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10 Living Directors Who Have Never Made a Bad Movie

21 February 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Dustin Hull

Spielberg, Cameron, Coppola, Fincher, and the Coens. These are top-of-the-line directors with names even a casual moviegoer would recognize. They’re legends who have built up incredible filmographies any prospective director would kill for.

But not even they were susceptible to having a bad film once and awhile. Cameron started with that Piranha movie and Fincher started with that Alien movie. The Coen brothers got lost in The Ladykillers and Spielberg got stuck in 1941. Coppola put a black mark on what would’ve otherwise been the best trilogy in existence, and has had a couple duds since.

But for a select few directors, failed projects have yet to surface. To be chosen, the director must’ve had at least a half-dozen feature-length films.

Not all of these men can be considered among the greats. Some are often accused of being overrated or divisive. But despite that, they’ve consistently pleased both the crowds and the critics.

 

1. Paul Thomas Anderson

P.T.A. has had some real clear-cut winners and some more divisive films. While There Will Be Blood is a magnum opus anyone would be proud of, Anderson also has a film like Inherent Vice that are a little more split down the middle.

Vice is comical in peculiarities and even more odd in its structure. It can throw you off here and there, but it never seems like the director loses focus in the story despite its unconventional style.

His other comedy attempt, Punch-Drunk Love, is another fine example of a director with not only unique concepts, but one with original storytelling methods. And most impressive of all, it allows you to say “good movie” and “Adam Sandler” in the same sentence.

Ever since his start with Hard Eight, Anderson has shown a rare amount of versatility. He’s done noir, melodrama, comedy, epics. He’s done movies on oil men (Blood), porn stars (Boogie Nights), and a private detective (Vice). And don’t get started on all the occupations the people in Magnolia have.

P.T.A. has had talents like Philip Seymour-Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Joaquin Phoenix along the way. But he just as often sets his talent up for superior success as they do for him by elevating the material. Anderson is loyal to his favorites, and is certainly an actor’s director.

 

2. Denis Villeneuve

Damian Chazelle may be the director everyone is talking about this year, just like Alejandro Inarritu before him. But Villeneuve has quietly risen up the ranks, and that’s finally being paid off with best picture and director nominations.

Arrival may be his best work, but even more experienced filmgoers hadn’t ever realized before how long he’d been churning out quality films. He started with the bizarre, darkly comedic Maelstrom, which seems far distant from Arrival or Sicario in genre and style, but not at its center.

Sadly, Villeneuve wouldn’t release another movie for nine years, but Polytechnique was a wonderful sophomore effort. Its depiction of tragedy and the genuine way it evokes emotions makes it a perfect predecessor for Villeneuve’s second best film.

And that near-masterpiece is called Incendies. The emotional impact in this one is even greater, and the talent surrounding the film and the script they work with are far superior. It’s a film that shouldn’t work, and sometimes finds itself a little off the tracks. But it ties together well and is perhaps the movie most likely to stick with you from his filmography.

Prisoners and Enemy only helped solidify him as a Grade-A talent, the former establishing him in Hollywood. Though all his films have been underappreciated at the box office, Sicario finally exposed him more to audiences. And after Arrival’s subtle brilliance, it seems he may just be the one to handle the sequel to one of science fiction’s crown jewels, Blade Runner.

 

3. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio

Anyone can throw out Boxcar Bertha or Shutter Island, but the truth is, none of Scorsese’s movies are bad. Not even close. And he’s directed 24 of them.

Most directors would wish for Scorsese’s tenth or eleventh best film. He had a classic in the 70’s (Taxi Driver), 80’s (Raging Bull), and 90’s (Goodfellas). He explored the streets of New York and immersed his audiences in the big city unlike anyone else.

His 1970’s, with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and New York, New York, can only be trumped by Francis Ford Coppola’s epic decade. And in a decade like the 80’s, which gave us Spielberg, Cameron, and so many other great directors in their prime, Scorsese stacks up with them all. And above everything, he not only made the best boxing movie ever, but possibly the greatest sports film ever with Raging Bull.

Scorsese would eventually win best director for The Departed, but he had deserved the award multiple times before that. Such films as Shutter Island or Boxcar Bertha are sometimes considered let-downs in his career, but only because of the simple fact they come from Scorsese. Bertha was considered flat, distant, and insipid.

