A thriving directing career in Hollywood is no small feat. Just ask Uwe Boll. But there is one director in the business who you have probably never heard of but may have seen his movies or show at one point or another. That director is Shawn Levy. Shawn Levy’s directorial career began in 2003 with Steve Martin’s family comedy Cheaper By The Dozen. The film was such a hit with audiences it spawned a sequel in 2005. Then in 2006 he launched another successful franchise with Night At The Museum. The films starring Ben Stiller and the late Robin Williams have made over $541,853,610 million dollars worldwide. That year he also teamed with Steve Martin to relaunch the successful Pink Panther series, albeit with mixed results. Ultimately, even though most of these films were successful at the box office critical perception was lacking for Levy.
From a distance this looks pretty similar to the path that acclaimed workman director Christopher Columbus took. One where a director earns a handsome living through sub-par family entertainment. Films that didn’t win over critics but scored great acclaim from mainstream audiences over time. Eventually, Levy shifted into more adult comedies with 2010’s Date Night starring Steve Carrell and 2011’s Real Steal featuring Hugh Jackman. Although these films were well received critically they didn’t blow audiences away. They also weren’t as financially successful as his previous efforts. So in many ways, he ended up with the opposite issue from before. In response he transitioned from directing to producing. This led to critically acclaimed shows and movies like Stranger Things and Arrival , additional shining achievements in his filmography.
In 2021 he returned to the director’s chair for Disney/20th Century Studios’ Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds. On the surface, this film did not appear to be anything spectacular. A movie intended to be entertaining, but ultimately forgettable as a whole, like the rest of his catalog. The prospects for the film’s theatrical success were poor since it was being released during the COVID-19 pandemic. The opening weekend projections were abysmal, hovering between $15-17 million dollars.
Still, Disney had high hopes for this film committing to a 45-day exclusive theatrical run and no hybrid streaming model. This strategy was different than those of blockbusters like Jungle Cruise and Black Widow, which were released during this same time. Disney’s optimism was rewarded with Free Guy exceeding expectations with its $28.4 million dollars on its opening weekend. The blockbuster would go on to earn $108.8M domestically and $193.6M internationally, for a total of $302.4M worldwide. Even critics and audiences loved the film. Its 80% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and its 7.5/10 rating on IMDB are both career highs for director Shawn Levy.
The issue then becomes what has changed? Everything and nothing may sound like a non-answer to some readers of this article. But when looking at Shawn Levy’s whole filmography Free Guy‘s existence feels like a culmination of all the trends and lessons of his career. The comedic tone of Date Night and Cheaper By The Dozen. Or the use of mythical and sci-fi elements like in Real Steel and Night At The Museum. Even knowing to lean into the star power of the films leads. In Free Guy all of Levy’s traits are on display. The difference is that the elements have evolved. This helps the film convey a more explicit message about the movie’s central thesis. Levy’s early work, like Pink Panther, have lacked this quality. I feel this is why they haven’t held up as well as they could have.
And seven months after releasing Free Guy, Levy reached new heights with the release of The Adam Project. In the Netflix film time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed teams up with his 12-year-old self to save the future. While some may feel it’s not as good as Free Guy it’s still one of his strongest films. Like in Real Steel, which I believe to be his finest film, Levy takes an earnest approach to science fiction. So where does Levy go from here? He has several high-profile projects coming up. Among them will be bringing Ryan Reynolds into the MCU in the highly anticipated Deadpool 3. I am also looking forward to the Disney Plus original series based on his film Real Steel.
Some have disapproved of him taking the reins of Deadpool 3 but I think he is a fantastic choice. I feel he harkens back to the type of director Marvel used to hire back in Phase 1. Then, seasoned directors like Jon Favreau or Kenneth Brangtha were able to have more skill behind the camera because they had more experience. While Phase 3 lacked that I think Phase 4 regained it, but that will have to wait for another day. You may criticize some of Levy’s films, but Hollywood holds this filmmaker in high regard. It is truly thrilling to see the story of an underdog unfold right before our eyes, and it couldn’t have happened to a more delightful voice.