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10 Great Films Made By Not-So-Great Directors

15 March 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Emilio Santoni

great films bad director

The internet is littered with lists which tell you about the one bad movie a good director made during their career but there’s not that much to be found when it comes to good films made by not so good directors.

In this list you’ll find ten of those. Some of the chosen directors will be controversial whilst others will be completely obvious, but all of them share one thing: they all made one movie in their careers which was fantastic and stood head and shoulders above the rest of their output. And if they managed to have a few more quality movies in there, which really weren’t all that bad, they certainly never came close to that one almost inexplicable exception, which became the apex of their entire output.

Here are ten great films by ten not so great directors.


10. Ivan Reitman – Ghostbusters


In retrospect, it’s damn close to a miracle that a film as funny and inventive as Ghostbusters ever came out of the hands of a director like Ivan Reitman. Sure, just before Ghostbusters, he did one early semi-classic with Bill Murray called Stripes, but let’s not go out of our way overrating that movie. It was a silly film. No more, no less.

But apart from that, the guy has made one misguided movie after another and worst of all, they are all genuinely unfunny comedies. This is the guy that single-handedly dug a grave for Robert Redford when they made Legal Eagles, something he has never quite recovered from.

This is the guy who thought it was a great idea to start making comedies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, casting him as Danny DeVito’s twin. This is the guy who managed to make a boring film, Father’s Day, starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal when they were still at the top of their game and who basically nailed the final nail in Harrison Ford’s coffin when they made Six Days Seven Nights.

Oh…and did I mention Ghostbusters 2? I didn’t, because I have been trying real hard to forget about it for the last 25 years. If you ever wondered why Murray has never wanted to do Ghostbusters 3, just remember Ghostbusters 2.

It’s still a mystery to me how Reitman ever managed to make the original Ghostbusters, the way he did. It’s a classic 80’s comedy and still, after 30 years, a phenomenon which has firmly worked its way into popular culture. Apart from that he also produced a very talented son in Jason Reitman, and for those two things, I thank him.


9. Bryan Singer – The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

Don’t get me started on the tragedy that is Bryan Singer. Here’s a guy who made one of the most awesome films ever with The Usual Suspects and then proceeded to spit me in the face time after time with mediocre to simply plain bad super hero movies, horribly incoherent special effects feasts like Jack the Giant Slayer and even a film with Tom Cruise as a Nazi. Seriously.

Now in all honesty, it wouldn’t have been so bad if he never had made The Usual Suspects. His super hero films are sort of passable (Although it remains a complete mystery to me what anyone ever saw in that first X-men movie, it’s basically horrible and making a Superman film boring is also quite a feat), Valkyrie isn’t the worst film Tom Cruise has lent his star power to (although it’s certainly not the best one either) and Jack the Giant Slayer…well, I have nothing even remotely nice to say about that poor excuse of a movie.

That only leaves Apt Pupil, the film Singer directed immediately after The Usual Suspects. It’s better than anything that followed it but when compared to the film that proceeded it, it’s really not that great a movie either.

But at least we have The Usual Suspects. Who can forget the fantastic screenplay and the wonderful cast. This is the movie that put Kevin Spacey (in conjunction with his role in Seven, which was released the same year) and Benicio Del Toro on my and most people’s radar, not to mention great performances by Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri , Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito and Dan Hedaya. It was shot well, edited well, written well, acted well and one hell of a fun ride with a twist for the history books.

No matter how hard he tries, Singer will ever be able to make me forget that early in his career he deceived me into thinking that a major new talent had arrived. It remains a film that’s almost in a league of its own (not just within Singer’s filmography but in general as well) and will forever hold a spot in my heart as one of my favourite films ever. Another masterpiece from a director who hasn’t done anything that comes remotely close to the quality of that one exceptional film early in his career.


8. Russell Mulcahy – Highlander


A surely less controversial pick is Russell Mulcahy. Do you even know that name? Here are some of his best known turkeys: Razorback, his feature film debut about a giant wild boar in the Australian outback, which at least it had some visual flair. The first sequel to Highlander, which is a top contender for worst sequel ever made. Ricochet, an early Denzel Washington vehicle. The Real McCoy, a waste of Kim Basinger, Val Kilmer and Terence Stamp in a film nobody has seen.

The Shadow, a completely unwatchable comic book adaptation starring Alec Baldwin. And more recently Resident Evil: Extinction, where Mulcahy took over the directing reigns from the disastrous Paul W.S. Anderson and nobody even noticed, which really says it all.

