Sex Education, Spy Kids: Armageddon and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar are among the high-profile new projects debuting on Netflix in September.
Sex Education‘s fourth and final season will start streaming on Sept. 21, with action shifting from the closed Moordale Secondary to the progressive Cavendish College and Emma Mackey’s Maeve in America. Creator Laurie Nunn said that as the writers were working on season four “it became clear that this was the right time to graduate.” The final season sees the return of stars Asa Butterfield, Ncuti Gatwa, Aimee Lou Wood, Dua Saleh, Mimi Keene, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Chinenye Ezeudu. Gillian Anderson will also return as Otis’ (Butterfield) sex therapist mom. But the new settings bring fresh faces in Anthony Lexa, Felix Mufti and Alexandra James, who make up the popular group, The Coven; a rival sex therapist for Otis, named O (Thaddea Graham); and Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy, who joins Maeve’s world in the U.S.
The fifth installment of the Spy Kids franchise introduces a new generation of secret agents as two kids, played by Everly Carganilla and Connor Esterson, have to become spies like their parents, played by Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, in order to save the world from a game developer’s powerful computer virus. Director Robert Rodriguez teamed up with son Racer Max to co-write the latest film, saying in part “It’s been very exciting for me and my kids to work on this film together as a family, for other families to enjoy.”
And Netflix jumps into the world of Roald Dahl, after acquiring the author’s catalog in a blockbuster deal in 2021, with four shorts dropping at the end of this month. The series of films, all directed by Wes Anderson, begins with Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar on Sept. 27, followed by The Swan (Sept. 28), The Rat Catcher (Sept. 29) and Poison (Sept. 30). The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, based on Dahl’s 1977 story of the same name, sees Cumberbatch play a wealthy man who tries to learn how to see without using his eyes as a gambling technique. The short — also starring Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Friend and Richard Ayoade — had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where The Hollywood Reporter‘s Leslie Felperin called the film “small but perfectly crafted.”
Later this month, the streamer will add four-part docuseries Encounters. The show, produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television in partnership with Boardwalk Pictures and Vice Studios, tells firsthand stories of experiences with otherworldly phenomena, with each episode devoted to a different sighting across the globe, including strange lights over the sky in Texas and an alien encounter in Zimbabwe.
At the end of the month, music video director Grant Singer makes his feature debut with the crime thriller Reptile, starring Justin Timberlake, Benicio del Toro and Alicia Silverstone, the latter two reuniting after 1997’s Excess Baggage. In Reptile, del Toro’s Tom tries to uncover the truth behind the brutal murder of a young real estate agent, with her boyfriend Will (Timberlake) quickly becoming the prime suspect. In her review of the murder mystery, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival, THR‘s arts and culture critic Lovia Gyarkye, says Singer “crowds Reptile with gripping sequences, suspenseful moments, dramatic pauses and surprising levity — elements that, despite their overuse, keep the audience on edge and strategically blur the lines between dreams and reality.”
And Netflix returns to the tent with the start of a new season of The Great British Baking Show on Sept. 29. This year, new host Alison Hammond joins Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Noel Fielding.
Other projects coming to Netflix this September include Love Is Blind season five and Power Rangers: Cosmic Fury, which will feature the return of Blue Ranger Billy (played by David Yost after he returned in the Once and Always anniversary special.)
Earlier this month, Netflix added movies Don’t Worry Darling, Love at First Sight, El Conde, Fences, Field of Dreams, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Arrival, Baby Mama, Hacksaw Ridge, Love Again, Matilda, Miss Congeniality, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Stand by Me, Superbad, Up in the Air, Vice, The Wolf of Wall Street, both Anchorman movies and the Jaws franchise.
And the streamer has added new seasons of Love Is Blind: After the Alter, S.W.A.T., Top Boy, Virgin River, Selling the OC and the docuseries Wrestlers as well as past HBO miniseriesBand of Brothers and The Pacific.
Read on for the complete list of titles hitting Netflix this September.
