Jon Spaihts ’91 on the set of Passengers.
Courtesy Jon Spaihts ’91

When Jon Spaihts ’91 learned that Warner Bros. had bought his first screenplay, “Shadow 19,” in 2006, he couldn’t believe it. 

“I was lucky enough that it sold, despite it being my first screenplay,” recalls Spaihts, who wrote the script while working as a documentary filmmaker and freelance writer in his native New York City.

“Shadow 19” never became a movie, but it did serve as a calling card for Spaihts, paving the way for scripts for science-fiction/fantasy movies Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers, and, coming in June, a reboot of The Mummy. 

“Some reporter coined the term ‘go-to guy for sci-fi,’ and it stuck,” says Los Angeles-based Spaihts. “High-concept science fiction became my thing” — so much that three films he has written are coming out within an eight-month period. 

Doctor Strange, based on the Marvel Comics character, was released in November. “I saw a notice in Variety that Marvel was talking to directors about a Doctor Strange movie,” Spaihts says. “I called my agent on the spot and asked whether there was a script yet. There wasn’t. I told him to call and tell them they had to see me. And I got in the room before anybody else.” Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Strange made $657.8 million as of early January and is the largest-grossing single-character introduction film for Marvel to date. 

Spaihts’ Passengers, released in December, takes place aboard a spaceship bound for a colony planet with 5,000 people in suspended animation. Unexpectedly, two of the passengers (played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) wake up 90 years early due to a malfunction. 

“I wanted a sci-fi story that broke with the tendency toward dystopian, apocalyptic thinking,” explains Spaihts. “[There are] no aliens, no deadly robots, no sinister conspiracies or armed revolutions. The conflicts come from the fundamental difficulty of the colonial enterprise, the impossible gulfs of space and time involved in interstellar travel.”

The Mummy, which will star Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, is a remake of the 1941 original. It’s also the first installment in a franchise featuring the Universal Monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man; Spaihts is co-writing the screenplay about the vampire hunter Van Helsing, another installment in this series.

“Marvel’s success in making a system of related films that stand alone but bolster one another has galvanized the movie industry,” says Spaihts. “It’s almost a new form, somewhere between classic film and serial television.”