What Happened to Chris Pratt’s ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ Movie?


The Big Picture

  • Chris Pratt’s rise to stardom after Guardians of the Galaxy led to rival studios eager to capitalize on his popularity, including the development of Cowboy Ninja Viking.
  • Despite a promising premise and the involvement of Pratt, the project faced numerous setbacks, including changes in directors and scheduling conflicts due to Pratt’s busy franchise commitments.
  • After years of attempts, Universal Pictures ultimately shelved Cowboy Ninja Viking indefinitely, and with Pratt’s focus shifting elsewhere, it’s hard to imagine this project coming to fruition.

When an actor takes off as a movie star in Hollywood, it’s not long before everyone in the industry is eager to exploit that new popularity for their own projects. So it was with Chris Pratt, a comedic performer who’d been showing up in dramas and studio comedies for a few years before headlining the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy. What had previously looked like baffling casting at first (putting the Parks & Recreation goofball in the middle of a brand-new Marvel franchise) turned into a decision Hollywood fell in love with. Very quickly, rival studios began putting together major projects Pratt could also headline, with one such production being Cowboy Ninja Viking.

Set up at Jurassic World financier/distributor Universal Pictures, Cowboy Ninja Viking was set to be an adaptation of an Image Comics title by writer A.J. Lieberman. This project focused on a bunch of agents who have dissociative identity disorder, with the most prolific of these assassins being a man named Duncan who believes he’s a cowboy, ninja and a Viking. His cohorts in this unit all believe they’re also three wildly different things. It’s a wacky high-concept idea for an action film and easy to see why Hollywood set its sights on turning it into a real movie. However, despite the premise rife with potential and the participation of Pratt, Cowboy Ninja Viking has never gone anywhere. Duncan can take out many targets, but even he can’t fight the forces of development hell.

When Did Hollywood Become Interested in ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’?

Image via Image Comics 

The saga of Cowboy Ninja Viking begins in an age best defined as B.C. (Before Chris Pratt). In 2010, when Pratt was still showing up in Take Me Home Tonight, screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (the brains behind Zombieland and Deadpool) were hired to turn Cowboy Ninja Viking into a movie for Disney. One wonders why the Mouse House would want something so violent and adult-skewing for its Walt Disney Pictures division (this was a project for Disney, not DreamWorks SKG, a studio Disney had a distribution deal with in the early 2010s). Maybe this was part of the pre-Marvel Studios/Star Wars initiative on Disney’s part to get more “boys” movies like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Tron: Legacy on the studio’s annual slate. Whatever the reason for Disney’s interest, this began Hollywood’s fascination with Cowboy Ninja Viking.

The next details on the feature came about at the start of 2012 with the reveal that Cowboy Ninja Viking was no longer set up at Disney. The company behind Tangled and Alice in Wonderland apparently thought the script for the project was too adult for their sensibilities, an unsurprising outcome given that Wernick and Reese would go on to write the aforementioned Deadpool. Now Universal Pictures had secured the potential tentpole and had signed on Marc Forster to direct the project. Forster was a blockbuster movie veteran with Quantum of Solace and was then in the middle of the tortured production of World War Z. God only knows why he wanted to sign on for another blockbuster movie gig after the World War Z carnage, but here he was eagerly signing onto Cowboy Ninja Viking. Things were looking bright for this comic adaptation.

Marc Forster Exits and Chris Pratt Enters

Jim O'Heir as Jerry Gergich and Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer filming Johnny Karate on Parks and Recreation
Image via NBC

Forster never made any public comments on his creative vision for Cowboy Ninja Viking, likely because he was so busy over the next year trying to get World War Z out of the editing room and into movie theaters. The next time there was news on the project, Forster was out as director and Chris Pratt was officially in as the feature’s leading man. Cast in the project in November 2014, just three months after Guardians of the Galaxy blew up his profile to new heights, Pratt had apparently chosen Cowboy Ninja Viking as one of his next leading man roles out of countless offers. He clearly had a lot of confidence in the feature and Universal Pictures undoubtedly loved the idea of continuing a working relationship with this guy who was set to star in the studio’s then-upcoming movie Jurassic World. Once again, a rosy outlook seemed to be falling upon Cowboy Ninja Viking four years after this adaptation was announced.