Sept. 1 Arrival Baby Mama Couples Retreat A Day and a Half Disenchantment: Part 5 Don’t Worry Darling 8 Mile Fast Times at Ridgemont High Fences Field of Dreams Friday Night Plan Hacksaw Ridge Happy Ending Jaws Jaws 2 Jaws 3 Jaws: The Revenge Kung Fu Panda 2 Land of the Lost Love is Blind: After the Altar: Season 4 Matilda Miss Congeniality National Security One Piece Adventure of Nebulandia One Piece Episode of East blue – Luffy and His Four Crewmates’ Great Adventure One Piece Episode of Skypiea One Piece Film: Gold One Piece Heart of Gold One Piece: 3D2Y – Overcome Ace’s Death! Luffy’s Vow to His Friends Public Enemies S.W.A.T.: Season 6 Stand by Me Superbad U-571 Up in the Air Vice Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit Woody Woodpecker
Sept. 2 Love Again
Sept. 3 Crank Crank 2: High Voltage Is She the Wolf?
Sept. 5 Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Shane Gillis: Beautiful Dogs
Sept. 6 Infamy Predators Reporting For Duty Scout’s Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America 6ixtynin9 The Series Tahir’s House
Sept. 7 Dear Child GAMERA -Rebirth- Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight: Season 3 Top Boy: Season 3 Virgin River: Season 5 What If
Sept. 8 A Time Called You Burning Body Pokémon: To be a Pokémon Master: Ultimate Journeys: The Series: Part 1 Rosa Peral’s Tapes Selling The OC: Season 2 Spy Ops
Sept. 12 Glow Up: Season 5 Michelle Wolf: It’s Great to Be Here The Wolf of Wall Street
Sept. 13 Class Act Freestyle Wrestlers
Sept. 14 Barbie – A Touch of Magic: Season 1 Ehrengard: The Art of Seduction Once Upon a Crime Thursday’s Widows
Sept. 15 Ancient Aliens: Seasons 6-7 Band of Brothers The Club: Part 2 El Conde Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons: Season 7 Intervention: Season 22 Love at First Sight Miseducation The Pacific Surviving Summer: Season 2 Wipeout Part 1
Sept. 16 My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Sept. 18 My Little Pony: Make Your Mark: Chapter 5
Sept. 19 Kountry Wayne: A Woman’s Prayer The Saint of Second Chances
Sept. 20 Hard Broken Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal: Season 2 New Amsterdam: Season 5
Sept. 21 KENGAN ASHURA: Season 2 Scissor Seven: Season 4 Sex Education: Season 4
Sept. 22 The Black Book How To Deal With a Heartbreak Love Is Blind: Season 5 Spy Kids: Armageddon
Sept. 25 Little Baby Bum: Music Time
Sept. 26 Who Killed Jill Dando?
Sept. 27 Encounters Overhaul Street Flow 2 The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Sept. 28 Castlevania: Nocturne The Darkness within La Luz del Mundo Love is in the Air The Swan
Sept. 29 Choona Do Not Disturb Great British Baking Show Nowhere Power Rangers Cosmic Fury The Rat Catcher Reptile
New Animated Movies Coming to Netflix in 2023, 2024 and Beyond – What’s on Netflix
Pictures via Netflix / Illustration by What’s on Netflix
A host of new Netflix Original animated feature films are set to arrive throughout the remainder of 2023, into 2024, and beyond. Below is our comprehensive list of all the animated movies coming soon to Netflix.
Below, we’ll look at their big slate of movies, either confirmed for 2023, 2024, or in development, and keep this post bookmarked as we’ll keep it updated as time goes on.
Featured Videos – Article Continues Below…
Also, don’t forget those in the United States will be treated to all the Netflix Original animated feature films listed below and the entire output of DreamWorks, Illumination, and Sony Pictures Animation.
Before digging in, we want to update you on a few animated feature films that are no longer being developed. Escape from Hat we can confirm, is no longer in development at all at Netflix. High in the Clouds is still in development but no longer tied to Netflix.
