When most people have a bad day at work, they can go home, have a good night’s sleep and forget about it, knowing they can do better the next day. A film director, however, has no such luxury. If they produce poor work, it is preserved forever in the minds of moviegoers. A bad movie can cause doubts about even the most successful of directors, potentially damaging their reputations and hurting their chances to make a passion project, bring in a big-name cast member for their next film or secure the desired level of funding from their studio.
The directors of the following ten movies have between them accumulated several Oscars, made almost incomprehensible amounts of money from their films and delighted audiences with their greatest works. They nevertheless each directed at least one bad movie, which is always available for film fans to re-visit and re-condemn (or, perhaps, decide are under-appreciated). For some famous directors, these flops represent an outlier amidst their resume, a rare mistake amidst a sea of critical and commercial success. Others of them, however, started into a tailspin of decreasing box office returns and increasingly negative reviews, never to return to the acclaim they once enjoyed.
Some had movies flop because they took risks, deviating from their usual style or genre to experiment and try something new, only to discover they either couldn’t execute their new ideas as well as they hoped or that audiences are not receptive to something different. In others, they had created so many similar films that they reach a creative nadir, churning out movies that lack a creative spark or distinguishing features to differentiate them from their better predecessors. And in other situations, a movie is simply irredeemably awful in every way. No matter why, these ten movies, despite their directorial pedigree, are considered flops.
10. The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson)
After completing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the best loved, highest grossing and most highly decorated film series in recent memory, Jackson has struggled to duplicate his success. While he served as a producer for Neill Blomkamp’s excellent South African sci-fi allegory District 9 and Steven Spielberg‘s Tintin movie, his directorial efforts have been limited to filming The Hobbit as a trilogy, re-making King Kong and filming The Lovely Bones. The first two received mixed reviews, but The Lovely Bones received only a 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Viewer responses have been kinder, as its score on IMDB is an unspectacular but inoffensive 6.7/10, but critics disliked the movie for being tonally jarring, inconsistent and overly interested in visuals than emotion or strong performances. Roger Ebert savaged the film as “deplorable” for romanticizing the plight of a rape and murder victim, while Ty Burr of the Boston Globe declared it a “spectacular, cringe-inducing failure,” and stated that the film left him “appalled” for its lack of human connection. He concluded that “the miscalculation on almost every level is perversely thorough. It’s as if the filmmaker, faced with an endless series of daunting creative choices, proudly took the wrong road each and every time.”
9. 1941 (Steven Spielberg)
From 1975-1982, Steven Spielberg directed five movies, four of which – Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third King, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T – are undisputed classics. The fifth was 1941. Released in 1979, two years after Close Encounters and two years before Raiders, is a comedic depiction of chaos in Los Angeles after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Despite a script by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away) and a cast that included Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy and even legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune in a rare English-speaking role, the film was largely derided by critics and failed to meet the expectations set by Jaws and Close Encounters.
Spielberg later said he delegated too much of the direction to other teams and was too arrogant in some aspects of filming, but was not helped by Columbia and Universal’s decision to cut the film from around 150 minutes to 118 minutes. After an extended version was aired on ABC and released on VHS and later DVD, the movie acquired a cult following.
8. The Counselor (Ridley Scott)
With Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) as director, Cormac McCarthy (author of No Country for Old Men and The Road) writing the script and Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz in the cast, many had high expectations for The Counselor, a tale of a drug deal between an American lawyer and a Mexican cartel gone wrong. The movie received a 35% score on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and just 24% from fans, while also getting only a 5.4/10 score on IMDB. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times claimed the movie’s problem was McCarthy’s “hollow, stilted and theatrical” script, which was at some points “so unconvincing that it’s an embarrassment.” Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune similarly attacked the script as “opaque [and] allusive,” claiming each character speaks only “in epigrams or windy philosophical monologues.”
7. The Dilemma (Ron Howard)
Ron Howard‘s eclectic directing career has shifted between strong dramas like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon and Rush to adaptations of The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and even The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Dilemma, however, was a colossal waste of his talent. The film centres around one man’s decision as to whether he should inform his best friend that he witnessed his wife kissing another man. While it attempted to lean towards the darker end of comedy, many of those elements were edited out of the final cut, leaving it an awkward mash between them and broad physical and juvenile comedy. The movie, starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, was decidedly outside of Howard’s comfort zone. Summing up many of the other criticisms that led to it receiving a 24% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 5.3/10 on IMDB, Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe attacked the movie’s casual use of homophobic language and its woefully underdeveloped female characters.
