8. Steven Spielberg
Hits: Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
It may seem strange to include the unbelievably successful Steven Spielberg on a list like this. He has both directed and produced some of the biggest hit movies ever made, and unlike many filmmakers, Spielberg is a household name, even known by people who are not big on movies. However, even Spielberg was once a young and beginning filmmaker who had bumps along the way to success.
Not only was his early film Jaws a huge hit at the box office, but it more or less invented the summer blockbuster trend that Hollywood still lives by. Jaws was followed by Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, a science fiction film still admired to this day. There seemed to be no stopping this young hotshot filmmaker.
One of Spielberg’s biggest hits is the World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, a horrific look at the brutality of war. However, Spielberg’s first film about WWII couldn’t be more different; in fact, it was a slapstick comedy!
Starring some of the biggest comedy stars of the late 1970s, such as Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi and John Candy, this should have been a hit. But the final film is simply not funny, infuriatingly so. It tries way too hard to be funny and to force laughs from unfunny material. Soldiers running amok and explosions in themselves simply do not make create immediate laughs.
Spielberg is fortunate to have been one of the few filmmakers on this list to not only recover from having a flop, but having a fantastic career afterwards. Time has allowed the public to forget about this huge misstep in his career.
9. Gore Verbinski
Hit movie: Rango
After directing the first three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Gore Verbinski was responsible for bringing in millions of dollars for his pirate adventures.
He then set his sights on making an animated adventure film called Rango to do the same thing. Verbinski’s mix of comedy and adventure in his films was well balanced in Rango, and it was a massive hit. It won the Best Animated Film Oscar.
Flop: The Lone Ranger
Despite the aforementioned mixture of comedy and adventure in Verbinski’s films, neither the action nor the comedy were entertaining enough for audiences in his follow up film The Lone Ranger. Its production was halted by budgetary concerns, causing the film’s release to be delayed more than once.
The film made $260 million that looks great if you do not realise that the film would have had to have made $650 million for the film to break even.
10. Joel Schumacher
Hit movie: Batman Forever
Taking over the Batman franchise after Tim Burton’s films was always going to be a tall order for any director, especially as Batman Returns was viewed as too dark and not as well received as Batman.
But Joel Schumacher lightened up the tone and made both Gotham City and the characters more flashy, and put the series back right back to the top of the box office. Despite its many critics, Batman Forever is actually a very fun and entertaining film.
Flop: Batman & Robin
Despite his previous success with Batman, Schumacher learned the hard way that lightning does not always strike twice. Batman & Robin went too far towards the campy side and is universally hated by die hard Batman fans. The dialogue is atrocious (especially Mr. Freeze’s horrible ice puns), and the plot is very cheesy.
Fans were not happy with the inclusion of silly additions, such as rubber nipples and close ups of the buttocks of Batman and Robin’s suits. The series had to be rebooted with Batman Begins (so some good came out of this situation), and Schumacher went on to mostly make smaller films after this, with mixed results.
11. Richard Kelly
Hit movie: Donnie Darko
While Donnie Darko didn’t exactly break box office records when released, it certainly made up for that by being incredibly popular on DVD and gaining a huge cult following.
Midnight screenings throughout the world allowed this combination of science fiction, teen drama and 1980s period piece become one of the most loved films of the 2000s. It also got its director Richard Kelly noticed by Hollywood, who wondered what crazy story he would come up with next.
Flop: Southland Tales
Kelly once again tried to blend genres together, but on a much bigger scale. Southland Tales was a very ambitious film with a lot of expectation, and a $17 million budget for Kelly to work with.
Kelly more than took advantage of his newfound resources, with casting big name stars like Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott and others, in his ensemble sci-fi drama.
Nearly two and a half hours long, Southland Tales tried to juggle too many plotlines going on at once from celebrity culture to the War on Terror, and criticised for being weird for the sake of being weird.
The film only got released in selected cinemas and only made $374,000 back. Kelly has only made one feature film since Southland Tales called The Box that, unlike the ambitious and inventive Southland Tales, was just plain dull and forgettable.
12. Paul Verhoeven
Hit movie: Basic Instinct
Although Dutch director Paul Verhoeven had Hollywood success with his action/sci-fi hits Robocop and Total Recall, he yearned to make an erotic thriller the likes of what he had made in his home country.
