Everyone has a favorite filmmaker, usually someone widely considered to be at the very least good. Film fans are always going to be locked in debates about the filmmakers they like and those they don’t. But despite the never-ending arguments about filmmakers, there are some directors that are just considered great.
But even within the parameters of widely considered great directors, there will be stinkers. Everyone has a worst movie. Them’s the breaks when it comes to art. Not everything can be a winner. Some of these guys’ worst movies may be the worst just by comparison to a much stronger piece of filmmaking in that filmmakers canon. Many times though it’s just that they made a really bad movie and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
As Oscar season is in the air and that is usually the time great filmmakers drop new works, it would seem like a pretty reasonable time to look at their weakest entries as a means to further successes even more successful.
1. Walter Hill – Brewster’s Millions (1985)
Walter Hill is well known for his gritty and to-the-point genre films. He is a tough-as-nails filmmaker who helped change cinema with his no-nonsense style. So it is no surprise to see that the worst movie he has done is a movie that steers outside of his comfort zone and aims to be a straight comedy.
Hill is a man of many talents. He has many movies that feature moments of well-done comedy and levity. But this is not a man built for comedy. It takes an entire different skill set to build a comedy. One has to understand the flow of comedy the way one understands how to build an action set piece of a crime story. Hill knows how to do one of those things, but the ins and outs of comedy is outside him.
Throw in Richard Pryor post-self immolation, and you got another entry in that era of Pryor of unmitigated comedic disasters on film. For a man as legendarily funny in standup, his cinema output is a disgrace. Mix the two of them together and you get a movie that just does not seem to understand comedy. It’s weird how few moments of levity there are in the movie. Or at least moments designed to elicit laughs.
It’s such a lax and un-engaging movie that one has to wonder what exactly it was they thought they were making? What were the moments in there they thought were killer? Hill hasn’t always made winners, but he at least swung and missed in his element so we could at least enjoy some elements of his work. But this is just so bad that it boggles the mind.
2. Ridley Scott – Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott is an immensely frustrating director. He has a good handful of classics to his name; back-to-back classics in the 70s and 80s that changed sci-fi cinema forever and a run in the 2000s that is filled with fascinatingly strong movies. But people forget that point between “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator” where he was not a worthwhile director. Nothing of real note was put out in that era.
And then there’s the era post-”American Gangster” that’s filled with frustrating near hits and abysmal dumpster fires (and one good movie in “The Martian”). It’s weird to think that overall, he has more losers than winners in his backlog.
Which makes “Robin Hood” all the more perfect to be his worst movie. He wanted to recapture that glory of “Gladiator” by reteaming with Russell Crowe again for a medieval set action piece filled with grit and epic battle scenes.
By trying to force that magic, he showed how precarious that movie really was. What he ended up delivering was a really empty, boring, and pointless movie. He took Robin Hood and did the annoying prequel thing of waiting until the very last frame of the movie to deliver what we came to see, that of Robin Hood firing an arrow at corrupt policemen. He honestly thought a convoluted political piece was what people wanted, trying to subvert a legend and instead making us rue the day we all gave Scott too much praise.
This movie is a stunning failure. It represents so much of what Scott does wrong, with the added benefit of not even being a good looking movie, the one thing Scott is known to deliver. Scott is really desperate to try and recapture his past glories but failing epically each time he does.
3. The Coen brothers – The Ladykillers (2004)
When it comes to the Coen brothers, each new release from them is treated like an event from film nuts. They’ve had an immense career filled with classics and movies to argue about, and even when it comes to their worst movie, there is debate between two of their works. It’s either “The Ladykillers” of “Intolerable Cruelty.” Which, yeah, that’s fair. Both of them are pretty bad. But when it comes to “Intolerable Cruelty,” it’s mainly a studio blandness that sinks the movie. It’s just forgettable and feeling empty of the Coen wit and style. It isn’t painful to watch.
