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The 10 Most Overrated Movie Directors Working Today

02 December 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Conor Lochrie

5. Spike Lee

It takes a renowned and talented director to have his filmography granted with a titular title: when one hears of a new Spike Lee Joint, the expectancy is a politically-engaged, explosive and socially aware piece. For a filmmaker with over 30 films to his name, there are bound to be failures as well as successes, middling affairs as well as those given mass critical acclaim, but since the turn of the century, Lee’s too regularly seemed to be striking out. Of his last 10 feature films, only three could be said to have received a mostly positive reaction (25th Hour [2002], Inside Man [2006] and Chi-Raq [2015]).

In remaking the cult classic South Korean film Oldboy [2013], Lee inadvertently created one of the worst films of the century so far, certainly one of the worst remakes. While it should be noted that his version tries its best to strive for originality and unique interpretation, the film just doesn’t work. Lee doesn’t seem like a capable action director and some of the sequences feel forced. Reworking a film that was already known for its grotesque challenges of viewership would always present problems but, unlike the original, there’s nothing redeemable – no affecting love story amidst all the decay, no energy or chemistry from its performers. His followup to this didn’t bring any redemption, however.

The ambitious but overshot Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus [2014] is a retelling of the 1973 blaxploitation film Ganja and Hess (yet again suggesting Lee was in a particular creative rut around this time), about a wealthy African-American anthropologist who is transformed into a vampire after coming into possession of a cursed African dagger. An atonal and unsubtle film, Lee doesn’t appear to know what he wants to achieve with it; it’s at turns a horror, romance drama, and goofy comedy. His latest Chi-Raq has fared better with critics, but the overall impression is of a once legendary, explosive talent struggling to keep his head above the parapet. His films, for one, have suffered alarming losses cumulatively at the box office.

For a filmmaker with such an extend filmography, this can be used against him when people discuss his career: why is it that he’s given a myriad of chances after such a troubled run? The same accusation, if this is the case, would have to be levelled at Woody Allen who has mostly made poor, almost parodical efforts in the 21st century. It’s simply a matter of respect for 2 directors who on their day can create powerful and memorable pictures; they’ve earned the right to be allowed to fail but Lee needs a hit soon.


4. David O. Russell


A director known for being a quirky filmmaker among the Hollywood elite, David O. Russell hit a career peak from 2010 to 2013 with his successful run of films: The Fighter (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013). It was impossible to escape his omnipresence. Russell was given such praise as being the best director of actors of this century. But closer appraisal of the above trio makes for more sobering viewing.

In the overwhelmingly acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, a film about severe mental illness – in the form of Bipolar Disorder and Grief – somehow dissolved into a mawkish family drama. It sadly felt like Hollywood Does Mental Health, where problems are mere screenplay moments to tick off on the lighthearted way to happiness and joy.

The casting felt manipulative too: by entrusting the main two characters to extremely bankable stars looking for prestige roles in Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and also including a new chance for Robert De Niro to recover from his late period malaise, Russell created an immediately winning trio for awards season. Too often, the impression one is left with while watching the film is that mental illness was just another David O. Russell quirk touch to transform what would be an otherwise stereotypical screwball romantic comedy.

Put another way, it allowed Silver Linings Playbook to be marketed as something different, something with extra meaning, without the director actually having to create a work of any depth or quality. That mental illness in reality is a debilitating and serious experience rather than a kooky personality trait seems lost to the film, leaving the viewer feeling like he’s just faced something quite disingenuous and fake. This rise to making prestige pictures, so to speak, seemed to begin with The Fighter: for all his resolute wackiness and reputation, Russell appeared to finally want something more than what his earlier works received, namely Oscars. That secured a full seven nominations; Silver Linings Playbook managed one more in 2012.

This trend didn’t stop with the showy and chaotic American Hustle two years later. A retro 1970’s piece about the FBI Abscam operation during this time, the period and costume design was so ludicrously overwhelming (granted, it was a decade of fashion that could be denigrated with the same phrase) that it threatened to overshadow the already complex true story that the film detailed. Simply, the film is a dazzling mess. Losing the narrative under a wave of genres – thriller, caper, satire, farce are just some of the descriptions for it – Russell seemed to have cobbled American Hustle together rather hastily. One needs only to look at Christian Bale’s abysmal comb-over that is overly apparent from the opening scenes and becomes too alarmingly noticeable to focus on the story or anything else that’s happening; A Trump-ian triumph of disastrous hairpieces.

While this might be all acceptable for some, the all-encompassing kitsch does begin, much like the polyster suits adorning the lead actors, to wear thin. It could be claimed that the film’s success had more to do with Russell’s hot streak of acclaim and eye for casting, a claim given credence by the fact that his following film, the unfortunately named Joy (2005), was a complete critical failure. Perhaps we as an audience have had our fill of Russell and his schtick for a while.