Animated Movies Confirmed for Netflix in Fall 2023
Director: Robert Smigel, Robert Marianetti, David Wachtenheim Cast: Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Rob Schneider, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Jackie Sandler
Previously set up at STX Entertainment, Adam Sandler leads the voice cast for this new animated feature film about a 74-year-old lizard Leo, who has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his terrarium mate turtle.
Chicken Run 2: Dawn of the Nugget
Director: Sam Fell Studio: Aardman Animation
Coming to Netflix: December 15th, 2023
Picture: Aardman Animation
If you can believe it, it’ll have been 23 years since DreamWorks released the original Chicken Run by the time this sequel comes out.
Now, an all-star cast comes together for a new entry. Among the voice cast for the new entry include Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones), Zachary Levi (Chuck), and Thandiwe Newton (Westworld).
Here’s what you can expect from the new entry:
“When Ginger and Rocky hatch a little girl called Molly, Ginger’s happy ending seems complete. But back on the mainland the whole of chicken-kind faces a new and terrible threat. For Ginger and her team – even if it means putting their own hard-won freedom at risk – this time, they’re breaking in!”
The Bad Guys Holiday Special
Following the 2022 animated DreamWorks movie, Netflix is set to release a holiday special set just before the events of the movie.
Here’s what you can expect:
“There’s nothing the Bad Guys love more than Christmas morning — because while everyone is home opening presents, it’s the perfect time to execute their city-wide holiday heist. But when Christmas is unexpectedly canceled, the Bad Guys must do the unthinkable: reignite the city’s holiday spirit by giving instead of taking.”
It’s unclear whether the new animated special will be coming to Netflix globally or whether it’ll be labeled as a Netflix Original, but we do know it’s releasing in 2023 (almost certainly sometime between November and December).
New Animated Movies Coming to Netflix in 2024
In Your Dreams
Director: Alex Woo
Kuko Studios (Go! Go! Cory Carson) and Sony Picture Animation are behind this new animated feature film with Alex Woo.
Per Netflix, here’s what you can expect:
“A perfect family? Siblings who get along? Yeah… in your dreams. This is a comedy adventure about Stevie and her brother Elliot who magically travel into the world of dreams with the mission of finding The Sandman who will grant them their ultimate wish — saving their parents’ marriage. The kids are total opposites, making them an unlikely duo to navigate the absurdity of their own subconscious. Along their journey, they discover that as long as they have each other, they can face anything, even their worst nightmare.”
Gregg Taylor and Tim Hahn to produce, with Erik Benson serving as co-director.
Orion and the Dark
Director: Sean Charmatz Writer: Charlie Kaufman Cast: Jacob Tremblay and Paul Walter Hauser
Acquired from DreamWorks Animation, this movie is based on the book by Emma Yarlett. It tells the story of a young elementary school kid with a complex personality but, most importantly, is afraid of the dark, with the dark manifesting into a creature and paying him a visit. Can he overcome his fear? You’ll find out in 2024.
Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie
Director: Liza Johnson Cast: Carolyn Lawrence, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Doug Lawrence, Clancy Brown, Mary Jo Catlett, Jill Talley, Craig Robinson, Grey Griffin, Johnny Knoxville, Loretta Devine, Wanda Sykes
Rumored to be in development for years, a Sandy Spongebob movie spin-off was originally headed to Netflix in 2023 but will now hit the service in 2024.
Per Netflix, here’s what you can expect from the live-action and animated hybrid movie:
“Bikini Bottom has been stolen! Sandy Cheeks and SpongeBob watch in disbelief as everyone’s favorite town is scooped out of the ocean by a sinister, mysterious company. Now, Sandy and SpongeBob must go on an epic quest to Sandy’s home state of Texas and enlist her family to help save Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs and the rest of the gang before time runs out.”
