James Francis Gunn Jr. (born August 5, 1966)[n 1] is an American filmmaker. Beginning his career as a screenwriter in the mid-1990s, he contributed the scripts for Tromeo and Juliet (1996), The Specials (2000), Scooby-Doo (2002) and its sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), and the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead. Gunn then began working as a director, starting with the horror-comedy film Slither (2006). He subsequently wrote and directed the web series James Gunn's PG Porn (2008–09), the superhero film Super (2010), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).
Gunn at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con
James Francis Gunn Jr.
August 5, 1966
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|Education||Loyola Marymount University|
Saint Louis University (BA)
Columbia University (MFA)
(m. 2000; div. 2008)
Gunn was born in St. Louis, Missouri to parents Leota and James F. Gunn, an attorney. He was raised between St. Louis and Manchester, Missouri. He has five siblings: actor Sean, actor and political writer Matt, screenwriter Brian, Patrick, and Beth. He is of Irish and Jewish heritage. Gunn has stated that his family's surname was originally the Irish name MacGilgunn and mistakenly claimed that it means "sons to the servants of the god of the dead"; it means "son of the brown one".
Growing up, Gunn was influenced by low-budget films such as Night of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th. He read magazines like Fangoria and attended genre movie screenings, including the original Dawn of the Dead at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis. At the age of 12, he began making 8 mm zombie films with his brothers in the woods near their home.
Gunn and his brothers all attended the Jesuit St. Louis University High School, where he graduated in 1984. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Saint Louis University. While at Saint Louis University, Gunn created political cartoons for the school's student weekly, The University News. Gunn said that, at an unspecified time in his college education, "I went to two years undergraduate film school at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. But I was pretty screwed up at the time, and had to leave. Years later I went to graduate school at the Columbia University School of Fine Arts but I studied prose writing, not film writing." He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University in 1995.
While living in St. Louis, Gunn founded a band, The Icons, in 1989, serving as lead vocalist. The group released the album Mom, We Like It Here on Earth in 1994, and its songs "Sunday" and "Walking Naked" were featured in the film Tromeo and Juliet. The Icons disbanded in the mid-1990s. Gunn has continued to work in music, composing songs for Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, and Movie 43.
Film and television
Gunn began his career in filmmaking with Troma Entertainment in 1995, for which he wrote the independent film Tromeo and Juliet. Working alongside his mentor Lloyd Kaufman, the co-founder of Troma, Gunn learned how to write screenplays, produce films, scout locations, direct actors, distribute films, and create his own poster art. After contributing to several other Troma films, Gunn in 2000 wrote, produced and performed in the superhero comedy The Specials, directed by Craig Mazin and featuring Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church, Paget Brewster, Judy Greer and Jamie Kennedy.
Gunn's first major Hollywood screenplay was Scooby-Doo in 2002. In 2004, he wrote the screenplays for the remake of Dawn of the Dead and the sequel Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. With these films, Gunn became the first screenwriter to have two films top the box office in consecutive weeks. That same year, he executive produced and starred in the mockumentary LolliLove, directed by and starring his then-wife Jenna Fischer. His film directorial debut was the 2006 horror-comedy Slither, which was included on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the 50 Best Ever Reviewed Horror Movies.
Gunn's next projects included the comedy short film "Humanzee!" which was originally intended exclusively for the Xbox Live's Horror Meets Comedy series of short comedy films by horror directors, it was replaced with "Sparky and Mikaela" which debuted on Xbox Live on December 31, 2008. In an April 2009 interview on The Jace Hall Show, Gunn described "Sparky and Mikaela" as being "about a human [and] racoon crime fighting team and they fight crime in both the forest world, among the furry animals, and in the human world". Gunn also has a short-form web series for Spike.com titled James Gunn's PG Porn.
In 2008, Gunn was a judge on the VH1 reality television show, Scream Queens where 10 unknown actresses compete for a role in the film Saw VI, where he directed contestants during acting challenges.
