Like any showbiz profession, directors have their share of ups and downs. For every Spielberg, a litany of names serve as reminders that promise does not equal success.
Critics, journalists and audiences alike once named the directors here as the next great auteur, only to see their names fade into obscurity. Even worse, a few became synonymous with failure, forever linked to watershed bombs which killed franchise pictures, or even entire studios. Perhaps saddest of all, some of them continue to toil turning out fine movies that go overlooked by audiences, continuing to damn them to a life of artistic struggle.
On the other hand, some of them plumb deserved it, letting hubris, arrogance and lazy directing kill their chances to be the next big thing. Here are 15 Directors Who Were Going To Be The Next Big Thing, But Vanished.
15 Renny Harlin
Finnish director Renny Harlin burst onto the Hollywood scene when A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master proved to be a sleeper hit (pun not intended) at the box office. He followed up his triumph with action hits like Cliffhanger while flirting with studio tent pole projects like Alien 3, which did a lot to keep his name in the trades, even if he didn’t end up directing the movie. A partnership with Oscar-winner Geena Davis, both in the movies and in their personal lives, cemented his promise as a major filmmaker.
Then his outings began to falter. The Long Kiss Goodnight, a thriller with Davis and Samuel L. Jackson proved to be a critical and commercial flop. Then came his Waterloo: Cutthroat Island. Teamed again with Davis, the movie attracted negative buzz from the outset after Michael Douglas left the project, accusing Harlin of expanding Davis’ role at the expense of his own. The movie went way over budget and bombed at the box office, so hard in fact that it bankrupted Carolco Pictures. He and Davis separated, and he drifted into the realm of B-movies.
14 John McTiernan
Quintessential '80s director McTiernan had a string of steroidal hits which included Predator and Die Hard. Often accused (rightfully) of misogyny, he continued to work into the '90s, drawing comparisons to directors like James Cameron. The future seemed bright.
Then came a string of middling films which slowed his career momentum. The mega-budget action comedy Last Action Hero bombed. A remake of The Thomas Crown Affair underperformed critically and commercially, and his film The 13th Warrior, based on a Michael Crichton story, went way over budget before dying at the box office. Then came the remake of Rollerball, starring then-hot commodities Chris Klein and Rebecca Romijn. The movie had extended production difficulties, undergoing numerous reshoots and re-editing that pushed the budget into the stratosphere. When it bombed, McTiernan took the fall. Then things got even worse: McTiernan plead guilty to lying to FBI agents after he denied trying to wiretap and illegally investigate producer Charles Roven during production. McTiernan had intended to blackmail Roven to gain more control over the film. After a lengthy court battle, McTiernan landed himself in jail for a year, and upon release, declared bankruptcy. He hasn't worked since.
13 Jan De Bont
DeBont began his career as an acclaimed cinematographer before transitioning into action filmmaking. Having long sat at the footstool of Paul Verhoeven, who could also be included here, he began with a series of high profile projects including the much-hyped Speed 2: Cruise Control.
Despite the pic bomb that was Speed 2, he continued to work, though his movies kept underperforming. The Haunting proved a flop despite the presence of Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life — a movie sequel with a built-in fanbase courtesy of its video game origins — did mediocre business. DeBont then drifted into lower-profile fare as his star set in Hollywood.
12 Roger Christian
Christian began as a production designer on The Empire Strikes Back. When he approached George Lucas about directing a short film, Lucas agreed immediately, forking over $25,000 on the spot. The result, the medieval adventure Black Angel, debuted to great acclaim. Christian began directing studio movies, and had a promising career ahead.
Alas, his luck with future projects didn’t pan out. He labored in B-movies for years before landing his chance to direct his own sci-fi epic, and with major stars attached: Battlefield Earth. That movie, of course needs little introduction: based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and starring noted Scientologist John Travolta, it became an overnight punch line. Christian’s career never recovered.
11 Barbara Streisand
Streisand had a reputation as a creative force long before stepping behind the camera. Even on her first movie as an actress, Funny Girl, she often offered suggestions to director William Wyler. Her career as an actress and musician continued to flourish — she picked up two Oscars, one for acting, and the other for composing. Perhaps for that reason, other directors allowed for her creative collaboration.
In the 1980s, she finally decided to slip into the director’s chair with a dream project: the musical Yentl, about a Jewish woman posing as a man to acquire a higher education. Though the subject raised eyebrows, it proved a commercial success. Steven Spielberg called it the best debut for a director since Citizen Kane, and Roger Ebert hailed it as a masterwork. Streisand followed up with The Prince of Tides, which nabbed several Oscar nominations including Best Picture, though the director found herself snubbed. After directing and starring in The Mirror Has Two Faces, Streisand slipped off the radar as a director. The reason? A lack of passion coupled with an attraction to odd projects. Though she continues to work as an actress, Streisand has yet to find funding for her dream projects, and refuses to direct films for which she has little passion.
10 Jeannot Szwarc
Much like Renny Harlin, foreigner Szwarc came to Hollywood as a much-hyped action director. He had a penchant for specializing in sequels: Szwarc helmed Jaws 2, which proved a box office success. Following the commercial flop of Superman III, he agreed to a sequel-reboot of sorts with Supergirl. Early production difficulties didn’t help Szwarc maintain a hold on the colossal production, and Warner Bros, which held the rights to the character, refused to release the film.
Ultimately distributed by Tristar, Supergirl bombed, and remains something of an industry and superhero-enthusiast joke. Szwarc tried again with another mega-production, Santa Claus: The Movie. Despite heavy promotion and merchandise tie-ins, the movie didn’t catch on, and Szwarc drifted into television directing. He continues to work on weekly series, but he wasn't quite the heavy hitter some believed he would become.
