The movies where great directors went completely off the rails

Sam Ashurst
Contributor

It’s really, really hard to direct a movie – so much so that it’s a miracle any good ones get made at all.

This level of intense difficulty occasionally trips up even the best directors, which means there’s a dodgy movie on everyone’s CV.

Here’s a handful of all the times directors went completely off-track, delivering some bafflingly bad projects in the process.

Mimic (1997) – Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro’s first American film was also his first bad movie – following his astonishing Mexican debut Cronos with a disjointed monster movie could have derailed his career.

As it turns out, the film’s problems aren’t del Toro’s fault – they were the work of another movie monster.

“I really hated the experience,” del Toro said to the crowd at the London Film Festival last year. “My first American experience was almost my last because it was with the Weinsteins and Miramax. I have got to tell you, two horrible things happened in the late nineties, my father was kidnapped and I worked with the Weinsteins. I know which one was worse… the kidnapping made more sense, I knew what they wanted.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t the last monster movie del Toro made, and his most recent one, The Shape Of Water was just a little-bit more well-received.

Hereafter (2010) – Clint Eastwood

What went wrong? Clint Eastwood directing, written by the brilliant Peter Morgan, co-produced by Steven Spielberg, a great cast (including an early role for Bryce Dallas Howard)… All of which combined to create this directionless / inert snooze-fest, about three people who are connected to the afterlife in different ways. Who knows what went wrong, but with Eastwood doing five films in the three years that led up to Hereafter, maybe he was just knackered.

Eastwood bounced back with J Edgar, which demonstrated more of his dynamism, slowed down his output, and has been solid ever since. Well, until The 15:17 to Paris, a film so amateurish, it would deserve its own entry on this list if we hadn’t decided to stick to one film per director.

For The Love Of The Game (1999) – Sam Raimi

Baseball star Billy Chapel has to choose between love and his career in this saccharine sob-fest from genuine genius Sam Raimi. Sometimes when a director goes off the rails, it’s not because they’ve made a crazy film, it’s because they’ve made a boring one.

Raimi, who made his name on incredible intense horror flicks like Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and the wild Army Of Darkness, sure knows how to shoot the baseball scenes, but it’s when Costner’s character Chapel steps off the field that the problems kick in.

At 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, some critics liked it – only problem is, the star didn’t (though he didn’t blame Raimi for the film’s failure).

“For Universal, this movie has always been about the length and the rating,” Kevin Costner said before the film’s release. “It’s never been about the content. You feel a studio would want to release the best version of the movie, not the one they think appeals to the biggest common denominator. . . . Universal wasn’t even willing to try [to fight the MPAA]. They said it wouldn’t do any good. The love of the movies, I believe, is waning [in Hollywood].”

Oof.

Deal Of The Century (1983) – William Friedkin

William Friedkin has made a handful of the greatest movies ever made – The Exorcist, The French Connection, Sorcerer, To Live And Die In LA and many more.

You’ll have seen at least a couple of those, but there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of Deal Of The Century, that’s mainly because no-one involved particularly wants to talk about it.

It’s supposed to be a comedy-satire, but with a truly charmless Chevy Chase in the lead as an unpleasant arms dealer, it falls awkwardly flat.

Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990) – Brian De Palma

This is one of those situations where the film title accidentally also describes the production itself. De Palma took on a monumental task in adapting one of the most popular novels of the ‘80s – just three years after it was first published – and critics threw him on the pyre for it.

Despite building a reputation for being one of the most visually interesting directors of his generation, with movies like Sisters, Blow-Out and Carrie, De Palma was relatively low-key on Vanities. Combine that with a miscast lead – Tom Hanks – and trouble brewed.

While definitely not as bad as its legacy suggests, the production was so troubled an entire book was written about how it was made – ‘The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood’ by Julie Salamon – which was published a year after the film’s release. Says it all, really.

New York, New York (1977) – Martin Scorsese

Now, there are those of us who believe Martin Scorsese’s never made a bad movie, and then there are those who have sat through the whole of New York, New York.

This is a film that didn’t just derail Scorsese’s career – it almost killed him, with the brilliant director finding himself in the hospital after a cocaine binge inspired by the disastrous critical / commercial reaction to New York, New York led to his collapse.

As for the film itself, Scorsese knew why the musical drama went off the rails, even as he was making it. “I tried to have no idea at all what I was going to do, as much as possible, on the day of shooting – as opposed to having a fairly strong idea of what I was going to do. I was really testing the limits,” he said. “I had a very chaotic style, on purpose, on ‘New York, New York.’ And I found it didn’t work for me.”

One From The Heart (1981) – Francis Ford Coppola

Scorsese wasn’t the only ‘70s director to try his hand at a musical, and Francis Ford Coppola had equally disastrous results.

Coppola might not have been hospitalised as a result of this Vegas-set musical drama (in which the director famously recreated Las Vegas on a sound-stage as opposed to just, say, shooting there), but it did kill his company – destroying his independent studio American Zoetrope, forcing him to go back to the majors to work on more traditional teen movies and rom coms for several years after its release.

Still, One From The Heart is an honourable failure – it looks great – but the experimental attempt to change the way films are made by combining theatre and cinema didn’t click with audiences, resulting in a (very) costly career derail.

A Good Year (2006) – Ridley Scott

Six years after the success of Gladiator, Ridley Scott reunited with Russell Crowe to make full-use of the actor’s magnetic, dramatic power by casting him in another high-stakes revenge epic about…

…Hang on a minute, is this actually Scott making Crowe awkwardly try his hand at a rom-com in what basically adds up to a long-form holiday video about a lovely trip they took to the South of France?

Like For The Love Of The Game, it’s not necessarily an incompetently made film, just a really, really dull one.

Still, Scott’s worst movie looks like it was incredibly pleasant to make, with some truly stunning locations – so at least the cast and crew had a nice time shooting it.

The Canyons (2013) – Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader didn’t just write movies (including the legendary Taxi Driver), he directed some of the coolest cult movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with movies like Blue Collar, Hardcore, and the Cannes award-winning Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters on his IMDB CV.

How he plummeted from those heights to a movie that’s not just his worst film, but Lindsay Lohan’s worst film (and there’s plenty of competition for that particular title) is something that’s been endlessly discussed – including in an extensive (and astonishing) New York Times piece, which lays the blame for the movie’s car-crash badness at Lohan’s feet.

But Schrader (and writer Bret Easton Ellis) have to take some of the blame – the erotic-thriller about a trust-fund kid who finds out his girlfriend is cheating feels like it would have been a doomed project with or without Lohan. And the few films Schrader’s made since (including two Nic Cage turkeys) have been almost as bad.


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