Last October, Hobbs and Shaw star Dwayne Johnson announced that he will be playing folk hero John Henry in a Netflix film called John Henry and the Statesmen. But Saban Films apparently isn’t too concerned about that, because it has announced that Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Deadpool 2) will be playing John Henry in a theatrical feature film set in modern-day Los Angeles, and Crews will be joined by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as his co-star. Learn more about these two dueling John Henry movies below.
First, some quick backstory. In folklore, John Henry was a blue collar worker who was so strong that he agreed to race a steam-powered rock-drilling machine in a contest by using a hammer to smash his way through a mountainside. He won, but the victory was bittersweet: his heart gave out and he died as the competition ended.
So when Dwayne Johnson, one of the world’s biggest movie stars (both financially and literally), plants his flag on playing John Henry in a new movie, you’d think that’d be enough for everyone else to back off. But in a flex just as impressive as any physical flex that either Crews or Johnson could do, Saban Films is daring to step on the same territory by announcing a movie of its own.
Saban’s film, John Henry, is described as a “dramatic thriller” and “a modern adaption of an African-American folk hero of the same name,” and it’s set to follow Henry (Crews) “after he abandons a crime-riddled life for a peaceful one in Los Angeles. But when he crosses paths with two immigrant kids who are running from the leader of his former gang, he’s forced to confront the violence of his past life in hopes of saving them.” Crews and Ludacris are executive producing, and the movie will mark the writing and directing debut of Will Forbes. Saban is hoping to get this one in theaters relatively quickly: they’re aiming for a release sometime in the first quarter of 2020.
Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson will play the title character in John Henry and the Statesmen, which will be directed by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle helmer Jake Kasdan. Here’s how Johnson described the movie:
JOHN HENRY is an African American folklore legend who I grew up with. I’m proud to take on the role and equally excited to introduce JOHN HENRY’S story to homes & families all around the world. John was one bad dude. My kinda man who made decisions based on his gut and instinct. The thing that I loved as a kid and I appreciate more as a man — is that John also had basic core values that speak directly to my DNA. In today’s cynical, divisive, noisy times — JOHN HENRY’S values, strength, morals and heart, all matter today more than ever. Families all around the world are gonna love John Henry’s story. I’m grateful to be the one to tell it.
It’s unclear whether Johnson’s version is also going to be contemporary, but the title almost implies that there’s an Avengers-style team-up of folklore characters involved, maybe similar to how John Henry appeared alongside Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and Calamity Jane in 1995’s Tall Tale. Johnson’s one of the busiest people in Hollywood, so we’re not sure if he’ll be able to beat Saban’s John Henry to the punch, but Johnson released a teaser back in October:
It’s oddly fitting that two movies about John Henry are now in a race to make it out first. Best of luck to them both.
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