But then there’s the original Highlander. It might not be a great work of cinema but boy, was it inspired and a lot of fun. The tale of a bunch of immortals chopping each other’s heads off throughout the centuries is B-movie heaven and became immensely popular once it was released on video. It is the only speaking part Christopher Lambert is somewhat tolerable in, has Sean Connery as a Spanish dude called Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez and a fantastic villain in The Kurgan, played with gusto by Clancy Brown.

On top of that the film benefits greatly from a killer soundtrack by Queen, who seem to have a thing for supplying B-movie oddities with fantastic music, and some truly inspired cinematography and editing. The virtuoso camera work in the wrestling arena at the start of the film and the many cuts linking different eras smoothly are prime examples of this.

Highlander wasn’t a success upon its original cinema release but developed a true cult following later on in life and spawned many sequels and spin-offs, all of which were truly awful. There can be only one indeed.


7. Boaz Yakin – Fresh


Whatever happened to Boaz Yakin? You might not know that name and you might not even know the movie Fresh but that would be a real shame. It’s a wonderful directorial debut about a street-smart ghetto kid trying to stay alive and help out his family by being a delivery boy for local drug dealers. It has a great central performance by the then 14 year old Sean Nelson and also some stand-out supporting roles from Samuel L. Jackson and Giancarlo Esposito.

The movie was produced by Lawrence Bender, who came hot of the success of Reservoir Dogs and Killing Zoe and would also produce a little movie called Pulp Fiction the same year and it features another memorable soundtrack by the ex-drummer of The Police, Stewart Copeland.

The film was not a big success at the time but it was very well received by critics and managed to win the Filmmaker’s Trophy and Special Jury Recognition Award for Sean Nelson at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance for Sean Nelson and the Bronze Award at the Tokyo Film Festival.

Ever since his debut, Boaz Yakin hasn’t made a decent film. His most well known effort would have been Remember the Titans, another Denzel Washington vehicle (What is it with directors on this list and Denzel Washington performances? I mentioned him in the previous entry and I will mention him again), which was a commercial success but certainly not the best of movies and a whole string of films you have never heard about and which did not get any critical props whatsoever either. Apart from that Yakin has always been a screenwriter and his last credits include Prince of Persia and Now You See Me. Nuff said.


6. Hideo Nakata – Ring


Hideo Nakata had made one horror film previous to Ringu called Joyurei (aka Don’t Look Up or Ghost Actress) but it was hardly seen in the West and a modest success in his native Japan. I featured some bizarre footage which makes it way into the film the characters in the movie are shooting, reminiscent in tone of the footage that the rest of the world would get to know soon enough when Ring was released.

Ring was a worldwide horror success and spawned an enormous amount of sequels, spin-offs, imitations and remakes in its wake. It even added a new specific sub-genre to vernacular of popular culture: J-horror (Japanese Horror). Not that Japan didn’t already have a healthy history of films in the genre, it certainly did, but so great was the success and impact of Ring that now those beyond the limited hardcore horror fans were also exposed to it.

After Ring, every Asian horror film, and some non Asian horror films, seemed to feature a girl with long black hair in front of her face. And can you blame them? Sadako crawling out of the television set, in that creepy spider-like stop-motion manner, still keeps me up at night. Ring was genuinely frightening and unsettling and for most of us, it was a type of horror movie we had never seen before.

Ever since though, Nakata as not been able to come close to his previous success. Immediately after Ring’s breakthrough, there was the compulsory sequel, which felt like an afterthought and a weaker re-thread. He then tried his luck at a romance and a thriller but none of these films came close to Ring’s success.

Dark Water did fairly well but it can be argued that it do so mainly because of Ring’s popularity as it was clearly marketed as the next horror film by the director of Ring, and when analysed on its own merits, it really isn’t all that great and simply seems to recycle many of the elements, which had made Ring a successful chiller. Ever since Nakata’s films have gone from bad to worse, to the point where one can only wonder whether Ring had simply been a fluke. Even so, it was one hell of a fluke.



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  • Richard James

    Emilio may be a movie buff but he is also a first class douche bag. Get off your IKEA computer chair and try directing a movie you sanctimonious cock. Oh they only made one or two Hollywood blockbusters? Choke on your own bile you scumbag. Sorry you are writing shit articles instead of actually making films. Hey, think about it, somebody will be desperate enough to be in your YouTube video! You are that guy, that guy who trashes other guys that actually make shit. Have fun paying off that student loan you dirty ball sweat fuck. I hope you choke on that degree you disgusting ass. Choke on it. Yeah that’s a film quote. Look it up.

