The History of the ‘Spy vs Spy’ Movie

The long-gestating adaptation of Antonio Prohia’s comics has a new director, but some interesting filmmakers have come and gone in the past.
Spy Vs Spy
By  · Published on May 1st, 2020

The Spy vs. Spy comic strip has been a regular fixture in Mad magazine for almost sixty years. In that time, the two identical birdlike espionage agents — Black Spy and White Spy — have also featured in video games and cartoons, but a live-action big-screen adaptation has continually eluded the warring duo. However, that could all finally change, if new developments go according to plan.

According to Collider, Rawson Marshall Thurber is in talks to direct the movie for Warner Bros. and Imagine Entertainment. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are on board as producers, which makes sense as they’ve been attached to the project since its inception. It remains to be seen if Dwayne Johnson will star, but that wouldn’t be surprising as he’s Thurber’s go-to guy.

If you’re unfamiliar with the comics, they revolve around the titular spies as they try to one-up each other during various missions. They consist of the duo planting booby-traps and performing other violent gags, usually involving weapons. Interestingly, the comics are also wordless, which makes me wonder if this adaptation will be a silent film. It probably won’t be, but that could be cool.

The Spy vs. Spy film was officially announced in 2011. At the time, the plan was for Howard to take the reins, with Premium Rush’s John Kamp handling scripting duties. The project seemed years away from taking shape, however. Howard was focused on bringing The Dark Tower to the screen as a film franchise and television series, and he also was working on his racing biopic, Rush. At the end of the day, he was just too swamped for Spy vs. Spy.

Hopefully, a similar fate won’t befall Thurber. Before the director can move on to Spy vs. Spy, he needs to complete Red Notice for Netflix. The good news is that he’s already started shooting the action blockbuster, so perhaps he’ll move straight on to Spy vs. Spy afterward. Thurber is a great choice to helm this one, as he has a solid track record when it comes to delivering enjoyable and successful action-comedies.

That said, while this iteration of the film has been in development for almost a decade, interest in making an adaptation can be traced all the way back to 1999. According to James Gunn, he wrote a script for Jay Roach to direct back then. There were rumors of Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans playing Black Spy and White Spy respectively, even though Gunn wrote the script with Nicolas Cage and Eddie Murphy in mind.

While Gunn’s “outrageous” script never got made, it did lead to his leaving Tromaville for the bright lights of mainstream Hollywood. Warner Bros. was impressed with his work on the unrealized project, so the studio let him write the live-action Scooby-Doo movie, and the rest is history. Gunn hasn’t discussed his Spy vs. Spy script often, but he did previously state that it resulted in him turning down the opportunity to write a Silver Surfer movie.

It’s a shame that Gunn and Roach’s movie never made it to the screen. In 1999, Gunn was still in his edgy B-movie phase, and an adaptation of a comic such as this one would have appealed to his zany and wild sensibilities. Roach had also established himself as the king of funny spy movies, as evidenced by the Austin Powers flicks.

All of that is in the past, however. Right now, the long-gestating movie appears to be moving forward with a new director — and a good one at that. If the film lives up to its potential, Spy vs. Spy will be one entertaining, wacky ride.

The movie, as silly as it will undoubtedly be, might also be very smart and biting. The original comics are rife with political satire, often taking aim at America’s involvement in wars. Given that there’s still plenty of real-life drama to comment on, don’t be surprised if the movie pokes fun at current affairs.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.