Movie history is littered with great combination actor/directors: Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Sofia Coppola, Orson Welles, George Clooney, the list goes on. It’s often added to in delightful and surprising ways each festival season.
An A-list celebrity can bring critical and commercial attention to a floundering film production, attracting high profile stars, money, and studios with greater ease than any mere mortal. As a result, some of the best cinema we’ve had in recent years has been brought to us by former actors. Argo, The Ides of March, The Double, and Gran Torino all came from individuals who moved from in front of the camera to the director’s chair.
These gems do not, however, make up for the trove of nonsense, flops, and outright disasters that have made their way to the big screen simply because of an association with a household name. There is a multitude of actors who apparently thought that the process of directing a movie seemed ‘simple enough’, and decided to have a go at it. In the list below we’ve listed just a tiny number of these offences produced by aspiring actor/directors. These actors have done great things on screen, but went on to make huge mistakes off camera.
5. Jodie Foster
With a more than respectable number of Oscar wins and nominations (from as early as the age of 13) Foster could well have continued to rack up the awards as one of Hollywood’s more interesting actors. Instead, Foster decided to try her hand at direction, which went passably well until her third director’s credit, for a film entitled ‘The Beaver’, which starred Mel Gibson (mid breakdown), Foster herself, and a hand puppet in the shape of a beaver…
All in the film cost $21m, and only took around $100k in its opening weekend. Early critics said that the film lacked authenticity, and that the overall premise ‘just didn’t fly’. It probably didn’t help that Gibson was crashing and burning very publicly at the time. However, the film has risen to a (fairly) respectable 60% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Foster has since bounced back and has directed episodes of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.
4. Kevin Spacey
A certain level of success enables actors to pursue pet projects, which is fine. So when Spacey announced he was making a musical biopic of his longtime hero Bobby Darin it seemed like a good thing. Then it turned out that Spacey would be casting himself in the starring role, which was a less good thing (though far from unheard of), especially when you consider the fact that the 45 year-old Spacey would be playing a teenager. The situation worsened when it became clear that he’d be acting opposite a 21 year-old Kate Bosworth, at which point it all becomes a little more unrealistic.
Spacey has, however, found greater success in other ways; as a producer for various high profile features (The Social Network, and Captain Phillips spring to mind), and for the highly acclaimed Netflix drama House of Cards. He also spent over a decade as the creative director of the Old Vic Theatre in London, which has gone from strength to strength.
3. Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage gets a lot of stick for the quality and quantity of his creative output. Say what you like about him, but there are a good few gems in amongst such flops as the terrible remake of The Wicker Man (which has a withering 15% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Ghost Rider (which was inexplicably given a sequel). The 50 year-old is one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, with 76 credits to his name. And in an apparent bid to enter the cultural consciousness from every possible route, Cage has been involved in the film industry from the director’s chair.
His 2002 directorial debut, Sonny, which stars James Franco, only adds to the bizarre phenomenon that is Nicolas Cage’s creative body of work. One particularly damning critic simply states that it was ‘preposterous, tedious, [and] spiked with unintentional laughter that, unfortunately, occurs too infrequently to make the film even a guilty pleasure.’ The film also failed at a profound level to perform commercially with takings of little over $30,000.
2. Angelina Jolie
Angie has proven her acting abilities beyond doubt. She’s won Oscars, critical acclaim and legions of fans for her performances in movies like Salt, Changeling and Gia. The actress, mother and activist rarely does much wrong in the public eye these days – which made it all the more surprising when her attempt at turning her hand to directing did, by general consensus, flop.
2011’s ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ was Jolie’s much-anticipated debut as both writer and director. It was an unforgiving, dense story of star-crossed lovers in Bosnia during the war of the 1990s. The movie was met with a lukewarm response by critics, who generally agreed that although it wasn’t a spectacular failure, the attempt to blend the harsh reality of war with a rather uninvolving love story was hamfisted; one critic stated ‘the blood and honey on the table in an unpalatable mix’. There’s still hope for Jolie as a director in years to come, though. With a decidedly mixed response to her directorial debut, she has yet to be entirely written off as a director. Her next directorial attempt, ‘Unbroken’, is a war drama written by the Coen brothers and is expected to be released later this year.
1. Ryan Gosling
The first 10 minutes of Drive are utterly unforgettable. The film’s 80s soundtrack and aesthetics in combination with the highly watchable partnership between the taciturn Gosling and the lovely Carey Mulligan catapulted the little known male star into a series of worthy projects. Since then Gosling has had a number of memorable roles; including a circus stuntman turned bank robber in The Place Beyond the Pines, and a drug smuggler in Only God Forgives.
Peter Bradshaw, one of the Guardian’s high profile film critics opened his review of Gosling directorial debut Lost River with a note about how superstars with a strong filmography find themselves surrounded by ‘people who don’t say “No”.’ According to most of the critics who attended the Cannes screening, the film, like many of the projects on this list, is an example of people blindly agreeing to high profile actors when those actors ask to try their hand at direction.
There was a lot of buzz around Lost River, largely because of its director and the cast (which includes Christina Hendricks and Matt Smith), but the general critical response has been overwhelmingly negative. This said, films have been known to gather critical and commercial momentum outside of the festival circuit, and a small minority of early reviews indicate an inkling of hope for Gosling’s pet project.