Most people will associate a bad film with one of two things: the director or the cast.
It’s true that an exceptionally bad performance from an actor or actress can ultimately ruin an otherwise good film for some viewers, and even a competent director assigned to the wrong project can yield some questionable results. The thing is it’s not always the fault of the director or the cast. That isn’t to say it can’t be, but people rarely fault a studio or producer for the poor turnout of a film. In many cases, the studio and producers should be directly blamed.
Sometimes, nobody is to blame. On occasion, bad buzz surrounding a project before it’s even released can sour a viewer’s idea of a film. For example, the buzz surrounding Edgar Wright’s departure from Marvel’s Ant-Man film has already “doomed” the project in the eyes of some fans, and the film is still in pre-production.
Regardless of all the reasons a movie could go so wrong, the only person who stamps their name on it and seems to have to take full responsibility is the director. For this reason, a director may sometimes distance themselves from the film by using the name “Alan Smithee” in the credits. Sometimes a director will just publicly denounce the film, citing all the things that went wrong. Usually this means blaming pressure from the studio and producers. Sometimes, they’ll even apologize for the film and take full responsibility, admitting it was a misstep.
No matter the reason, sometimes a director feels the need to distance themselves from one of their films. Let’s take a look at some of them.
10. David Lynch – Dune (1984)
Dune is a much loved science-fiction novel that spawned a series of several more novels. Many regard this story of Paul Atreides discovering his destiny as a hero of the planet Arrakis as “un-filmable” yet Lynch was the third director to be associated with a Dune project. Hollywood really wanted this adapted.
In the end it was Hollywood that was cited by Lynch as destroying the project. Lynch sent in a three-hour cut of the film, which back then was considered far too long. The studio shaved almost an hour off of the film without the consent or inclusion of Lynch. A three-hour version of the film was released to television, but it was not Lynch’s three-hour cut.
On many versions of the film, Lynch has opted to have the name “Alan Smithee” placed in the credits instead of his own.
9. Tony Kaye – American History X (1998)
American History X was Tony Kaye’s first major film, and he was already calling himself “the greatest English director since Hitchcock”. This was ten years before directing American History X. At that time his credits were mainly in commercials. It comes as no surprise this kind of an ego would have an issue with the studio’s final cut.
The story, as best anyone can piece together, is Kaye gave the studio a cut of the film that was just under 90 minutes. The studio felt this was far too short and teamed up with Edward Norton to edit a final cut. Despite the final product being nominated for an Oscar and several other awards, Kaye filed a $200 million dollar lawsuit to have his name taken off the picture and replaced with “Humpty Dumpty”.
8. Andy House – Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Andy House was only a second assistant director so it would seem at first that his distancing himself from the Twilight Zone movie had to do with being a young upstart with an ego. After hearing the real reason, you probably wouldn’t blame him.
The Twilight Zone movie was broken up into four episode-like segments, each one directed by a different director. During the filming of the John Landis segment, a helicopter was flying too close to the pyrotechnics. The rotor was destroyed, resulting in a helicopter wreck that decapitated Vic Morrow and two child actors.
A nine month trial followed in which everyone involved in a charge of involuntary manslaughter was acquitted. The tragedy reportedly ended the friendship between John Landis and Steven Spielberg, and Andy House was so shaken up he had his credit replaced with the name “Alan Smithee”.
7. Guillermo del Toro – Mimic (1997)
Guillermo doesn’t hide the fact that pressures from the studio and producers forced his hand into making what could very well be his least favorite of his films.
Mimic is a monster movie that was to be del Toro’s first major studio film. Mimic is described in del Toro’s book, Cabinet of Curiosities. as a “soul crushing experience”.
Del Toro butt heads with the studio so much he was eventually taken off the project and another director finished up. Del Toro was still given the credit but it wasn’t until 2011 that he was able to release his own cut. Even then, it’s only described as being “as close as it’s possible to get now” to his original vision for the film.
6. David Fincher – Alien 3 (1992)
Fincher doesn’t seem to blame anyone but himself for his disdain for Alien 3. He once said in an interview that he would wake up every hour on the hour and think about what he could have done differently. When he gave this interview, it was during production. This wasn’t a now renowned director looking back on his first big picture. This was a guy who knew he was making mistakes by immediately trying to please everyone involved with the picture.
Perhaps this is why Fincher is now notorious for the amount of control he likes to have over his films.
5. Richard C. Sarafian – Solar Crisis (1990)
This film about a group of astronauts flying towards the sun to keep a flare from hitting Earth seemed to have everything going for it. The cast was good, it was ripe for special effects, the budget was impressive, and it was based on a popular novel.
Sarafian doesn’t seem to be public about exactly why he took his name from the film and replaced it with an “Alan Smithee” credit, but most agree the film itself was rather bad. Perhaps Sarafian just noticed it too. Critics of the film seem to suggest it’s just all around bad, citing under-whelming performances and under-used special effects.
4. Kiefer Sutherland – Woman Wanted (1999)
Once again this is an occasion when the director wasn’t vocal about exactly what went wrong, so one can’t say with any certainty if Sutherland blames himself or studio pressure to make a movie that wasn’t within his vision for the project.
The film certainly isn’t the worst film ever made, not even close, but for whatever reason Sutherland used the name “Alan Smithee” for the directorial title, but kept his name in the credits as an actor.
This would be the last film that the Director’s Guild allowed the name “Alan Smithee” to be used.
3. Joel Schumacher – Batman and Robin (1997)
Schumacher’s Batman and Robin tends to find itself on a lot of “bad movie lists”. This is largely due to the fact that it’s a bad movie.
What most people don’t know is Schumacher has publicly apologized for the film and cited the studio as the reason for everything that went wrong. The studio wanted too many villains, too many heroes, and even asked Schumacher to add scenes that featured more bat-vehicles so they could sell more toys based off the films.
When you’re essentially asking your established film director to make a toy commercial, you can’t expect him to put his whole heart into the project.
2. Dennis Hopper – Catchfire/Back Track (1990)
This another classic case of a studio’s final cut not being up to par with the director’s vision. Hopper had his credit replaced with the “Alan Smithee” title after his film was cut down to a length just over 90 minutes without being consulted.
When Hopper was finally given the opportunity to re-edit his thriller for television, he added nearly another 30 minutes, and re-titled the film as Back Track in an attempt to distance his cut from the original.
1. Michael Bay – Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Just about everyone seemed to dislike the sequel to Transformers; fans, critics, the cast, and even Michael Bay himself.
Bay has publicly apologized for the movie, referring to it as “crap” and citing the writer’s strike of 2007-2008 as the reason. He admitted they tried to throw it together quickly to still hit the intended release date. As a result, production was rushed the script suffered.
Shia LaBeouf claims Bay went too big with effects and too little with story, which would back-up Bay’s claims that the writer’s strike played a part in the final product.