James Wan (Chinese: 溫子仁, Pinyin: Wēn Zǐrén; born 26 February 1977) is an Australian film director, screenwriter, producer, and comic book writer. He has primarily worked in the horror genre as the co-creator of the Saw and Insidious franchises and the creator of The Conjuring Universe. The lattermost is the second highest-grossing horror franchise at over $2 billion. Wan is also the founder of Atomic Monster Productions, which has produced film and television projects.
Beginning his career with the Saw franchise, Wan made his feature directorial debut with its first film in 2004. The films became commercially successful and have grossed more than $1 billion globally. Following a period of setbacks, Wan returned with the Insidious series, where he directed the first film in 2010 and its 2013 sequel. The same year as the second Insidious, Wan directed the first Conjuring film to critical and commercial success. He served as the director of the second installment in 2016 while producing subsequent films in the franchise.
Outside of horror, Wan directed Furious 7 (2015), the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise, and the DC Extended Universe superhero film Aquaman (2018). Both grossed over $1 billion, making Wan the eighth director with two films to reach the milestone. He is the 20th highest-grossing director of all time as of 2021, with his films having grossed over $3.6 billion worldwide.
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. He attended Lake Tuggeranong College in Canberra before returning to Perth as an adult. Wan relocated from Perth to Melbourne, where he attended RMIT University; he graduated from RMIT with a Bachelor of Arts in Media in 1998.
Prior to 2003, Wan and his friend, screenwriter Leigh Whannell, had begun writing a script for a horror film, citing their dreams and fears as inspiration for its plot. 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 as Adam Faulkner, one of the film's main protagonists.
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 more than the production budget. This led the studio to green-light the sequel Saw II and later the rest of the Saw franchise. Since its inception, the Saw films have become the highest grossing horror franchise of all time worldwide in unadjusted dollars. In the United States alone, Saw is the second highest grossing horror franchise, behind only the Friday the 13th films by a margin of $10 million. Wan directed Saw (2004) and co-wrote Saw III (2006). Meanwhile, he and Whannell have predominately served as executive producers to the sequels Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Saw 3D and Jigsaw.
The release of Saw 3D was to signify the completion of the franchise. After the intended conclusion, Lionsgate, the franchise's production company, ceased making Saw films, while waiting to hear a pitch that they thought made it worthwhile to resurrect the series. In August 2012, Lionsgate revealed intentions for an eighth Saw sequel, but it was still at a "tinkering" stage at the time of the disclosure. This eventually became Jigsaw (2017), which was conceived when writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, who had spent two years pursuing the opportunity to write a Saw entry, proposed their vision.
2007–2009: Professional setbacks
In 2007, Wan directed two featured films. The first was the horror film Dead Silence, which was the result of advice from Wan and Whannell's agent at the time; Wan and Whannell has since stated that the film was a negative experience for them. Dead Silence featured Australian actor Ryan Kwanten 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." The film grossed over $22 million against a production budget of $20 million. It received negative reviews from critics.
Wan's second directorial film of 2007 was the vigilante action drama film Death Sentence, a film adapted from the 1975 novel of the same name by Brian Garfield that was written as the sequel to Death Wish. The film's protagonist starred Kevin Bacon as a father seeking revenge for his murdered son, who was killed by a local gang. Whannell played a minor character as one of the gang members. Wan described the film as "a raw and gritty, 70s styled revenge thriller ... It's my arthouse movie with guns." The films grossed $17 million against a production budget of $20 million. Similar to Wan's previous film, it received negative reviews. Author Garfield later stated, "I think that, except for its ludicrous violence toward the end, the Death Sentence movie does depict its character's decline and the stupidity of vengeful vigilantism," adding, "As a story it made the point I wanted it to make."
Having worked on his previous three films continuously, Wan told the male lifestyle website 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." In 2008, Wan directed a trailer for the survival horror video game Dead Space.
2010–2013: Career resurgence
Wan returned to the horror genre with the 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 US$13.5 million in ticket sales. 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.'" Wan later revealed that he wanted 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.
Wan's next film, The Conjuring (2013), centered on the real life exploits of husband and wife Ed and Lorraine Warren, a married couple that investigated paranormal events. 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 starred in the film, with him and Vera Farmiga playing the husband and wife respectively. Filming commenced in North Carolina, United States, 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. 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 and was a critical and commercial success, grossing $319.5 million.
