5. William Friedkin
Another prominent figure in the ‘70s New Hollywood circle of directors, William Friedkin was a cinephile from a very young age and admired the works of Orson Welles, Henri-Georges Clouzot and Alfred Hitchcock. His earliest film, a TV documentary The People vs. Paul Crump (1962) lead to the freeing of an unlawfully convicted prisoner on death row. This astoundingly powerful film launched his nascent career.
Although he directed the lighthearted spoof film Good Times (1967) starring Sonny Bono and Cher, William Friedkin would be soon known for his mastery of gritty, violent high-stakes dramas. The hard-boiled crime thriller The French Connection (1971) was followed up by one of the most shocking horror pictures ever made, The Exorcist (1973).
Friedkin went on to remake Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) as Sorcerer (1977) starring Roy Schieder of Jaws fame (1975). However the film was a box office disappointment in part because it was released a month after the mega blockbuster Star Wars (1977) and also due to public confusion over the title’s meaning.
From there, Friedkin went on to make the well-intentioned but misguided investigation into New York’s underground S&M gay subculture with Al Pacino in Cruising (1980). Friedkin rebounded with the crime thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).
Throughout the 1990s his films such as Blue Chips (1994) and Jade (1995) were met with a tepid response from audiences and critics alike. Killer Joe (2011) was seen as warmly received return to form, and the recent re-issuing of the Blu-ray of Sorcerer has led to its critical reassessment as an overlooked masterpiece.
It would appear that Friedkin is no longer a bankable name in Hollywood, but also someone despondent and at odds with the current appetite for superhero action/adventure films. In a recent interview he was quoted as saying “Today, cinema in America is all about Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Avengers, the Hunger Games: all kinds of stuff that I have no interest in seeing at all.” Feature films may be out, but Friedkin has expressed interest in being involved in a potential long-form television series.
4. Brian De Palma
An often forgotten alumnus of the New Hollywood directors club, Brian De Palma made a huge cultural impact on Hollywood filmmaking in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. His emphasis on suspense, crime films and psycho-sexual thrillers were mainly inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock. De Palma has often been accused by critics for being a “copycat” for remaking or reengineering shots and sequences from the films of other famous directors such as Kurosawa, Antonioni, Howard Hawks and even Sergei Eisenstein.
After helming the smaller studio and independently released films Sisters (1972), Phantom of the Paradise (1974) and Obsession (1976), it was the unexpectedly successful Carrie (1976) which really struck a chord with audiences. Continued emphasis on thrillers in the next decade began with the Hitchcockian Dressed to Kill (1980), politically oriented thriller Blow Out (1981) and iconic remake of the Howard Hawks rags-to-riches crime film Scarface (1983).
De Palma returned to his obsession of reproducing Hitchcock’s trademark style with another erotic thriller Body Double (1984) and then making a stylistic pivot with the Chicago mobster picture The Untouchables (1987) and the Vietnam drama Casualties of War (1989).
The rest of the ‘90s saw a mixed bag of mediocre to notable films such as the much maligned adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Raising Cain (1992), the much lauded Carlito’s Way (1993) and commercial hit Mission Impossible (1996) to the Rashomon-esque thriller Snake Eyes (1998).
At the dawning of the new century De Palma’s failures began to compound with Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002) and The Black Dahlia (2006). By the end of the decade his commercial viability was almost expunged completely. His final completed films, Iraqi War picture Redacted (2007) and European co-production Passion (2012) which was critically disparaged as near a self-parody featuring crass sexploitation and deeply out of touch. Since then, only two upcoming productions have been listed on his IMDb page supposedly to be released in 2018, but seem to be indefinitely delayed due to financing troubles.
3. John Landis
John Landis began his career in film as an assistant director on the set of Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and later as a stuntman appearing in many of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. Landis made his directorial debut with Schlock (1973) a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the golden era of monster movies. Unfortunately his film was a commercial disaster and hindered his career until the independently made Kentucky Fried Movie (1977).
