James Wan

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James Wan
James Wan by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg
Wan at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con
Born (1977-02-26) 26 February 1977 (age 42)
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.[1]
  • Film director
  • film producer
  • screenwriter
Years active1999–present
Net worthUS$50 Million
James Wan
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese温子仁

James Wan (born 26 February 1977)[2] is a Malaysian-born Australian[1] film director, screenwriter, and producer.[3]

Wan is known for directing the horror film Saw (2004) and creating Billy the Puppet. He also directed Dead Silence and Death Sentence (both 2007), Insidious (2010), The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 (both 2013), Furious 7 (2015), The Conjuring 2 (2016) and Aquaman (2018).

Early life[edit]

Wan was born on 26 February 1977 in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia and is of Chinese descent. Wan and his family moved to Perth, Western Australia when he was seven.[4] He attended Lake Tuggeranong College in Canberra,[5][6] before returning to Perth as an adult. Wan relocated from Perth to Melbourne, where he attended RMIT University.


2000–2006: Debut[edit]

Before his success in the mainstream film industry, he made his first feature-length film, Stygian, with Shannon Young, which won "Best Guerrilla Film" at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) in 2000.[7]

Prior to 2003, Wan and his friend, screenwriter Leigh Whannell, had begun writing a script based for a horror film, citing inspiration from their dreams and fears. Upon completing the script, Wan and Whannell had wanted to select an excerpt from their script, later to be known as Saw and film it to pitch their film to studios. With the help of Charlie Clouser, who had composed the score for the film and a few stand-in actors, Wan and Whannell shot the film with relatively no budget. Whannell also decided to star in the film.[8]

After the release of the full-length Saw, the film was met with overwhelming success in the box office both domestically and internationally. The film ended up grossing $55 million in America, and $48 million in other countries, totaling over US$103 million worldwide. This was over $100 million profit, over 80 times the production budget.[9] This led the studio to greenlight the sequel Saw II, and later the rest of the Saw franchise based on the yearly success of the previous installment. Since its inception, Saw has become the highest grossing horror franchise of all time worldwide in unadjusted dollars. In the United States only, Saw is the second highest grossing horror franchise, behind only the Friday the 13th films by a margin of $10 million.[10][11]

Since creating the franchise, Wan and Leigh Whannell have served as executive producers to the sequels Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV,[12] Saw V, Saw VI, Saw 3D and the recent Jigsaw.

The release of Saw 3D, complete with its subtitle, was to signify the completion of the franchise; however, Costas Mandylor, an actor in the seventh installment, revealed that multiple endings to the film had been shot and the series could continue depending on which was used. The sixth sequel continued the profit margin performance of the original film and earned USD136 million in the global market, against a production budget of USD20 million.

In August 2012, various online horror publications stated that a source at Lionsgate, the franchise's production company, had revealed intentions for an eighth Saw sequel, but it was at a "tinkering" stage at the time of the disclosure.[13][14][15]

2007–2009: Setback[edit]

In 2007, Wan directed two feature films. The first was the horror film Dead Silence, which was the result of advice from Wan and Whannell's agent at the time; Whannell has since stated that the film was a negative experience for him:

It all started when James and I returned from the Sundance Film Festival, where we had screened 'Saw' to much success. Our 'representatives' promptly told us that we should get another deal for a film stitched up before it was released. It was presented as a kind of insurance – if 'Saw' was a flop, we had another film to fall back on. Seems logical. There was only one problem – I didn't have any ideas for a new film. I had barely been able to catch my breath throughout the whole 'Saw' experience, let alone dream up another film idea. Instead of telling our representatives that they had to wait until I came up with an idea I really liked though, I locked myself in the bedroom of the crappy apartment we had rented in Hollywood and tried to force an idea out like a particularly stubborn hangover shit. It was creativity at gunpoint. If I could go back in time, I would politely tell everyone to go fuck themselves, but back then....no. I paced and paced and even took up smoking for a while, so stressed out was I.[16]

Dead Silence featured Australian actor Ryan Kwanten (True Blood television series), and is based on the premise of a legend, whereby the ghost of a ventriloquist, Mary Shaw, removes the tongue of any person who screams in its presence. Rather than a gore movie, Wan described the film as "a creepy doll movie. It's in the spirit of those old Twilight Zone episodes or Hammer Horror Films. Very old-school."[17][18][19]

