What sets "Bird Box" apart from so many other post-apocalyptic cautionary tales swarming with bizarre monsters and diverse casts of quickly dispatched character actors? It's not the monsters (which the director somehow got away with making invisible - thus saving immensely on production costs). It's not the embarrassment of acting riches including Sarah Paulson and Trevante Rhodes and Tom Holland and B.D. Wong and John Malkovich (although any movie with John Malkovich is usually better for it). It's not that the movie is perfectly tailored to spew out memes and blind-fold challenges (in a couple weeks there'll surely be a new movie-of-the-moment inspiring us to attempt roller blading whilst devouring hot fudge sundaes).
Nope, it was Sandra Bullock. (Isn't it always?)
Obviously, what lifts this movie (that could've easily been as reviled as "The Happening" - or written off as clearly inferior to "A Quiet Place") is that Sandra Bullock is just so damn good in it. She brings humanity and intensity to an inherently bizarre premise. She cries at the loss of her sister. She stands up to John Malkovich when he's being a dick. She literally navigates treacherous waters whilst blindfolded (more on that later).
But my guess is that Sandra Bullock wasn't dying to do a movie about surving an apocalypse of people killing themselves after the enduring the trauma of developing nasty cataracts.
If she wanted to prove her bad-ass street cred, she could've made more money by easily convincing the studios to do a long-awaited sequel to "Speed" (this time with a runaway driverless Lyft!) and probably convinced Keanu Reeves to come back this time. Or she could've returned to the scandalously neglected new world of "Demolition Man" (seriously, how has Taco Bell not made this happen yet?).
So why did she choose to sign onto "Bird Box?"
She wanted to play to a woman coming to terms with motherhood. That's where the real core of this story is. The movie starts and pretty much ends (with several stops in between) with Sandra (as mentioned above) "literally navigating treacherous waters whilst blindfolded." And isn't that almost a perfect metaphor for the challenges of motherhood? As much as everyone wants to pretend that they know what they're getting themselves into - they really don't. Even though it's certainly a life-affirming role - it's also hard-as-hell, beat-you-down, crush-your-spirit sometimes. My Facebook feed is constantly teeming with posts about how people love their kids, but "Man, can they be little jerks sometimes!" Being a parent/mother can be an exhausting, confusing, terrifying experience. I don't want to get into tabloid stuff, but Sandra Bullock probably knows this better than most after some of the things she's been through with her ex-husband and adopted child.
When you layer all of those levels atop what could've been a standard C-level monster movie that is when you can hook a big movie star like Sandra Bullock into your movie.
(Side note: Looking over Sandra Bullock's movie career, I secretly suspect that she's really a genius at choosing movies/scripts that have an interesting premise and then personally guiding them into brilliantly unexpected areas of woman power. Look at "Miss Congeniality" or "Ocean's 8" or her Oscar-winning work in "The Blind Side.")
Flat out, the best way to get a movie sold/made is to convince a star to do it. And the best way to do that is to write a fantastic role with interesting layers, unexpected twists, and sly subtext. That's what "Bird Box" did. It's how "Pirates of the Caribbean" got Johnny Depp to originally sign on. It's how Heath Ledger crafted such a memorable version of the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Going all the way back to "Casablanca," it's why Humphrey Bogart's portrayal is so enduring (I mean, how could he let Ingrid Bergman go when he loves her so completely?! Oh wait, maybe the reason he lets her go is BECAUSE he loves her so completely!)
And it's something that all of us writers should aspire to.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to start practicing my roller blading as I decide what toppings to put on my sundae.