Could James Gunn Dismissal Delay ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’?

Guardians of the Galaxy franchise writer-director James Gunn was fired by Disney Friday after offensive and inappropriate past tweets published by the filmmaker came to light — and the dismissal could affect Marvel Studios’ planned 2020 release date for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

The Disney-owned studio, home to multiple A-list franchises including Avengers and Black Panther, has yet to comment on Gunn’s discharge.

Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige revealed late last month Gunn “delivered a draft and we begin official pre-production on that very, very soon,” adding Vol. 3 will be “shooting early next year.” Guardians leading man Chris Pratt told MTV he returns as Star-Lord when the project starts filming in January.

As it barrels towards both a pre-production start and a planned January shooting start, Vol. 3 now has to hunt for a new director — and the loss of its primary creative force could push Vol. 3 away from its rumored May 2020 release.

Gunn confirmed Marvel was eyeing a 2020 premiere and comments made by the filmmaker on April 30 pointed to Vol. 3 snagging Marvel’s already-staked May 1, 2020 spot when Gunn said the movie would drop “two years from today or around this time.”

Disney has already reserved two other 2020 dates for a pair of unknown Marvel Studios productions: July 31 and November 6. Marvel could move quick to secure a filmmaker to keep Vol. 3 on track: if the threequel has to move back any significant amount of time, the shift could dramatically alter Marvel’s already-changed release slate that has dates marked through July 2022.

Marvel encountered a similar but not entirely comparable situation with the long in-the-works Ant-Man, which was developed under Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver writer-director Edgar Wright even before Marvel Studios emerged as an independent studio with Iron Man in 2008.

Wright was attached for years to serve as writer-director on the pint-sized superhero’s first-ever movie, eventually dated for November 2015 before Disney shifted its release to July 2015.

In 2013, Wright expected to enter into pre-production that October for a 2014 filming start date. In May 2014, Marvel and Wright announced the fan-favorite director had exited the project, citing creative differences. Two weeks later, the studio secured Bring It On and Yes Man director Peyton Reed as replacement.

Production remained on track for its mid-August start and principal photography was initiated in San Francisco under Reed. Ant-Man retained much of Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish’s screenplay after some reworking by Adam McKay and leading man Paul Rudd. In July 2015, the blockbuster emerged as an unexpected hit and grossed over half a billion worldwide.

To lessen the blow of changing directors, Marvel could tap a filmmaker already familiar with the inner workings of the studio: Taika Waititi, director of the cosmic and appropriately-goofy Thor: Ragnarok, has emerged as a possible candidate as fans take to social media to call for the Kiwi filmmaker to assume Gunn’s duties on the film.

Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn condemned Gunn’s social media history Friday, saying in a statement, “The offensive attitudes and statements on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him.”

Gunn quickly apologized and commented on his removal, saying he “[understands] and [accepts] the business decisions taken today.”

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“Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse,” Gunn wrote.

“To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all.”