Darren Aronofsky’s Noah: Will This Be the Director’s Break Into Blockbuster Territory?

Darren Aronofsky describes Noah as being “a big event film,” and with an estimated $125 million budget (that’s more than double all five of his previous film budgets combined) it’s sure to be a spectacle. The idea that Aronofsky is going blockbuster on us is difficult to wrap my mind around, but really, he’s one of those embraced directors who hits the sweet spot between artistic, well-reviewed material and actually reaching a large-scale audience. His last film, Black Swan, grossed over $329 million worldwide and won a Best Actress in a Leading Role award for Natalie Portman. It seems as though he’s been toying with the idea of creating an all-out megahit for ages now with rumors constantly circulating of projects that he’s in talks for. The question becomes: what can we expect from the creative auteur, and will it be the successful launch into blockbusterdom that Aronofsky’s been searching for?

The Fountain 2006
The Fountain (2006)

To answer this question it’s best to review the path so far… After he obtained the ultra hip, hot-director status with Pi and Requim for a Dream, Warner Bros. brought Aronofsky on to reboot the Batman franchise. This was mid-2000 and using Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One origin story he was aiming to create a gritty, dark Batman movie. After his version of Year One fell through, and the idea continued bouncing around until it wound up in Christopher Nolan’s hands; Aronofsky moved on to The Fountain, which, when originally conceived, carried a $70 million budget. In his efforts to create a spiritual, large-scale epic sci-fi Aronofsky went through over six years of roadblocks, including major budget cuts that led to further story cuts. The full story was later released in graphic novel form. The Fountain was intended to be a large scale, redefining philosophical science fiction film, but by bringing in only $15 million, The Fountain is the closest Aronofsky has come to a misfire. The story is beautifully told with a challenging core, but could it have been a bit more evenly told? Absolutely. Even at that, The Fountain found its own audience; Aronofsky cites it more as “an art/experimental film” than a big budget affair. I think The Fountain is also the best reference point we currently have in gauging expectations for Noah, coming out in 2014. They’re both big-budget dark stories that approach religious/philosophical notions with a science fiction technique. We know that his vision of Noah is going to incorporate fantasy/sci-fi elements due to all the talk about gigantic Watchers.

Next up, many fans were sure Aronofsky would be helming The Wolverine, but this too fell through, officially due to travel conflicts. He wound up creating The Wrestler instead, which is a heart-wrenching experience and a significant entry in the world of film. The next sci-fi tentpole that Aronofsky was attached to was the as yet unreleased Robocop. Due to financial problems with the studio there, he moved on to create Black Swan. So the super-hero film has yet to happen for Aronofsky. The more details that are revealed about Noah, though, the more it seems like the biblical figure could be taking on Aronofsky’s superhero mantle. There’s a very good chance we’ll be seeing Russell Crowe obliterate evil-doers, more than that though Aronofsky is looking to take the essential elements of the classical biblical tale and enhance it by exploring Noah’s inner turmoil and individual journey of overcoming incredible obstacles and ultimately preserving mankind – as well as all the creatures of Earth.

On the one hand, it’s hard for me to even imagine Aronofsky ever making a bad movie – everything he’s done has been challenging and thought-provoking, led by his natural directorial instincts. On the other hand, Aronofsky’s taking a great deal of risks in what he’s aiming to achieve; a “big event” film that reaches a broad audience. Forecasters are saying biblical epics are expected to be the next big source for Hollywood inspiration. History’s The Bible has recently become a breakout success for the channel, which is clearly a good omen. Aronofsky carries large expectations; will his interpretation be able to reach a large scale audience?

My gut tells me this will be a decent (not overwhelming) success as the title and star recognition is certainly in place. I don’t expect that the built-in faith-based crowd that spurred Passion of the Christ to become such a megahit will be as firmly secured for this film as Aronofsky describes his vision of Noah as an environmentalist; not the best way to connect with the obvious demographic. Clearly, the story will need to be more digestible than The Fountain, though from the bits and pieces that Aronofsky has discussed of Noah, he does seem to have a defined, straight-forward story in mind. One of the strongest elements working in favor for Noah will definitely be the visuals. Creating visually arresting imagery has always been Aronofsky’s forte; add to that the epic level of story-telling and, long-time collaborator, Matthew Libatique’s super creepy tweeted sneak peek (seen below) and this film is sure to catch attention.

