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10 Films That Marked The Decline Of Legendary Filmmakers’ Careers

09 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jerome Blanchet

6. Dune, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1974, Europe

Jodorowsky Dune

Reason for decline: production cancelled

Avant-garde art creator Alejandro Jodorowsky did music, theater, comic books and films. El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) are considered as masterpieces of experimental cinema by critics. In the mid-seventies, few years before George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), Jodorowsky started an ambitious project, the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece, Dune.

The filmmaker gathered a whole bunch of genius and talented people. He cast Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Geraldine Chaplin as part of the Dune’s universe. He did a complex storyboard with comic book legend Jean Giraud aka Mobius. Music and sound effects were composed by underground artists Magma and Pink Floyd.

For some murky reasons, which include a lack of communication between the director and the United-States, Hollywood did not accept to produce Dune, even though the storyboard high quality had been acclaimed in America. Beside, at that time, Hollywood’s perception of science-fiction blockbuster was limited.

Consequently, Jodorowsky’s Dune is seen as the classic science-fiction film that never was and it took ten years before David Lynch took the initiative to adapt his own vision of the book to the big screen.

From 1974 to 2013, Jodorowsky directed only four films. Dune marked an era of decline for the filmmaker, not in terms of loss of creativity potential and critical acclaim, but in terms of disillusion toward the artistic freedom that the Hollywood cinema industry proposes to the talented creators. In 2013, documentary director Frank Pavich tells the drama of Jodorowsky and the project of his life that never was, Dune.


7. Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979, Soviet Union


Reason for the decline: political context and bad luck

Seen today as one of the greatest filmmaker’s of all times and recognised by Ingmar Bergman himself as the one who invented a new language, Andrei Tarkovsky did few but memorable masterpieces constantly trying to bring cinematography toward a similar artistic level such as literature.

His career started with an impressive artistic recognition; Ivan’s Childhood (1962), which was expected by the industry to be a simple and standardized war film, it received a multitude of awards and international acclamation which include the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Legendary Soviet film director Sergei Parajanov considered the film as a major influence on his work. After that, hardly surprisingly, Tarkovsky’s artistic career kept growing with remarkable films such as Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972) and The Mirror (1975), even though the Soviet Union’s political context is intense, it was not easy for art and creativity at that point. In fact, Andrei Rublev was not released domestically and the Soviet Union did not allow The Mirror to be seen at the Cannes Film Festival.

Then, around 1979, with science fiction film ‘’Stalker’’, Tarkovsky came through a lot of difficulties such as: the loss of pellicles including half of the film, several production constraints, potential conspiracy from Tarkovsky’s enemies, health problems, expatriation from the Soviet Union and even death of technical support and actors including Analoty Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky’s more recurrent actor until 1982.

This combination of events was a turning point in the filmmaker’s artistic life, which gave him no choice but to do his last two productions, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986), respectively in Italy and Sweden.

The Sacrifice won the Grand Prix and was in nomination for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival while Nostalghia won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, the prize for best director and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1983 Cannes film Festival. Even though the director got praises and has Ingmar Bergman’s recurring lead actor Erland Josephson and cinematographer Sven Nykvist for his last film.

Many important reviews see Stalker as the last true masterpiece, the other two films being more like a subtle convergence toward a parody of the filmmaker himself. Besides, The Sacrifice has been compared as similar to Bergman’s works by critics. Therefore, Tarkovsky’s decline has to be seen partially as a lack of creativity.

On the other hand, since 1962, many times the Soviet authorities did prevent the director’s films from winning the Palme d’Or. For that reason and many others, Tarkovsky’s decline has to be seen essentially as a combination of constraints that limited his artistic blossoming.


8. City of Women, Federico Fellini, 1980, Italy

City of Women

Reason for decline: bad reviews from international critics and end of artistic era

Some filmmakers can be prolific, make several masterpieces and give an important and sustainable potential of creativity to the viewers over the years, then after a while, these filmmakers need to say to the world that creativity and artistic style distinction is no longer there. This is the case of Italian director Federico Fellini with his, not so well known, film City of Women.

Fellini innovated a lot with early productions such as La Strada (1954), Night of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960) and his artistic pinnacle, 8 1/2 (1963). He is one of the few filmmakers who has won four academy awards for best foreign language film, the only other one being Vittorio De Sica, the Italian neorealist legend.

Then, creativity started to be weaker even if late motion pictures like Roma (1972) and Amacord (1973) are seen today as part of the essential works from the Italian master. Fellini’s City of Women (1980), done with long-time collaborator and actor Marcello Mastroianni, certainly marked a negative transition in Fellini’s career and got unanimity from serious critics.

Andrei Tarkovsky took note that the movie was a fiasco; Cannes Festival’s paper said that “Fellini’s last film was a total disaster, and that he himself had ceased to exist, it’s terrible, but it’s true, his film is worthless”. Beside, masses of French critics wrote reviews with titles such as “A Mountain of Tedious Pretention”, “A Tiring Deception”, “A Disaster”, or “Zero for Fellini”.