A few months later, things seemed to be tipping towards even more exciting news for Cowboy Ninja Viking as Universal made a prolific offer towards a directorial duo to take over as the feature’s directors: John Wick helmers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Pratt wasn’t the only one who’d had an amazing 2014, as Leitch and Stahelski had also exploded in prominence thanks to their sleeper hit feature John Wick. After that Keanu Reeves star vehicle took off like a rocket, Hollywood wanted these two for all sorts of massive projects. Combining a red-hot star and directorial team would’ve been a dream come true for Universal, but Leitch and Stahelski passed on the project. The duo were attached to a slew of major Hollywood movies in the immediate wake of John Wick (like an early version of Bloodshot) but understandably the pair decided to go their separate ways as directors. Stahelski focused on the John Wick sequels, Leitch became a go-to journeyman filmmaker for major Hollywood movies like Bullet Train and Deadpool 2. These ambitions ensured they’d have no time for Cowboy Ninja Viking.

Chris Pratt Was Very Busy With Franchises in the 2010s

There was a lot of hope in the mid-2010s floating around Hollywood, at least in the realm of blockbusters. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the major DC Extended Universe movies, and the final Phase Three MCU titles were all casting at this time, giving major job opportunities for countless young actors. Major new directors and actors were emerging, promising a potential new era of Hollywood stardom. Nearly a decade later, a lot of that promise has now become a wistful memory. Many of the leads of the new Star Wars movies were never given a chance to become movie stars. The DC Extended Universe collapsed. Even the MCU has fallen on hard times. As a microcosm of all this potential fallen to the wayside, Cowboy Ninja Viking, once thought of as the perfect merging of the hottest talent of 2014, has never come to the big screen.

Not that Universal didn’t try, though. Part of the problem here was that Chris Pratt was so busy in the 2010s. He didn’t just have Jurassic World sequels to headline for Universal, he was also starring in new Marvel films every other year or so as well as The Lego Movie. If he ever had free time as a performer, other projects like Passengers tended to take precedence. Still, in the late summer of 2017, Universal Pictures reaffirmed its commitment to this adaptation by setting a June 28, 2019 date for Cowboy Ninja Viking. It looked like Pratt would have an opening in his schedule come 2018 (he had no Marvel or Jurassic World titles to shoot that year) and Universal was going to make a move. A few months later, Michelle MacLaren was hired to helm the feature, while Priyanka Chopra was hired at the end of July 2018 to play the potential love interest for Pratt’s character.

The Future of Chris Pratt’s ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ Remains Uncertain

Image via Marvel Studios

While more major casting (and securing Chopra) was good news for Cowboy Ninja Viking, there were already worrisome signs in the air hovering over the project. Specifically, the Chopra casting came exactly 11 months before Cowboy Ninja Viking was supposed to hit theaters. How was this project not shooting by now? A little over a week after this casting, this ominous detail turned out to be a harbinger of the worst as Universal shelved Cowboy Ninja Viking indefinitely. MacLaren was still onboard to direct and Pratt was also attached to star, but given the latter figure’s incredibly busy schedule, it was impossible to say when the feature would resume shooting.

A little over 18 months later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entertainment industry and pushed any potential restart date for this movie even further into the future. There have been no updates on Cowboy Ninja Viking in over five years and it appears to be a totally dead project, especially since Pratt has shifted his focus as a performer to voice-over work with The Super Mario Bros. Movie and The Garfield Movie and streaming programs like The Terminal List. Despite various Hollywood studios and big producers spending nearly a decade to get it realized, Cowboy Ninja Viking never made it to the big screen as a finished feature. All that promise of 2014 is just a distant memory that grows only dimmer by the day. Not even Hollywood’s desire to exploit new movie stars for every ounce of their fame is able to get Cowboy Ninja Viking off the ground.


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