    • Terry Shannon

      Lol, tell us how you really feel. Cheers!

  • Terry Shannon

    Yeah…not down with the Tony Scott hate. Denzel was pretty damn good in Man on Fire. I think your reaching a bit in a few spots by marginalizing other successful films by some of these directors. Comes off a bit too smug. Nobody likes a film snob.

    • FunnyFaceKing

      Enemy of the State – with Will Smith and Gene Hackman – is fantastic.

    • Andy Nizinskyj

      Yeah, this article was painful to read, not because of the film choices – most were great examples – but because of the writers snobbery and malice.
      The guy needs a hug, seriously.

  • Jerome Gordon

    Loved the list but you should have had George Lucas on this list as #1! He only directed one good film.

  • Ana

    Tony Scott doesn’t really belong on this list. Perhaps not the greatest of directors, but he certainly produced more than one good film – apart from True Romance, you gotta love Top Gun – and a few others are okay too.

    • John W. Thackery

      No, ya don’t gotta love Top Gun. It’s 80s trash.

  • Aseem Chandaver

    Phone Booth – Schumacher.

  • Terry Shannon

    Also, I would welcome a response from the author as to how Spike Lee didn’t make this list. He hasn’t directed anything to equal Do the Right Thing. His last film, the awful remake of Old boy, should have surely landed him on this list.

    • Dave

      Malcolm X is pretty fantastic. Lee also directed several powerful documentaries.

  • prats127

    tony scott and bryan singer – personal bias no other reason I can see in this list

  • Nong Noc

    Bryan SInger and Hideo Nakata do not belong on this list, especially Nakata… Ring 2, Chaos and even Dark Water are all decent, worthy films…

  • Erik Champney

    Thank you for the enjoyable article. But, for God’s sake, get a proofreader. Get an editor. The grammatical errors and typos in this piece are inexcusable.

  • Erik Champney

    Thank you for the enjoyable article. But, for God’s sake, get a proofreader. Get an editor. The grammatical errors and typos in this piece are inexcusable.

  • Nong Noc

    Bryan SInger and Hideo Nakata do not belong to this list, especially Nakata… Ring 2, Chaos and even Dark Water are all decent, worthy films…

  • SJHoneywell

    Bob Clark, who directed such notable films as Baby Geniuses, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, and Karate Dog also directed A Christmas Story. Why isn’t he here instead of Bryan Singer or Tony Scott? Just askin’.

    • Veronica Dee

      He also directed from great horror movies in the seventies and eighties. Maybe that saved him. Honestly, I think this was a fairly mainstream list and it doesn’t seem like a lot of research went into it.

  • Jonathan Elfving

    The Last Boyscout is Scotts’ geatest film. It’s just so gosh dang good, and if you don’t agree then you are no fun.

  • Huh, I do like Signs by Shyamalan too… but yeah, it has a lot of flaws. Actually the first movie that popped into my mind when I read this list is Chicago – Rob Marshall hasn’t done anything else that I heard is good, although I have high hopes for Into the Woods.

  • Great article. I had no idea that Joss Whedon helped write “Speed”. That’s cool. It’s kind of funny that you listed “Revenge” on your list of bad Tony Scott movies when it was regaurded as one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorites by that director

  • ElrondHubbard

    wrong, Sixth Sense is what sucked, Unbreakable was very good – and I hate all other ‘comic book movies’ except The Watchmen.

  • what?

    I love how the writer of this article of this says “this film is stupid”, “this film is disastrous” blah blah without explaining why it is so. Please get a better writer.

  • Leon Horka

    Silence of the Lambs? Jonathan Demme is not too bad but is not GREAT.

  • Klaus Dannick

    This is an awful idea for a list. It’s literally begging for flamewars in the comments section. I don’t particularly admire these directors, but several of them are uniformly held in high regard, and there are likely to be exceptional directors who don’t appeal to every film buff.

  • Simon

    Your attacks on Tony Scott are clueless. You can not set the rules of an article and change half way through. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth. “Here’s a great movie, but I am going to discredit a more popular movie”

    I look no further than in your short bio to realize what kind of “Film buff” we’re dealing with. “He has been described to “love film, but hate all movies”. You can take that pretension back to Amsterdam.

    I will tell you Unbreakable was a great movie (Yes I said great). Many people will actually argue it’s his best.

    For Schumacher you don’t even mention Tigerland, often considered his best, The Phantom of the Opera or A Time to Kill.

