Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real Reason We Almost Never Got To See Chaos Walking

When the film Chaos Walking was finally released in theaters earlier this month, it capped a long, arduous road to the screen. Its title could also describe its production, which was marked by disastrous test screenings and extensive reshoots. The film almost didn't make it to release at all, according to CBR.

The sci-fi action-adventure film is based on The Knife of Never Letting Go, a 2008 young adult novel by Patrick Ness that's the first book in a trilogy collectively titled Chaos Walking. It tells the story of a dystopian world where all the women have died and everyone remaining can see and hear everyone else's thoughts, a phenomenon known as "Noise." A young woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley) crash-lands on the planet, and a young man named Todd (Tom Holland) helps her get to safety. 

The story of the film begins in 2011. Lionsgate, attempting to capitalize on the success the studio knew it was about to have with the Hunger Games film franchise, acquired the rights to Ness' novels. Charlie Kaufman, one of America's most idiosyncratic contemporary filmmakers, was hired to write the screenplay, presumably because producers expected he would use his incredible aptitude for externalizing characters' thoughts to find an interesting way to depict Noise. He is not someone whose style is suited for big-budget YA fantasy blockbusters, however, and he only completed the first draft of the script before leaving the project. He confirmed all this in 2016. The script was then tinkered with by a succession of writers — six in total — which is rarely a harbinger of a quality final product. The project finally came together later on in 2016, with The Bourne Identity's Doug Liman directing and then-budding superstars Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley cast as leads.

Chaos Walking was 'unreleasable'

With talent like that involved, it seemed like Chaos Walking might actually turn out all right. It didn't, but it seemed like it might. It was put on the release calendar for March 1, 2019.

The film was shot in 2017. In the spring of 2018, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the film would be undergoing extensive reshoots. Later, The Wall Street Journal reported on why the reshoots needed to happen in the first place: The initial version of Chaos Walking "turned out so poorly it was deemed unreleasable by executives who watched initial cuts last year, according to current and former employees."

Reshoots are common enough in blockbuster filmmaking, but Chaos Walking had the unfortunate problem of having its two stars committed to the biggest movie franchises on the planet. Holland and Ridley's main gigs at the time – Spider-Man: Far From Home and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, respectively — were both filming in the summer of 2018, which meant Chaos Walking's release would have to be pushed to an unknown point in the future. Reshoots on Chaos Walking didn't happen until April 2019. In 2020, Deadline reported that the film was slated for release in January 2021. 

Then the pandemic happened, and the release date got moved around again, finally landing on March 5, almost exactly two years after Chaos Walking was originally slated for release. The film has garnered poor reviews from critics, earning a 21% "rotten" score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed $14 million worldwide against a $100 million budget, per The Numbers. Box office returns hardly tell the whole story these days, but there's no doubt this was a huge loss for Lionsgate.

The fact that the film got completed and released at all after 10 years in the works is a minor miracle. Show business is brutal.