Even the best directors miss the mark occasionally. Despite the critical and commercial hits that cement their status as great filmmakers, many still have movies on their resumes that didn’t quite win over critics or audiences.
In this article, we take a look at the directors who have wowed us with their movie successes but who have also turned out at least one ‘bad’ movie that has marred their otherwise remarkable careers.
Keep reading for our personal picks and leave us a comment if you agree (or disagree) with our choices!
Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’
After thrilling audiences with his debut movie Jaws in 1975, Spielberg went on to direct Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, arguably one of the best science-fiction movies of all time. The wunderkind director could seemingly do no wrong and perhaps that’s why he was able to secure financing for his next movie, the World War II comedy, 1941. With a star-studded cast, including comedy greats Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and John Candy, and some truly impressive visual effects, this should have been the next big hit for Spielberg! But there was only one problem – the movie was spectacularly unfunny!
“An appalling waste of filmmaking and performing resources,” said Gary Arnold of the Washington Post in his review of the movie. Jay Scott of The Globe and Mail called it “mindless” and “racist.” And Vincent Canby of The New York Times accused 1941 of being “less comic than cumbersome, as much fun as a 40-pound wrist-watch.” Ouch!
Spielberg was able to rebound from the critical thrashing he received with his next two movies, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, and his career has been filled with more hits than misses ever since. To date, he hasn’t made another comedy, perhaps because he realises the genre isn’t his forte, but he has atoned for 1941’s misjudged script with more respectful wartime movies, such as Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.
Tom Hooper’s ‘Cats’
British director Tom Hooper began his career in television, directing episodes of such UK shows as Byker Grove, Cold Feet, and Eastenders. But after making his movie directorial debut with the political drama Red Dust in 2004, he managed to carve out a successful career for himself in film. The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, and The Danish Girl are some of the best movies he has made to date and they are much loved by critics and audiences alike.
The same cannot be said of his most recent movie, 2019’s Cats, an extraordinarily misjudged musical misfire that was like catnip to the critics who enjoyed tearing into his second musical.
“A slick and tedious and weird-looking exercise in self-indulgence,” said Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times. And Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it “warbling warbling warbling piffle.” He was seemingly lost for any other words!
The movie came under fire for its bad CGI and nonsensical plotline but while critics got their claws out and tore into it, it isn’t quite the disaster it has been made out to be. Sure, the cats do look a little creepy at times and the movie is tonally confused, but the production design is mostly excellent and the songs are performed with gusto by the accomplished cast. As such, you might enjoy this if you’re a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical.
Unfortunately, Tom Hooper doesn’t have any further movies lined up, at least according to his IMDB page, and this might be because his career has been marred by the catastrophic response to his pussycat musical.
Cameron Crowe’s ‘Aloha’
Cameron Crowe’s first movie was the warmly-received John Cusack comedy Say Anything and in the years since his debut success, he has directed several other much-loved movies, including Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. His last movie was Aloha which was released in 2015 but despite the presence of Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, it was a box office flop and it fared poorly with critics.
Andrew Barker of Variety called it “unbalanced, unwieldy, and at times nearly unintelligible,” and Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine called the movie “grating and smug.” So, what went wrong? Well, according to reports online, this romantic comedy about a military contractor reconnecting with his lost love suffered from conflicts between the director and Sony who didn’t like the story he had written. The movie went through a number of rewrites and re-edits as a consequence, which perhaps explains why the finished product is a bit of a jumbled mess. Emma Stone’s miscasting as a Hawaiian woman didn’t help matters either!
Still, the soundtrack is good, as is normally the case in a Cameron Crowe movie, and the Hawaiian locations are pretty. But that’s about it for compliments as this is by far the worst movie of Crowe’s career and to date, the last movie that he has directed.
Brian De Palma’s ‘The Bonfire Of The Vanities’
Brian De Palma is one of the world’s most highly regarded directors, thanks to such movies as Carrie, Dressed To Kill and The Untouchables. But while he has made many excellent movies throughout his career, he has made a fair few clunkers too. Wise Guys, Mission To Mars, and the recent Domino are among his worst movies but for many, De Palma’s biggest career low was 1990’s The Bonfire Of The Vanities.
The cast, including Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith, is a good one, and the source material, Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same name, is well-regarded. But the movie, which chronicles the story of a Wall Street hotshot who sees his life unravel after his mistress runs over a young teen, was a critical and commercial flop, costing an estimated $47 million to make but grossing just over $15 million at the US box office.
“A spectacular misfire from a director who should have known better,” said Ian Nathan at Empire, and his words were echoed by other critics who had issues with the movie’s casting and the screenplay which blunted the book’s dark edges.
The making of the movie and its subsequent controversies were detailed in Julie Salamon’s 1991 book The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood. It’s worth a read, especially if you want to know why the movie bombed so hard. Fortunately, De Palma came back from the debacle with such movies as Carlito’s Way and Mission: Impossible but The Bonfire Of The Vanities will always be a movie for which he will be unfondly remembered.
Ridley Scott’s ‘House Of Gucci’
As we said in our review of the movie, House Of Gucci isn’t completely unwatchable. This is largely thanks to its incredible cast, which includes Lady GaGa, Adam Driver, and Jared Leto. However, the movie falls into that trap of being all style and no substance, with fabulous direction from Scott and the expected glamorous costume design, but a monotonous screenplay that fails to capitalise on the juicier aspects of the Gucci’s story.
While most of the movies on this list have been universally hated, House Of Gucci does have its admirers, largely thanks to the accomplished cast who elevated the campy material. But for every positive review you’ll find online, there’s a critic with knives drawn tearing into the stitching of the movie’s tedious and shallow plotting.
