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With The Adam Project, Shawn Levy steps into the spotlight

A few years ago, Shawn Levy would not have been a recognizable name to most moviegoers, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. Coming off one of his biggest successes to date with 2021’s Free Guy, Levy has returned with The Adam Project, another family-friendly, crowd-pleasing genre flick in the same vein as several of his previous films.

On NetflixThe Adam Project successfully captured the streaming service’s No. 1 spot in its opening weekend, and it currently boasts a sturdy 79% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. All signs suggest that The Adam Project is yet another winning directorial outing for Levy, a director and producer whose filmography is becoming steadily more prolific and impressive with every passing year.

Considering his modest origins, Levy’s growing importance in the entertainment industry may come as a surprise to some. However, if youlook at his career up to this point, it becomes clear that the director has been steadily climbing his way up the Hollywood ranks for several decades now.

Humble beginnings

Steve Martin sits next to twins in 2003's Cheaper by the Dozen
20th Century Fox, 2003

Levy earned his first directorial credits in the late 1990s directing episodes of shows like The Secret World of Alex Mack, Animorphs, So Weird, and The Famous Jett Jackson. He also directed a handful of small movies between 1997 and 2002, including Just in Time, Address Unknown, and Jett Jackson: The Movie.

However, in the years that followed that period of his career, Levy began to be entrusted with increasingly bigger projects. Between 2002 and 2006, Levy directed a number of noteworthy studio comedies, including Big Fat Liar, Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, and Just Married. It was during this time that Levy truly began to showcase his talent for making movies that appeal to audiences of all ages. That’s a skill that has continued to pay dividends for the director as his movies began to appeal to more than just a single demographic.

More importantly, those films gave Levy the experience he needed to direct a film in 2006 that would not only pair him up with one of the biggest comedic stars of the 1990s and early 2000s, but would also signify the start of a new era in his filmmaking career.

Entering the franchise arena

Ben Stiller looks down at Roman soldiers in 2006's Night at the Museum.
20th Century Fox, 2006

Two Shawn Levy-directed films hit movie theaters in 2006. The first was The Pink Panther, a Steve Martin-led reboot of the Pink Panther series that received largely negative reviews, but grossed a little over $160 million at the worldwide box office. The film that followed it, Night at the Museum, made a much larger impact when it was released.

Starring Ben Stiller as a man who gets hired to be the security guard at a museum where all of the statues and exhibits come to life, Night at the Museum grossed nearly $575 million in theaters. It was an undeniable success for everyone involved and it spawned not just one, but two sequels. Levy directed those follow-ups as well, and in doing so, established himself as a viable franchise filmmaker in Hollywood.

The success of the first Night at the Museum also opened the door for Levy to begin experimenting outside of the midlevel studio comedy niche he’d previously gotten used to working in. He didn’t let the opportunity pass him by, and in the five years after Night at the Museum’s release, he not only directed the film’s 2009 Smithsonian-set sequel, but also the Tina Fey and Steve Carell-led action-comedy flick Date Night and the underrated 2011 family sci-fi film Real Steel.

Climbing to the top

Hugh Jackman repairs a robot boxer in 2011's Real Steel.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2011

After venturing into the sci-fi and action genres, Levy attempted to return to his more straightforward comedy roots in 2013 and 2014 with The Internship and the ensemble family dramedy This is Where I Leave You. At the end of 2014, he also returned to the franchise he’d created with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Unfortunately, none of those three films were received well by critics or audiences.

Following the release of those three projects, Levy went seven years without directing another film. However, that doesn’t mean those years were unproductive for the writer, director, and producer. In fact, during his break from feature filmmaking, Levy played an integral role in getting Stranger Things made at Netflix by attaching himself to it early on as one of its executive producers. He has since gone on to direct multiple key episodes of the Netflix hit show’s first three seasons.

Levy rode the wave of the Netflix thriller’s success and signed on in 2018 to direct an original sci-fi blockbuster, the Ryan Reynolds-led 2021 action-comedy, Free Guy. The film was Levy’s first since Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, but it earned largely positive reviews from both critics and casual moviegoers alike, and performed exceptionally well at the box office, surpassing nearly everyone’s expectations for it.

Free Guy also marked the first collaboration between Levy and Reynolds, a working relationship that the pair have continued this year with The Adam Project.

A bright future

Ryan Reynolds hugs Zoe Saldaña in The Adam Project.
Doane Gregory/Netflix

Levy’s involvement in titles like Stranger Things, Free Guy, and The Adam Project has made him one of Hollywood’s biggest creative forces. That’ without even mentioning Levy’s extensive behind-the-scenes, non-directorial work, which includes producing everything from well-received sci-fi blockbusters like Arrival (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for producing) and Love & Monsters to noteworthy Netflix originals like Dash & Lily and Shadow and Bone.

The multi-hyphenate creative has had a hand in bringing some truly beloved and popular genre titles to life on both the big and small screen. For that reason, he’s become one of Hollywood’s most formidable and prolific producers and directors, someone who seems to carry almost as much weight nowadays as several of the industry’s other notable multi-hyphenates, like J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg.

Of course, despite his success, Levy has never quite achieved the same level of name recognition as either Abrams or Spielberg. Coming off the releases of Free Guy and The Adam Project though, that’s starting to change. Now, not only is Levy attached to produce and direct a number of exciting original TV shows and movies, he’s also set to reunite with Ryan Reynolds on a little-known blockbuster called Deadpool 3.

With yet another Night at the Museum film in development and a future helming the Merc with a Mouth in the still popular MCU, it seems safe to say that Levy’s popularity will only continue to rise in the coming years.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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