3. Sofia Coppola


Sofia Coppola sometimes feels like an enigma: a floating, elusive and faint figure prancing on the frontline of American auteur cinema. Her canon, too, almost seems to be imitating her, with its dream-like visuals full of pondering and self-absorption. Before becoming a filmmaker in her own right, Sofia, as her surname suggests, came from cinema royalty. Her immediate integration into Hollywood privilege, through her father Francis Ford, has informed her subsequent filmmaking. Upon closer look, then, a recurring theme through her work is a targeted attack on Hollywood and its toxic culture.

Here lies the cause of her divisiveness: her disdain for the industry that she was given an unfair platform in, that her career was enhanced through, can seem highly hypocritical. Is it bold protest or just plain privileged posturing? Her films, sometimes, feel alienating not only to the characters but to the viewers. Her downbeat version of a Wong Kar-Wai film in Lost In Translation (2003) was a little too ruminative to impress; The Bling Ring (2013) felt as soulless and empty a satire as the lives of its young protagonists. Her first and latest films serve as encapsulations of Coppola as a divisive operator.

The Virgin Suicides (1999), the adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ debut novel about the lives of 5 teenage sisters in a middle-class suburb of Detroit in the 1970s, feels somewhat like an exercise in sophisticated angst. It’s also grating to watch a film about young girls having their creative impulses stifled made by a debut director given such an insider boost (her father co-produced the film). It’s all quite self-indulgent.

Her latest release, The Beguiled (2017), is maddening but for different reasons. Based on a novel previously adapted in a film starring Clint Eastwood in 1971, it centers on an injured Union soldier during the Civil War, played by Colin Farrell, who seeks refuge at an all-female Southern boarding school. Soon enough, sexual tensions arise and rivalries are formed between the women. There is scope here for a great film but it’s hard to detect any reason behind Coppola’s version. The tale is stripped, it’s too short, and any malice and menace is simplified. Even the key amputation scene is startlingly undercooked. This could’ve been a strong feminist film, emphasizing the group turning against the scheming soldier to a greater level, instead of settling for nothing more than bubbling melodrama.

This would’ve been a unique and original take on the story but it needed a director with more conviction; Coppola never seems to know what she’s aiming for. This points to an underlying issue with her whole filmography: it always feels like she has more to say, that she’s reaching for something but never fully commits. The dreamy, ethereal quality to her work can, as a result, come across as arrogance.


2. Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott

Is there a director with a more inconsistent canon than Sir Ridley Scott? Maker of early definitive masterpieces like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), in more recent times his output has been sorely lacking in filmic quality and critical success. Since the beginning of this century, out of 14 feature films perhaps only The Martian (2015) holds up to scrutiny; it’s a deplorable run for a director regularly cited as a master and a visionary.

There have been some truly shocking entries into his filmography, Kingdom of Heaven (2005) for one. Featuring a woefully miscast Orlando Bloom, it’s a testing experience to make it through. Considering it takes such an historically interesting subject like the Crusades and creates a tedious narrative that even the more positively acclaimed Director’s Cut can’t save, the film feels like a wasted opportunity. The ridiculously overhyped Gladiator (2000), while a solid swords and sandals epic, never merited its numerous Oscar nominations.

Returns to the Alien universe in Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017) have yielded no rewards. It’s in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), however, that one can’t quite believe it came from Scott. The epic biblical drama was criticized for its lack of any humor or excitement, leaving the production with a feeling of emptiness. Looking at his recent filmography, this seems to be a recurring problem: films like Robin Hood (2010), The Counsellor (2013), Body of Lies (2008) and those mentioned above feel drearily soulless. Mostly, they’re just forgettable.

Scott was able to succeed with the overarching seriousness of films like Blade Runner precisely because of their quality, their content imbued with a great imagination and innovation, but his recent output consists of films that may be solid fares for lesser directors but when they’re associated with such an acclaimed filmmaker appear worrying signs of a terminal decline. It makes one thankful that Denis Villeneuve helmed the immaculate Blade Runner sequel.


1. James Cameron

Alongside Steven Spielberg, no filmmaker is more widely known in mainstream Hollywood than James Cameron: he’s made two of the biggest box-office successes of all time, as well as two fervently acclaimed science fiction films. Combining large amounts of money and positive reviews doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, however, and there are question marks surrounding each entry in his filmography.

It seems only right to start with the infamous Avatar (2009). An undoubted landmark in the history of cinema, Cameron’s epic was 10 years in the making. The film made extensive use of new motion capture filming techniques and was hailed as ushering in a new era in cinematic technology. Amidst all the flash and the expensive effects, though, was a clumsily executed rehashed narrative.

