The 10 Oddest Outlier Movies From A Director’s Filmography

6. Sam Raimi – For Love of the Game (1999)

In the middle of his filmmaking career, the voice of underground zany genre pictures was called up to direct the most reliable form of a Dad cinema: a baseball movie. Sam Raimi’s jump from the Evil Dead trilogy and Darkman to For Love of the Game and then returning closer to his roots with Spider-Man just three years later is startling. During the indie phase of his career, when he was working with Bruce Campbell and emerging onto the filmmaking scene with other indie counterparts such as the Coen Brothers, no one would have ever suspected that he would ever be a target as a director-for-hire.

Even though on the exterior, this appears to be an unfortunate case of a visionary being forced to button up and lean away from his sensibilities, this Kevin Costner vehicle was an important step for Raimi’s evolution. He needed to make a controlled, adult, studio movie to show that he had the capabilities to take the helm of a massive project like Spider-Man. Considering that he had creative control and final-cut privileges, Costner was the true author of the film. Compromised creative control is something Raimi would have to grapple with while working for Marvel on Spider-Man 3.

For Love of the Game follows Billy Chapel (Costner), an aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who throws a perfect game in the final game of his career in Yankee Stadium. Throughout the ballgame, the film cuts back to memories about Billy’s lover, Jane (Kelly Preston), which the pitcher reflects on while on the mound. This film, from its basic synopsis, subject, and tone, is quite the far cry from Ash Williams fighting off a skeleton tribe in Army of Darkness. However, it is indicative of Raimi’s commitment to restraint, which began with his prior film, A Simple Plan.

Aside from the occasional fastball shown from a first-person perspective, Raimi’s chaotic camera movements are restricted. The outlier quality of the film is present with regards to its lacking DIY quality or genre formula, but when it comes to the melodramatic sincerity that Raimi infused in his Spider-Man films, For Love of the Game contains elements of his DNA. Raimi appeared to be drawn to the film’s script, earnestly stating “It was moving and simple and I love baseball,” and that he finds baseball exciting.


7. David Lynch – The Straight Story (1999)


David Lynch and Disney. An unlikely alliance of the most shocking degree. This wasn’t a Disney subsidiary like Touchstone or Miramax. No, Walt Disney Pictures was listed above the coveted descriptor of “A Film by David Lynch.” If there’s anything more unforeseen than Lynch directing a G-rated The Straight Story for Disney, it would be the reminder that the corporation was at one time wholly interested in producing artistically-minded films with singular visions.

Production allegiances aside, the unassuming plot of The Straight Story, a simple tale of an elderly man, Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), traveling cross country to visit his estranged brother before he dies, is a left turn for Lynch. The filmmaker taking the helm of this film is more bizarre and subversive than anything featured in Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. The film’s namesake is true to its functionality, as it is the closest instance of Lynch pushing for a film to be viewed on its straight face value. The director’s portrait of rural America is gorgeous but not overly sentimental.

For someone who established himself by dissecting the rotten underbelly of the world through a borderline fantastical examination, Lynch is committing to showing the natural beauty of the world in this film. Farnsworth’s gentle and contemplative performance as the titular Straight could be compatible with Lynch’s other works, but since the world created around him is void of any cynicism, the character was a new challenge for the director. While the subject and tone of The Straight Story deviate from Lynch’s roots, he brings enough of his surrealist energy to emulate similar Lynchian ideas about the matters of existence and purpose. Based on how much of his artistic philosophy is predicated on subversion, it should be expected that he would be game to experiment in new fields.


8. Wes Craven – Music of the Heart (1999)

Music of the Heart (1999)

In this case, audiences should be expected to give Wes Craven a breather. Directing horrifying films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream can drive a person crazy. In 1999, Craven crafted his most shocking image by taking on a biopic about a music instructor. There is no blood, nightmares, masks, or big knives. After the lukewarm reception to Music of the Heart and its underwhelming performance at the box office, Craven returned comfortably to his works of genre cinema.

The film depicts a true story about an instructor and co-founder of the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who campaigned for funding for music education from the New York City public schools system. The gentle nature that is suggested based on the film’s exterior follows through on screen. There is an almost certain guarantee that viewers will believe they are being hoodwinked into thinking that this is a Craven picture, but it should be assured that he has a real fondness towards the Guaspari character. Relief can be sensed on screen from Craven in jubilation at being able to finally direct a human story.

For better or worse, this dramatized depiction of a real-life figure is like catnip for Streep as an actor, allowing her to appropriate the acting traits that have vaulted her to the pantheon of legendary performers, such as her specific accent work and the weightiness of a kind, gentle, and strong-willed independent woman. Her performance could be interpreted as a redundant collection of her greatest hits. Despite the film’s benevolent heart, it falls for many of the troubled faults of the White Savior complex. As a result, Music of the Heart has aged quite poorly.


9. Spike Lee – Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy (2013)

In the midst of a career slump, Spike Lee brazenly tested himself by not only stepping into the field of genre, but by remaking one of the most beloved action films in international cinema. All that needs to be known about this often-derided Americanized take on Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is that it is not labeled a “Spike Lee joint.” Rather, the 2013 film is a “Spike Lee film.” The impersonal nature of the film is established immediately and never strayed away.

From the get-go, the text of the film, about a man, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), who hunts down the captors that mysteriously imprisoned him for 20 years, is inaccessible to Lee’s stylistic and thematic tastes. The director was unable to transfer his personal brand and general iconography to the machinations of a revenge thriller, and it doesn’t help that the film he is working on has an established reverence behind it. In an alternate universe, Lee’s true vision of the film could have seen the light of day, as Oldboy producers meddled with the creative process by cutting out over a half hour of footage in the final cut.

From the cut that the mass public has consumed, Lee’s Oldboy is an unfortunate case of a watered-down American rendition of a modern Asian classic. The director who pushed the boundaries as to what films can discuss and argue with Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Bamboozled soberly goes through the motions of telling the story in this film. The unceremonious nature of the storytelling leaves viewers cold and sensing no voice from one of the most passionate artists of our time. Oldboy is suggestive of a wake-up call for Lee, with the filmmaker rekindling his vibrant and thought-provoking cinematic flair with Chi-Raq, BlackKklansman, and Da 5 Bloods in the aftermath.


10. Tim Burton – Big Eyes (2014)

The list of directors who have more recognizable characteristics than Tim Burton may be blank. There is a smooth throughline in all of his films. Attributes of gothic fantasy and stories of outcasts are identifiable throughout his filmography with the exception of his stray Big Eyes in 2014, the closest case of Burton buttoning himself up.

The story about the relationship between artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), and the latter claiming credit for the former’s popular works of art, is ripe with “Oscar bait.” Burton’s choice to direct this film late into his career and amid a critical slump suggests a desire to earn an Academy Award to win back credibility. The gothic visual language that he thrived off of in Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns devolved into a tired formula with Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. His characterization of quirky outsiders that was alluring and charming in Ed Wood also ran its course.

On the surface, Big Eyes is a welcoming change of pace for the director, but it ultimately leads to a voiceless vision. Burton’s affinity towards marginalized creative minds could be read in this film, but the message is too passive to be that resonant. There is no palpable intrigue to the dramatic arc between the two characters, and every action that transpires feels calculated and unnatural. If making a case arguing that Burton is not a viable director of people and emotions, then this film would be damning evidence in that favor.