Marvel has tapped Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton for The Kang Dynasty, but what else has he done?
Born in Haiku, Hawaii, the 43-year-old Cretton has come a long way in the past decade. After carving out his name among the independent filmmakers, he burst into the mainstream a year ago when he brought Marvel’s kung-fu master, Shang-Chi, into the contemporary MCU. What could be his biggest challenge is on the horizon after Marvel Studios announced he would direct the next Avengers film, The Kang Dynasty.
Marvel is clearing a path that will lead directly to the time-traveling despot, Kang the Conqueror, played by Jonathan Majors. At San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios announced their full schedule for Phase Five and some major movies in Phase Six. Dubbed The Multiverse Saga, Kang and his variants will be at the center of it all, and his story will culminate with Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Considering that Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame set box office records, Cretton has big shoes to fill as he takes aim at Marvel’s flagship franchise.
With Cretton’s track record for smaller, personal films, we could be in for a unique experience unlike the usual Marvel fare. His movies tend to deal with trauma and tragedy, making him capable of taking the massive scope of The Kang Dynasty and scaling it down to a very human story not unlike what the Russos did for Thanos in Infinity War. Of course, we will still see the excessive special effects extravaganza that is the watermark of practically every superhero film, but Cretton could give us a touching story at the film’s CGI heart.
After the success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Cretton has now been ushered into Marvel’s directing throne room, but it begs the question: what else has he done? Today, we rank all of Cretton’s films based on an average of Rotten Tomatoes’ critic and audience scores.
The Shack (2017)
Critic score: 21%
Audience score: 76%
In 2017, Cretton had two releases for Lionsgate Films. While he wrote and directed The Glass Castle, he was credited only for helping write The Shack. Instead, Stuart Hazeldine stepped into the director’s chair, and the results were highly suspect.
The premise of the movie sounded interesting enough. It stars Sam Worthington as Mack Phillips, a man having a crisis of faith as he struggles with deep depression in the aftermath of an emotionally crippling tragedy. One day, he receives a letter inviting him to come to a mysterious shack in the Oregon wilderness where he can meet God.
Critics mostly despised The Shack, and they rated the movie a dismal 21%. As is often the case, audiences were much more forgiving, and they gave the film a much more pleasant 76%. Despite the added praise from fans, The Shack still ranks last among Cretton’s films, but at least he can’t be completely to blame since he didn’t direct this one.
The Glass Castle (2017)
Critic score: 51%
Audience score: 70%
The first of three movies that saw Cretton work with Brie Larson, he took his indie credibility and style to the more mainstream market with Lionsgate Films for this 2017 drama. Along with Larson, the film also starred Hollywood heavyweights Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. The film is described as the story of “a young girl (who) comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty”.
Despite the all-star cast and the Lionsgate budget, the film generally fell flat with critics, reeling in just 51% positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences appreciated the family drama much more, boosting it to 70%. By no means is this Cretton’s best work, but it scored much better than The Shack, keeping it out of last place.
I Am Not a Hipster (2012)
Critic score: 71%
Audience score: 62%
Before Cretton earned critical respect with Short Term 12, he was continuing his success of independent films. This one, however, didn’t exactly hit the mark with critics or audiences, saddling it with an average score of 66.5%. Then again, this is the case for many smaller, quirky films that can be hit or miss with the viewers.
Starring Dominic Bogart, I Am Not a Hipster is the story of singer/songwriter Brook Hyde, who is an underground star of the San Diego independent music scene. When he is faced with tragedy, it becomes an emotional tale of Brook’s ordeal not only in his songwriting but also how he deals with the events.
Just Mercy (2019)
Critic score: 85%
Audience score: 99%
Following the critical success of the independent drama, Short Term 12, both Cretton’s writing and directing talent were on full display again in his 2019 film. This time, instead of keeping on the indy scene, he had the larger budget from Warner Bros. Once again, Cretton is paired with Brie Larson, who is joined by Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan in an all-star cast. For his part, Foxx won a Screen Actors Guild award for his work on Just Mercy.
The film went on to gross $36 million, which was $11 million over its reported budget. Once again, it showed Hollywood that Cretton could not only tackle social justice issues but make them profitable.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Critic score: 91%
Audience score: 98%
When Marvel Studios announced that Cretton would write and direct Shang-Chi’s first foray into the MCU, most fans were caught off guard. He had yet to truly step into the mainstream spotlight, but he quickly turned heads with his epic tale of superheroes blended with Chinese fantasy and folklore. It has been one of the highlights of Marvel’s Phase Four movies with a different tone than its recent MCU counterparts.
By far, this is audiences’ favorite Cretton movie, and it clearly landed him the directing job for The Kang Dynasty. It didn’t hurt that Shang-Chi grossed over $200 million domestically. The bar will be raised for Cretton’s first Avengers film, and the Marvel/Disney executives are likely aiming for much larger profits. After all, the last Avengers film, 2019’s Endgame, took home over $850 million in the United States alone. Worldwide, it brought $2.79 billion. While we can’t expect TKD to earn those record profits, no doubt Marvel will expect huge numbers.
Short Term 12 (2013)
Critic score: 98%
Audience score: 92%
Although Shang-Chi may be Cretton’s most famous film, it’s not his highest rated, at least not according to Rotten Tomatoes. Based on the average score, Short Term 12 narrowly squeaks by Shang-Chi by 0.5% for the director’s top film. Of course, it was the amazingly high critical rating that pushed it into the lead. Audiences still gave it high marks, but the reviewers absolutely fell in love with this 2013 drama that Cretton both wrote and directed.
This was a much smaller release without the spectacle of Marvel’s massive scale and CGI. That being said, it reportedly grossed a modest $1 million at the domestic box office. Still, the star-studded cast alone is enough to encourage you to find it on a streaming platform. Although the film didn’t receive any Academy Awards nominations, Short Term 12 was draped in critical praise and numerous nominations and awards across the globe.