Alonso Duralde of The Wrap summed up the viewpoint of most critics when he said: “This true-crime saga of the Gucci family losing control of their own fashion empire could have been a full-blown camp classic were it not so frequently dull and tentative.”
If you like melodramatic TV movies and soap operas, you might get something from this movie. But considering House of Gucci comes from the director of such critical hits as Alien, Thelma & Louise, and The Martian, this really is a massive step down from somebody who usually has the power to engage and thrill us with the stories he puts on screen.
James Cameron’s ‘Piranha II: The Spawning’
James Cameron’s first big hit was The Terminator in 1984 but that wasn’t his debut movie. 3 years prior, he directed Piranha II: The Spawning, a mostly unrelated sequel to Joe Dante’s Piranha which was released several years previously. Dante’s movie was cheesy but fun and it is still well-regarded today. The sequel, however, has none of the wit of that first movie, and it now stands as a career low point for Cameron, who presumably wishes he could send all copies of the movie to the bottom of the ocean.
The critics slated the movie for its terrible special effects and awful script but Cameron can’t be held accountable for all of its failings. He had little creative control during the production of this failure and the final cut is not what he envisaged. Despite it being a blight on his otherwise successful career, Cameron has remained fairly jovial about the finished product, jokingly calling it the “finest flying piranha movie ever made.”
Oliver Stone’s ‘The Hand’
James Cameron wasn’t the only director on this list to deliver a terrible movie early on in his career. Oliver Stone did the very same thing with the second movie he directed, the Michael Caine-starring The Hand. It’s by no means the worst horror film you will ever see but with a ridiculous premise – the lost hand of a comic book artist takes on a murderous life of its own – and some pretty dodgy special effects, this is hands down Stone’s worst film, more so than the laborious Alexander, another misfire from the director that came out several decades later.
The best thing about The Hand is Stone’s screenplay, which is surprisingly intelligent for a movie about a rampaging body part. But as it’s rarely as scary or as campy as it could have been, this isn’t a movie that gets a lot of attention in discussions about Stone’s long and varied career. Michael Caine only made it so he could fund a new garage he was having built so at least he was able to benefit from the movie, unlike the audiences at the time who were less-than-enthused about what they were watching.
David Lynch’s ‘Dune’
David Lynch is a master of the weird, as you will know if you have seen and appreciated such movies as Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart and Lost Highway. Unfortunately, he’s not a director known for big-budget spectacles which is partly why Dune was such a flop at the time of its release. After turning down Return Of The Jedi, Lynch decided to make this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic work, but his inexperience in the genre showed. While the movie still retains his sense of weirdness, it fails to capture the spirit of Herbert’s book and it is all a bit of a mess, both visually and narratively.
Critics hated the movie, with Roger Ebert calling it “a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” Lynch likely agreed with him as he was unhappy with the finished product and reportedly didn’t enjoy his time on the movie.
In fairness, there has been a critical re-evaluation of Lynch’s Dune adaptation in recent years but while some people appreciate it more than critics did back in the 1980s, it’s still far from being the director’s best work and it’s nowhere near as good as David Villeneuve’s Dune which was released last year.
Rob Reiner’s ‘North’
During the early part of his directing career, Rob Reiner could seemingly do no wrong. After a couple of forgotten TV movies, he made the legendary This Is Spinal Tap and followed this with such other 80s hits as The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally. In the early 90s, he directed Misery and A Few Good Men, excellent movies both, but then he made North in 1994, the first blip in his otherwise solid career in film.
The movie stars Elijah Wood as a kid who goes on a search across the globe for the ideal mother and father after legally separating himself from his parents. The premise isn’t without potential (a little like the people the boy meets on his travels) but critics considered the movie to be schmaltzy and maudlin and far beneath the director who had constantly delivered great movies up until this point.
Unfortunately, Reiner’s career went south soon after making North. While he did direct a couple of good movies directly after, including The American President and Ghosts of Mississippi, the majority of his later movies, including Alex & Emma and Rumour Has It, failed to make much of an impact. Currently in pre-production is Spinal Tap 2 so perhaps this will be the movie that breaks the bad run that he has had over the last couple of decades.
Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Jack’
Francis Ford Coppola is the director of the Godfather movies, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now; movies that you will often find in top 10 movie lists by online review sites and movie magazines. He is also the director of such movies as The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Dracula, which aren’t quite deserving of classic status but that are still highly watchable. He’s also the director of Jack!
Robin Williams stars in Coppola’s family movie about a boy who has an ageing disorder that makes him look like a 40-year-old man. This might sound funny on paper but as the boy’s life expectancy is short because of the disorder, it’s no laughing matter, despite Williams’ amusing performance. The movie does have a life-affirming message as a consequence of its premise – life is short so make the most of it – but critics were unimpressed with William’s childish schtick and the way his character’s disease was portrayed.
At the time, Jack was a rare misfire for Coppola but he did manage to make a comeback with 1997’s The Rainmaker. In the years since he has focused on movies outside of the mainstream – Youth Without Youth, Tetro, Twixt – but he hasn’t made a movie so critically hated as Jack. Next up is Megalopolis, a sci-fi movie about an architect who wants to rebuild New York City as a utopia following a devastating disaster. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Coppola wanting to rebuild his career after the failure of his rare attempt at a family comedy.
So, there we have it: 10 bad movies from usually reliable directors. Do you agree with our picks? Are there other directors and movies we could have mentioned? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below!