6. Psycho (1998) (Gus van Sant)
Best known for Good Will Hunting and Milk, Gus van Sant‘s decision to film a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic was concluded to be a creative fiasco and a towering argument against a remake so close to the original. Leonard Maltin wrote the movie off as “completely pointless” and “an insult, rather than a tribute, to a landmark film.” Roger Ebert wrote that he felt as though he was “watching a provincial stock company doing the best it could without the Broadway cast,” and concluded, similarly to Maltin, that “The movie is an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, because it demonstrates that a shot-by-shot remake is pointless.” The movie has a 37% Rotten Tomatoes score and just a 4.6/10 score on IMDB.
5. Alex & Emma (Rob Reiner)
Between 1984-1995, Rob Reiner directed a string of much-beloved hits with This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and the American President. Since then, however, his directorial efforts have largely disappointed, and he hit his nadir in this actively unfunny 2003 romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson. The movie received a paltry 11% Tomatometer score and a 5.5 on IMDB. Todd McCarthy of Variety described it as “a desperately slight romantic comedy marked by contrived romance and little comedy,” Tom Long of the Detroit News declared it “fit to watch only for insomniacs looking to fall asleep from boredom” and Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press argued “you’ll leave Alex and Emma feeling as if you’ve spent a couple of decades interned in a gulag.”
4. Alexander (Oliver Stone)
While Oliver Stone, the director of Platoon, Wall Street and JFK, has always been controversial, few would call any of those movies boring. It was therefore horrific when Stone somehow turned the life of Alexander the Great, one of history’s greatest conquerors, into an overly long, unbearably dull movie. Having made the mistake of seeing it in the theatre, I can wholeheartedly agree with Bill Muller, who wrote for the Arizona Republic that the movie “is punishment rather than entertainment,” as well as with Scott Foundas’s declaration for the LA Weekly that it was “a thudding bore, when what it should have been is an operatic testament to unchecked ambition.” The movie drastically miscast Colin Farrell as Alexander, wasted Anthony Hopkins, allowed Angelina Jolie to speak in a horrific accent and utterly failed to capture the epic nature of Alexander’s life.
3. The Bonfire of the Vanities (Brian De Palma)
The idea of De Palma, who also directed Scarface, The Untouchables and Carlito’s Way, directing a tale of Wall Street greed and violence seemed a perfect fit. De Palma, however, faced a great deal of studio interference. He thus took the dark and cynical best-seller by Tom Wolfe and made it more farcical. He was also forced to humanize the main character and cast Bruce Willis in the role against his wishes. Along with Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Morgan Freeman, the movie was utterly miscast and poorly envisioned, leading it to become a bomb of historic proportions. By removing the darker aspects, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone felt that de Palma “achieves a consistency of ineptitude rare even in this era of over-inflated cinematic air bags,” while Gene Siskel remarked he took “a truly great book of wit and bile and soften[ed] it into platitudinous pablum.”
2. Rollerball (John McTiernan)
To go from directing Predator, The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard, arguably the greatest action movie of all time, to a movie that gets a pathetic 3% Tomatometer score and a 2.9/10 IMDB score is quite the fall from grace. Remaking the 1975 film starring James Caan, McTiernan’s version, starring Chris Klein, removed any social commentary on violence to replace it with empty, incoherent, terribly acted and directed nonsense. I will refrain from posting excerpts from any reviews, because you deserve the joy of reading reviews of this movie for yourself to see the utter savagery, contempt and disgust reviewers held for this movie. A movie like this is truly awful and without redemption, but at least the reviews are entertaining.
1. The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan)
With a $150 million dollar budget and a fan base eagerly awaiting his adaptation of the critically acclaimed animated series, Shyamalan squandered the last shred of the reputation he gained directing The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs by directing an unmitigated disaster of a movie. The movie attracted controversy before it had even started filming for casting white actors to play characters who were supposed to be Asian in origin, and got still worse from there. The movie got just a 6% score from Rotten Tomatoes and a 4.4/10 on IMDB from disappointed fans. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the movie 0 stars, claiming it was filled with “stilted dialogue, wooden acting, glacial pacing, cheesy special effects, tacky-looking sets, ugly costumes, poorly staged and edited action sequences, all shown in murky, cut-rate 3-D.” Ebert similarly gave it only half a star out of four, calling the movie “an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.”An utter disaster in every conceivable way, including to Shyamalan’s reputation, The Last Airbender stands as the largest ever flop by a famous director.