Studio: Locksmith Animation Country of Origin: United Kingdom Director: Simon Otto Producer: Nicole P. Hearon, Adam Tandy Writer: Richard Curti
This new animated feature film set around Christmas is based on the children’s books by Richard Curtis.
Here’s what you can expect from the story:
“That Christmas follows a series of entwined tales about love and loneliness, family and friends, and Santa Claus making a big mistake, not to mention an enormous number of turkeys!”
The new movie is expected to arrive in December 2024.
Thelma the Unicorn
Director: Jared Hess, Lynn Wang Producer: Pam Coats
When a rare pink and glitter-filled moment of fate makes Thelma the Pony’s wish of being a unicorn come true, she rises to instant international pop-superstar stardom, but at an unexpected cost. Thelma the Unicorn is a joyful story about learning to love who you are… even if you don’t have sparkles.
Director: Shannon Tindle and John Aoshima Studio: Industrial Light & Magic, Netflix Animation and Tsuburaya Productions
Verging more into the anime territory is a new animated movie on the beloved Japanese superhero.
The creator of Netflix’s Lost Ollie is behind this new feature film, which is about a superstar baseball player returning to Japan to carry on the legacy of being Ultraman.
Directors: Nick Park and Merlin Crossingham. Studio: Aardman Animation
The duo of Wallace & Gromit first graced British screens in 1989 and has seen numerous spin-offs, series, and feature films since, but now they’re headed back to the big screen.
The BBC will distribute the movie in the United Kingdom and Netflix everywhere else.
The film “sees Gromit becoming concerned that Wallace is a little too dependent on his inventions. When Wallace’s “Smart Gnome” develops a mind of its own, it falls to Gromit to battle sinister forces and save his master…or Wallace may never be able to invent again!”
This title has been confirmed to come to Netflix in 2024, although we’re expecting some updates publicly in 2023.
New Animated Movies Coming to Netflix in 2025
Studio: Netflix Animation and Jellyfish Pictures
Originally set to be a Netflix Original series, The Twits was later retooled as a movie. What’s on Netflix was the first to report that Ralph Breaks the Internet writer Phil Johnston, would be attached to the project, with that confirmation coming in September 2023.
Here’s the premise of the new movie:
“Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the meanest, smelliest, nastiest people in the world who also happen to own and operate the most disgusting, most dangerous, most idiotic amusement park in the world, Twitlandia.”
Undated Netflix Original Animated Movies in Development
Please note: any titles listed below are subject to change.
Studio: Netflix Animation Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez
Announced in March 2022 is the new animated feature film from the director of Netflix’s excellent mini-series Maya and the Three. It’ll feature Gabriel Iglesias and is about a young Chacho who wears a wrestling mask to become a legendary fighter.
K-Pop: Demon Hunters
Studio: Sony Animation
Picture: Sony Pictures Animation
Originally set for a theatrical release, we learned in 2022 that K-Pop: Demon Hunters is bound for Netflix. That has seemingly been confirmed by Sony’s movie chief, who says the movie will be direct-to-streaming.
Here’s what we know about the upcoming movie:
“The story of a world-renowned K-Pop girl group, as they balance their lives in the spotlight with their secret identities as bad-ass demon hunters, set against a colorful backdrop of fashion, food, style, and the most popular music movement of this generation.”
Onyeka And The Academy Of The Sun
Studios: Westbrook Studios
Picture: Tolá Okogwu
First announced in February 2022, this new movie comes from the production company helmed by Will Smith with David Oyelowo to also produce.
The story is about a teenager who discovers that she has superpowers and then travels to Nigeria to learn more about her origins. There, she found a threat to her newfound magical community.
Director: Gurinder Chadha Studios: Bend It Films, Hyde Park Entertainment
This animated musical movie tells the tale of an Indian-American girl who rediscovers her heritage via a magical pashmina.
The movie was announced back in early 2019.
Alongside the announcement, Ashok Amritraj said: “Pashmina is a wonderful coming-of-age story that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, and one that I believe Netflix families around the world will enjoy experiencing together.”
