The Frustrating Journey That Was the Creation of ‘Triple Frontier’

Netflix appeared like an angel and saved this project from rotting in development hell.

Given that Netflix releases more movies than most of us can keep track of, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of their releases had pre-existing lives before the streaming giant acquired the rights to them. One such movie is Triple Frontier, a film with an arduous production process that seemed destined to remain in development hell for eternity. At one point, the movie was being circled by some Oscar-proven talent, only to ultimately encounter several roadblocks along the way that prevented its creation. Now that the film is finally upon us, let’s chronicle its long journey to the screen.

Originally titled Sleeping Dogs, Triple Frontier has been in the works for over a decade. The idea had been brewing in the minds of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal since the mid-2000s as they wanted to make a big-budget an action-thriller set against the crime-ridden backdrop of a South American region linking Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Of course, the idea had to sit on the shelf for a while when their attention was subsequently occupied with developing The Hurt Locker, which proved to be rather successful in the end.

Triple Frontier began to take fruition in 2010, and was supposed to be the duo’s next feature. That said, it was a difficult movie to get off the ground from the get-go, due to financing and creative differences over casting. Will Smith was interested in starring in the movie and asked to have a meeting with Bigelow. The director wasn’t interested in casting one of the world’s most famous actors, though, because she felt he wasn’t right for the part. Of course, given that the movie was estimated to require an $80 million budget at the time, Paramount convinced her to take the meeting. She did, but Smith was unable to convince her to change her mind.

During the early stages, everything appeared to be moving forward in a way that pleased both the creators and the studio. Despite resisting the star power of Smith, Bigelow was still interested in casting some big names. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp were slated to co-star alongside each other as the film’s leads. However, due to the latter’s commitments elsewhere, the project was put on hold and Bigelow and Boal focused on a black ops thriller that became the movie we all know as Zero Dark Thirty. Once again, given the success of that movie, the pair made the right decision to put Triple Frontier on hold at the time.

Triple Frontier remained on the backburner as further attempts were made to bring it to life. The main problem throughout the process was getting the casting right. With the project in production limbo for years and Hanks and Depp eventually moving on, a number of A-list actors were rumored, including Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, and Christian Bale. These were just rumors, though, and nothing even remotely concrete ever materialized from them.

With the movie seemingly stuck in development hell, Bigelow departed the project in 2015 to make a movie about Bowe Bergdahl, a real-life army private who left his base in Afghanistan only to be captured by enemy forces. J.C. Chandor was subsequently hired to helm the project, and he stuck with it until it was officially greenlit.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for Chandler either.

The casting process looked like it was making significant strides in 2017. Channing Tatum and Tom Hardy officially signed on in 2017, with Mahershala Ali and Adrian Ajorna joining the cast shortly after. For a minute, the pieces appeared to be falling into place. At least it seemed that way until Paramount decided to cancel the project later that year as a result of the stars’ dissatisfaction with the script and a cinematic climate that didn’t seem receptive to adult-targeted adventure movies.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

After Paramount dropped the film, Netflix didn’t take long to fly in like a phoenix and raise Triple Frontier from the ashes. Ben Affleck and Casey Affleck were initially approached to co-star as the leads. The former signed up, but he exited the project for personal reasons. Mark Wahlberg was in talks to replace Affleck afterward, but that didn’t work out either. During this period, Casey Affleck and Mahershala Ali distanced themselves from the movie as a result of its delayed production process.

However, it didn’t take long for Ben Affleck to return after checking out of rehab, and with Oscar Issac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal, and Adria Arjona all officially on board, the long-gestating actioner finally entered production. The rest is, as they say, history.

With the movie now on Netflix, audiences will get to decide whether or not the wait was worth it. Personally, I’d love to have seen Bigelow’s version, but Chandor’s film is more than satisfactory. Perhaps under Bigelow’s supervision, the movie would be an awards darling and something else entirely, but as far as Netflix Originals go, it’s another strong effort.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.