On the flip-side though, it did have enough Bonnie and Clyde aspects with great camera work and moments of brilliance dashed in. Moments that would signify the upcoming of one of cinema’s greatest directors.

 

4. David Lynch

mulholland-drive-analysis

If there’s one director we don’t see enough of in film these days, it’s David Lynch. One of the most artistic men in the business, Lynch has forged a unique path in cinema. But he hasn’t directed a feature-length movie since 2006.

He took such a break on a proper note, with Inland Empire delivering on the profound imagination the man himself possesses. And it may’ve been in the bottom half of his filmography.

It’s hard to find many directors as experimental as Lynch who have collected such overwhelmingly positive results. Whatever didn’t stick with audiences and critics alike out of the gate eventually became cult hits anyway. He even took on one of the most ambitious, and frankly impossible assignments by doing Dune back in 1984. He did service to the classic literature, though making an extraordinary depiction of it in two hours and 17 minutes was never going to be done.

Lynch brought us Eraserhead, a film as intense, disturbing, intriguing, and flat-out weird as they come, and hard not to love. Then came the classic Elephant Man, and eventually Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., all extremely stylish and thoughtful creations from an innovative mind.

 

5. Park Chan-wook

stoker-mia-wasikowska-park-chan-wook

Leading the ever-growing South Korean film movement, PCW has continuously churned out well-crafted work. His blending of genres has created exhilarating films full of all sorts of emotions.

Last year’s The Handmaiden was a prime example of his expansion of genre. In fact, it’s hard to pin down the movie close to any particular one. He can deliver amazing choreography, violent action, well-placed humor, and sincere solemnity, and do it all convincingly in the same film.

His Vengeance Trilogy is one of the better trios to ever exist. Though they’re not narratively connected, at their heart they surely seem like they are. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is more of a fan-favorite than a critical success, but any disapproval quickly went to the wayside when Oldboy hit the screens in 2003.

It is one of the best revenge films of recent memory, but it is a complete alternative to most films with the theme. After finishing the trilogy with Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Park Chan-wook shot even further into the cinematic stratosphere.

This eventually led him to making Stoker, which should one day be considered a cult classic. And he’s only 53, so expect that his best work is still to come.

 

 

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  • Matt

    how about Mike Leigh, Michael Haneke, Lynne Ramsey, Bong Joon Hoo,…?
    very inconsistent list

    • Šunamovac Makro

      cache by haneke is utter rubbish imo

      • I don’t like it either, but it is almost universally beloved (at least in the genre/geek crowd)

    • Mortimer

      Todd Haynes also (but I understand if someone think that Velvet Goldmine is a dud).

  • Bình Thường

    compare to the departed, goodfellas, raging bull. Shutter island can be counted as a failure for some people. Just saying

    • Dustin Hull

      That’s why I tried to mention it may seem like a failure compared to his other works. But it’s still a successful movie in many ways. Just because it’s not Scorsese’s par, doesn’t necessarily make it all that bad. I get where you’re coming from though. Thanks for reading.

  • Ana

    Fincher’s alien movie was IMHO a worthy addition to the quadrology. Its rough edges work, evoking a sense of unease and it remains the most disturbing of the lot for me (and overall much better than Weedon’s contribution).

    • Suresh Wirasinha

      I agree, the opening credits sequence has to be one
      of the most suspenseful scenes in the entire series.

    • Orso Bruno

      I loved Alien 3, way better than the 4th or Prometheus…

  • Sebastian Baraybar

    Hitchcock, Jarmusch, Kurosawa? Btw i agree with the list

    • Andres Abad

      “living” directors

      • Gentle_Giant

        Jarmusch is pretty much living.

        • Šunamovac Makro

          pretty much living pretty 😀

        • Vincenzo Politi

          Hitchcock and Kurosawa are kind of very dead though.

        • Andres Abad

          Even though i think i just saw Kurosawa on the supermarket today….

      • Sebastian Baraybar

        Ok, only Jim Jarmusch

  • colonelkurtz

    If we remember never making a bad film does not mean only making good films, then I suppose this list works.

  • Dave

    Charles Laughton

    • Adrian

      “Living”

  • Andres Abad

    Tarantisno´s Hatefull 8 was his black sheep to my opinion. You can cut that film to 1 hour and that would have been enough to make it a good movie. But… he had to go with the “3 hour great movie” gimmick… and even when i love all the dialogues Tarantino writes for all his films… i must say H8 was total a boredom and redundant.

