As the highest grossing horror film to date, IT‘s success at the box office, marks the return of quality Stephen King adaptations. However, it wasn’t an easy transition from big book to big screen for King’s small town tale of terror.
First published in 1986, IT was adapted as a three-hour mini-series in 1990 – a time when bum-numbing running times for movies weren’t viable, so TV served as the best medium to accommodate his sprawling narratives and multitude of characters.
A big screen version of IT was first announced in 2009 as a single film, with screenwriter David Kajganich facing the daunting task of condensing the 900+ page novel into 120 minutes. It didn’t happen.
Two years later, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga set about co-writing a script with Chase Palmer, which promised to be “The Goonies as a horror film.” The project had since moved from Warner Bros. to New Line Cinema, and would now be a two-film adaptation. Baby-faced British actor Will Poulter was cast as Pennywise the Clown (an inspired choice – if you’ve seen him in Detroit, you’ll agree) and shooting was scheduled to begin in 2016. But again, it didn’t happen. Creative differences with the studio and an escalating budget resulted in Fukunaga calling it quits.
Enter Andy Muschietti – the Argentinian filmmaker who had scored a hit with Mama in 2013 – to direct the first chapter, chronicling the encounter between the adolescent Losers Club and Pennywise. Fukunaga and Palmer retained screenwriting credits, but a scheduling conflict saw Poulter leave the project, replaced by 27-year-old Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård.
Muschietti updated the novel’s 1950s setting to the ‘80s, which made sense – this was an era when kids on bikes were getting into all kinds of trouble in Spielberg films and King’s own Stand by Me (1986). Fukunaga’s initial concept of a horrific Goonies was realised.
IT opened in September 2017, breaking box office records for the biggest weekend opening for a horror film. It has since grossed $677.5 million worldwide, dethroning The Exorcist as the most successful horror film to date.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the popularity of Stranger Things as a factor in IT’s success. The show has made ‘80s nostalgia fashionable, and its story parallels IT’s tale of kids facing the supernatural in a small town. Series’ star Finn Wolfhard even appears in IT. Spooky coincidence?
Comparisons aside, IT’s themes of bonding, bullying and innocence lost were destined to strike a chord with the target demographic; in some respects Muschietti’s version works better as a coming-of-age movie than a horror film.
IT: CHAPTER 2
Andy Muschietti and Bill Skarsgård will be back for the second half, which picks up 27 years later with the return of Pennywise. Will it tackle the more metaphysical nature of IT’s existence, and who will play the grown-up Losers? No details as yet, but a release date has been set for September 2019.
Director Mary Lambert delivered a faithful adaptation in 1989 and now Paramount is keen to revisit one of King’s scariest novels. Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, the duo behind indie horror Starry Eyes, have been approached to direct.
King’s 1984 fantasy novel, co-written with Peter Straub, is another hefty tome that has been floated as both a film and mini-series. Steven Spielberg was once attached, and now Amblin Entertainment are planning a film version with Josh Boone (The New Mutants) tipped to write and direct.