“The Ladykillers,” on the other hand, is a mess. It’s shocking that this movie came from these guys. What we get is like a cheap Farrelly brothers-esque knockoff of a Coen brothers movie. It’s overly broad and obnoxious and poorly written and lacking in any sort of that special Coen magic. They usually can make something special in all of their stuff, one little element. Nothing here.
It’s shocking these guys were able to bounce back after this, let alone make great movies like “Inside Llewyn Davis” or “True Grit.” That they have worked with Tom Hanks only this one time is a shame, as it was such a wasted opportunity and it’s doubtful Hanks would ever collaborate with them again, though it would be wonderful to see Hanks in a great Coen brothers role. Every time a new Coen movie is released, it’s an event. But for some of us, there’s always some wariness that they might just crap the bed again.
4. John Carpenter – Ghosts of Mars (2001)
John Carpenter is one of the best directors to ever do it. Genre or not, his impact on cinema and his run of movies from 1976 to 1994 is unparalleled in its output, both in quality and quantity. So it’s a crime to see how Hollywood underappreciated him to such a degree that he just decided to give up filmmaking.
After three movies in a row where the studio screwed him on the budget before shooting was to begin, he gave up the rat race. And the movie that put the final nail in the coffin was “Ghosts of Mars,” a movie that really should have been a decent little return for him. It is a mixture of elements from his filmmaking past, with “Escape From New York” and “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Prince of Darkness” all rolled into one futuristic sci-fi bag.
But man, it does not work. And it really just has to come down to the movie being hobbled from the jump. Thinking you’re going to be making one movie but then being told so close to the starting line that it’s gonna be a significantly smaller movie is a big challenge.
Especially when you’re making a sci-fi action movie. So while there’s something to be said about overcoming the challenges of smaller budget filmmaking, it’s a whole different beast that Carpenter was just unable to overcome. It’s an ugly looking movie with cheap as hell special effects, even for the day.
A plot that is damn near indecipherable, but would have been cool if they were able to properly convey it. The action is not that great. The characters aren’t really that memorable in any way. What we get is a wet fart of a movie that never comes close to even capturing the glory days of Carpenter. It has the elements, and it tries to reach them, but it can’t overcome the crippling the weight of its ambitions in juxtaposition with its budget.
Carpenter has only made two short films for Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” and a low budget horror movie in “The Ward” (it’s solid), but hasn’t shown any real desire to work at the rate he used to. That may be changing with his return to scoring the new “Halloween” and a new TV show he is prepping, but it’ll never be the same. And that’s thanks to this damnable movie.
5. Brian De Palma – The Black Dahlia (2006)
Brian De Palma is a great filmmaker who has managed to make some truly bizarre movies in his day. He was an artist very willing to make studio for-pay jobs to subsidize his more unique and sleazier entries. That’s the only real reason for him to make a movie like “Wise Guys” or “Mission to Mars.”
When he made a movie out of passion, you could almost guarantee it would be something worthwhile. A studio job? Not as clear. You could get “The Untouchables” or you could get “Bonfire of the Vanities.” But “The Black Dahlia,” which seemed like it should have been a good one based on the source material, just feels like something De Palma would take hold of and make something special.
But holy crap, he did not nail this at all. And it’s not easy to nail down why it failed, as the narrative is pretty much like the book. It’s not the case of being too faithful to the book so it doesn’t work as a movie. It flows like a movie. It’s just the execution of almost every element inside the movie is wrong.
The cast is all wrong. Shockingly all wrong. Not a single actor is capable of bringing their roles to life or bringing any believability to it. The camera choices are wrong. It always feels like the camera was just put into place willy-nilly with no real thought. It just is such an odd little movie that you just get so frustrated watching because it could have been good. If he went right instead of left on some decisions, maybe we’d be a little better off and this entry would be about “Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Finding out afterwards that this was originally going to be made by David Fincher and he assembled all these pieces before quitting to make “Zodiac” helps put it all together. De Palma had many decisions made for him before he got to the set. That doesn’t change the sad fact that this is a bad movie, as bad a movie as “LA Confidential” was good and probably the reason we haven’t gotten any more Ellroy adaptations since. Or many new De Palma joints since.