After a long development, the new movie adaptation of Stephen King's It is finally underway. Join Empire in this storm drain for the story so far. We all float down here...
Stephen King wrote the whopping, 1100-page It in 1986. It won the British Fantasy Award in 1987 and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and a Hugo. It was the #1 bestselling novel in the US in 1986, and in the 30 years since has sold millions of copies. The story takes place around the Maine town of Derry (a regular haunt in King’s novels). It involves a group of kids who dub themselves The Losers Club encountering an ancient, evil entity that preys on children. This is the It of the title, which often takes the form of a clown called Pennywise. Its true form is never revealed, although our heroes also perceive it as a giant spider towards the end.
The monster causes trouble for the friends before they eventually appear to vanquish it. Until, that is, the danger reappears years later and the kids, now grown up, are called back into action. But their memories of the original encounter take a while to surface…
American TV network ABC produced a two-episode, three-hour adaptation in 1990. Tommy Lee Wallace, who’d previously made Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and some Twilight Zone episodes, was the director. John Ritter and Richard Thomas were among the adult cast, but unquestionably the standout player was Tim Curry as Pennywise, immediately creating an entire generation of coulrophobes. The horror was watered down for a TV audience, but Curry alone was terrifying enough. The reviews were positive and initial viewing figures were strong (17.5m for part one, going up to 19.2m for part two). And VHS guaranteed a long afterlife.
Cary Fukunaga’s abandoned version
A new film adaptation was announced as being in development at Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema in March, 2009. Dave Kajganich (The Invasion) was writing the screenplay and updating it so that the adult half takes place in the present day and the children’s half is in the '80s (as opposed to the novel’s '80s and '50s).
Jane Eyre and True Detective director Cary Fukunaga arrived to take the helm three years later in June 2012. Kajganich’s draft had fallen by the wayside at this point, and Fukunaga was co-writing his own screenplay with Chase Palmer and splitting the book into two films: one with the kids and one with the grown-ups. King gave the screenplay-in-progress his approval, and pre-production was underway as of December 2014. Fukunaga described the budget as a relatively meagre-sounding $32m, but it isn’t clear whether that was just for the first film or for both. The latter, frankly, sounds unachieveable.
Fukunaga cast Will Poulter as Pennywise in May 2015, but suddenly walked off the project later that same month. He explained his version of events the following September. "I was trying to make an unconventional horror film," he told Variety. "It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what [New Line] knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.
"The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown," he continued. "After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, [I was] trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children. Also, the children had real lives prior to being scared, and all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it. [But New Line] didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. Every little thing was being rejected. We didn’t want to make the same movie."
He described his departure as "quietly acrimonious", but also admitted: "I’m not sure the fans would have liked what I had done". New Line declined to comment on the situation.
The current version
Guillermo del Toro protégé and Mama director Andrés Muschietti jumped aboard in July 2015. The plan is still to make two films, but Fukunaga’s screenplay has been ditched in favour of a new one by Muschietti and Gary Dauberman. Muschietti was keen to keep Poulter as Pennywise, but a scheduling conflict meant the actor had to drop out. Bill Skarsgård replaced him in June, 2016. Owen Teague (also in the film of King’s Cell) and the rest of the cast were announced shortly afterwards. That cast reads as follows:
Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special) as Bill Denbrough
Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom
Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh
Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) as Richie Tozier
Jack Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak
Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon
Wyatt Oleff (Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Young Peter Quill) as Stanley Uris
Nicholas Hamilton (also in The Dark Tower) as Henry Bowers
Owen Teague as Patrick Hockstetter
Logan Thompson as Victor Criss
Javier Botet (The Conjuring 2’s Crooked Man) has also been announced as the Leper: another, non-clown iteration of It. (It-eration?)
This is, of course, the junior half; the adult cast hasn’t yet been announced.
"There's supposed to be a less-is-more thing in horror," Muschietti told Empire in our May 2017 issue. "It's like you're not really meant to show the monster. But Pennywise is different. With Pennywise, it's like, 'This is the monster, I'm showing it to you... and you're going to shit a brick.'"
Shooting has been taking place in New York and Toronto, with Port Hope, Ontario playing the part of Derry. Signs spotted on Port Hope’s cinema for Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 suggest that the specific year for the first film is 1989.
Part one of It is currently scheduled for release on September 8, 2017.