James Gunn gave a lot to the MCU when he helmed Guardians of the Galaxy, which explored a pretty obscure piece of Marvel IP and turned it into a cultural sensation. The director followed that up with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 three years later, with these movies cementing the heroes in MCU canon on behalf of Disney. The movies had a unique sense of humor, and ended up being integral in the Infinity War saga, as well as were beloved by fans.
Gunn was in great standing with the Mouse House, until resurfaced tweets led to the superhero director being ousted from his Disney contract. However, a successful campaign led to him eventually being reinstated to helm Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Let's go over how all that went down.
Disney’s Initial Reaction To James Gunn’s Old Tweets
Back in 2018, old Twitter comments from the filmmaker resurfaced and became a fixture of the public consciousness. The tweets in question (mostly made between 2009 and 2010) included glib remarks and jokes surrounding about pedophilia and sexual assault. Gunn removed the tweets from his Twitter feed, but this didn’t stop screenshots from spreading like wildfire. Before deactivating his social media, he apologized on Twitter (via The Hollywood Reporter), saying:
Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It's not to say I'm better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it's shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.
However, the controversy was too large for Disney to manage at the time. As a result, Gunn was removed from directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, and his contract with Disney was terminated. The decision also sparked controversy, as many believed that Gunn shouldn't have been fired due to the tweets being dated, and that his apology proved that the previous remarks did not reflect his 2018 attitude.
In the years following the incident, Gunn has openly reflected on this public termination. He revealed that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige had been actively communicating with him during this time period. He said that Marvel was initially unsure about how the fallout from the Twitter controversy would affect his relationship with the company, and was devastated when he was ultimately removed from the project.
Support From The Guardians Of The Galaxy Cast And Marvel Fans
Even though the Twitter controversy was far from over, the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 had James Gunn’s back. The cast signed a public statement of support for the filmmaker to Disney, requesting for him to be reinstated as director. Dave Bautista even said he would leave the movie if Gunn was not re-hired. Chris Pratt also was upset by Disney’s firing decision, calling out the studio for still planning to use the Guardians 3 script that was already completed by Gunn. Marvel fans also rallied around the director, and purchased a billboard encouraging Disney to reverse the ousting.
Gunn has since been candid about how much support from fans and the cast meant to him in the year following his short-lived departure. While the experience was incredibly demoralizing for the Slither director, he has been incredibly grateful for the work put in by the cast on his behalf, and how many fans stood by him even without support from the studio. The campaign was aggressive and ended up being substantial in the re-hiring process.
Looking Towards New Opportunities With DC
When one door closes, another one opens. Disney may not have wanted to be associated with the controversy surrounding Gunn, but the DCEU came calling. Shortly after being fired by Marvel, DC hired James Gunn to write and direct The Suicide Squad for the competing studio. The movie was a critical success, breathing new life into the comic book characters who make up Task Force X.
Gunn's leadership on The Suicide Squad wasn’t ignored by the studios. When DC decided to reboot and restructure its cinematic universe, they tapped Gunn for the job. He had already been reinstated by Marvel at the time, but it still seemed like his loyalties had shifted. In 2022, he was named co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios, a new Warner Bros. division, DC Studios. Prior to that, he was also involved with the Peacemaker series for Max subscribers, and after coming aboard DC Studios, he was selected to helm Superman Legacy, which will exist within the rebooted DC universe. While the Marvel firing was a major turning point for Gunn, it ultimately was an incredible sliding doors moment for his career.
Disney Re-Hires James Gunn
After the aggressive fan and cast campaign, and clear interest from Marvel Studios' biggest competitor, Gunn was reinstated as the director for Guardians of the Glaaxy Vol. 3. Disney decided to honor what was truly important to fans and collaborators, allowing Gunn to continue his vision for the characters’ final story. The franchise connection to Gunn was just too strong to be stripped away, especially considering the studio still planned on using Gunn’s script. This was a major victory for the cast and crew, who vocally supported their collaboration with the director. The results were also positive, with Guardians of the Galaxy 3 receiving great critical reactions. It was also strong box office vehicle for the MCU, making over $845 million worldwide.
With his newfound role at Warner Bros., and the Guardians’ story coming to a close, it's unlikely that we will ever see a James Gunn project for the MCU again. However, his tenure with the franchise was certainly memorable, and hopefully his positive impact on the Marvel world will outshine the controversy surrounding his latter involvement. He will have a lot of power within the DC Universe, so fans of the director still have a lot to look forward to when it comes to upcoming DC movies and upcoming DC TV shows.