Wan's second directorial film of 2007 was Death Sentence, a film adapted from the Brian Garfield novel of the same name that was written as the sequel to Death Wish.[20][21] The film's protagonist is played by Kevin Bacon and has no connection to the horror genre—instead, Bacon stars as a father who seeks revenge for his murdered son, who is killed by a local gang. Whannell features as a minor character in the film, playing one of the gang members who is eventually killed by Bacon's character.[22][23] Wan described the film as "a raw and gritty, 70s styled revenge thriller ... It's my arthouse movie with guns."[17]

Having worked on his previous three films continuously, Wan told CraveOnline that he was ready for "a bit of time off just to chill... but at the same time I'm using this opportunity to write again" following the completion of Death Sentence.[24]

In 2008, Wan directed a trailer for the survival horror video game Dead Space.[25]

2010–2013: Resurgence[edit]

Next, Wan directed the horror film Insidious, which premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the "Midnight Madness" program and was sold to Sony Pictures Worldwide for a seven-figure sum within four hours of the premiere's conclusion. The film began its American theatrical release in the first weekend of April 2011 and achieved third place at the box office, with an estimated USD13.5 million in ticket sales.[26]

Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey, the film was made independently, as Wan sought complete creative control and also wanted to make a film that was markedly different from the gore that he had become synonymous with due to Saw. Wan stated in an interview, "the fact that Insidious was not being run by a committee really afforded me the luxury to make a film with lots of creepy, bizarre moments that a studio might not 'get.'"[27] Both Wan and Whannel stated that they wanted to use techniques such as restraint and silence to create a horror film, similar to The Sixth Sense, The Others and David Lynch's films.

Following the release of Insidious, Wan revealed in an interview, in regard to his career:

I definitely do want to experiment in other genres, or make films in other genres because I love, Leigh and I have, we're not just horror fans. We're film fans. I love action films. I want to do action films. I want to do romantic comedies. I love all this stuff. So, if I find the good material, I'll do it.[26]

On 13 November 2012, news emerged of Wan's ongoing negotiations to direct an adaption of the 1980s television series MacGyver. Wan posted on his Twitter account: "People are surprised?? You guys never saw shades of MacG in Jigsaw??", in response to public comments regarding the news. The screenplay is complete and the series' creator, Lee Zlotoff, is also involved.[28] However, the film never materialized and instead, a reboot television series titled MacGyver premiered in September 2016. Wan executive produces the series and directed the pilot episode.

The horror film news website Bloody Disgusting confirmed Wan's directorial involvement with a film entitled The Warren Files. The film, later retitled The Conjuring, centred on the real life exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a married couple that investigated paranormal events.[29] The film focused on the couple's most famous case second to the Amityville haunting, in which they investigated a witch's curse on a Rhode Island family farm. In his second collaboration with the pair, Patrick Wilson featured in the film, and he and actress Vera Farmiga played paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively.[30] Filming commenced in North Carolina, United States,[30] in late February 2012, and New Line Cinema, together with Warner Bros. Pictures, had initially slated the film for a release on 25 January 2013.[31][32] A test screening of the film occurred in October 2012 at the New York Comic Con event, where it screened in the IGN Theater, and the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive. At that stage, Wan had several more weeks before the film was completed. The film was released in July 2013.[33]

After work on The Conjuring was complete, Wan directed a sequel to 2010's Insidious. The film was once again written by Wan's longtime collaborator and close friend, Whannel, and the cast of the original film returned. Filming for the sequel commenced in January 2013, and the film was released on 13 September 2013. The budget for the film had been described as "shoestring" by one media outlet. Oren Peli, the creator of the Paranormal Activity franchise, returned as an executive producer.[34] Film District distributed Insidious: Chapter 2.[35]

Wan stated in an interview following a test screening of The Conjuring:

I think the sequel to 'Insidious' is kind of my reaction to Saw, where for my own reason I wasn't as involved in the sequels, and so I felt with Insidious, I think it would be good to shepherd it and keep it more in track to the version I had when I made the first film so that it doesn't detour too far. So yeah, I'm kind of working with Leigh [Whannell] on the story and the script.