  • I kind of disagree with David Lynch even though I love the man. His take on Dune was mediocre though it wasn’t his fault. I would make the case for Terrence Malick in my opinion as I pretty much love everything he’s made so far though I still haven’t seen Voyage of Time. It’s just that’s he’s creating films that play by a different set of rules as To the Wonder and Knight of Cups are definitely challenging films in terms of lack of conventional narrative but manages to create something that does feel very personal and gives you perspective into bits of his own life.

    Other filmmakers who should be in this list are Sofia Coppola, Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, Julie Taymor, and Nicole Holofcener as these are women who have made some very interesting films and continue to do things their way.

    • Nelsonoca Galvis

      Sofia Coppola? the Bling Ring is very bad

      • I didn’t think so. I thought it was awesome. How can you not love that sequence where the kids robbed Audrina Patridge’s home?

        • Nelsonoca Galvis

          yes is well directed, but is trama use up very quickly for a movie that just have 90 minutes, the reallity some times is very boring

    • Orso Bruno

      you’re right!!! Malick as well!!!

  • Andres Abad

    i know charlie Kauffman has only 3 movies as a director and that he is mostly known as a masterful writer for films like Eternal Sunshine and Beign JM, but each of those 3 movies he had directed (and written) are masterpieces. He is so freaking meticulous and perfectionist on his work on these movies.. i simply and utterly love his work.

    • Xanian

      Thank you. Charlie Kaufman is my favorite living film personality.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      Céline Sciamma has directed only 3 movies too, by they are all great movies!

  • Adrian

    I think just about all Tarantino movies he’s made since Jackie Brown are pretty bad, with some good scenes here and there in a few movies made after. But hey, that’s just like my opinion man.

  • Abhishek

    Denis is one of the best directors today. Insomnia by Nolan was not as good as the Original but yeah wasn’t bad either.

  • Maciek

    Tarantino?? HA HAHA HA! Best joke I have heard this week.

  • Alex Huet

    You re missing a few park chan wook movies!

  • Hannibal

    This may be the most inaccurate and silly list I’ve seen in here. It seems that it would be better to call it “ten directors I like – by Justin Hull”. Nothing interesting is said, and a very vague definition of what “bad movies” implies.

  • Murali Subramonian

    better to replace Nolan with Richard Linklater….Nolan is mere hype…..

    • Vincenzo Politi

      I <3 Richard Linklater!

    • Dustin Hull

      I’m a big Linklater fan as well, Murali. But the Bad News Bears remake burned his chances of being on the list. Just my opinion though.

      • Murali Subramonian

        of-course there are many other average movies from him like fast food nation, Bernie and so on…. but for that matter even the greats like Martin Scorsese and David Lynch have movies like boxcar bertha and dune to their credit….but on a percentage wise analysis it seems to me (completely a personal opinion) that Nolan by no means deserves to be in this list….he may have directed block busters….but never many great movies….for that matter peter Jackson too is a name that ‘ miss; though ‘ not at all a fan of his movies….

      • Mortimer

        Are you a fan of Todd Haynes filmography ? Just asking.

  • Dejan Aleksić

    Giuseppe Tornatore. Sinply genius. Additionally, he always writes his screenplays. One of the best, and in the same time, most underappreciated living directors.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      Giuseppe Tornatore? Really? For me, he is always been kind of ‘meh’. I am from Sicily and I am always astonished by the following Tornatore has abroad. His depictions of Italy in general and Sicily in particular are full of awful stereotypes, everything looks like an unrealistic postcard in his movies and he always uses cheap tricks to move the audience (nostalgia, lost loves, melancholic mothers, wonderful countryside, and so on). The Legend of 1900 is soooo kitsch! However, I do like A Pure Formality, because it looks different from the rest of his production. I also love Maléna, because it has many funny parts and the evil gossipy Sicilian women are indeed very realistic.

    • Orso Bruno

      I can’t stand him…
      though regarding the Italians I would say Sorrentino could quite fit in this list.

  • Whoever came up with this list must have some good hallucinogens, especially to put Tarantino on the list. And much as I love Lynch, even he will tell you he’s made a stinker or two.

  • Nick Botton

    This list was a terrible idea. I love many of these directors but I’ll always be willing to admit when their production isn’t up to par.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    Alejandro Jodorowsky, Pedro Almodóvar, Alfonso Cuarón, Micheal Bay…

    • Šunamovac Makro

      Michael Bay? You are joking, right?

