With Warner Bros. space thriller “Gravity” earning a stellar $55.6 million at the box office, it may come as a surprise to many how differently this film could have looked had things swayed a different way when it was originally conceived; and how close it came to not happening at all.
In 2006, following the critical success of “Children of Men,” Universal Pictures and director Alfonso Cuaron paired up for the expensive space epic, co-written by Cuaron’s son, but after worries began to trickle down the studio ranks as to how exactly you market a film like “Gravity,” Universal parted ways with the project.
Warner Bros., which worked with Cuaron on “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” then came on board as the distributor and took a chance on a film that others were avoiding.
The next positive sign that the film would was getting closer to a greenlight was Robert Downey Jr. attaching himself as the male lead in early 2010, but the pic still needed the female lead that carries most of the film. Angelina Jolie had always been eyed for the role, but a deal couldn’t be worked out and finally in summer 2010, Jolie passed, leaving the studio and Cuaron at square one.
Warners tested several leading ladies and at one point was very high on Blake Lively. After working with her on “The Town,” the studio was looking at her for almost every female-driven project it had in 2010, including “Gravity,” which to several insiders at the time seemed like an odd choice given how young Lively was and the fact that the main character was suppose to have a daughter in the film too.
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WB eventually moved off the idea and set its sights on Natalie Portman following her Oscar win for “Black Swan,” but the actress was looking to take a much needed break (and was pregnant), leaving “Gravity” in the same state as its main character: gasping for life.
Enter Sandra Bullock.
Coming off an acting hiatus herself, Bullock, who won an Oscar for 2009’s “The Blind Side,” also from WB, was looking for something that would challenge her, and top WB execs along with Cuaron and producer David Heyman saw the opportunity and moved fast to land her.
Finally, “Gravity” was ready for liftoff, but there was still one more hurdle: Iron Man. Since production was forced to move because the search for the main character took so long, Downey was forced to exit the long-gestating project because of “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” scheduling conflict.
What would seem like a blow to most films ended up working out with George Clooney’s schedule opening up just as the film was expected to commence production. The short shoot for his character ended up working out for Clooney’s schedule and Warners signed him just in time for the first quarter shoot in 2011.
In an age where films are constantly being bad-mouthed if there is any delay in development or production, “Gravity” is a case where a studio’s confidence and patience with not only the project but also the filmmaker paid off in a big way.