10 Famous Directors’ Biggest Missteps


We’re approaching the 26th anniversary of the film that George Lucas would love to forget: Howard the Duck . The filmmaker produced the failed Marvel comic adaptation about an alien duck that tries to save humanity and romances Lea Thompson during his quest. Although Willard Huyck directed the flop, it’s every bit Lucas’ movie, released under his production and special effects banners Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Since the now cult film’s 25th anniversary passed us like a ship in the night last year, fans have been unhappy that no Blu-ray release is in sight. Slashfilm is reporting that Howard groupies and Marvel COO Joe Quesada are rallying for an HD version. You can watch their video plea here.

In the meantime, news about the “worst” movie got us thinking about other filmmakers and their biggest cinematic missteps. Take the good with the bad past the break, and drop your votes in the comments below.

Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes

With his greatest successes behind him — including deeply personal films like Edward Scissorhands — and a few forgettable entries tarnishing his record (something that’s become a trend with the filmmaker), Tim Burton set out to reclaim his throne with a remake of the 1960’s sci-fi opus Planet of the Apes. It felt entirely possible that he would be perfect for the job since Burton was already a master at creating atmospheric worlds full of quirks and memorable characters. While the director’s “damn dirty apes” were one of the highlights of the movie — thanks to Rick Baker’s makeup and actors like Tim Roth behind the prosthetics — Burton’s film also featured dull performances from Mark Wahlberg and seemed to stifle the talents of Helena Bonham Carter. The ill-conceived story felt limited and confused, turning the philosophical landmark tale into a mere action spectacle. The ending is what really hammered the final nail in the coffin, however. When one of your lead actors (Roth) says, “I cannot explain that ending. I have seen it twice, and I don’t understand anything,” that’s probably a bad sign.

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut

Kubrick’s final film had a rather illustrious canon to stand up to upon its release, which is perhaps unfair to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s quiet, hypnotic allegory. Easily as divisive as Barry Lyndon, but more far more universally reviled, Kubrick’s erotic portrait of a marriage struggled against censorship, conflicting reports about the filmmaker’s opinion (Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey said Kubrick was “disgusted” by the movie, while actor and friend Todd Field claimed the opposite of Ermey’s “slanderous” comments), and a publicity campaign that churned the hype machine about nude actors, real sex, and masked orgies. (And let’s not forget the ostentatious tell-all that was released around that time.) Critics never seemed to get beyond the movie’s sexual dynamics and instead pegged the film as a generally self-indulgent misstep, “ridiculously though intellectually overhyped for the very marginal entertainment, edification and titillation it [provided].”

Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack

“Who was this movie made for?” Roger Ebert wondered about Francis Ford Coppola’s oddball 1996 film Jack, featuring Robin Williams as a 40-year-old man trapped in a 10-year-old boy’s body. Did we mention the movie also stars Jennifer Lopez, Bill Cosby, and Fran Drescher, with music by Bryan Adams? Yes, the same filmmaker who crafted one of the greatest pieces of cinema, The Godfather, also made… this. “Jack doesn’t want to be a great movie. It only wants to pluck the usual heartstrings and provide the anticipated payoff,” Ebert also shared. Williams’ portrayal was called underwhelming, betraying the hyper thesp’s routinely schizophrenic performances. Jack made The Godfather III look like a masterpiece by comparison.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy

Hitchcock’s penultimate film suffered in part from a series of personal setbacks that took him away from the camera — including the stroke of his wife — but his return to the macabre suspense-thriller genre didn’t sit well with many critics and audiences apart from that. It was 1972, and in many ways the film felt like a desperate attempt to catch up with the times. Suddenly, Hitch could show all the flesh and bloody violence cleverly implied in his previous features, which undercut his masterful style. Rare moments of offhand, naturalistic nudity were overshadowed by the director’s emphatic sexualized violence. The comedy of Frenzy is genius, namely centering on the relationship between the Chief Inspector (Alec McCowen) and his wife (Vivien Merchant), but that’s hardly the thrust of the whole picture. For many, Frenzy felt like recycled previous efforts and one big, crass money shot.

Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm

While we tend to agree with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers who said, “Even when Gilliam flies off the rails, his images stick with you,” his 2005 frenetic fantasy film The Brothers Grimm tests the limits of that loyalty completely. The frustrating Tideland is a strong contender for this spot, but we feel that Gilliam’s grotesque fairy tale about an orphaned girl showed the director artistically owning his unpleasantries, versus the missteps of Grimm, which Gilliam blamed the studio for completely. Defeat is never attractive. Production woes with the Weinsteins plagued him throughout filming, but it was an uninspired mess regardless. The Guardian summed Grimm up nicely when they called it “frantic and bombastic, like a multicoloured fairground ride that offers everything but enjoyment.”

Ridley Scott’s A Good Year

While US audiences ready themselves for Ridley Scott’s Alien-connected tale Prometheus in theaters this weekend, let’s look back at the bourgeois stroll through rural France that is A Good Year. Scott adapted Peter Mayle’s novel of the same name and the result was “the perfect diversion for misogynistic investment bankers whose personal assistants neglected to pack the new issue of Vanity Fair in their Vuitton weekenders,” according to The Village Voice, also calling its cinematography “weirdly oppressive.” We happily prefer Scott’s dark side to his inner sweet and sappy rom-com that manages to lack both the rom and the com, and can’t claim to have half the heart of wine lovers comedy Sideways.

Michael Mann’s Public Enemies

Mann’s 2009 crime drama starred Christian Bale and Johnny Depp as gangsters during the 1930s, which meant that expectations were pretty high for the biographical story. Public Enemies wore its fedora proudly, but lacked the necessary details to transcend superficial, shallow contrivances. Mann spends time nailing the period details, but his tale about the Dillinger gang isn’t as finely tuned to the real-life events, creating a confusing sketch. It’s hard to connect with Mann’s characters, most disappointingly with charismatic antihero Dillinger. Depp edges close to a fantastic portrait of the crime figure, but comfortably dwells in the moody brooder ranks instead. Unexpectedly, Mann’s retelling of his 1980’s neon crime series Miami Vice fared better.

Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia

A master of excess, director Brian DePalma unsuccessfully used every trick he had when creating his 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia novel. This was the filmmaker’s perfect opportunity to marry his penchant for neo-noir drama with stylish psychological thrills, but the film never lived up to its potential. San Francisco Chronicle writer Mick LaSalle wrote about the movie’s miscast, lackluster, and sometimes laughable performances:

“When Swank slinks around like a femme fatale, it’s funny. When Hartnett stares off pensively, as if the world is on his shoulders, there is nothing on his shoulders. And when he picks up Johansson and throws her down on the dinner table, both of them too overcome by lust to go upstairs to the bedroom, all we can think of is the waste of a perfectly nice meal. They look clumsy and silly, and they’re making a mess. Later, when you stop laughing, take time to marvel at what they can’t accomplish and what Mitchum and Greer could, with just a close-mouthed kiss on the beach.”

Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Harrison Ford survives a nuke by hiding in a refrigerator. Shia LaBeouf swings from trees with monkeys. The quick bottom line: it’s not nearly as cool as the earlier Indy films, or anything else from the director.

Gus Van Sant’s Psycho

It would be a monumental task for any director to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s master horror film Psycho. Gus Van Sant attempted a shot-by-shot retelling of the 1960 film (adding a masturbation scene), which proved to be a pointless exercise, according to Roger Ebert’s review — and we agree. “I felt oddly as if I were watching a provincial stock company doing the best it could without the Broadway cast,” Ebert wrote of the movie.

“I was reminded of the child prodigy who was summoned to perform for a famous pianist The child climbed onto the piano stool and played something by Chopin with great speed and accuracy. The great musician then patted the child on the head and said, ‘You can play the notes. Someday, you may be able to play the music.'”