In 2009, Gunn announced he was going to write and direct Pets, a comedy about a man who is abducted by aliens who want to turn him into a household pet, with Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld and Jeremy Kramer producing. However, by March 2009, Gunn announced, "Pets unfortunately, is done. I'm gone. I left the project for various reasons. I hope it sees the light of day somehow, but it won't be with me attached as director."
In 2010, Gunn released Super, a dark comedy and superhero satire starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. Gunn co-wrote and directed the Marvel Studios adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released on August 1, 2014. His brother, Sean, has a role in the film. Gunn has appeared as an actor, mostly in smaller roles or uncredited appearances in his own projects. Dan Gilroy and Jack Black separately lamented the proliferation of superhero films, Gunn responded in a Facebook post, saying in part:
[P]opular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite. ... What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films. ... If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we're dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a 'serious' filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.
Gunn wrote and produced the horror film The Belko Experiment, which was released in 2017. In 2016, he directed three Stan Lee cameo scenes in one day, for the film Doctor Strange and two unrevealed projects.
Gunn wrote and directed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Gunn was slated to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but in July 2018, Disney removed Gunn as the director amid controversy over off-color jokes he had tweeted. Gunn was rehired in March 2019.
In October 2018, Gunn was hired to write a completely new script for The Suicide Squad, with the intention of also serving as director, after its original director Gavin O'Connor left due to scheduling issues.
Gunn wrote a novel in 2000, The Toy Collector, a story of a hospital orderly who steals drugs from the hospital which he sells to help keep his toy collection habit alive. In 1998, he and Troma's President Lloyd Kaufman co-wrote All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger, about his experiences with Kaufman while working at Troma. He wrote the story for Grasshopper Manufacture's video game Lollipop Chainsaw.
Firing from Disney and reinstatement
Amid criticism of the tweets, Disney severed ties with Gunn. He was fired as director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 film; he was also dismissed from a role to help lead Marvel's planned "Cosmic Universe". Gunn responded: "I have regretted [those jokes] for many years since. [...] Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now [is offer] my sincere and heartfelt regret [...] To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies."
The Walt Disney Studios' decision received criticism from several entertainers and journalists, including actors Dave Bautista, Selma Blair, Patton Oswalt, David Dastmalchian, Michael Ian Black, Mikaela Hoover, Mike Colter, Alex Winter, David Hasselhoff, directors Joe Carnahan and Fede Álvarez, comics artist Jim Starlin, musician Rhett Miller, comedian Jim Jefferies, Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, journalist David A. French, and Troma Entertainment founder and president Lloyd Kaufman. Bobcat Goldthwait, who worked as a voice actor on the 1997 Disney film Hercules, responded to the incident by asking Disney to remove his voice from an upcoming park attraction based on the film.
A number of media outlets openly criticized Disney's decision, including Collider, Cartoon Brew, The Daily Dot, The Independent, National Review, MovieWeb, and Vulture. An online petition urging Disney to re-hire Gunn received over 400,000 signatures.
On July 30, 2018, Guardians of the Galaxy cast members Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, and Michael Rooker released a joint statement through social media expressing their support for Gunn.
Because of this, Sony Pictures decided to not promote the horror film Brightburn, which Gunn produced, at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. However, when the first trailer for the film was released on December 8, 2018, Gunn's name was prominently featured. The film opened in May 2019.
In March 2019, Gunn was reinstated by Disney as director of the film after meeting with Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, on multiple occasions. Gunn will start production on the film once his work on The Suicide Squad has been completed.
Gunn married actress Jenna Fischer on October 7, 2000, in an event that Gunn's hometown paper said was officiated by Lloyd Kaufman, but which Gunn later clarified had not been: "They said I was married by Lloyd Kaufman, which is not true. He was at my wedding and he gave a speech." Gunn and Fischer had originally met in the St. Louis area through Gunn's brother Sean, who had acted in plays alongside Fischer in high school. After seven years of marriage, Gunn and Fischer announced their separation in a joint statement on September 5, 2007, divorcing in 2008. In 2010, Fischer persuaded Gunn to cast Rainn Wilson, her co-star on The Office, in Gunn's film Super.