Director: Alyce Tzue Studio: Netflix Animation
First announced in March 2021, this new musical animated feature film will come from Amy Poehler’s production company, Paper Kite Productions.
In a spin on the classic Cinderella story, two stepsisters are overlooked for marriage by the Prince and embark on an epic journey, realizing that their own perfect fairytales might be different from what they originally thought.
Director: Unknown Studio: Unknown
Based on Lupita Nyong’o’s children’s book, this animated comedy was first announced in February 2021.
Sulwe has the darkest skin in her family and in her school. She wishes for her skin to be lighter, but through a supernatural experience, she comes to love her dark skin color.
The Buried Giant
Director: Guillermo Del Toro Writer: Dennis Kelly
Guillermo del Toro at the EE BAFTA’s – Image Credit: Getty Images
Based on the book of the same name from author Kazuo Ishiguro, this new animated movie is set in a fantasy medieval England and follows a family searching for their lost son.
The Family Treehorn
Director: Ron Howard Studio: Animal Logic
Also known as The Shrinking Of Treehorn, this movie based on the book by Florence Parry Heide was acquired from Paramount Animation and produced by Netflix’s internal studio, Animal Logic.
The movie is Ron Howard’s first animated feature film and is about a young man who begins shrinking in size after playing a strange board game, which goes largely unnoticed by his parents.
Director: Patrick Osborne Studio: Blur Studio, Dark Horse Entertainment
One way or another, this animated feature film based on the comic has been in development for over a decade starting its life as a Kickstarter project.
In the summer of 2022, it was announced that Netflix would pick up the title and distribute the movie, with the studio behind Love, Death and Robots working on the feature film.
The Sea Beast 2
Studio: Netflix Animation Director: Chris Williams
Following the release of The Sea Beast in 2022, the movie became one of Netflix’s biggest animated hits and will be returning for a sequel.
The Witcher: Sirens of the Deep
Studio: Studio Mir
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf
Following the success of The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, released in 2021, the team behind that entry is working on a brand-new animated movie called Sirens of the Deep.
The new movie is expected to adapt Andrzej Sapkowski’s short story A Little Sacrifice.
The Witch Boy
Studio: Vertigo Entertainment Director: Minkyu Lee (although reportedly no longer)
Based on the graphic novels by Molly Know Ostertag, this animated movie is being produced by Vertigo Entertainment (The Lego Movie), with HAIM involved in the soundtrack.
In a secret, magical community where girls are born to be witches and boys grow into shapeshifters, Aster is surprised to discover his emerging and extraordinary witch powers. When a mysterious danger threatens his world, Aster must embark on a journey to uncover the truth behind himself, his powers, and everything magical.
Producer: Dan Lin Executive Producer: Ryan Halprin Writer: Jennifer Celotta
Rideback (the team behind Netflix’s upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender) is working on a new animated feature focusing on Trees.
Untitled Steve Box Animated Film
Director: Steve Box Studio: SUPERPROD Animation Country of Origin: France
Steve Box is behind the beloved Wallace & Gromit feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were Rabbit and will be bringing a new yet-to-be-titled feature film to Netflix.
Here’s the premise of the new film:
“Struggling to feed themselves with the proceeds of their ever-inventive, but low-yield heists, Tibbles and his rag-tag gang of stray cats are forced to go undercover to pull of the biggest heist of their lives, posing as the thing they most despise – the pampered pets of suburbia.”
A few notes to round out this article. First, let’s run through a few titles that are expected to come to Netflix but have limited information:
TORONTO (September 18, 2023) – Treachery, trickery, and disloyalty. This is one murder mystery to die for. CTV announced today the cast for its new original unscripted competition series THE TRAITORS CANADA. Hosted by award-winning actress Karine Vanasse (CARDINAL), 20 of Canada’s most cunning contestants, a mix of famous faces and everyday Canadians, play the ultimate murder mystery game for a chance to win a cash prize of up to $100,000. As previously announced, THE TRAITORS CANADA anchors CTV’s fall lineup, airing Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app, beginning Oct. 2.