His first picture for a major studio was the hugely successful frat comedy Animal house (1978), followed by the decidedly more ambitious musical comedy The Blues Brothers (1980), onto the landmark special effects horror comedy An American Werewolf (1981) and followed up by Trading Places (1983) which was viewed as a comedic modern take on The Prince and the Pauper.
Landis’ career took a dark turn when tragedy struck during the filming of his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). In a freak accident, a helicopter crashed to the floor of the set, instantly killing actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6). Although John Landis and four other crew members were eventually acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, the stigma of these deaths would follow Landis for the rest of his career.
His career eventually was on an upswing once again with the release of ¡Three Amigos! (1986) and the monumentally successful Coming to America (1988). Yet success was cut short by the box office disappointments of Sylvester Stallone’s failed comedy stylings in Oscar (1991) and the crime comedy vampire film Innocent Blood (1992).
Things went from bad to worse with the sophomoric comedy The Stupids (1996) and the terribly misguided and superfluous Blues Brothers 2000, both of which unquestionably represent the absolute nadir of Landis’ career. With the exception of the mildly amusing Burke and Hare (2010), John Landis has not directed a feature film in 20 years. Despite this, he still remains a public figure, having recently released a book on movie monsters and is deeply supportive of the career of his screenwriter son, Max Landis.
2. John Carpenter
The self proclaimed “Master of Horror” John Carpenter began his foray into making movies by collaborating with legendary science fiction horror screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Together they completed the film Dark Star (1974), which was based on a 16mm short Carpenter originally directed as a student at USC.
Making a big splash on the scene with the notoriously violent Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Carpenter showed what he could pull out from an unknown cast of actors and a very limited budget of only $100,000. Being an amateur musician Carpenter scored most of his own pictures out of a necessity to save money. Unwittingly his sparsely synth heavy themes would be an inexorable part of his signature style.
With only triple the budget of his previous film, Halloween (1978) which he directed and co-wrote with Debra Hill, became an astounding smash hit which defined the “Slasher” film subgenre.
Followed by another successful horror film, The Fog (1980) Carpenter then directed the dystopian sci-fi action spectacular Escape from New York (1981) a star-maker picture for actor Kurt Russell, who would continue to collaborate with Carpenter on several pictures including the paranoid horror remake of The Thing (1982). Unfortunately due to poor timing, The Thing was given a release date two weeks after E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial debuted in theatres and was considered a box office disappointment.
Carpenter soon turned toward smaller, more manageable productions like Christine (1983) an adaptation of the Stephen King novel which was released the same year. Carpenter proceeded onto Starman (1984), a science fiction romance starring Jeff Bridges as a visitor from outer space who appears human.
The remainder of the ‘80s saw Carpenter produce Big Trouble In Little China (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987) and They Live (1988), all of which today are regarded as cult classics.
More troubles began to surround Carpenter’s directorial outings in the 1990s with financial losses on the uncharacteristically light-hearted comedy Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), the Lovecraftian horror film In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and the mediocre remake of Village of the Damned (1995).
The independently funded horror western film Vampires (1998) broke even and garnered middling reviews, however it was not the triumphant return to form many expected from Carpenter.
With the critically panned commercial disappointment that was Ghosts of Mars (2001), John Carpenter’s career in Hollywood was ostensibly over notwithstanding the release of the poorly received film The Ward (2010). In semi-retirement, Carpenter turned once again to his musical talents. Beginning in 2015 he released original musical scores for films that he had never made with Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.
In 2016, John Carpenter’s son Cody was able to assuage John’s own skepticism over his perceived lack of public appeal and convinced his father to perform the entire canon of his musical compositions live. A successful North American and European tour ushered in a massive resurgence in Carpenter’s popularity and a critical reappraisal of his body of film work. Despite involvement in producing a forthcoming remake of Halloween, Carpenter has no future directorial enterprises on the horizon.
1. Terry Gilliam
No other director in the modern era of filmmaking has had such a consistently rocky relationship with the Hollywood studio system than Terry Gilliam. Constantly clashing with producers and studio heads over the artistic integrity of his vision, Gilliam has burned more than a few bridges over his long, storied career.