Federico Fellini made his last movie in 1990 and unfortunately died in 1993. An interesting touch of his distinctive artistic style can be seen in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013).


9. Heaven’s Gate, Michael Cimino, 1980, United States

Heaven's Gate

Reason for decline: financial failure

In 1978, Michael Cimino directed, co-wrote and co-produced his fourth movie, American war drama masterpiece The Deer Hunter, starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage and John Cazale. The film had several production difficulties and went over schedule and over budget many times, which cost $15 million. Fortunately, the film did well at the box office and reached near 50 million.

The film won five academy Awards which include best picture and best director. With Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), The Deer Hunter is widely regarded as the greatest American film ever made about the Vietnam War. At that time, Cimino was at the pinnacle of his career and was given full control for his next movie. Did the film do well at the box office? No.

Heaven’s Gate (1980) went over budget too many times and cost 44 million, while it did approximately 3, 5 million at the box office. The film had been rejected by both the American press and the mainstream audiences. The movie marked decline of Cimino’s career, the end of the United Artists and the end of the new Hollywood era.

Fortunately, after some reconsideration, the film is seen today as one of the greatest injustices in the history of cinema. . Many serious critics consider Heaven’s’Gate as a masterpiece and the film is part of the Criterion collection.


10. One from the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola, 1982, United States

One from the Heart

Reason for decline: end of artistic era and financial failure

Francis Ford Coppola is an example of a filmmaker who did prodigious things all throughout the seventies and who never figured out how to repeat it for the next two decades. The seventies are legendary; The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

Coppola is one of the few privileged directors who has won two Golden Palms (1974 & 1979) at the Cannes Film Festival. His first feature film from the eighties, One from the Heart (1982), mark the beginning of an era of decline that will last more than ten years. Coppola directed eleven films from 1982 to 1989 and among them, only one, Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), was a financial success. It is interesting to note that 1982 fit with the end of the new Hollywood era.

Fortunately, the director regained popularity in the early nineties with The Godfather Part III (1990), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and a few others. Even though successful, those films are not recognised by serious critics as great as his seventies masterpieces.

Also, many critics thought that casting amateur actress Sofia Coppola as Michael Corleone’s daughter helped to kill one of the greatest franchises of all times. Therefore, Francis Ford Coppola’s decline starting in the early eighties can be seen both on a financial and artistic level.

Author bio: Jérôme Blanchet is a forest economist consultant and mathematician for engineering firm Groupe DDM (Del Degan, Massé & ass). His graduate studies in industrial organisation give him an interesting point of view about the evolution of cinema industry. His tastes for films and music focus on innovation, experimentation and art creativity. His favourite directors include Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson & Béla Tarr. Beside cinema, he supports his girlfriend Katleen Rousseau with her dance school ‘’Studio Tempo Swing’’ which can be found here: and



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  • gustavomda

    Franklin J Schaffner did Patton, not Coppola.

    • Michael Brooke

      But Coppola wrote it, which I suspect was the writer’s point – it was a major career breakthrough for him.

      • Jérôme Blanchet

        I am the author and yes, it was my point, thanks for your comment

  • Carsten Nilsson

    Unbreakable, Nightly M. Shambalatayalaltlala

    • Jérôme Blanchet

      M. Night Shyamalan is not legendary

  • Chris Cooke


  • Ted Wolf

    Cimino always seemed like a flash in the pan as opposed to some of these directors with a solid body of work.

    • Jérôme Blanchet

      I agree with you, Cimino is not really a legendary director, he is by far the weakest filmmaker in the list, I am the writer of the article, thanks for your comment

  • Jennifer H

    Always good to see a Keaton mention, but this one is so rife with inaccuracies I’m not sure where to begin. I guess I’ll go chronologically.

    Keaton’s works would never be classified as “burlesques”. Burlesques are parodies or raunchy. He did very little parody and zero raunchy. Keaton joined MGM in 1928 at the advice of Joe Schenck, thus ending his status as a filmmaker. MGM promised that what he had been doing, he would continue to be able to do. This was not at all the case. MGM took over everything. They didn’t allow him to write or direct- they only wanted his physical presence. Keaton was excited about doing talkies, in fact, his second MGM film, Spite Marriage, he begged to make a talkie. Instead, however, MGM kept the dialogue silent and added a soundtrack- a very very bad soundtrack complete with sound effects that would make a 70’s sitcom producer cringe.

    Keaton was a drinker, but his drinking was exacerbated by his loss of creative control, not the other way around.

    He did not “cast himself” in these films; MGM did. And they didn’t really care about making Keaton-calibre films. They just wanted the money his name would bring in and never considered the fact that if they turned out crap, his name would stop bringing money in. Chaplin and Lloyd both advised Keaton against signing with MGM.

    Sunset Boulevard is not about Keaton at all. The only time he is even in the film is when he is playing cards at Gloria Swanson’s character’s house. So there was no way the above assertion about his decline could have been portrayed.

    The reason Keaton made short films in the 1930’s is because that’s what he started out doing in the first place. They were called “two-reelers” and were the format that the majority of early comedies were in.

