It’s a given that even good directors will make at least one bad film throughout their career. Quentin Tarantino famously stated that he’ll like to retire after his 10th film because he’d like to maintain some consistency in his filmography, and he has a point – there are some directors who’ve never made a bad film (depending who you ask), like Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson.
It’s true that once you get older or have been in the industry for a long time it’s hard to remain consistent due to various factors. Maybe it’s a lack of interest, difficulty choosing the right projects, being out of touch, failing to live up to certain expectations, becoming repetitive or simply reaching your peak.
M. Night Shyamalan is currently experiencing a career resurgence, proving that it’s never too late to turn things around. The same could be said of Tim Burton if you enjoyed “Frankenweenie” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, which depends on how much of his style you can still enjoy.
Whatever the reason, the following directors have failed to live up to their former glory and are currently stuck in a slump. Naturally, it’s all a matter of opinion, but comparing their current output to their salad days you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
1. Cameron Crowe
The one thing Cameron Crowe has done is live an interesting life. As a writer for Rolling Stone magazine at a young age, the magazine would send him to interview rock bands that were difficult or wanted nothing to do with the magazine. It’s those experiences that inspired his coming-of-age dramedy, “Almost Famous”, about a teenage rock journalist on tour with a fictional rock band who expose him to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, of course.
Before that, he made a few sleeper hits before reaching his career height with the rom-com/drama, “Jerry Maguire”, about a sports agent who decides to strike out on his own, starring Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger and Cuba “show me the money!” Gooding Jr. The film became a huge hit in 1996, netting Gooding Jr. an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and turning Crowe into a sought-after director.
So where did it all go wrong? His last hit was the underrated Spanish remake “Vanilla Sky” about lucid dreams that divided critics and audiences, which ironically is his most accomplished in the directing chair. After that, his films struggled to gain an audience with the lackluster “Elizabethtown”, “We Bought a Zoo” and the career-killing “Aloha”.
Throughout out all these failures, you sense a lack of passion, a tendency to play it safe, some unlikable characters, and an abundance of clichés. Even if you didn’t like “Jerry Maguire” you have to admit that it at least had heart and purpose.
Like a lot of directors today, Crowe turned his attention to television with the music dramedy “Roadies” that suffered from the same issues, and sadly hasn’t been renewed for a second season.
2. Dario Argento
The influential Giallo director is known for sublime cult classics like “Deep Red”, “Suspiria” and “Tenebrae”, to name a few. He’s arguably one of the best thriller/horror directors with a repertoire of stylish, graphic, violent, strange and creative films that linger in your mind long after the credits roll.
Even his best films have issues like plot holes, bad acting, bad dubbing and some attention-grabbing camera work, but there’s always something to enjoy in a Dario Argento film. There’s a charm and style that’s uniquely his own and the music is always hypnotizing when Goblin’s involved.
So where did it go wrong? After a legendary run in the 70s and 80s, things started getting really bad by the 90s, especially with “Phantom of the Opera”, where the masterful and deliberate filmmaker started making lazy and amateurish films. By the 2000s, you could barely differentiate the quality compared to the usual onslaught of horror films coming out each year.
Watching his output in the 00s is an extremely painful exercise with “Pelts”, “The Card Player”, and career-worst “Dracula 3D” (heck, you know any film with the word “3D” in its title is bad). It would be great to chalk it all up to Argento being way past his prime, but to be honest, the execution on most of these terrible films feels like he could care less.
Being in the industry for so long and getting older no doubt has a hand in it. However, it’s much easier watching a bad film when you can see there’s some sort of passion in each frame than one devoid of any.
3. Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola is undoubtedly one of the most influential filmmakers to ever grace us with his talents, with classics such as “The Godfather”, “Apocalypse Now”, and “The Conversation”, to name a few. Perhaps it’s unfair to put Coppola on this list since he’s semi-retired, stating that he’d rather experiment and make films for his own enjoyment than work in the modern studio system.
So where did it all go wrong? “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” aside, the 90s were notoriously unkind to his output starting with the much maligned “The Godfather: Part III”, and taking things further with the question mark, the Robin Williams comedy “Jack” that had many people scratching their heads. “The Rainmaker” fared better and was seen as a return to form that any filmmaker would be proud of.
From 2007 onward, Coppola started experimenting more with the amazingly beautiful and equally frustrating “Youth Without Youth”, and the widely unseen “Tetro”, an interesting film that saw the auteur return to the family dynamics he’s known for, only to be undone by whatever 2012’s “Twixt” was.
Sadly, it’s the all too familiar tale of an aging artist struggling to remain relevant or consistent in the ever-changing world, but with over 40 years in the industry and a string of classics, what more can we ask for from Mr. Coppola?
4. John Singleton
At the age of 24, John Singleton made history becoming the first African-American and the youngest person to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. An amazing feat considering that it was for his directorial debut, “Boyz n the Hood”.
Fever pitch seemed to die out for the director who was once seen as the new Spike Lee in his misunderstood follow up “Poetic Justice” in 1993, which has enjoyed a sort of cult status after its release. A mixed bag of films followed with “Higher Learning”, “Rosewood” and “Baby Boy”, which weren’t bad but failed to live up to his first two films.
So where did it all go wrong? He gravitated to studio films in the 2000s with the uneven “Shaft” in 2000 and the as awful-as-its-title “2 Fast, 2 Furious” before the ultimate low with “Abduction”, which is more known for failing to make ‘Twilight’ heartthrob Taylor Lautner into an action star. And somewhere in-between is “Four Brothers” that highlights the problem with Singleton’s latter career – a mix of interesting characters and ideas that never come together as a satisfying whole.
He probably would’ve returned to the fold this year if he directed the Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me”, but ended walking out twice due to “creative differences.” Being friends and having worked with the late legendary rapper, he might’ve made a much better film than the terribleness that was released instead.
Currently focusing on television after criticizing Hollywood for not letting black directors make black-themed films and making them do films they want to see them in, it’ll be interesting to see if he returns to movie-making, especially with the possible Tupac film he still plans to do.
5. Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone probably doesn’t get the ‘full’ credit he deserves, even after delivering classics like “Platoon”, “Wall Street”, “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Natural Born Killers”. Even after penning the classic “Scarface” remake and “Conan the Barbarian”, his name just isn’t mentioned as much as it should be.
He used to deliver thought-provoking films that were entrenched in American history and identity, and the once-controversial director was one of the most exciting filmmakers in his heyday, even if his political films do sometimes feel like they’re beating you over the head with their messages.
So where did it all go wrong? Besides his hit/miss aforementioned political films and documentaries, his later films lack the focus and control that made his earlier output classics. They seem to be the work of a director so out of touch with modern trends but somehow still trying to play catch-up and strive for relevancy.
The Sean Penn-led “U Turn” didn’t do any favors to anyone involved and “Alexander” was a failure of epic proportions. “World Trade Center” had the obstacle of portraying the world’s most recent tragedy, to which it almost comes close, and the sequel to the two decades late “Wall Street” was as unnecessary as they come. “Savages” killed any hope it ever had with one of the most ill-advised movie endings of all time.
And then there’s his most recent Joseph Gordon-Levitt led “Snowden” that tried to hearken back to his popular themes and subjects, but failed to become anything more than an “okay” film due to Stone’s indifferent direction.