I never set out to make sequels to any of my films I direct," Wan further explained. "If they happen, that's great because that means people out there love it and they want more of it, but I always felt with Insidious we created this really interesting world that we can explore more, and so even though we didn't set out to make a sequel, I felt that there are stories still out there that could be told.[33]

2014–present: Breakthrough success[edit]

Wan at WonderCon in 2013

In early 2013, Wan entered into negotiations with Universal Pictures to direct the seventh installment of The Fast and the Furious action franchise after Justin Lin, who directed the previous four sequels, confirmed that he would not continue as director in January 2013. Wan was part of a directorial shortlist alongside Jeff Wadlow, Baltasar Kormákur and Harald Zwart.[36]

A final confirmation that Wan would direct was revealed in April 2013,[37] with Lin being quoted: "It's time for me to move on to other things and I'm thrilled that Universal and Neal have selected James Wan to lead the franchise into its new chapter."[38][39] The film, Furious 7, was released in April 2015. It became the most successful film in terms of box office revenues and critics reviews in the Fast and Furious franchise.[40][41]

On 20 October 2014, Gary Maddox of The Sydney Morning Herald announced that Wan had agreed to direct The Conjuring 2 as part of a significant long-term deal with New Line Cinema. Head of New Line, Toby Emmerich, explained that Wan is the sole director that the studio signed a deal with, as New Line considers Wan to be "a class of one".[42] The film was released on 10 June 2016, to high critical acclaim and commercial success.[43]

On 21 October 2014, Wan had launched his own production company, Atomic Monster Productions, at New Line Cinema. With the company, he develops and produces budget films in the science fiction, horror, and comedy genres. The films produced by the label include The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out.[44]

Wan also produced Demonic, a Dimension Films horror movie that was scheduled for a December 2014 release, alongside Lee Clay. Wan conceived of the idea for the film, which was directed by Will Canon and features Maria Bello in the lead role. Max La Bella penned the script. The film was eventually released on VOD in August 2017.[45]

Wan then served as a producer on Annabelle, a spin-off of The Conjuring that served as a prequel to the 2013 film. The spin-off was profitable for the New Line film production company, as it was made for a cost of $6.5 million and had grossed over $256 million worldwide since it was publicly launched on 3 October 2014.[43] He also produced the prequel film Annabelle: Creation, which was released in 2017. Wan and Gary Dauberman co-wrote the story of the Conjuring spin-off horror film The Nun, which Wan also produced, and which was released on 7 September 2018. Wan and Dauberman also co-wrote the story for a sequel Annabelle Comes Home, with Wan also producing, which will be released on 26 June 2019.[46]

In 2018, Wan directed the superhero film Aquaman,[47][48][49] which was released in early December in China, and in the US on 21 December, as part of the DC Extended Universe. The film grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing DCEU film as well as the highest-grossing film based on a DC Comics character, surpassing The Dark Knight Rises.

Future projects[edit]

In June 2014, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to Wan's graphic novel Malignant Man. According to reports, Wan was to develop the concept with a view to directing and producing the film. As of the time of the announcement, comic book label BOOM! Studios is slated for a production role alongside co-producers Stephen Christy, Ross Richie and Adam Yoelin.[50][51] In June 2016, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Brad Peyton will direct the film.[52] In August 2017, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Rebecca Thomas had now signed on to direct, and the title of the project was confirmed to be Malignant.[53]

On 7 August 2015, it was reported that Wan had signed-on to produce New Line Cinema's Mortal Kombat reboot.[54]

In February 2018, Wan was confirmed to be involved in the making of an animated adaptation of Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo comic book series.[55]

In March 2018, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Wan and producers Roy Lee and Larry Sanitsky were developing a film adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Tommyknockers and shopping the package to studios.[56] On 20 April 2018, Deadline reported that Universal had won the bidding war and acquired the feature film package. Wan will produce the film adaptation under his Atomic Monster label, with an eye to direct.[57]

In May 2018, it was announced that Wan would be developing a television series based on the character Swamp Thing, to debut in 2019 on the DC Universe streaming service.[58]

In December 2018, it was reported that Warner Brothers Pictures chairman Toby Emmerich had the studio developing a sequel to Aquaman.[59] Discussions of a follow-up film had begun during post-production, when Wan stated to TotalFilm that the first film purposefully left room for further stories.[60] In January 2019, the sequel was officially confirmed to be in development, with the studio courting Wan to return as writer and director.[61]

In February 2019, Warner Bros. announced that a "horror-tinged" spin-off of Aquaman called The Trench is in development. Wan will produce while Noah Gardner and Aidan Fitzgerald signed on to write the script.[62]

Unreleased projects[edit]

In 2009, a Whannel–Wan collaborative project, called X Ray, was announced and was described as a new "film noir/action project", with producer Robbie Brenner also attached to the project; however, as of December 2012, no further developments were reported.[63]

It was also announced that an adaptation of Scott O. Brown's graphic novel Nightfall was to be Wan's next film after Death Sentence. The plot involves the events that take place after a criminal is sent to a Texas prison run by vampires.[64] However, nothing materialized and Wan lost the rights to the film.