Living in a historic manor in the Montréal area, the 20 players compete in a series of missions with the goal of building and winning the cash prize fund. The catch? Hidden amongst the Faithful contestants are Traitors, who attempt to deceive, manipulate, and eliminate the Faithful and claim the prize for themselves instead of sharing it amongst the group. Cloaked under the cover of darkness, the devious Traitors murder the Faithful one by one in a treacherous spree while the players try to uncover the Traitors and banish them from the game. If the Faithful contestants banish all Traitors, they will share the final prize, but if a Traitor makes it to the end, they get to walk away with all the money. In this psychological adventure of prize-building challenges, savage accusations, and diabolical murders, will the Traitors be unmasked in time?
The 20 players set to compete and deceive each other on Season 1 of THE TRAITORS CANADA are:
Collin Johnson (he/him) Age: 37 Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ont. Occupation: Transit Operator
Melissa Allder (she/her) Age: 49 Hometown: London, Ont. Occupation: Educator, High School Teacher / ESL Learning Coordinator
Melissa Best (she/her) Age: 35 Hometown: St. John’s, Nfld. Occupation: Realtor
Mickey Henry (he/him) Age: 34 Hometown: Bala, Ont. Occupation: CFO / THE AMAZING RACE CANADA (Season 2) winner
Mike D’Urzo (he/him) Age: 39 Hometown: Toronto Occupation: Magician/Mentalist
Miss Fiercalicious (she/her in drag; he/him/they out of drag) Age: 27 Hometown: Toronto Occupation: Drag Performer / CANADA’S DRAG RACE (Season 3)
Dr. Nazila Dehghani (she/her) Age: 47 Hometown: Newmarket, Ont. Occupation: Dentist/Doctor of Dental Surgery
Rick Campanelli, a.k.a. “Rick The Temp” (he/him) Age: 53 Hometown: Burlington, Ont. Occupation: Former MuchMusic VJ and Radio Host / TV Personality
Travon Smith (he/him) Age: 28 Hometown: Toronto Occupation: Public Relations Specialist
On the series premiere of THE TRAITORS CANADA, titled “Dead Man Walking” (Monday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app), 20 strangers arrive at a prestigious manor to take part in the ultimate murder mystery game. Amongst them are eight well-known former reality stars and 12 brand new faces. Each one of them are walking in with the same goal in mind: to unmask the traitors before either getting killed or banished from the game. The reality stars quickly realize that in this game of suspicion, their experience can be perceived as a threat and one contestant feels time is running out to win others over. Directed by Francis Côté.
For more information on the contestants competing on THE TRAITORS CANADA, including videos, bios, and exclusive content, visit CTV.ca/TheTraitorsCanada. As the go-to resource for the series, CTV.ca also includes full episodes and sneak peeks throughout the inaugural season. Viewers can also follow the series’ official accounts on social media (see list below) and official hashtag #TheTraitorsCanada for exclusive weekly content not found anywhere else.
Current sponsors of THE TRAITORS CANADA are Nissan, Jacob’s Creek, and Bell.
THE TRAITORS CANADA is produced by Entourage in association with CTV. Eric Young is Executive Producer. Nathalie Brigitte Bustos is Executive Producer and Showrunner. David Gauthier is Series Producer, Mathieu Ouellet is Missions Producer and France Racine is Producer. For Bell Media, Rachel Goldstein-Couto is Head of Development, Original Programming; Alexis McLaren is Production Executive, Original Programming; Sarah Fowlie is Head of Production, Original Programming; Carlyn Klebuc is General Manager, Original Programming; Pat DiVittorio is Vice-President, CTV and Specialty Programming. Justin Stockman is Vice-President, Content Development & Programming, Bell Media. Karine Moses is Senior Vice-President, Content Development & News, Bell Media and Vice Chair, Québec, Bell.