Gunn has been in a relationship with actress Jennifer Holland since 2015.
Gunn was raised in a Roman Catholic family and has mentioned how prayer continues to play an important role in his life, but has also said that he is "in some ways, anti-religion". Gunn explained his views in detail in 2016:
My personal take is that there is a role for spirituality in some people's lives and I think that a belief in God can be a good thing for a great amount of people [...] I do not like any sort of faith or religion that is based on exclusivity, meaning any sort of religion that says you're damned to hell or you're not going to be saved because you don't believe the same thing I do. I believe faith and spiritual belief is a very, very personal thing and if I started applying what I believe to everybody else it would be unfair to everybody's individuality and I really hate that.
|1996||Tromeo and Juliet||Associate||Yes||No|
|Dawn of the Dead||No||Yes||No|
|Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed||No||Yes||Yes|
|2006||Slither||Yes||Yes||No||Feature film directorial debut|
|2014||Guardians of the Galaxy||Yes||Yes||No|
|2016||The Belko Experiment||No||Yes||Yes|
|2017||Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2||Yes||Yes||No|
|2018||Avengers: Infinity War||No||No||Executive||Additional dialogue|
|2021||The Suicide Squad||Yes||Yes||No||Pre-production|
|TBA||Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3||Yes||Yes||No||In development|
|2008||Sparky & Mikaela||Yes||Yes||Yes||Web short|
|2013||Beezel||Yes||Yes||No||Segment of Movie 43|
|1996||Tromeo and Juliet||Found a peanut father|
|2000||The Specials||Minute Man|
|Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV||Doctor Flem Hocking|
|2003||Doggie Tails, Vol. 1: Lucky's First Sleep-Over||Riley||Direct-to-video|
|Melvin Goes to Dinner||Scott|
|2014||Guardians of the Galaxy||Maskless Sakaaran, Baby Groot||Also CGI actor in end-credits scene|
|1997–2000||The Tromaville Cafe||Yes||Yes||No||Also creator|
|2008–2009||James Gunn's PG Porn||Yes||Yes||Executive||Web series|
|1997||Sgt. Kabukiman Public Service Announcement||Insane Masturbator||TV short|
|1997–2000||The Tromaville Cafe||Mike the Crazy Boom Guy|
|2008–2009||James Gunn's PG Porn||Various roles|
|2013||Holliston||John Anguish||Episode "Honesty"|
|2015||Con Man||Raaker 2.0||Web series|
|2013||LocoCycle||No||No||No||Yes||Big Arms Chairman|
Awards and nominations
|2005||Bram Stoker Award||Best Screenplay||Dawn of the Dead||Nominated|
|2006||Chainsaw Award||Highest Body Count||Slither||Won|
|2007||Saturn Award||The Filmmakers Showcase Award||Won|
|2014||Golden Raspberry Award||Worst Screenplay (shared with co-writers)||Movie 43||Won|
|Worst Director (shared with co-directors)||Won|
|2015||Writers Guild of America Awards||Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with Nicole Perlman)||Guardians of the Galaxy||Nominated|
|Hollywood Film Awards||Blockbuster of the Year||Won|
|Critics' Choice Awards||Best Action Film||Won|
|Saturn Award||Best Comic-to-Film Motion Picture||Won|
|1998||All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger||with Lloyd Kaufman|
|2000||The Toy Collector|
|2003||Make Your Own Damn Movie: Secrets of a Renegade Director||Introduction only|
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James Gunn '84, filmmaker and screenwriter; Brian Gunn '88, screenwriter; Matt Gunn '90, writer for HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher; Sean Gunn '92, actor.
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Gunn graduated from SLUH in 1984. (Several sources, including IMDb.com, say he was born in 1970, but you do the math.)
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And while he directed the Stan Lee cameo in director Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, he did not direct the Marvel Comics impresario's cameos in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok or Spider-Man: Homecoming. But, he reveals, 'I did do one that I can't talk about.'CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)Additional on May 5, 2017.
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Am I going to have any involvement with Infinity War, yes, I'm an executive producer on Infinity War.
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