Set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonizing the planet Pandora for its rich minerals, the increasing growth of the mining begins to threaten the local tribe, the Na’vi. In the middle of this is a love story between Sam Worthington’s Jake, a disabled former marine who is part of the Avatar program used to explore Pandora’s biosphere, and Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri, the daughter of the leader of the Omaticaya Na’vi clan.

The parallels with previous films are alarmingly striking: it shares most of its plot with Dances with Wolves (1990), in which a native people is helpless without the leadership of a white-savior figure from the invading, powerful white oppressor. Various other similarities have been noted, amongst others, with Pocahontas (1995) and The Last Samurai (2003). Considering this unoriginality, it can be hard to decipher if the connections are merely inspiration or plain plagiarism.

The obvious characterization of the piece is hampered further by flat and dull dialogue. This is all to say that Avatar works purely on a technical level rather than as a piece of storytelling. The overall impression is that Cameron knew it could get by on its famous special effects alone, at the expense of anything deeper. There was never, for example, a moment where one doubted the endpoint of the story; nothing of true drama occurred.

Continuing with lavish epics, 1997’s Titanic was inescapable for its generation, winning 11 Oscars, making global stars of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and becoming the first film to make $1 billion worldwide. Again, Cameron deserves credit for his imagination and visual eye: the 80 or so minutes depicting the Titanic’s terrible demise is horrifically spellbinding. It’s the rest of the film that truly offers little reward and is at points tedious and maudlin. The screenplay is, simply, atrocious (see Jack’s classic line “I’m the king of the world!” for all the evidence needed). Corny, melodramatic and, in Billy Zane’s wildly over-played villainous performance, truly rubbish, it confirms that Cameron is a master of his technological skills only.

The film, like Avatar after, also suffers from being too long. While Avatar’s plot was an ideological message from Cameron, Titanic’s story is just a derivative copy of old Hollywood romances. Like Avatar also, Titanic was a film planned years before its release, time filled with much critical and public speculation, and this sense of anticipation most likely has a lot to do with their box office successes. In surmising Cameron’s career so far, it’s evident that he has a fantastic skill with big screen spectacle but not much else. Indeed, it’s notable that Terminator 2 (1984) and Aliens (1986), arguably his two best films, were predominantly written by others. If nothing else, if enough people call out Cameron, if something can shatter his built-up ego, perhaps the general public can be spared the astonishing four planned sequels to Avatar.



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  • David

    Inarritu, Payne, Cuaron, Chazelle, J.J. Abrams.

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Nice… but I would put a line between the ‘Overrated = Not as good as the critics think’ like Inarritu, Cuaron and Payne and the ‘Overrated = They are actually Bad’ like Chazelle and Abrams.

  • ClanTechie

    Jar Jar Abrams, Darren Aronofsky, Zack Snyder.

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Agree, except that… Darren is a genius compared to Zack Snyder/J.J. Abrams.

  • Mark A. Kleber

    Quentin Tarentino

    • Javiera

      explain.. please

      • Chris Saunders

        First 3 films are great. The rest have mostly been pale imitations & self parodies, save for the excellent opening scene in IB.

        • Ces Massardo

          First 3 Tarantino feature films were Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, so you’re missing Kill Bill v. I & II, which is a masterpiece by itself. I would go as far as Death Proof, after that I agree is way overrated. I mean, judge in Cannes? Way too much.

          • Chris Saunders

            I am missing those two, yes. While I’ve only watched them once I thought they were tiresome, with huge chunks that could’ve been edited out to make a leaner single film, on first viewing. I may give them another go. I had to turn Death Proof off though. I suppose my disapointment with him personally is that after Jackie Brown, a great film that had proper well drawn characters with emotions, he reverted to one dimensional characters that all talk like it’s Tarantino having a conversation with himself. Worked to great effect in RD & PF when it sounded fresh & exciting, now I find it boring. I appreciate that many still enjoy that though – each to their own.

          • Ces Massardo

            I actually made a semiotic analysis about the female superheroes in Tarantino. Jackie Brown owns the place as soon as she’s in, so much more superhero than The Bride. One of my favorite movies also.

  • Callie Ray

    Oliver Stone

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Many of his films have bad reviews. That’s not Overrated.

  • GC

    Aliens and T2 were NOT predominantly written by others. Do some fact-checking before you make such erroneous claims.

    • giorgio palmas

      True Lies is his only film based on another work. All of his original screenplays have an evil corporation as the antagonist. Evil terraforming space company, evil tech company, evil oil company, evil luxury liner company, evil rare mineral mining company.

      • Jules F. Melo Borges

        So, are you saying that “Evil” is a big part of his work? Maybe Evil that comes from the misuse of technology?
        If you like him, that’s a trait/recurrent theme. If you dislike him, that’s a cliché/lack of originality.

  • sadburbia

    Speed Racer is an incredible film, thank you and goodbye.