    We’re talking bias here. You have a few here that make a lot of sense. Bryan Singer and Jan De Bont and John Singleton for instance. Hell I’ll give you M. Night although I was a fan through The Village because I will argue they both have merits.

    • Pica Lima

      A Time to Kill is amazing!

  • Patrick Hill

    I see you really, really dislike M Night Shyamalan. I’ll agree that he didn’t do many that were OK, but I seriously think that saying The Sixth Sense wasn’t that good is, well, a bad opinion in many people’s mind. And Unbreakable, while not a masterpiece is much better than you seem to want to peddle. As the author, you can write what you want, but using a snooty tone, as if we all agree with you, of course, is, well, being a snob, not a real connoisseur. This is one column I can’t say I enjoyed. Luckily there are more with an open mind here…

    • Abhishek

      Exactly, and recently how can we forget the Visit which would go to the good column

  • Ravi Teja

    I’m surprised this even got published here.

  • Ozhan

    shyamalan sucked in his latests movies but seriously you really just ignored Unbreakable? even The Village?

    and I can’t even tell why Singer and Scott are here.

  • This is a great idea for a list article, sure, Your premise being: one standout gem inexplicably in a sea of garbage. But the only standout that really applies to your premise is Schumacher’s one-off masterpiece Falling Down. But you’ve got Tony Scott (Man on Fire, THE HUNGER) and John Singleton (Higher Learning) in the article, so you’ve kind of nullified the list.

  • garden variety

    It was a good list and a brave one
    These guys are whinning too much.
    Apart from True Romance
    Tony Scott films appeal to that low common denominator that makes cinema lame.
    I’d say the whole list was right on, and the context isn’t mean spirited but rather shows a passion for films when they are excellent.
    Also, Saludos to Taste of Cinema for widening the spectrum, which is a lot of what cinema’s about.

    • Dave

      I don’t think Tony Scott’s films have aged well.

  • Pica Lima

    you get it right in most cases (specially n#1), but disregard Tony Scott like that… he’s just one of the best action movies director ever! Man on fire is a masterpiece and Revenge is great, just to talk about a pair of great films… nope, you blew it putting mr Scott on this list!

  • Mapinguarify

    The Deer Hunter (1978)? Anyone?
    The Deer Hunter is classic. But what other great movie Michael Cimino has? He is not bad director, but he is far away from great also.

    I think The Deer Hunter should be on this list.

    • Dave

      Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

  • Leo Rack

    STFU, Unbreakble was (and IS) fantastic.

  • Ozhan

    shyamalan’s unbreakable was even better than the sixth sense.

  • Dario Lima

    The top spot should be reserved for Richard Kelly who made a couple of cr*p movies after the masterpiece Donnie Darko.

  • Henrik Vinther Sørensen

    Shyamalan made 5 fantastic movies in a row from The Sixth Sense to Lady in the Water, which were all fantastic for what they tried to do, whether you enjoyed them or not. I would even say Lady in the Water is his masterpiece, truly unique and lovely movie.

    Even if he makes shit movies from now on until his death I will always respect his legacy.

  • BK207

    The Hunger from Tony Scott is really good, True Romance to me is more of an Tarantino-Scott collaboration. I’m biased on the Bryan Singer side I would put him on 1st, mainly because most of his filmography its the X-Men’s movies and Imo Matthew Vaughn made the best of then on “First Class”, which let him made 2 of then which its a bad joke.

  • Adrian

    1. Shyamalan – Totally agree, Hollywood’s most overrated movie director. And it’s only the dense industry wishing and hoping that he’ll do another Sixth Sense box office hit that gives him chance after chance to prove he won’t.

    Tony Scott though, was a pretty good director who made some bad movies. But if you look at the way he works, with quick, nicely cut action sequences, and lashed out sweaty dialogues with facial closeups, I’d say you can find much much worse. Besides, I still think both Deja Vu and specially Crimson Tide are great thrillers.

  • Rudi

    Shyamalan at #1, how original. Very snobbish list. Shyamalan made great movies, X2 is one of the best superhero movies ever made and Domino is one hell of a fun action flick.

  • bourgeoisie scum

    it reads like a 12 year old wrote this article. you are not a very good movie critic/fan/human being

  • fantail31

    Couldnt agree more about M Night Shyamalan. I would add Baz Lurman to this list. Romeo And Juliet crackles with energy and holds its nerve all the way through but as for the rest…….although have huge affection for Strictly Ballroom.