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, Whannell, 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. Film District distributed Insidious: Chapter 2. It received mixed reviews but grossed over $161 million worldwide against a budget of $5 million. Wan later admitted that he wasn't as involved in the sequel, adding "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" since he never intended to make a sequel initially.
2014–present: Professional expansion and Blockbuster films
In early 2013, Wan entered into negotiations with Universal Pictures to direct the seventh installment to 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. A final confirmation that Wan would direct was revealed in April 2013, with Lin approving. The film, Furious 7, was released in April 2015. It became the most commercially successful film in the franchise, grossing over $1.515 billion globally and received positive reviews.
Wan later completed a deal 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". The film was released on June 10, 2016, to high critical acclaim and commercial success. That same month, Wan 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. Films produced by the label included The Conjuring 2 and Lights Out.
Wan later produced Demonic, a Dimension Films horror movie that was scheduled for a December 2014 release, alongside Lee Clay. Wan conceived 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.
He then produced Annabelle, a spin-off of The Conjuring that served as a prequel to the 2013 film. The spin-off was profitable, made on a budget of $6.5 million and grossing over $256 million As part of the franchise, he also produced the prequel film Annabelle: Creation (2017); another Conjuring spin-off horror film,The Nun (2018); and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). Wan co-wrote The Nun and Annabelle Comes Home with Gary Dauberman.
In 2018, Wan directed the DC Extended Universe superhero film Aquaman. The film grossed over $1.148 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing DCEU film as well as the highest-grossing film based on a DC Comics character, internationally, surpassing The Dark Knight Rises. In 2019, Wan developed a television series based on the character Swamp Thing, for the DC Universe streaming service.
On 7 August 2015, Wan signed-on to produce New Line Cinema's 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot. Four years later, the South Australian Government's budget included a huge boost to the South Australian Film Corporation, with the Mortal Kombat reboot, as the largest film production in the state's history, set to be a key recipient.
Wan currently has multiple projects in the works, many of which have been in development for years. In June 2014, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to Wan's graphic novel Malignant Man. Wan was to develop the concept with a view to directing and producing the film. At the time of the announcement, comic book label BOOM! Studios was slated for a production role alongside co-producers Stephen Christy, Ross Richie and Adam Yoelin. Wan has stated that he will direct, co-produce and co-write the film with Ingrid Bisu.
In February 2018, Wan was confirmed to executive produce the animated adaptation of Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo comic book series. The series will premiere on Netflix and will be a CGI animated show (titled Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles). The following month, it was announced that Wan will produce the film adaptation of the slasher novel There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins under his Atomic Monster label, alongside Shawn Levy's 21 Laps Entertainment for Netflix. Later, 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. Deadline later 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.
A sequel to Aquaman is also officially confirmed to be in development, with Warner Bros. Entertainment courting Wan to return as writer and director. Discussions of a follow-up film had begun during post-production, when Wan stated to the British movie magazine Total Film that the first film purposefully left room for further stories.
Additionally, in 2019, Wan signed on to direct the television adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer for Amazon Prime. This was followed by his attachment to a television series based on the Italian horror comics series Dylan Dog. In March 2020, Wan was announced to be working with Universal Pictures to produce a modern remake of Frankenstein.
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. 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. However, nothing materialized and Wan lost the rights to the film.
In 2012, Disney was reported to be developing a remake of The Rocketeer and Wan was in talks about directing the film. However, no film ever came to fruition. Similarly, Wan's negotiations to direct an adaption of the 1980s television series MacGyver film never materialized and he pulled out from directing due to scheduling conflicts. Instead, a reboot television series titled MacGyver premiered in September 2016. Wan executive produced the series and directed the pilot episode. 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.
A "horror-tinged" spin-off of Aquaman called The Trench was in development. Wan would have produced while Noah Gardner and Aidan Fitzgerald were signed on to write the script. It was cancelled by April 2021.
