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How Rob McElhenney's $150 Million Minecraft Movie Fell Apart After 2.5 Years Of Work

Rob McElhenney speaks about his version of Minecraft.


At one point in time It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Rob McElhenney was attached to direct the Minecraft movie, but his version of the animated movie fell apart. McElhenney is now speaking for the first time about his version of Minecraft and why it all came tumbling down.

"I'm comfortable talking about it, because f**k them at this point," McElhenney started off in an appearance on the HappySadConfused podcast.

McElhenney said he is a big fan of Minecraft; he enjoyed playing the game himself and with his children, so he was excited to be part of the project. Whereas other video game adaptations tend to fail because they follow a fixed narrative, Minecraft had the opportunity to stand out because it was open-ended, he said.

"I thought one of the greatest assets to Minecraft was they didn't have a fixed narrative. It was an open world experience," McElhenney explained. "All you were essentially give was the building blocks to do whatever you want. I thought, what an amazing tool, much like Legos except now you're talking about infinite possibilities because it's digital, to give to kids--and not just kids, but any person who feels powerless. Kids mostly feel powerless; all day long they're being told what to do, how to dress, do your homework, go to bed. I felt like that could extend to other people. I think everybody feels marginalized to an extent. Your boss is telling you what to do all day long, or your spouse is. You just feel like you don't have this sense of agency over your own life. The game gave you that, and I thought that's a really profound experience."

McElhenney went on to say that he was lucky enough to be asked to visit Pixar to meet with a "braintrust" of high-level creatives, including Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life, Wall-E, Finding Nemo), from whom he learned all about the movie-making process for animated films.

He returned to Warner Bros. with a strong pitch for a story that involved "people taking agency over their experience in this digital landscape." Warner Bros. went for the idea, and they were so enthusiastic that they agreed to spend $150 million to produce it, McElhenney said.

"I really felt supported, all the way through," he explained.

But trouble came when Warner Bros. movie chief Greg Silverman left the studio in 2016 to pursue other projects. Toby Emmerich replaced Silverman, and he had a different vision for Warner Bros., one that did not include McElhenney's idea for the Minecraft movie.

With Emmerich now leading Warner Bros., McElhenney's Minecraft movie "slowly died on the vine."

"I don't harbor any resentment. I get it. I get the way that it works," McElhenney said.

The actor and director said he's doesn't hold a grudge about how it all shook out, but he said he's bummed because he is such a fan of the franchise and he got so close to making the movie.

Indeed, it was very close to happening. McElhenney shared that the script was in a good place, they hired an art and a visual effects company, and Steve Carell signed a contract to appear in the movie. Additionally, stages in Vancouver were booked for filming, and McElhenney even had a house rented in town for him and his family to stay at during production.

McElhenney said it was difficult to see the project come to an end after he spent 2.5 years working on it, but that's just how it goes sometime in Hollywood. "With these kinds of numbers and this kind of scale, $150 million, which is what we were budgeted for, it can fall apart at any moment. You have to live in that mystery," he said.

Warner Bros. replaced McElhenney with Peter Sollett, who previously directed Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. The story seems to have changed as well, as developer Mojang says the story will follow a teenage girl and her pals as they fight the evil Ender Dragon to save Overworld. The film is due in theatres on March 4, 2022.

McElhenney is not the first director to leave the Minecraft movie. Night at the Museum's Shawn Levy was originally attached to write and direct, but Mojang vetoed his Goonies adventure-style idea, and he quit the project.

Minecraft remains a juggernaut in the gaming world. By the latest count, it had 91 million monthly active players, which is many millions more than Fortnite. It has already spawned a variety of adaptations and licensing, from books and collectibles to Telltale's Minecraft Story Mode.

The latest video game movie, Sonic the Hedgehog, is in theatres now--and it's breaking records.

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