Noah 2014

Whether or not Aronofsky manages to capture the right narrative with Noah will not prevent it from being a worthwhile film to check out. It’s about time that he takes his shot at creating an epic sorta superhero story since it’s been a long time coming. Creating a blockbuster always comes with the challenge of hitting as large a demographic as possible while still being interesting to everyone – that’s the money-making game. No matter how blockbuster he goes, though, Aronofsky will absolutely remain an artist.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Rosanne spends her free time hanging out with her husband, constantly searching for films that are exciting, evocative, enriching, or emotional. She also likes alliteration.

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  1. Why do I have a feeling that this movie will be controversial as Passion of the Christ and some other religion themed movies. If we accept that the bible is a fairy tale then it’s no lie that Hollywood have been investing a lot in such genre: Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella…

    • Rosanne

      The elements for controversy are certainly in place, but perhaps if the marketing is handled correctly it won’t strike too harsh a nerve. After all, faith-based or not, people tend to get protective of the source material they’re passionate about. Who knows, maybe by the time it goes through the editing phase it’ll be boiled down to something altogether inoffensive?

  2. Anthony

    Darren Aronofsky is a God so it would be a sin to not look forward to his creation.

  3. This was a pleasant read! It would’ve been interesting to learn more about how the cast would affect its chances of becoming a blockbuster.

    • Rosanne

      Such a dynamic cast! While I’m a little bummed we won’t get to see Christian Bale or Michael Fassbender, both originally offered the title role, I do think based on the direction they’re taking things that this will be a great fit for Crowe. Filling the cast out with Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone & Jennifer Connelly doesn’t hurt either.

  4. Interesting. I haven’t given much thought to this movie, to the point where I sometimes forget it’s even being made. I guess that just shows you how excited I am for it. Great article, by the way.

    • Rosanne

      Thanks Austin! We’re still a good ways out from the release, give it a few months and I expect awareness will be mightily amped up.

  5. squirre

    Is it not mind blowing that his the fountain failed in box office. It is one of his best work… my personal favorite by far.

    • Rosanne

      It is an amazing piece of film. I always wonder what it would have been like if he could of made it on the full scope he originally envisioned without all the budget cuts and forced rewrites.

  6. Mantiso

    This is one of my 3 favorite modern directors (Fincher/Nolan)

    Here are my favs:
    1. The Fountain 10/10
    2. Requiem for a Dream 9/10
    3. Black Swan 9/10
    4. The Wrestler 8.5/10
    5. Pi 7/10

  7. 8Macros

    Holding judgement till trailer is out.

  8. meatlines

    There ain’t many directors that you could count on as much as Darren. SUUUCH a waste that he did not direct the new Wolverine he was attached to do.

  9. excuzmeplz

    I certainly hope the film won’t be “boiled down to something altogether inoffensive”. That would be such a waste. There have been other inoffensive Noah movies and who remembers them? I hope this film gives us all plenty to talk and argue about.

    • mouuuse

      Totally agree. Let’s not forget that Aronovsky can create controversial work so expect so.

      • Rosanne

        I’d say your both right. My main point is that this is really the first all-out attempt to reach a large-scale audience from Aronofsky and the studio is sure to be much more closely involved with such a huge investment than with his previous releases. I’ve found rumors leaning both ways for how Noah will be marketed and it will be interesting to see what the studio ultimately runs with. But as I said in the article, everything Aronofsky’s done has been thought-provoking and I have no doubts on that front; it’s the controversy level that’s hard to peg down.

  10. Aronofsky, matty libatique, clint mansell re-teaming plus a topnotch cast – this will be epic. And after reading the first vol of the graphic novel i’m even more stoked!

  11. Saw the trailer and it looked awesome! Looking forward to it.

  12. He was slated to make Wolverine after the Wrestler.

  13. Taylor Ramsey

    I have really enjoyed Aronofsky’s films, but I am not really looking forward to this. I an not a Crowe fan.
    This article makes me more interested in seeing it as an exorcize in film, to see if he has the chops to make an ‘Oscar bait’ type film. You don’t use Crowe in a film unless that is at least one of the goals.

  14. Dave Hall

    ‘The idea that Aronofsky is going blockbuster on us is difficult to wrap my mind around, but really, he’s one of those embraced directors who hits the sweet spot between artistic, well-reviewed material and actually reaching a large-scale audience.’

