10 Really Famous Film Directors Who Completely Dropped Off The Radar

Hollywood is a fickle beast if you’re a director: one minute you could be selling out cinemas across the land, the next you’re bashing out a straight-to-video thriller that even Steven Seagal turned down. We remember the mighty filmmakers who were on top of the world, only to practically disappear without trace…

John McTiernan

John McTiernan with Bruce Willis on the set of Die Hard With A Vengeance (Credit: Rex Features)
John McTiernan with Bruce Willis on the set of Die Hard With A Vengeance (Credit: Rex Features)

Now here’s a guy with an excuse and a half for stepping out of the limelight. McTiernan directed what must surely be one of the all-time greatest three-movie streak in the history of action cinema: ‘Predator’ (1987), ‘Die Hard’ (1988) and ‘The Hunt For Red October’ (1990). A middling decade followed, but then McTiernan found himself in a situation not unlike one of his heroes: one man, in too deep, facing insurmountable odds in an enclosed environment… also known as prison. McT was found guilty of lying to the FBI about his involvement with PI Anthony Pelicano, who used illegal wiretapping in Hollywood to get dirt on producers include Charles Roven, who McTiernan clashed with on ‘Rollerball’ in 2002. The director served 328 days in a white collar prison in 2014, then spent a year under house arrest. He’s currently shooting his comeback movie ‘Thin Rain’, but we should point out that his last two movies were John Travolta also-ran ‘Basic’ and the aforementioned ‘Rollerball’ remake, a movie so bad it literally got him arrested.

John Landis

Landis’ double-header of ‘Animal House’ and ‘The Blues Brothers’ is pretty much the most untouchable 80s comedy duo of the decade, and ‘An American Werewolf In London’ is one of the most iconic horror comedies of the era… so what happened? Landis ended the decade on a high with ‘Three Amigos’ and ‘Coming To America’, but the 90s brought flops in the form of Sylvester Stallone comedy ‘Oscar’ (must… resist… using air quotes around… ‘comedy’), Eddie Murphy sequel misfire ‘Beverly Hills Cop III’ and – sharp intake of breath – ‘Blues Brothers 2000’, one of the most ill-conceived sequels ever devised. Since then, Landis has directed only two movies: 1998’s Billy Zane ‘comedy’ ‘Susan’s Plan’ (sorry, couldn’t resist the air quotes) and 2010’s deeply weird comeback, ‘Burke And Hare’, starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. Landis claimed in 2011 he was writing and directing a new horror film, but a peep has been neither seen nor heard since.

Jason Reitman

Such promise! Such pedigree! Such… pretention? Jason Reitman’s Hollywood career has been one of ups and downs so far: the son of ‘Ghostbusters’ director Ivan Reitman made a name for himself with tar-black comedy ‘Thank You For Smoking’, then got Oscar’s attention with ‘Juno’ and ‘Up In The Air’. Gulping down the rarified oxygen of the elite clearly had an effect on his output: Reitman’s pie-obsessed naff hostage romance movie ‘Labor Day’ (Google it), was written off as a blip, but 2014’s ‘Men, Women And Children’ followed suit; an incredibly patronising PSA on the dangers of over-reliance on technology that was released 10 years too late. Once considered the next big thing in Hollywood, Reitman is now barely considered a thing, but he’s hoping his next movie, ‘Tully’, will be a return to form: it’s a comedy written by ‘Juno’ scribe Diablo Cody and starring his ‘Young Adult’ star Charlize Theron.

Vincent Gallo

Considered the enfant terrible of the 90s indie scene after his challenging directorial techniques (i.e. yelling), Gallo blazed onto the scene with ‘Buffalo ’66’, a brilliant comedy about an ex-con who kidnaps a student in order to convince his parents he’s getting married. An egocentric through and through, he followed that movie up with the infamous ‘The Brown Bunny’, a movie notable only for the real act of oral sex he had actress Chloe Sevigny perform on him on screen. The film tanked and was written off as a vanity project by all who saw it; Roger Ebert called it the worst movie to ever show at Cannes and Gallo responded by calling the critic “a fat pig with the physique of a slave trader”. He’s only directed one film since, experimental romance ‘Promises Written In Water’ in 2010, which he wrote, directed and starred in without ever telling his cast or crew what it was actually about. Unsurprisingly, he has not been allowed to step behind the camera since.

Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher promoting Batman And Robin with Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney (Credit: Rex Features)
Joel Schumacher promoting Batman And Robin with Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney (Credit: Rex Features)

Stop right there. We know what you’re thinking. ‘Batman & Robin’, right? How could anyone show their face in Hollywood after that? Schumacher’s story isn’t quite that simple: he actually bounced back pretty well from the Bat-bomb with ‘8MM’ in 1999 and claustro-thriller ‘Phone Booth’ in 2003. Follow-ups ‘Veronica Guerin’ and ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ weren’t exactly low profile pictures either. So what happened? Some time after the poorly received Jim Carrey mystery ‘The Number 23’ in 2007, Schumacher fell out of favour: his vampire thriller ‘Blood Creek’ received a limited release and 2011 home invasion movie ‘Trespass flopped’, despite starring Academy Award winners Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. Aside from a couple of episodes of ‘House Of Cards’, a gig he got through close friend David Fincher, Schumacher hasn’t directed anything since.

Rob Reiner

Reiner was a colossus of the 80s, standing astride the decade with the gait and confidence that comes with directing ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally’. Reiner never really stopped making movies, but perhaps that was the problem: he produced a string of underwhelming flops only fractionally as funny, moving and relatable as his golden age pictures. ‘Ghosts From The Past’. ‘The Story Of Us’. ‘Alex & Emma’. ‘Rumor Has It’. ‘The Magic Of Belle Isle’. ‘And So It Goes’. Blank faces all round. Did you know he released a movie last year? Starring Cary Elwes? Of course you didn’t. Nobody did. It’s time to officially put Reiner in the ‘Where are they now?’ file along with Spinal Tap. Maybe when you have as many bona fide classics under your belt as Rob Reiner does, you don’t care if anyone watches your new movies.

Joe Dante

Mentored by legendary shlock producer Roger Corman, Joe Dante directed some true high concept gems in the 80s, including both ‘Gremlins’ movies, ‘Innerspace’ and Tom Hanks classic ‘The ‘Burbs’. At Dante’s peak, he was untouchable, but now? Almost anonymous in Hollywood. Joe’s unique brand of movies – kids’ movies with edge and strong physical effects – didn’t fare well in the 90s, and although he was given a chance to stage a comeback in 2009 with 3D horror ‘The Hole’, he found that Hollywood’s genorosity was not bottomless. But there is hope. Recently announced is his pet project, ‘The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes’, a biopic of Roger Corman detailing the first time he took LSD in 1967, aided and abetted by stars Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Would watch. Would watch in a heartbeat.

John Woo

John Woo with Tim Cruise on the Mission: Impossible II set (Credit: Rex Features)
John Woo with Tim Cruise on the Mission: Impossible II set (Credit: Rex Features)

Wherefore art thou, guy who made ‘Face/Off’? Hollywood needs you now more than ever. There’s no big mystery as to why John Woo has fallen off the radar: he no longer makes movies for the American market. Why bother trying to top ‘Face/Off’? Woo returned to his native China to make movies for the East after his last Western movie, ‘Paycheck’ – starring a bored Ben Affleck – flopped. It proved to be a smart move: his two-part 2008 epic, ‘Red Cliff’, broke the domestic box-office record previously held by ‘Titanic’. Fittingly for a man whose love of slow-motion is well documented, Woo works at a much more sedate pace these days, adding only The Crossing and its sequel to his resume. That just gives us time to formulate a plan. Write script for ‘Face/Off 2: Face Offier’. Get Travolta and Cage in the same room. Call Woo. Make magic happen.

Francis Ford Coppola

How the mighty have fallen. You can chart the exact moment that Coppola ceased to get invited to the big-time parties in Hollywood – 9th August, 1996, the day he released Robin Williams’ atrocity ‘Jack’ on an unsuspecting public. Before he knew it, the director of ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ suddenly found himself with a 10-year gap on his CV: a decade passed between John Grisham’s 1997 potboiler ‘The Rainmaker’ and comeback movie ‘Youth Without Youth’ and barely anyone missed him. At least he has rediscovered his independent spirit of late: 2009’s ‘Tetro’ was an interesting failure, ditto 2011’s ‘Twixt’, but he discovered two fine talents in the form of Alden Ehrenreich (aka the new Han Solo) and a young Elle Fanning. His last movie, 2015’s ‘Distant Vision’, was so niche, it was broadcast live only to a small audience at Oklahoma City Community College. It still had more fans than ‘Jack’.

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