If you were to write lists of directors, writers and actors that have helped mold modern-day filmmaking, very few would make it into all three categories. Jon Favreau, however, would top all of them. For nearly 30 years, Favreau has reigned in Hollywood both on and off screen: his face is familiar and his sundry talent is unmatched, while his filmography even has its own Wikipedia page — in today's culture, that means you’re a pretty big deal. If there were to be just one word to describe Jon Favreau, it would be "prolific."
The artists that comprise the film community tend to find their niche and stick with it —Tarantino clings to his nonlinear storylines, Anderson’s films have incredibly distinct visuals and Shyamalan loves plot twist.
But Favreau? Favreau does it all.
Throughout the '90s and early 2000s, Favreau was in several popular films, including Rudy (1993), Batman Forever (1995), Very Bad Things (1998), Rocky Marciano (1999) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003). He made notable cameos both as Eric the Clown in Seinfeldand as Pete Becker in Friends, which are only small parts of his extensive list of TV appearances, like The Sopranos, Family Guy, The King of Queens, My Name is Earl, Monk and Robot Chicken. Not to mention, he’s guest-directed numerous shows, including an episode of The Office.
However, Favreau is much more than just a “random appearance” actor in popular sitcoms and his talent was evident far before film’s recent superhero boom. Regardless of his popularity, Jon Favreau remains an under-appreciated part of the entertainment world. Sure, he has a couple Saturn Awards under his belt and is set to be honored with a Visual Effects Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. But Favreau has never won an Oscar or a Golden Globe, despite his role has a centric figure in the industry.
Favreau’s big break came in 1996 when he wrote, produced, and starred in Doug Liman’s comedy-drama Swingers. Upon release The New York Times called it “irresistible” and even today, the film holds down an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Favreau has said the film’s success rode the wave of swing/lounge popularity, but it’s clear the film has stood the test of time and holds much more significance than just a quotable cult classic. Swingers wasn’t just a lucky break for Favreau, it was a springboard into his dominating career.
Not until 2001 did Favreau come back to write, direct, produce, and star in the film Made with Vince Vaughn. Made didn’t quite receive the praise that Swingers did, but it did showcase Favreau’s ability to tackle a more complex story on his own. By this point, Favreau’s resume consisted of a lot of sitcom appearances and two major films alongside friend Vince Vaughn. On and off camera, one could have typecast Favreau as a comical buddy-type writer and character — until he landed the job of directing the hit Elf (2003).
Elf is where Favreau’s career took a huge turn. Not only did it have a nice budget and renowned cast, but it appealed to a large audience that included men, women and children. An audience that large is not always easy to lock down. Favreau managed to make Elf widely successful and the film has become something of a Christmas classic.
From there, he exploded into the mega-director we know today when he directed Iron Man (2008) and managed to cast the infamous Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. He continued to knock out blockbusters like Iron Man 2 (2010) and Cowboys & Aliens (2011). He’s also lent his hand as a producer for films such as The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), as well as two more Avengers films set for 2018 and 2019 releases.
Since 2008, Favreau has immersed himself in big productions — films that require incredibly detailed special effects and musical scores written by renowned composers. Favreau had found what could have easily become his own place in the directorial realm, but instead of falling into the trap he decided to shake things up and return to what he does best. Almost twenty years after the release of Swingers, he (once again) returned to his roots to write, direct, and star in Chef:
Though he did indeed return to his roots, Favreau’s approach dramatically changed by the time Chef was released. He was given a much larger sum of money for production and the cast was comprised of stars — a sharp contrast to Swingers' lesser known cast of the time. Chef’s lineup included Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, with supporting chararcters by Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr.
What seemed to be a project in the midst of his major superhero career, Chef was an easy knockout: easy to write, easy to make, and easy to cast. Heartwarming and indie, Favreau took a hard turn from Marvel madness and showed how diverse his talents are as a director and writer.
One of the best examples of Favreau’s abilities, though, is his recent undertaking of reimagining Disney’s The Jungle Book (2016). Once again comprised of a star-studded cast, The Jungle Book received incredibly positive reviews and has set him up to take on a live-action version of The Lion King, set to release in 2019.
Simply put: Jon Favreau is one of the few directors capable of creating a diverse resume of films that span across multiple genres. His abilities are taken for granted, but deserving of so much more. He’s not just worthy of an Oscar: he’s completely overdue for one.
Favreau’s low-budget comedy-dramas reach through the screen and tug right at your heart, while his big-budget dramatic superhero films will keep you on the edge of your seat. Even his Christmas film has made its way into your holiday rotation of movies.
Jon Favreau has somehow been a part of just about every popular TV show of the past 20 years, he's been a prominent part of the revival of major superhero films and he practically brought Robert Downey Jr.’s career back from the grave.
And the best part? He’s not done yet.
Brittany K. King is a Chicago-based writer and founder of Film Daddy. She spends most of her time avoiding saying the word ‘gyro’ out loud.
Follow Brittany on Twitter @brittanykking.