Steven Spielberg Almost Directed The Little Things, Here’s Why He Passed On It

Denzel Washington and Jared Leto in The Little Things (2021)

The Little Things is the latest crime thriller to hit our screens, and it assembles the massive talents of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto. The film is helmed by John Lee Hancock, who film buffs no doubt know for his work on movies like The Alamo, Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. This latest film was a bit of a passion project for Hancock, as he first conceived the story back in the early ‘90s. But he wasn’t always planning to direct, as Steven Spielberg was originally set to take the job. Now, Hancock has revealed why the celebrated director ultimately opted out of the project.

John Lee Hancock wrote the initial draft for The Little Things back in 1993, and the intention was for Steven Spielberg to tackle it. Hancock discussed this during his recent appearance on our own ReelBlend podcast and explained that he and Spielberg decided to join forces on a film after the director expressed interest in Hancock’s script for A Perfect World. However, after Hancock pitched The Little Things, Spielberg passed on the film for a personal reason:

Steven really liked A Perfect World, my script for it. And so before we ever went into production on A Perfect World, he came to me and said, ‘Let's do a blind picture deal. … Let’s just do it at Warner Brothers. Something for you to write and meet to direct.’ … So we started pitching ideas back and forth. I came up on this one, I can't remember exactly when, and fell in love with it. The twists and turns. I wrote a long outline and then talked to him on the phone about it after he read it. And I think I faxed him the outline. … He really liked it. He said, ‘This is really, really good storytelling. It’s just too dark for me right now. I'm finishing Schindler's List. I can't live in this dark world again.’ And I understood that completely.

So it would appear that after his Oscar-winning work on Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg didn’t want to jump into another dark film immediately after. It’s definitely understandable when you consider the grim subject matter of both movies. Schindler's List was so difficult for Spielberg that, at times, Robin Williams would call and perform stand-up comedy for him. You can listen to the rest of ReelBlend’s interview with John Lee Hancock down below:

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The Little Things is set in the early ‘90s and centers on a deputy sheriff (played by Denzel Washington) who finds himself embroiled in a serial killer case while in Los Angeles collecting evidence for another case. The situation pairs him with a young, by-the-book detective (Rami Malek), as they zero on a man they believe to be the culprit (Jared Leto).

John Lee Hancock appears to have put quite a bit of care into his latest feature, and the same can be said for the actors. The stars made thoughtful choices when it came to prepping for their roles. Jared Leto, who compared his character to Suicide Squad’s Joker, was particularly specific when it came to certain aspects of the role.

Given Steven Spielberg’s unique brand of filmmaking, one can’t help but wonder what he could have done with the movie. He may mostly be known for some of his breezier adventure films, but Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and The Color Purple prove just how well he can handle heavier subject matter. Nevertheless, as director, it appears John Lee Hancock was ultimately able to achieve the vision he intended for his story.

The Little Things is playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.