Although initially met with controversy due to its graphic sexual nature and supposedly homophobic storyline, the Joe Eszterhas penned Basic Instinct proved that the old saying “sex sells” is true.
Verhoeven and Eszterhas teamed up once again to make Showgirls, another erotic drama about a stripper battling and dancing her way through the underbelly of Las Vegas to become a showgirl at a casino. The film was an instant bomb that was hated by critics and audiences alike, and failed to make its $45 million budget back.
Showgirls has since become a cult classic often put in the “so bad it’s good” category. With his career in trouble, Verhoeven briefly returned to the sci-fi genre with Starship Troopers and Hollow Man before becoming disillusioned with Hollywood and returning to Europe to have more creative freedom with his films.
13. Renny Harlin
Hit movie: Die Hard 2; Cliffhanger
While Finnish director Renny Harlin had his first big break in Hollywood with the fourth Nightmare on Elm Street film, it was with the second Die Hard film that really got him noticed as an action director. He went on to direct the Sylvester Stallone hit Cliffhanger, which made $225 million from a $70 million budget.
Flop: Cutthroat Island
With Harlin’s previous two movies having made such a great turnover, Hollywood were willing to give Harlin even more money for his next film, the doomed pirate adventure Cutthroat Island.
The film only made $10 million of its $98 million budget back, a far cry from its expected blockbuster success. Carolco Studios was on the verge of bankruptcy as the film was about to be released and little was done to promote the film, so when Cutthroat Island made its ill-fated voyage to cinemas, it was the final nail in the coffin.
Harlin’s clout as a director was severely damaged by Cutthroat Island’s failure. Although he made some more minor hits in the late 1990s, once the new millennium started, his career really plummeted.
14. Francis Ford Coppola
Hit movie: Apocalypse Now
Francis Ford Coppola won both the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for both of the first two Godfather movies, and achieved great acclaim with The Conversation. So when Coppola wanted to create an epic war film about the Vietnam War, no one was going to stand in his way.
It was a very risky film that went way over budget and drove Coppola mad and gave its leading man Martin Sheen a heart attack, as shown in the notorious behind the scenes documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.
However, despite the huge costs, Apocalypse Now was an instant hit that covered both the harsh realities of war and mankind’s violent tendencies. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is often listed as one of the best films ever made.
Flop: One From The Heart
After both the huge mental and financial cost Apocalypse Now had on Coppola, he decided to make a smaller film, one that would supposedly be a guaranteed hit.
However, Coppola decided that One From The Heart, which was originally going to be a straightforward romantic comedy, needed to be a lavish musical that really bumped up the price tag of the film.
The film bankrupted Coppola’s Zoetrobe Studios as it only made a measly $636,000, compared to its $26 million budget (it was originally only $2 million before Coppola raised the budget to create more lavish sets). The films Coppola made throughout the 1980s and 1990s were done so in order to pay off the costs of One From The Heart.
15. Michael Cimino
Hit movie: The Deer Hunter
The Deer Hunter is often regarded as both one of the best war movies ever made and one of the best movies of the 1970s, and rightfully so. Although a long and drawn out movie, its haunting portrayal of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on three American soldiers and their families is heartbreaking, amazingly acted and beautifully shot.
Cimino justly won the Best Director award for this masterpiece; the film also won the Best Picture Oscar and earned Christopher Walken a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Flop: Heaven’s Gate
Of all the filmmakers on this list, Cimino’s flop is perhaps the most notorious, and definitely the most tragic story. Heaven’s Gate contains some of the best cinematography ever put to celluloid (the wide shot of the aftermath of the huge battle towards the end of the film is breathtaking).
However, the film was doomed from the start. There were numerous reports of the film going way over budget and beyond schedule, animal cruelty on set, and the initial cut of the film released was withdrawn from the public by Cimino to create a shorter cut. This all lead to one of the biggest disasters in movie history.
Heaven’s Gate only made back $3.5 million of its $44 million budget, ultimately bankrupting United Artists studio. Heaven’s Gate is often cited as the film that ended the era of director driven films and put in place the current studio controlled system that exists today. Cimino’s career never recovered from Heaven’s Gate.
Author Bio: Matt Wilson is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. His passion for cinema has always been a part of him and he aspires to be a screenwriter or a novelist. He particularly enjoys the films of Michael Cimino, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Verhoeven, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.