Originally conceived in the Netherlands by IDTV, an All3Media company, the format was further developed with the RTL Creative Unit and produced by IDTV. All3Media International represents format rights for THE TRAITORS – which has become a global TV phenomenon with adaptions in the UK, Australia, and America.
Karine Vanasse is also set to host the Québécois edition of the global franchise, LES TRAÎTRES, coming in 2024 to Noovo.
The role was originally meant to be for a young Hugh Grant type: bookish, well-spoken and dashing in loafers and tweed. When writing the screenplay for his 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel had wanted to put his luckless hero through the ultimate romantic humiliation – and having his girlfriend stolen by a debonair bestselling English author was the worst scenario he could come up with.
But who to play him? Segel, director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow auditioned a number of new British arrivals in Hollywood for the part. (Charlie Hunnam, then 26 and on the brink of his breakthrough role in the biker gang series Sons of Anarchy, was an early favourite.) But then at a casting session, something strange happened. An applicant who didn’t remotely fit –he was a dishevelled Byronic type, who spoke in a thick regional accent – slunk into the room and took the three men aback.
“That was fantastic,” Stoller raved, the rest of the room applauding, after the 32-year-old improvised a monologue in which he tried to persuade a reluctant lover to join him on a horse-riding trip. Apatow contacted the auditionee’s agent to make the necessary arrangements, while Segel ran home to rewrite the screenplay around this performer overnight.
After the film’s release, Segel reflected in a radio interview on what had prompted this creative volte-face. “I couldn’t imagine anyone to be more jealous of or intimidated by if they were dating your new girlfriend,” he explained, “than Russell Brand.”
In the Dispatches, Times and Sunday Times investigation into Brand’s alleged serious sexual misconduct over a seven-year period, much was made of allegations of the complicity of his employers at the BBC and Channel 4, who were said to be all too happy at the height of his fame to turn a blind eye to his misdeeds. Both broadcasters are launching inquiries in order to find “if a blind eye was turned to” any complaints from Brand’s alleged victims. (Brand has denied the allegations in a video, describing them as a “co-ordinated attack” involving “some very serious allegations that I absolutely refute”.)
But Hollywood played every bit as crucial a role in cementing Brand’s star persona as a swashbuckling Lothario whose behaviour was beyond reproach – and notably, the abuse described in the investigation all reportedly took place during this Hollywood golden period.
By the mid-noughties, Brand’s enchanting rogue act had been cleverly tailored to multiple home market demographics. He was the host of Big Brother’s Big Mouth, compered his own anarchic MTV chat show, and wrote a weekly football column for the Guardian.
But aside from playing the Essex spiv Flash Harry in the 2007 St Trinian’s remake – the role originated by George Cole in the 1950s and 1960s films – landing prominent acting roles at home was going to be tricky. As his stand-up comedy and presenting had proven, Brand was only really capable of playing versions of himself. What’s more, those around him grew concerned that Brand’s behaviour with women was about to derail his career before it could achieve its fullest, most lucrative form. So after a stint in a sex addiction clinic under the strict instruction of his agent John Noel, off to Hollywood he went.
Brand’s success there aligned with the template set by other British comedians – extraordinary talents like Peter Sellers, Billy Connolly and Dudley Moore – who, a generation earlier, had also suddenly found themselves to be the film establishment’s flavour of the month. What’s more, he understood how to cash in on that cultural heritage.
“Americans: what are their assumptions about people from the United Kingdom?” he pondered in a 2008 Guardian interview. “Probably they’re informed by Monty Python, rock ‘n’ roll and Victorian England. If you have those things about your character, they’ll go, all right, I know what this is.”
Unlike Sellers, however, he didn’t have the range for a Dr Strangelove or the sensitivity for a Being There. And unlike Moore, his established comic persona meant you wouldn’t trust him as a Bedazzled-style romantic failure, let alone as an elf in Santa’s workshop. (Though you could just about picture him as an Arthur, on which more in a moment.) As for Connolly: well, perish the thought of him in Mrs Brown. So instead, the studios ended up paying him millions to essentially play himself.