      • Jacob Lyon Goddard

        Yes, that last one was a joke.
        I thought it was an obvious joke.

    • Dustin Hull

      Cuaron only didn’t make the list because of Great Expectations. But many people still enjoy that film. He was definitely considered though.

  • Nelsonoca Galvis

    Tarantino? Death Proof is garbage, a very long garbage, and Jackie Brown have a ridiculous cult than nobody knows of to defent because at the end is just a mediocre movie.

  • Raul F. Manfredini

    Darren Aranofsky? Stanley Kubrick? Fabian Bielinsky?

    • Vincenzo Politi

      It’s the list of the LIVING directors. Kubrick and Bielinsky died a while ago…

  • Xanian

    Tarantino and Nolan are definitely not part of this conversation. Everything Tarantino has done since Death Proof has been sub par. Nolan is a populist, pretentious hack.

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  • Pablo Martínez Dutra

    LMAO, this list. Wtf did I just read.

  • skainstein

    I would add Arren Aronofsky

    • Tragos Drica

      Forgot the “D” by Darren? 😉

      • skainstein

        😛 Yes

    • Dustin Hull

      This is one of a few directors I thought had only one bad film. I originally had him on the list, but I was just a little too turned off by Noah to include him. Love much of his work though.

  • Kartikey Sehgal

    There will always be a group, at different parts of the globe, who will say so for Woody Allen or any other director you don’t like.

  • Zwei

    insterstellar? the master? birdman? stocker? hugo? the departed?

  • Tragos Drica

    What about terry Gilliam? But ok, it’s hard to choose ten between about twenty.
    J.L. Goodard was really funny with Miachel Bay. He really should be on a top ten list … with the worst directors.

    • Nelsonoca Galvis

      the last one of Terry Gilliam is “meh”

  • oyunbozan

    wait… ridley scott?

    • Dustin Hull

      You can’t convince me Exodus was a good film. Ridley is one of my favorites, but he’s had his fair share of duds too.

  • Otto T. Goat

    Tarentino has never made a good movie.

    • Thomassamoth

      lol ! that was a joke ,right?

      • Otto T. Goat

        Actually that’s what I think. I find his movies not only empty, but there is something repulsive about them. I’m not really interested in debating Tarentino’s merits on the internet.

  • Tarkovsky.

  • Wyatt W.B

    I’ve never disliked work from the Coens.

  • Carl Edgar Consiglio

    I didn’t find Scorcese ‘s The Departed as anything special. Same goes for Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

  • Orso Bruno

    how The Prestige, Inception could be even considered “flawed movies”???

  • Orso Bruno

    Instead of Ignarritu, 21 Grams, Babel(movies easy to be pleased) and Biutiful(not so much beautiful), I really would have insert Linklater…
    And Fincher??? I would consider him over Villeneuve.

  • Inspector71

    Tarantino? What is it with him? He loves the 70s, we get it. Even his movies set in historical periods seem like they were made in the 70s. His movies are good but not nearly all great.

  • Jim Bo

    Jeff Nichols, perfect example.

  • Relf

    Terrence Malick?

  • Gus

    Paul Thomas Anderson directed “Inherent Vice”
    Martin Scorsese directed “Gangs of New York”, “The Aviator”, “New York, New York”, “Cape Fear”
    David Lynch directed “Inland Empire”
    Christopher Nolan directed “Insomnia”
    Park Chan Wook directed “Stoker”
    Alejandro Iñarritu directed “Birdman”
    Quentin Tarantino directed “Death Proof” and “The hateful eight”

    All these directors are great and the films mentioned are a lot of things, but good is not one of them.

    Anyway, nice effort. 3/10 is not that bad!

  • dune was so bad that lynch himself took his name off it

  • Roberto Guzmán

    Are you kidding me? Where is Kubrick?

  • Jules F. Melo Borges

    You got to be… Geesh.

  • Generic Actor

    Sam Mendes should at least be here. Aside from that, great list.

  • shane scott-travis

    Andrea Arnold, Kelly Reichardt, Claire Denis, Maren Ade, and Sofia Coppola have never made a bad film either. But then again they’re all women and lists like this largely ignore the many brilliant female auteurs out there who have to work ten times harder than their male peers. Bullshit!!!