Long ago in 2013, we reported that Steven Spielberg’s Robopocalypse, a sci-fi thriller based on the excellent novel by Daniel H. Wilson, had been shelved by DreamWorks. Originally expected to follow War Horse, Spielberg essentially stepped away from the project because it was “too important, the script is not ready, and it’s too expensive to produce.”
In an interview with Creative Screenwriting, scribe Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, The Martian) was asked about the experience of having a movie like that put on hold:
“You know going in with screenwriting that it’s a volatile business and you have to take the long view rather than the short view. There are so many times when projects don’t go at a certain release date but find a better home later. It’s all about timing. You never want a movie to get made when it’s the wrong time, and these things have a way of working themselves out.
I try to only take projects that I love and that I’m in love with. When you’re in love with it, you don’t really care because you get to write them. I got to work with Steven Spielberg for a year. That’s a dream of mine! [Laughs] It was just a joy to see him in action and learn from him. You’re never going to hear me complain about working with Steven Spielberg.
Especially as a director now, I get it. You never want to start shooting until the project feels right, so you take your time to get it right. I think when you look at it in the short term they can seem like setbacks, but the more I do this the more I realize that what seems like a setback in the moment can also be the best possible thing that happens for a film.”
He went on to liken the experience to that of Cabin in the Woods, which was put on hold after MGM went bankrupt. In the interview, which can be found here, Goddard goes in-depth about The Martian and what it’s like to drop Lord of the Rings jokes into scenes that involve Sean Bean.
On the subject of Robopocalypse, his comments are plenty wistful, but he never goes as far as to say that the project is dead. As our own Rob Hunter suggested in 2013, this is the kind of project that is waiting for the right kind of director to come along. Perhaps now that Goddard is free of his Sinister Six commitment with Marvel and Sony’s new Spider-Man plans, he might eventually come back to Robopocalypse. Considering how well Cabin in the Woods played and the fact that he’s getting some awards season love for his Martian adaptation, it’s possible he may even get a shot at directing. Before Ridley Scott came on board, he was set to direct The Martian.
Robopocalypse is an excellent piece of sci-fi, a book that like The Martian, could make an excellent movie. So it’s not unreasonable to want it to come out of limbo. But as Goddard himself admits, it has to be the right time. Within the deluge of superhero movies and Star Wars spin-offs, a number of great sci-fi movies ‐ from Ex Machina to The Martian ‐ have held their own. Looking out over the landscape of cinema, now doesn’t feel like a bad time to bring Daniel H. Wilson’s novel to life. Perhaps soon, and with a little prodding from fans, DreamWorks will dust it off and find a good director for the project. It doesn’t seem like they’ll have to look very hard.