HORIZON vs. MEGALOPOLIS: Dream Projects That Could Turn into Nightmares

What connects Megalopolis and Horizon, the new spectacles by Kevin Costner and Francis Ford Coppola?

Lukasz Budnik

26 May 2024

At this year’s Cannes festival, two films premiered that can be described as cinematic events. They come from the hands of well-known and esteemed Hollywood directors who have not been behind the camera for a long time. The first film is Kevin Costner’s western “Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 ,” and the second is the science fiction “Megalopolis” by Francis Ford Coppola. Although the films come from entirely different genre traditions, certain characterological similarities can be seen between them.

Great Courage


What draws our attention to these titles is certainly the fact that they clearly go against the prevailing film trends. We are currently in a transitional moment when it comes to defining a cinematic spectacle with the potential to conquer the box office. Comic book adaptations have worn out their welcome with audiences as they no longer generate the same profits (which is why Disney decided to hit the production brakes), and video game adaptations are slowly entering the scene. Major franchises like “Indiana Jones,” “Fast & Furious,” and “Mission: Impossible” have brought losses to studios, even though they seemed like sure bets. Perhaps it is a good moment for a change, or rather, a return to the old-style spectacle, grand in character and slow in narrative?

Coppola and Costner are clearly making films not so much for the audience but more for themselves, giving us the kind of cinema they grew up with. A bit like Spielberg with “The Fabelmans.” The question is – is this what the audience wants? Is it still courage, or already bravado?

Great Dreams

Both Costner and Coppola emphasize in interviews that their new films have been in the making for years. The concepts for “Horizon” and “Megalopolis” were initially developed in the 70s and 80s. Later, of course, the creators took on various other projects, made their greatest works (“The Godfather,” “Dances with Wolves”), won Oscars, rested on their laurels a bit, and spread themselves thin. This is particularly evident in Coppola’s recent directorial achievements and Costner’s lack thereof (although his acting career has evidently revived thanks to the series “Yellowstone”). It seems both decided they had unfinished business in filmmaking and pulled out their scripts from the depths of their drawers.

Coppola showed incredible determination – he sold shares in his family vineyard and put $100 million of his own money into making “Megalopolis.” He has already shown the film at the Cannes festival, but as far as I know, its distribution status is still unclear – no studio has bought it yet, although it seems likely that the film will not remain without a home for long. Ultimately, it will be a coveted piece for streaming platforms.

As it turns out, Kevin Costner did not skimp on the production of his latest film either. He also financed a large part of the film from his own pocket. The difference, however, is that “Horizon” has a studio behind it, which is Warner Bros. As a result, we will see the film in theaters at the end of June. The second part will premiere in August – which is a unique phenomenon in film history, given such a short waiting time between the first and second parts of a work (recall – the simultaneously shot “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” had premieres a few months apart, not less than two).

Great Names

Kevin Costner and Francis Ford Coppola are top-tier names in Hollywood. It is no wonder that their new films generate such great interest. It turns out that the directors had no major problem filling their films with cinema stars. The casts of “Horizon” and “Megalopolis” are bursting with world-famous actors and actresses. Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington, Michael Rooker with Costner, and Coppola has Laurence Fishburne, Dustin Hoffman, Shia LaBeouf, and Adam Driver, among others. Even in cameo roles, even briefly, just to be on the payroll and be able to add a collaboration with a remarkable creator to their CV. The presence of known and respected names in the casts is undoubtedly an additional lure for the audience and something that elevates the status of these spectacles.

Great Themes

If directors are going against the grain, investing their own money in films, and engaging the best actors, it means they have something important to say. Indeed, the themes of both “Horizon” and “Megalopolis” are in a way convergent. Essentially, the films aim to address the history of the United States of America. Costner looks to the past, the late 19th century, showing American settlers searching for their promised land. He once again uses the founding myth of the USA, which shaped its rule of law from blood and dirt. Coppola, on the other hand, creates a vision of the future, showing America in a state of civilizational decline. The conflict between an architect and the mayor of New Rome is supposed to clarify new directions for humanity’s development, speculating whether a Platonic utopia is even possible.

Thematically, both films sound very grand and seem to exhibit great ambitions. They are driven by the need to answer important questions related to the identity of modern man. I only wonder if the weight of these films will ultimately make the consumption of these grand ideas difficult or even impossible.

Great Risk

I have no doubt that what most connects both films is their potential for a loud failure. Although I trust Coppola and his assurances that “Megalopolis” might initially be misunderstood, only to become as cult as “Apocalypse Now” over the years, and although I love Kevin Costner’s directorial and acting work, I still fear that these gentlemen made these films a bit too much for themselves and a bit too little for the audience. Long-winded in length, pompous, slow in narrative, they are both a manifestation of great ambitions and equally great egos of their creators. They are a significant financial risk, especially since the budgets of the spectacles are not small (both cost around $100 million). “Megalopolis,” as I mentioned, still does not have a distributor, making the risk even greater, and “Horizon,” if it flops in June in theaters, has little chance of making up for the losses with the premiere of the second part of the film.

Clearly, the creators are showing excessive faith in their projects. But… precisely. This confidence generates significant media interest, giving these spectacles a unique character, created evidently against the trends, in an old style. Despite fears, and even despite unfavorable reviews, it may turn out that the impact of “Horizon” and “Megalopolis” will make us flock to cinemas (or in front of televisions, since the status of the second film is still unclear).

In any case, I am filled with joy and excitement that these films will mark the map of premieres in 2024, making it already very interesting. It’s as if another chapter in the history of cinema is being written before our eyes.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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