|2000||Stygian||Yes||Yes||No||Directorial debut; co-directed with Shannon Young|
|2003||Saw||Yes||No||No||Short film; also editor|
|Doggie Heaven||Yes||Creator||No||Short film; also editor; produced for Xbox Live as part of their "Masters of Horror Take On Comedy" series; alternative title "Woof!"|
|Insidious: Chapter 2||Yes||Story||No|
|Insidious: Chapter 3||No||No||Yes||Cameo role: Theater Director|
|2016||The Conjuring 2||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2018||Insidious: The Last Key||No||No||Yes|
|The Nun||No||Story||Yes||Also second unit director|
|2019||The Curse of La Llorona||No||No||Yes|
|Annabelle Comes Home||No||Story||Yes|
|Spiral: From the Book of Saw||No||No||Executive|
|The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It||No||Story||Yes|
|There's Someone Inside Your House||No||No||Yes||Post-production|
|2022||Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom||Yes||No||Yes||Filming|
|2016–2021||MacGyver||Yes||Yes||Episode: "The Rising"|
|2021||Aquaman: King of Atlantis||No||Yes||Upcoming animated miniseries|
|TBA||Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles||No||Yes||Upcoming CGI-animated series based on Usagi Yojimbo|
Throughout his directorial career, Wan has cast certain actors repeatedly:
|The Conjuring 2
Wan has also worked with certain crew members repeatedly throughout his directorial career:
|The Conjuring 2
|John R. Leonetti|
Carey W. Hayes
|David Leslie Johnson|
Critical, public and commercial reception to films James Wan has directed as of 8 February 2019:
|Year||Film||Rotten Tomatoes||Metacritic||CinemaScore||Budget||Box office||Release Studio||Production Studio|
|2004||Saw||49% (183 reviews)||46 (32 reviews)||C+||$1.2 million||$103.9 million||Lionsgate||Twisted Pictures|
|2007||Dead Silence||20% (77 reviews)||34 (15 reviews)||C+||$20 million||$22 million||Universal Pictures||Twisted Pictures|
|2007||Death Sentence||21% (112 reviews)||36 (24 reviews)||C||$20 million||$16.9 million||20th Century Fox||Hyde Park Entertainment|
Baldwin Entertainment Group
|2010||Insidious||66% (174 reviews)||52 (30 reviews)||B||$1.5 million||$97 million||FilmDistrict||Blumhouse Productions|
|2013||The Conjuring||86% (208 reviews)||68 (35 reviews)||A–||$20 million||$319.5 million||Warner Bros. Pictures||New Line Cinema|
The Safran Company
Evergreen Media Group
|2013||Insidious: Chapter 2||39% (123 reviews)||40 (30 reviews)||B+||$5 million||$161.9 million||FilmDistrict||Blumhouse Productions|
|2015||Furious 7||81% (241 reviews)||67 (44 reviews)||A||$190 million||$1.516 billion||Universal Pictures||Original Film|
One Race Films
|2016||The Conjuring 2||80% (227 reviews)||65 (38 reviews)||A–||$40 million||$320.4 million||Warner Bros. Pictures||New Line Cinema|
The Safran Company
Atomic Monster Productions
|2018||Aquaman||65% (334 reviews)||55 (49 reviews)||A–||$160 million||$1.148 billion||Warner Bros. Pictures||Warner Bros. Pictures|
The Safran Company
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Wan, 38, who is an Australian citizen but lives in the States, spoke about the film and about Walker by phone from Los Angeles.
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- "James Wan, Roy Lee Team for Stephen King's 'Tommyknockers' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 31 March 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
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- Geoff Boucher (25 January 2019). "'Aquaman' Sequel: James Wan Seeking Seaworthy Script As First Film Makes DC History". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 26 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
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- "James Wan to produce Dylan Dog series". Archived from the original on 26 October 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Mcnary, Dave (6 March 2020). "James Wan Teams With Universal for Monster Movie". Variety. Archived from the original on 7 March 2020. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
- "James Wan, Leigh Whannell Observe X-Ray". ComingSoon.net. CraveOnline Media, LLC. 29 July 2009. Archived from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Herner Klenthur aka Meh (2012). "SAW Creator James Wan Takes on Vampires in Night Fall". HorrorMovies.ca. Horror Movies.ca. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Brodesser-Akner, Claude. "Exclusive: Disney's 'The Rocketeer' Being Reloaded." Archived 23 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine vulture.com, 21 August 2012. Retrieved: 22 August 2012.
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- Barder, Ollie. "The Live-Action 'Robotech' Movie Changes Its Director Yet Again". Forbes. Archived from the original on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
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- "Ava DuVernay's 'New Gods,' James Wan's 'The Trench' DC Movies Not Moving Forward at Warner Bros". The Hollywood Reporter. 1 April 2021. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
- "James Wan on Instagram: "Engaged to this beautiful, amazing woman!"". Instagram. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
- James Wan Officially Marries Actress Ingrid Bisu Archived 4 November 2019 at the Wayback Machine. NextShark. 4 November 2019.
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