A cartoonist and the only American founding member of Monty Python, Gilliam co-directed the surreal slapstick satire of the Arthurian legend in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with fellow Python, Terry Jones. Following that up with another less successful fantasy comedy, Jabberwocky (1977).
The unconventionally imaginative children’s fantasy film Time Bandits (1981) made a surprisingly high return on investment, allowing Gilliam much more free range to work on his next film, Brazil.
Considered by some to be Gilliam’s crowning artistic achievement, the production design on Brazil aimed to create an elaborately constructed retro-futurist bureaucratic dystopian vision of England.
Upon delivering his final cut to studio executives at Universal Pictures who were handling the distribution of the film, Gilliam was told the film’s bleak outlook and unhappy ending tested poorly with audience members. Then chairman of Universal, Sid Sheinberg lead the charge for Gilliam to dramatically re-cut his film to make it more appealing to a mass audience.
Universal Pictures denied the release of his film until Gilliam accepted the edits to the story that Sheinberg demanded of him. But in a bold and desperate move to publicly shame the studio into action, Terry Gilliam took out a full page advertisement in Variety Magazine asking the question:
“Dear Sid Sheinberg
When are you going to release my film, ‘BRAZIL’?
This legendary clash between director and studio head resulted in a book and subsequent documentary titled The Battle of Brazil (1996) which detailed Gilliam’s struggle to release the film the way he had intended.
After a secret private screening the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Brazil “Best Picture” and Universal capitulated to releasing a modified 132-minute version which was approved by Gilliam. Despite the accolades and a very public battle, it failed to find an audience and was a financial failure.
Gaining more ire amongst studio execs, Gilliam failed to prevent the production costs from going vastly over budget on his next film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) was unveiled with little chance of recouping much of it at the box office.
Studios were becoming less and less inclined to take a risk on Gilliam’s vision. Failed projects included Gilliam’s desire to direct his version of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and an adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen.
Fortunately for Gilliam, he began the new decade with a pair of moderately successful and critically favored films, the quirky and whimsical drama Fisher King (1991) and the brain twisting time travel pic Twelve Monkeys (1995).
Gilliam’s psychedelic road trip film based on Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal counter-culture novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1995) was a box office bomb, which put Gilliam out of the directing game for 7 years.
In The Brother’s Grimm, Gilliam returned to the well of fantasy and fairy tales with a unique retelling of the iconic fables in The Brothers Grimm, which made a slight profit and earned lukewarm reviews.
Tideland (2005) a British-Canadian co-production would end up being one of Gilliam’s most colossal financial failures and collected mixed to negative responses amongst audiences and critics alike. The film made less than than $600,000 against the film’s 19 million dollar budget.
In 2008 Gilliam’s production of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) was plunged into uncertainty due to tragic death of actor Health Ledger mid-way through shooting. With the help of actors Johnny Depp, Colin Ferrell and Jude Law who were sympathetic to Gilliam’s dilemma, Gilliam was able to improvise and complete the picture. No doubt audiences were partially drawn to see Ledger’s final performance, which ended up earning the film over double its budget back.
In a similar socio-political satirical vein as Brazil, Gilliam directed The Zero Theorum (2013) with actor Christoph Waltz which in similar fashion to Brazil was a financial disaster and earned middling reviews.
Today brings us to Gilliam’s longstanding, yet unfinished passion project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. A production which began in 1998 and was met with devastating setbacks so notorious that it was the subject of its very own documentary, Lost in La Mancha (2002). Colloquially regarded within the film industry as one of the quintessential “In development hell” pictures.
In June of 2017, Gilliam publicly announced that principal photography on Quixote had been completed and gave assurances that it would be released. Eventually…
Author Bio: Having been officially diagnosed with chronic cinephilia and acute paracinemania from a very young age, Joe can’t stop watching and talking about movies. From cult classics, indie, foreign films and art house cinema to the biggest Hollywood popcorn flicks, he is always looking for his next cinematic fix wherever he can get it! He is the co-host of the OVERRATED Film Podcast www.overratedpodcast.com and can be found cracking wise on twitter at @totalfilmgeek.