    There was nothing wrong with Keaton’s talking. He grew up on the stage, so talking was not a problem. The problem was the writers and producers that MGM sicced on him. When MGM made a bad movie, they blamed the star, when they made a good movie, they took the credit. Louis B. Mayer was notorious for “punishing” his actors when a film did badly by putting them in more bad films. So that’s what happened to Keaton. Almost none of what you said was the problem.

    Forgive me if this was worded strangely, I am in a hurry.

    • Jérôme Blanchet

      Thanks for your constructive comment but I disagree on several points.

      • Michael Brooke

        I’d be interested to know which these points are, as Jennifer’s account is far closer to the Keaton story that I’m familiar with.

        Although it’s worth adding that another reason for Keaton’s personal decline was that the MGM talkies, despite being far worse artistically than the great independent silents that preceded them, typically made much more money at the box office – thus “proving” to MGM that they were doing the right thing. Keaton knew they weren’t, and that their success had far more to do with heavyweight marketing muscle than anything else, but there was little that he could do.

  • Ahmad J. Farhat

    Tarkovsky and decline cannot co-exist in the same sentence. Psh.

    • Andreah Schultheis

      ^my sentiments exactly.

    • Dagarar


    • Black

      I’m with you brother.

    • Waseem Zomlot


    • San

      I’ll triple that, Amen.

    • Carl Edgar Consiglio

      I think he’s good, but over-rated.

  • David

    Tarkovsky? You are a disgrace to mankind.

  • Cosmin Radu

    His (Tarkovsky) last two films are considered parodies of his own films? By who?! By you? Any cinephile or critic with taste in cinema would not agree!

    • Sometimes I debate on my own about Stalker or Nostalghia as my favorite Tarvkosky’s film.

  • email_mike

    Nah, nope, no, The Sacrifice is also a masterpiece.

  • The Man Who Wasn’t There

    I actually feel very sad for Michael Cimino. Heaven’s Gate butched by the producers, and his career died at the same time. The movie was one of the most beautiful movies ever made.

  • donreplies

    “Parody of himself”, “Lack of creativity”… Are you out of your fucking mind? go watch sacrifice and Nostalghia another ten times before you write another word about Tarkovsky.

    • Black

      That’s right! Tell em! TELL EM!

  • Carl Peter Yeh

    Sorcerer/Wages of fear, by William Friedkin

  • Josh Jisco Schasny

    Very interesting perspective on these legendary careers and the valleys they encountered. This article brings up many topics of discussion. Very well done. It does beg the question of the validity of these films nowadays too. Like the Heaven’s Gate example. I for one think Zabriskie Point is a fantastic film but would I have thought that in 1970? I’ll never know. Good job!

  • Marco Il Sagace

    This may become #1 in: “10 lists that made you reconsider following a cineblog”

  • Suddho Mukherjee

    Please do yourself a favor and remove Tarkovsky from this list. You are embarrassing yourself.

  • Venkat Siddareddy

    What an useless article. TOC really pissed me off with this article.

  • Venkat Siddareddy

    Seriously? I am unfollowing TOC.

  • Chandradeep

    ‘Therefore, Tarkovsky’s decline has to be seen partially as a lack of creativity.’

    Whoever has written this should perish immediately. Nostalghia is one of the greatest films of all time. Stalker marked a decline?? Do articles on hollywood makers please. Leave out Fefe, Tarkovsky, Bergman et all. 7 films, 7 masterpieces. Equally brilliant works of art. That’s Tarkovsky. I’m refraining from any use of foul language but must admit this article gave a terrible urge.

    • Noah Garner


  • Stephus

    I don’t think Tarkovsky ever declined every movie he made is amazing.

  • Cebrail Bağdatlı

    Batman begins, Nolan ends.

    • Cebrail Bağdatlı

      By the way a request to site administrators: The photo (or avatar) on the right side is not mine. Could you please remove that?

  • kinch’s edge

    I can understand one not feeling The Sacrifice is up to par with Tarkovsky’s earlier films, but honestly, I’d say the (frequent) charges of derivation from Bergman are overblown.

  • Abhishek

    I thought I would see Hitchcock after may be mid 60s

  • David Morgan-Brown

    but The Sacrifice is Tarkovsky’s best film

  • Franco Gonzalez

    Another estupid post, how the fuck you include Tarkovsky here?

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Wait, who has Zabriskie Point in their 50 worst movies of all time?

  • Carl Edgar Consiglio

    City Of Woman is such a rich experience, how dare they? So much better than La Dolce Vita.

  • BK207

    “Tarkovsky’s artistic career kept growing with remarkable films such as Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972)….”
    Imo Solaris is bad, even Tarkovsky’s and Lem thought the same…an example(for me?) would be when the “psychologist” enter’s the “base”; while speaking with Dr. Snaut he sees something moving in the hammock as a psychologist who went to “investigate” a psychological breakdown in a “space-station” does he cares that maybe theres another person in hammock behind him NAH he doenst give AF…when a dwarf shows up behind Dr. Sartorious does he cares and goes like WTF dude? or what was that?? NAH ID GIVE AF and I’m psychologist……