Long Road Out of Hell

Todd McFarlane's R-rated Spawn is still "full steam ahead"

Despite the pandemic, Todd McFarlane says there's still serious movement behind his coveted Spawn movie reboot.

Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

Todd McFarlane, the creative force behind Image Comics and the horror superhero Spawn, says the Covid-19 pandemic hasn't slowed the development of the long-awaited, R-rated movie reboot of his most popular character.

Things are "full steam ahead," McFarlane recently confirmed, on his Spawn reboot. But just how close is McFarlane to rolling cameras? In a pandemic, that's very hard to figure out.

What Happened? — On Friday, the pre-taped San Diego Comic-Con panel for Todd McFarlane was released on YouTube. In a one-on-one conversation with panel moderator Jim Viscardi, executive editor of ComicBook.com, the topic of McFarlane's Spawn movie came up towards the end.

As an update, McFarlane confirmed that the movie is proceeding in development, despite complications caused by Covid-19. "I'm telling you it's going full steam ahead," McFarlane said.

There are caveats, however. McFarlane explained that "the business of Hollywood has an ebb and flow" in a pandemic. "They seem to be a little shy about wanting to be public about all of this."

In other words, it's difficult for studios to make official announcements regarding anything. "All I can say is the movie is going full steam ahead. I know I've said it before. I'm telling you, it's full steam ahead."

McFarlane also briefly talked about the unnamed Oscar-winning writer who left the film. McFarlane said that they have someone who is "a grand slam to our movie" taking their place, but did not reveal their identity. "I'm saying that, legitimately, it's happening," McFarlane said.

Cover of 'Spawn' #300, released September 2019.Image Comics

The McFarlane Universe? — Equally compelling to the update on McFarlane's Spawn reboot are new, unannounced projects that seem to make up an unofficially-named "McFarlane Universe." It's not an official shared universe, but various unnamed, unidentified projects that are coming from "McFarlane's head."

As McFarlane explained, a pandemic has made it very easy to get on the phone with Hollywood elite. "On the TV front, nobody's making TV, so there are writers and directors and producers that normally [we] couldn't get on the phone that we are doing Zoom meetings two, three times a day," he said. "Every idea I've dusted off. Every idea I've had, other ideas from Image. I don't care where they say yes."

McFarlane didn't specify if these multiple television projects are Spawn-related, or adaptations of other Image Comics series, or both. But he did confirm that animation is very enticing in a time of social distancing.

"I'm gonna do a follow-up on Monday with a bunch of kid programs. You can do animation from a distance," he said. "If you can't do a big, $100 million action movie, you can still do Pixar. You can do kids' programming, which we may have the early lead when we come out of theaters. So all of it is getting developed. We've assigned some writers to TV projects hopefully we'll be able to announce."

"There May Be a Flood"— In the closing moments of his panel, McFarlane was careful to point out that there are still no guarantees and that plans can change. Which, again, is why he did not make any big announcements regarding the Spawn movies or even the Sam & Twitch series with Kevin Smith.

"The people we're talking to are big directors and writers. I assume we can get some of them. And we have. And if we get them we can get big actors and this stuff will tumble," he said.

McFarlane continued:

"What I'll also say is we are not the only ones doing this. Everyone in Hollywood has time to develop. Time to make phone calls to people. So there may be a flood. Even though we can all this stuff in development with big names, the people who actually have to say 'yes' and produce when that time comes may get flooded from every angle of every person doing the same thing we are. But I guess it's better that things are going full steam ahead, at least on the buying and development side, than nothing happening."

"I am busier since March than any time in the last five years," McFarlane said. "Which is strange. So good for geekdom. Geekdom is alive and well."

In 1997, a movie adaptation of Todd McFarlane's Spawn hit theaters. Though a box office hit, it performed poorly with critics.Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

The Inverse Analysis — Longtime Inverse readers may know about Todd McFarlane's Spawn movie, because we've covered it regularly since 2016. Over the last four years, we've seen the movie cast Jamie Foxx, cast Jeremy Renner, collaborate with Greg Nicotero, and get backed by Jason Blum's Blumhouse. Then things stalled in 2019, and then a pandemic happened in 2020.

But for those not yet clued in, McFarlane has been hard at work, for literal years, on a dark, R-rated reboot of his superhero icon Spawn. The first film, released in 1997, starred Michael Jai White in the title role. While the movie was a box office hit, grossing $87.8 million, it wasn't critically popular and earned poor reviews. A sequel was never produced.

Rather than make a traditional superhero movie, McFarlane strives to make his film a minimalist horror in the style of movies like Jaws and A Quiet Place. (At the same time, McFarlane has pushed back on calling Spawn a horror movie, believing it may confuse audiences.)

Whether Spawn ends up a horror movie or not, fans can expect to see a dark, atmospheric movie unlike any superhero movie before. McFarlane has publicly expressed his wish to keep the budget small, citing the figure $10 million, and wants to direct the movie himself. “Give me $10 million to make a little horror movie and let’s see if we can scare some people," McFarlane said in 2016.

There is no release date for Spawn.

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