Film fans and critics have long counted Edgar Wright as one of Hollywood’s most exciting directors, and it looks like everybody else has finally caught on. Over the weekend, Wright’s high-octane action film Baby Driver passed $100 million at the U.S. box office, the first of Wright’s movies to hit that box-office benchmark. “You know things are going well,” he told Vulture, “when you get congratulatory emails from people you’ve never met.”
Wright was calling just before he boarded a plane to Beijing, the latest stop on a 14-country tour to promote Baby Driver, and though the film has continued to surpass almost all industry expectations, Wright says no one is more surprised by its success than he is. “I honestly didn’t have any idea how it would do, and that’s one of the things that’s so absurd,” said Wright, who, prior to Baby Driver’s late-June opening, asked his producers not to send him the tracking information that Hollywood traditionally uses to predict box-office results. “From previous experience, I get very superstitious about that, so whenever anybody talks about those things, I don’t want to know.”
Turns out, he needn’t have worried. In its first seven days in theaters, Baby Driver made $39 million, more than any Wright film had grossed in its entirety in the U.S. Now, Baby Driver’s $100 million take is bigger than all of his other movies combined. Most of Wright’s films, like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, were strong performers relative to their modest budgets, but the Baby Driver figure reps a significant win for Wright after his first big-budget studio feature, 2010’s well-reviewed but hard-to-sell Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, topped out at just $31 million.
“I’m very proud of Scott Pilgrim, and I know that for the marketing team at Universal, it was one of their favorite movies to work on, but the truth of it is that some films are a little more complicated to get the message across,” said Wright. “No matter how sophisticated you make a movie, you still have to sell it at a pitch level. I always think about that when I sit on a plane and you see a movie described in one sentence, and if your movie doesn’t quite fit into that sentence, you’re in trouble.”
Baby Driver, however, could get its gist across in the two words of its title, and by casting The Fault in Our Stars actor Ansel Elgort as the lead, Wright had built a distinctive action movie with strong female appeal. Encouraged by test-screening scores and a raucous South by Southwest premiere, Sony moved the film’s release date up and targeted its digital marketing to appeal to both genders. “This is still a passion project for me, but at the same time, you can cut a totally commercial trailer for it that will get people in there who haven’t seen any of my movies,” said Wright. “That, for me, is a win-win: They came for the car chases but there’s some other stuff as well, and they like the other stuff.”
It’s not lost on Wright that many of the year’s big success stories — including Baby Driver, Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy Get Out, and the Kumail Nanjiani rom-com The Big Sick — were all based on original material. (He’s also tickled that he lives near Peele and Nanjiani in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz and often sees them for brunch.)
“Honestly, they just offer something different,” Wright said. “You have to remind people that Star Wars was an original screenplay in 1977, Alien was an original screenplay in 1979, and Terminator was an original screenplay in 1984. I think people forget that, that there could be an investment in new, original, mainstream movies. It would be great if studios made as many original movies as they did franchise movies, and maybe that will become the case again.”
Continued the director, “Even if I remove myself from the process, I’m just happy that it’s an original movie that’s done well. Getting an original movie made in this day and age, it seems at least five times harder, and maybe more, just because the majority of the studio effort is going into existing IP and franchises. Original films, by their very nature, become more of a gamble, and thus to see a studio take the gamble and have it pay off for them and for me is amazing. It makes me feel very encouraged and inspired that it did well.”
A half hour after our talk, Wright would call me back. He’d been thinking about what he said, and he had one small but necessary clarification.
“It’s not that studios need to take more gambles on original movies,” he said. “It’s that they should stop thinking about original movies as gambles.”
So what will Wright do next, with the wind at his back? He can’t help but chuckle. “Baby Driver is a movie I have wanted to make for years and it’s a funny thing to have your biggest hit with your oldest idea,” Wright said. “It’s got me thinking, ‘What else have I got in a drawer?’”
For now, he’ll continue to develop films like Grasshopper Jungle, an apocalyptic coming-of-age comedy based on the book by Andrew Smith, while potentially making room for a new project: “In the wake of this, it would be really great to write another original.” And what about Baby Driver 2? Given the audience’s appetite for it, might Wright be persuaded to put Ansel Elgort behind the wheel once more?
“I’m not ruling out a sequel idea,” he admitted. “It has been spoken about and I have some cool ideas, so we’ll see where that goes.” Wright laughed. “Then I’ll be one of those franchise guys!”