    • Agreed!

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      The Wachowskis are both Overrated and Underrated, depend on the film and the type of audience

  • Now this is getting stupid. First off, Joy came out in 2015. Second of all, Sofia Coppola is far from overrated as she is someone that has a completely different approach that is totally not mainstream.

  • Jules F. Melo Borges

    To call Kevin Smith overrated is like calling Water… wet!

  • Klevis Cana

    Everybody has the right to have an opinion weather you liked or not

  • Dunno how Jim Cameron comes in at #1 seeing as he hasn’t directed anything in almost a decade

    • Ricardo Correia

      Right now he is directing the Avatar sequels, so yeh, he is working

      • Correct. What also is correct is my above statement, and how we can’t judge movies that haven’t been completed or released.
        Just don’t think it’s a great choice to call him most overrated when he hasn’t released anything this decade.

  • Mortimer

    Nolan, Tarantino, Villeneuve…

    I agree about Tom Ford. After Nocturnal Animals, he is suddenly the next big thing ? And A Single Man s suddenly a masterpiece of Cinema ? Nah, stylish but flawed.

    • Saudade Truth

      The part about Tom Ford: Thank you for saying this.

      When people suddenly went gaga about Tom Ford in a blink, I was likes ”WTH? have superficiality run through the more mindful film viewers?. Then I realized that sometimes people over here are just another side of the same coin with those mainstream films followers they pretentiously despise”. lol

  • Ricardo Correia

    Tarantino and Nolan should be on the list

    • ArmitageX

      Nolan should be #1.

  • Alain

    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.
    David Fincher.

    • David

      I don’t think i can vote this negative enough.

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      That’s not fair.
      If you don’t like him, fine. I’m not his biggest fan really.
      But he’s obviously talented, and clearly not in the same league as those other guys. Learn the difference between “Not my Cup of Tea” and “No one’s Cup of Tea”.

  • Andrey Edward

    WTF Tom Ford is not overrated, Nocturnal Animals is one of my favorite movies

    • ArmitageX

      Same here. I thought it was the best film of the year.

  • He who shall not be tamed

    Glad to know art is now objective.
    Waited too long for it.

  • FortesqueX

    #1. Christopher Nolan
    #2. Paul Thomas Anderson
    #3. Christopher Nolan
    #4. Paul Thomas Anderson
    #5. Christopher Nolan
    #6. Paul Thomas Anderson
    #7. Christopher Nolan
    #8. Paul Thomas Anderson
    #9. Christopher Nolan
    #10. Paul Thomas Anderson

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      Plus for nolan
      Minus for pta

  • Criticus

    Why would Sofia Coppola be overrated? (besides the author’s personal opinion on the matter)

  • Arshad Khan

    James Cameron is the most successful filmmaker in the history of cinema. The writer who wrote this doesnt exist his opinion doesn’t matter.

  • grootrm

    Crap article, nothing but a hatefest for directors OP personally wants to spew vitriol at because he is a failure in life..

    Shame on this site for giving Conor Lochrie any voice

  • bluesborn

    Cloud Atlas is undeniably overwrought and over ambitious and yet..I’ve seen it 5 times and absolutely love it warts and all and there are plenty of warts to go around.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      I absolutely love that movie.

  • bluesborn

    That picture of Cameron is a classic by the way.

  • Guido Von M


  • Heber

    So you choose James Cameron for most overrated director, based on critics to his two most successful films ?

  • lamarkeith

    I was out when you criticism of a film, the medium where visuals take precedent, ended up being that it was “a series of immaculately constructed visuals”. What a comment. It’s all at once ubiquitous and contrived. Also, if you think every film (or work of art in general) needs to have substance in order to be a good/great film, then please, stop writing this sophomoric drivel and study the subject more.

  • Joel_Goodsen

    There is nothing more unwatchable than “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.” Dated and in-jokes (Magnolia Fan) that lost their tooth years ago. It was on cable the other day and I dearly wished the story just centered around Randall (and not Dante) at the Quick Stop instead of Jay and Silent Bob. Kevin Smith’s direction talent is perfectly suited for Flash episodes on the CW, now.

  • Walkabout

    What’s the point of this shit..? Sounds like one of those neckbeard fucks writing crappy blog listicles for $.005 a word sitting in front of the trusty Compaq in Mom’s basement. Idiot.

  • The Martian is skank. Scott’s only good film in the last 13 years is Prometheus.

  • Ikbal Hossain

    who the fuck wrote this article?
    absolutely stupid

  • Christopher Lambert

    I would have to say Dennis Villeneuve. Critics get wet over everything he does but I don’t know many people who feel the same. Prisoners and Enemy are the only two I even remotely enjoyed.

  • Egi David Perdana II

    Nolan should be no 1