Jon Favreau is one of the hottest actor/writer/director/producers working today. After launching his career as the writer, actor, and coproducer of the 1996 hit Swingers, he went on to work on such iconic titles as Elf, the Iron Man trilogy, and The Jungle Book. He’s also helmed smaller projects like Chef and is currently producing an upcoming live-action/CGI remake of Disney’s The Lion King, as well as a yet-unnamed Avengers movie.
One film that aptly demonstrates the enthusiastic creativity that makes his films memorable is Cowboys & Aliens, a 2011 venture starring Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde, and produced by Relativity Media in conjunction with Universal Studios, Imagine Entertainment, DreamWorks, and Platinum Studios. It’s the perfect example of a fun Jon Favreau movie for the following key reasons:
Iron Man succeeded for a number of reasons, but the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the beloved superhero was definitely a primary factor in how well the film did. The actor brought a sarcastic snarkiness to the role, which ensured that the character stood out from all the other superheroes dominating America’s movie screens.
Other Jon Favreau projects have similarly benefited from quality casting decisions. Elf, for example, owes much of its charm to the sweet innocence of Will Ferrell’s performance. Moreover, the upcoming The Lion King remake has already earned praise for its casting choices; this is no small feat when one considers how iconic the cast of the original animated version is.
Smart casting choices also contributed to the appeal of Cowboys & Aliens. As the name suggests, the protagonist is a quintessential Old West hero. However, not many actors in Hollywood today can embody the stoic qualities that classic Western actors like John Wayne possessed. One of the few who can is Daniel Craig. But the filmmakers didn’t merely cast him due to his popularity in the role of James Bond; they also selected Craig because they knew he was one of the few actors in the business who truly understood what the role required.
Including Olivia Wilde in the cast was also a smart choice. Because of her popular role on the TV serious House, Favreau and company were already secure in the knowledge that Wilde could play a character who is smart, aggressive, and able to hold her own against talented performers like Hugh Laurie. Those qualities would be put on full display in Cowboys & Aliens.
Jon Favreau makes movies that are simply fun to watch. Whether it’s a holiday feature for the family or an action-packed superhero movie, he understands that if people spend their hard-earned money at the movies, they want to walk out of the theater feeling like they were genuinely entertained.
Often, this means that filmmakers need to take leaps of faith and run with concepts that at first may seem slightly out of the ordinary. Often, these ideas are the ones that speak to a person’s inner child, the one who loved exciting, high-concept filmmaking. Cowboys & Aliens is a perfect example of this type of project.
That being said, Favreau and the other filmmakers involved in the movie understood that simply drawing in audiences with a “cool” idea isn’t enough; they also needed to tell a truly engaging story. Hence, Favreau and his collaborators used the concept as a jumping off point and then built upon it to create a truly memorable film.
No matter what kind of movie a filmmaker is making, he or she needs to take steps to ensure that people will actually see it. The smartest producers and directors understand that. This is why they select well-known genres in which to tell their stories. A familiar genre is a shortcut for audience members who aren’t sure if they want to see a particular film. It lets them know if it’s the kind of entertainment they’d be interested in.
That’s why adapting the Cowboys & Aliens comic was such a smart idea. It actually blends two classic Hollywood genres, the Western and the sci-fi B-movie. This allows the filmmakers to cast a wider net. Potential viewers who want to see another fun Hollywood Western will be intrigued—and so will potential viewers who miss the unpretentious fun of the classic sci-fi flicks of the 1950s.
Cowboys & Aliens combines both of these genres, although it doesn’t rely on gimmicks to tell a great story. The movie itself is entertaining on its own merits. However, it does use familiar genres to help audience members determine if it’s a picture they want to see.
Jon Favreau helped turn an obscure comic into one of the more refreshing, entertaining films of the last few years. Cowboys & Aliens proves that, when the right people come together, it’s possible to make something truly unique, even within the Hollywood system. You just need to make some smart choices.