In 2012, Disney was reported to be developing a remake of The Rocketeer,[65] and Wan was in talks about directing the film. However, no film ever came to fruition.[66]

Wan was also at one point attached to the director role for a live action Robotech film for Sony, but was replaced by Andy Muschietti in July 2017.[67][68]



Year Film
Director Producer Writer Notes
2000 Stygian Yes No Yes Co-directed and co-written with Shannon Young
2003 Saw 0.5 Yes No Story Short film; story co-written with Leigh Whannell; edited
2004 Saw Yes No Story Directorial debut; story co-written with Leigh Whannell
2005 Saw II No Executive No
2006 Saw III No Executive Story Co-wrote story with Leigh Whannell
2007 Dead Silence Yes No Story
Death Sentence Yes No No
Saw IV No Executive No
2008 Doggie Heaven Yes No Story Short film; co-edited with Joseph Hui
Saw V No Executive No
2009 Saw VI No Executive No
2010 Insidious Yes No No Co-edited with Kirk Morri
Saw 3D No Executive No
2013 The Conjuring Yes No No
Insidious: Chapter 2 Yes No Story Co-wrote story with Leigh Whannell
2014 Annabelle No Yes No
2015 Demonic No Yes No
Furious 7 Yes No No
Insidious: Chapter 3 No Yes No Actor; The Acting School Audition Judge (cameo)
2016 The Conjuring 2 Yes Yes Yes Co-wrote screenplay with Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick; co-wrote story with Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes
Lights Out No Yes No
2017 Annabelle: Creation No Yes No
Jigsaw No Executive No
2018 Insidious: The Last Key No Yes No
The Nun No Yes Story Story co-written with Gary Dauberman; second unit director
Aquaman Yes No Story Story co-written with Geoff Johns and Will Beall
2019 The Curse of La Llorona No Yes No
Annabelle Comes Home No Yes Story Story co-written with Gary Dauberman
2020 The Conjuring 3 No Yes Story Story co-written with David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick
The Organ Donor No Executive No
2021 Mortal Kombat No Yes No
2022 Aquaman 2 TBA Yes No


Year Film
Director Executive
2016–present MacGyver Yes Yes Episode: "The Rising"
2019 Swamp Thing No Yes Filming

Recurring collaborations[edit]

Throughout his directorial career, Wan has cast certain actors repeatedly:

Actors Saw


The Conjuring
Chapter 2

Furious 7
The Conjuring 2
Leigh Whannell Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Judith Roberts Yes Yes
Patrick Wilson Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Rose Byrne Yes Yes
Joseph Bishara Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ty Simpkins Yes Yes
John Brotherton Yes Yes
Vera Farmiga Yes Yes
Lin Shaye Yes Yes
Djimon Hounsou Yes Yes


Critical, public and commercial reception to films James Wan has directed as of 8 February 2019:

Year Film Rotten Tomatoes[69] Metacritic[70] CinemaScore[71] Budget Box office[72]
2004 Saw 49% (183 reviews) 46 (32 reviews) C+ $1.2 million $103.9 million
2007 Dead Silence 19% (77 reviews) 34 (15 reviews) C+ $20 million $22 million
2007 Death Sentence 21% (112 reviews 36 (24 reviews) C $20 million $16.9 million
2010 Insidious 66% (174 reviews) 52 (30 reviews) B $1.5 million $97 million
2013 The Conjuring 86% (208 reviews) 68 (35 reviews) A– $20 million $319.5 million
2013 Insidious: Chapter 2 39% (123 reviews) 40 (30 reviews) B+ $5 million $161.9 million
2015 Furious 7 80% (241 reviews) 67 (44 reviews) A $190 million $1.516 billion
2016 The Conjuring 2 80% (227 reviews) 65 (38 reviews) A– $40 million $320.4 million
2018 Aquaman 65% (334 reviews) 55 (49 reviews) A– $160 million $1.148 billion


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