Cary Fukunaga drops out of big screen adaptation of Stephen King's It

Cary Fukunaga drops out of big screen adaptation of Stephen King's It

Tim Curry as Pennywise in the 1990s TV series of Stephen King's It

The respected director has left the horror remake after clashing with studio heads

After a maniacal Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in The Shining, Tim Curry's portrayal of demonic clown Pennywise in 1990s TV miniseries It is probably Stephen King's most iconic on-screen villain – an image that gave a generation nightmares, justifying coulrophobia in countless viewers. King fans rejoiced when they heard that much-respected director Cary Fukunaga was adapting the novel for the big screen. Now Fukunaga has left the project.

Fukunaga made a splash with his debut feature Sin Nombre (2009) which he followed with a deliciously dark version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (2011). But for most it was his work on 2014's crime thriller True Detective at HBO that cemented his credentials as a brilliant, visionary talent.

Leaving True Detective to concentrate on It was a surprise move, splitting the novel's sprawling story into two feature films, one focusing on the character's childhood, the other jumping forward to adulthood.

Tim Curry was a major factor in the success of the original miniseries and the casting of Pennywise for the reboot was always key to the project. Apparently Fukunaga wanted Ben Mendelsohn but Warner Bros were keen to cast someone cheaper. In another surprise move, Will Poulter (We're the Millers) was announced to step into Curry's oversized clown shoes.

The project then shifted to WB's New Line division which has a long and successful history with horror but also favours smaller budgets than its sister studio. Fears about marketing an adult oriented horror movie focusing on kids, and the modest box office return on the recent clown-centric Poltergeist remake made New Line even more nervous. Fukunaga became unhappy with further compromises, and reports of shrinking budgets led to him officially leaving the project with the film now in limbo.

The news is a genuine shame as It could have been one of the scariest, most intelligent fright flicks of recent years. Meanwhile, Fukunaga is set to return to TV with an adaptation of The Alienist based on the novel by Caleb Carr.