rumored big-budget directing projects, none of which have actually seen the light of day:

  • Earlier this year, Goyer was a major frontrunner for Green Lantern Corps, the next standalone movie in the expanding DC cinematic universe. In an episode of Meet the Movie Press, Hollywood insider Jeff Sneider shared the rumor, suggesting that Goyer has possibly thrown his weight around as the screenwriter behind much of the DCEU to-date. While it’s still possible that Goyer may be tabbed with directing the movie – he is the writer and producer of record on the project – the middling success of Justice League may have put this on hold.
  • In 2014, Goyer was announced as the director of Lionsgate’s The Breach, a film adaptation of the popular Patrick Lee novel about presidential assassinations and alien conspiracies. “Our hope is [it will be moving forward soon],” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told Collider that June. “We have a great script, we’ve been in the process of budgeting now, and we’re just starting to talk to cast.” While The Breach still appears in the ‘Projects in Development’ section of Goyer’s IMDbPro page, it has effectively disappeared from the rumor mill altogether.
  • A year earlier, Goyer was named the director for an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo in a piece by The Hollywood Reporter. The article describes the studio’s vision for the film as being not unlike Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, and Goyer himself is even quoted expressing his excitement for the movie. ““Michael has written an excellent script,” Goyer told the Reporter, “and I’m going to enjoy bringing our take of the rich and textured world of Monte Cristo to the big screen.” Another project, another dusty IMDbPro entry.
  • In 2010, Goyer was also rumored to be one of the frontrunners for the much-anticipated Superman adaptation Man of Steel. As noted in a piece by Collider – and according to sources by The Playlist – Warner Bros. had pretty much decided on either Goyer or Jonathan Nolan as the film’s director, despite previous overtures to people like the Wachowski Sisters. Man of Steel would eventually go to Zack Snyder, of course, with Goyer remaining the film’s sole credited screenwriter.
  • Also in 2010, Goyer was named by Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance producer Mike De Luca as his pick to direct the comic book sequel. To hear De Luca say it, Goyer had already written the script for the movie, making the screenwriting an obvious – if somewhat uninspired – choices to take over the project. “”I want to keep it, and he knows this too,” De Luca told MTV, “we want to keep it open for the right person to present themselves and if that could be David or it might be someone else.” The film ultimately went to the directorial duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

What can we learn from all of this? Read between the lines a little and a trend here becomes pretty clear: Goyer is hired to write a high-profile script for a major studio and, perhaps owing to his non-zero body of directorial work, he immediately becomes one of the frontrunners to direct his own adaptation. With this in mind, Masters of the Universe seems almost like the perfect Goyer project. It’s big enough to make headlines, small enough to justify a non-established name as a filmmaker, and questionable enough that we may be wondering what happened to it in 2-3 years’ time. If Masters of the Universe actually happens, Goyer will have his first directing credit in a decade, a big reminder to Hollywood that he’s in-demand as more than just a screenwriter and script doctor.

And if the film disappears into development hell? Well, it’s like Sony didn’t let us know this was a possibility. They gave us all the clues.

Matthew is a feature writer for Film School Rejects and a freelance film critic at the Austin Chronicle. His writing can be found at /Film, RogerEbert.com, Playboy, and more.