    I love this quote, and I completely agree. Aronofsky is- in his profile as director- in some ways Scorsese-esque!

  15. James Lillywhite

    I am a massive Aronofsky fan, but I am so glad he dropped out of Wolverine. On one hand it could have been a Batman Begins style art-superhero film which would have been great, but I feel there is no room in the X-Men series for something like this. Especially with the developments with ‘Days of Future Past’ making the Wolverine in cannon with the other X-Men films, Aronofsky’s style would not have suited the material. That then would have led to problems within the production, and a mixed reaction from the audience. This is just my opinion, but I am looking forward to this attempt at mainstream cinema in Noah, as opposed to joining a franchise which would not work for him.

    Great article by the way!

    • Rosanne

      I agree, one of Aronofsky’s greatest strengths is his outside-the-box style. It would be disappointing to see him have to compromise too much for the sake of a franchise.

  16. Graham Norwood

    I personally love the style of things like “The Fountain.” I love how you call it “a philosophical science fiction film.” It’s hard to place Aronofsky’s style–“The Fountain” reminds me of something by Tarkovsky, “Black Swan” is wonderfully surreal, also psychological, like “The Red Shoes” meets “Repulsion.” He’s just all around very artistic and creative in a main-stream way.

    I love how you look at all the possible ways this upcoming Noah movie will be well-received and controversial (the history channel’s success and the reception of it by the “Passion” demographic). You’ve obviously done your homework, very good article!

    • Rosanne

      Thanks Graham! It’s tricky making so many guesstimates this early before the film’s release – I’m eager to see how things ultimately turn out.

      BTW, I had never thought to compare Black Swan with Repulsion, but the parallels are very interesting to think on.

  17. Kevin Licht

    All of these comments are making me want to give The Fountain another chance. I started watching once back in 2007 and never finished it. I guess starting it at 3 am wasn’t the best way to go.

    Nice article! I’ve been excited about this since I first heard Aronofsky was going to make it. I personally think there’s no way this isn’t a hit unless it goes completely off the deep end with the controversial material.

  18. Brett Siegel

    Great read, Rosanne! I agree that Aronofsky going “blockbuster” is a little hard to digest, especially considering that his last two films (Black Swan and The Wrestler) have essentially been intimate character studies. Just the proximity of the camera to Natalie Portman and Mickey Rourke, respectively, defies mainstream blockbuster territory and veers emphatically toward the low-budget, indie-style of filmmaking. That said, it will be fascinating to see what he does with such a huge sum of cash and with a story of such epic proportions. I wonder if he won’t just continue his recent, more personal trend but on a more spectacular scale. Incidentally, I hope the biblical source material is enough to get Russell Crowe out of this rut! Pairing him with such an actor-friendly director is definitely a good start.

  19. Amanda Gostomski

    I think it will. America loves it’s gritty bible tales.

  20. Charlotte Reck

    Really great final point there, Aronofsky is a true artist; forever enthralling and evocative. It’s interesting that he had been linked to the Batman re-boot before Nolan was appointed to it. I feel that if Aronofsky was “to go blockbuster” he would follow the same path as Nolan, hitting the big time because his skill and craftsmanship deserves it rather than because he’s after the big bucks…An Aronofsky blockbuster would maintain his unique perspective and touch the way that Nolan kept the gritty majesty of Memento and injected it into Inception, the Batman trilogy etc.

  21. Alex Jose

    I really enjoyed your point about Biblical stories becoming the next big thing in Hollywood… I anticipate this release!

  22. Nice article. I’m not really into biblical media and I’ve even grown tired of superhero movies, but I’m a big enough Aronofsky fan to give this movie a shot. I’m a little nervous that he might try too hard here, but he’s so brilliant that like you say, I can’t imagine the film being completely horrible.

    That said, I’d like to see him go back to the psychological thriller/gut-wrenching drama genres, a la Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.

  23. Great article! Darren Aronofsky is a meticulous and inspired director unafraid to tackle harsh and controversial material. Looking back on it, I can’t see anyone creating Black Swan the way he did.

  24. Ultimately, once the hype of Noah passed, the movie has gone into the ether. It seems now to be a minor footnote, if that, looking back eight years later.

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