Who is this, for instance? “I was watching the news one day and I saw footage about, uh, war, and I think it was Darfur, or Zimbabwe, or Rwanda, or one of ‘em, and I thought, ‘this isn’t right, is it?’ And I made some phone calls and it turns out, it isn’t.”
Or this: “I would rather have my testicles spread out like a wafer and then have them covered in a layer of honey and then have wasps come and sting me and then have them covered in another layer of vinegar and then have it worn as a swimming cap by a Nazi – I’d rather have that than spend another second with her.”
They sound like passage from Brand’s own stand-up. But in fact both are Aldous Snow, his character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and its 2010 semi-sequel, Get Him to the Greek. Snow was a rock star rather than a comic, but otherwise he was Brand through and through: a newly sober compulsive Casanova with an orotund speaking style and intellectual affectations (the name of his band, Infant Sorrow, came from Blake). In the second film, his pop star girlfriend Jackie Q, played by Rose Byrne, bore a more-than-passing resemblance to Katy Perry – who at the time of the film’s release, though not much longer, was Brand’s own spouse.
When Stoller wrote Get Him to the Greek, in which Aldous relapses, he used Brand’s 2007 memoir, My Booky Wook, as a reference manual – while in both films, he was allowed to rework his dialogue as he saw fit. “It was like being a spoiled, precocious and indulged child,” he told Australia’s Female magazine about the Forgetting Sarah Marshall shoot. “Everything I said was applauded and celebrated.”
Generously recompensed, too. In 2009, he bought himself a £2.2 million Los Angeles home in the hipster neighbourhood of Los Feliz, then two years later moved into a £4m Hollywood Hills estate with Perry. And his post-divorce bachelor pad, purchased the year after that, was a £1.8m modernist bunker just down the road.
A battery of animated vocal gigs helped to bolster his income at this time. He was, inexplicably, cast as an ancient mad scientist in three of the Minions films, a hippyish turncoat in Trolls, and as the voice of the Easter Bunny in the diabolical Hop. And there was a major supporting role in the juke-box musical Rock of Ages, too, in which he appeared opposite Tom Cruise But the film that was meant to transform him in the world’s eyes from louche comic foil to romantic leading man only ended up bringing his Hollywood glory years to an abrupt close.
That film was Arthur: Warner Bros’ ill-fated 2011 remake of their 1981 comedy which had turned “cuddly” Dudley Moore from a national to international treasure, and secured him a Best Actor nomination to boot. Brand’s much-trumpeted history of addiction made him sound like a credible pick to play a loveable playboy who learns the error of his drunken ways. But Brand had built his entire shtick on being incorrigible, and simply lacked the acting chops to play anything else.
This bloody-minded push to ‘make Brand happen’ was a classic case of Hollywood overreach: audiences and critics balked, and the project blew up in almost everyone’s faces. (Just one person escaped with their dignity intact, and that was the actress who played Brand’s love interest: step forward then-indie starlet, and now billion-dollar-grossing Barbie director, Greta Gerwig.)
In a typical pan, New York magazine’s David Edelstein flatly described Brand’s performance as “career-killing” – and so it proved, though its death throes went on until 2019, when he was cast as a suspect in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Death on the Nile. By the time the film was actually released in 2022, Brand had made his latest career pivot to flailing YouTube conspiracist, and his presence – especially in such a muted role – looked flatly absurd.
Yet like his YouTube channel, Brand had always viewed Hollywood as a machine to launder and sanitise his public image. This new stage, he told US radio in an interview following the 2008 Sachsgate scandal, would give him “the reptilian opportunity to shed parts of [his] skin” that he no longer liked, adding that “this particularly quaint part of my English eccentricity” would now be the central plank of brand Brand. And the studios – while it paid them to do so – were only too happy to play along.