Birthdate: August 5, 1966
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
James Gunn (birthname: James Francis Gunn Jr.) is the rare Hollywood player who began his career in exploitation, shifted into hit-making franchise filmmaking as writer-director, and rose to co-chair a studio. Gunn began his career in the unlikely position of assisting Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman, an impresario of unabashed, beloved genre trash.
Gunn was co-screenwriter (with director Kaufman) and associate producer of Troma’s Tromeo and Juliet (1997), made on a budget of $350,000. Gunn’s first non-Troma project was as screenwriter (and an actor with his brother Sean) of The Specials (2000), with Thomas Haden Church, Rob Lowe, Jamie Kennedy, and Judy Greer. Gunn’s Hollywood breakthrough was as the screenwriter of Warner Bros.’s big-screen version of Scooby-Doo (2002), starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Rowan Atkinson, and grossing a big $275.7 million.
The success spawned a sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), on which Gunn was screenwriter and co-producer, with new cast members Seth Green, Peter Boyle, Tim Blake Nelson, and Alicia Silverstone, and earning a mighty box office return of $181 million on an estimated $50 million budget. James Gunn’s first screenplay collaboration with Zack Snyder (as director) was the remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead (2004), with Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Mekhi Phifer, and grossing a healthy $102.3 million worldwide gross on a $26 million budget. Less successful (only $12.8 million return on $15 million costs) was Gunn’s debut as writer-director, the horror comedy, Slither (2006), with Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, and Michael Rooker.
James Gunn’s second writing-directing feature, the black-comic superhero comedy, Super (2010), was no more successful commercially ($594,000 worldwide), but further established his name as an interesting genre filmmaker, with Ted Hope as a producer, the Toronto Film Festival as a premiere launchpad, IFC Midnight as distributor, and an eclectic cast including Rainn Wilson, Elliot Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Henry, and Rooker.
Gunn made an explosive rise to the top of the MCU filmmaking ladder with his sensational, hilarious third writing-directing franchise-starter, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)—which some rank as the best MCU feature—and co-starring a vivid ensemble including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro, and grossing a whopping $773.3 million on an estimated $200 million budget, and spawning several sequels written and directed by Gunn—including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, grossing a strong $869 million), with new cast member Kurt Russell, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023), with Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova, and Sylvester Stallone.
Gunn returned to screenwriting and producing, this time for director Greg McLean, on the horror movie, The Belko Experiment (2016), with John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, and Rooker. James Gunn jumped from Marvel Studios to DC Films as writer-director for the DC Extended Universe movie, The Suicide Squad (2021), with Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Stallone, and Viola Davis, but failed to make a profit with only $168 million returns on $185 million costs.
James Gunn was named as co-CEO of DC Studios (with his producer Peter Safran) in 2022 and soon set his next DC project as director-writer of Superman: Legacy (2025), which Gunn based on the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely 2005-2008 comic book series, All-Star Superman, and which would not include former Superman actor Henry Cavill. As a producer, Gunn has shepherded the modestly budgeted horror movie, Brightburn (2019), with Elizabeth Banks, and earning $33 million globally; Gunn also produced—as well as co-wrote the story with Jeremy Slater and Samy Burch--the Warner Bros. live-action/animated Coyote vs. Acme (2023), with John Cena and Will Forte.
Gunn also supervised or was involved in several DC Comics projects slated for production in 2023 and 2024, including spinoffs of DC’s Batman and Supergirl properties. In a related Batman project, Gunn’s major 2024 feature as an executive producer is the much-anticipated sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux (2024), starring Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga and directed by Todd Phillips.
James Gunn was born and raised by father James Gunn Sr. (attorney) and mother Leota in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Manchester, Missouri. Gunn has one sister, Beth, and four brothers, including writer-actor Matthew Gunn, actor Sean Gunn, actor-producer-screenwriter Brian Gunn, and Patrick Gunn. By age 12, James Gunn was making his own Super-8 home movies, featuring his brothers being gutted by zombies. Gunn graduated from Jesuit St. Louis University High School in 1984 and then attended St. Louis University, where he earned a B.A. degree and contributed political cartoons to the student newspaper.
Gunn also studied film at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles but dropped out. Nearly ten years later, Gunn studied fiction and prose writing at Columbia University’s School of Fine Arts, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1995. Gunn was married to actor Jenna Fischer from 2000 to 2007 when the couple divorced; Gunn was re-married in 2022 to actor Jennifer Holland, whom he had been dating since 2015. Gunn’s height is 6’. Gunn’s estimated net wealth is $50 million.
What’s in a Name?: James Gunn has noted that the origins of his family name are the Irish name MacGilgunn, which means “sons of the brown youth.”
Rocker: Gunn founded and did lead vocals for the St. Louis band, The Icons, which released a 1994 album, Mom, We Like It Here on Earth, and soon after broke up.
Book Writer: James Gunn’s novel, The Toy Collector, was published in 2000; he also co-authored a book with his mentor, Lloyd Kaufman, titled All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger, published in 1998.