9 Baz Luhrmann
Aussie-native Baz Luhrmann made a splash in the 1990s with Strictly Ballroom and the surprise hit Romeo + Juliet. Adopting use of bright colors, spectacular artistic design and flamboyant use of music, he quickly gained a reputation as a visual stylist and bold filmmaker. Then came Moulin Rouge!, an unlikely summer hit that combined pop music with operatic artifice. It racked up an Oscar nom for Best Picture and made Nicole Kidman into a megastar, though Luhrmann was snubbed for Best Director.
Nonetheless, expectations were high. Luhrmann turned down a number of high-profile projects in favor of his next outing, a reteaming with Kidman entitled Australia. The 3-hour epic made a transparent bid for Oscars, though it opened to lukewarm critical reception. The same held true for his next film, an all-star remake of The Great Gatsby. Gatsby aimed for the same mix of style as Moulin Rouge! though the troubled production forced the studio to push the release date. The mixed reception tarnished Luhrmann’s reputation, and he has yet to make another film.
8 Rob Marshall
Hailed as the next Bob Fosse (Cabaret), Marshall’s first theatrical film Chicago made a killing at the box office and racked up numerous Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director. Though Marshall didn’t win, Chicago took home the Best Picture statue, and Marshall hit the top of the showbiz heap. His follow up, another long in development film, Memoirs of a Geisha, opened to mixed critical and commercial results. Viewers praised the production numbers, though criticized the casting and labyrinthine story.
Moreover, the success of Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls sparked whispers that Condon, who penned the Chicago script, deserved the lion’s share of credit for its success. Another musical, Nine, flopped, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides as well as Into The Woods did little to raise his star. Marshall still works, though few would still consider him a visionary.
7 Brett Ratner
Ratner’s student film famously attracted funding from Steven Spielberg himself, and his success as a music video director for stars like Mariah Carey and Madonna made him a hot commodity when he tried his hand at feature directing. His outing, The Family Man, turned out to be a solid hit. He followed up with the sleeper blockbuster Rush Hour and Hannibal Lecter movie Red Dragon, both of which attracted encouraging critical notices and audience attention. He continued his success with sequels to Rush Hour and the heist film After the Sunset.
Then things got rocky. X-Men: The Last Stand and its troubled production attracted negative gossip and the ire of fans of the series. It remains one of the most loathed comic book movies ever. An all-star action comedy Tower Heist bombed, severely damaging Ratner’s stock, as did homophobic comments that got him fired as producer of the Academy Awards. Would-be blockbuster Hercules did little to restore his reputation, and to date, though he has found success as a producer, his directing career has stalled.
6 Josh Trank
Trank made an auspicious directorial debut with Chronicle, a deconstructionist superhero drama that earned rave critical notices and proved a respectable hit. The son of an acclaimed producer, he landed the job rebooting the Fantastic Four series for Fox.
That’s when his career took a nosedive. Actually, that might be an understatement: Fantastic Four became notorious as one of the most troubled productions in history. Trank earned a reputation for erratic and difficult behavior, reportedly not even speaking with the cast during filming. Extensive script rewrites and reshoots sparked speculation that Trank had been fired, and when the movie debuted, he went on Twitter to launch a tirade at the studio. Needless to say, Fantastic Four bombed, and Trank’s career may never recover.
5 Peter Bogdanovich
Bogdanovich began his career as an actor and film critic before landing work as a screenwriter and director for Roger Corman. His first film, the thriller Targets attracted controversy for its subject matter (a teenager who goes on a shooting rampage) and also captured the attention of noted producer Bert Schneider. Schneider allowed Bogdanovich to adapt the popular novel The Last Picture Show as his next film, which earned wide acclaim, box office bucks, and a handful of Oscar nominations, including several for Bogdanovich himself. He followed up with the blockbusters What’s Up Doc and Paper Moon, by which time he’d earned wide acclaim as “the next Orson Welles.” His torrid personal life — leaving his wife and daughters for actress Cybill Shepherd — turned him into tabloid fodder. A pair of bomb movies starring Shepard (Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love) almost ended both their careers.
After breaking up with Shepard, he made a film with new lady love Dorothy Stratten called They All Laughed, though she was tragically murdered following production by the husband she'd left for Bogdanovich. The indie production company funding the movie tried to shelve it, so the director opted to fund distribution himself. When it bombed, he faced personal and professional ruin. A further uneven filmography and continued personal troubles reduced him from the hottest name in Hollywood to a trivia question.
4 Tobe Hooper
Hooper caused a sensation with his indie horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which remains a seminal genre piece. He followed up with several smaller horror films before tackling Poltergeist for writer-producer Steven Spielberg, which proved a latter-day classic and spawned a pair of sequels.
Hooper should have been flying high, but rumors about substance abuse as well as whispers that Spielberg had been responsible for most, if not all, of the directorial choices on Poltergeist deflated his buzz. He then signed a three picture deal with shlock studio Canon, directing a pair of big-budget flops, Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars. A Chainsaw sequel alienated critics and fans of the original, and since then, he’s labored in direct-to-video and television fare.
3 Michael Cimino
Few names rose to the top of the A-List as fast as Cimino, and few have fallen as rapidly. Cimino remains one of the youngest Best Director Oscar winners ever for his film The Deer Hunter, which he also wrote. The movie swept the Academy Awards, and took home Best Picture as well. Prior to that success, he wrote and directed the Clint Eastwood hit Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and Hollywood expected him to become one of the most important directors in the industry.
He followed up The Deer Hunter with Heaven’s Gate, perhaps the most disastrous production in history. The movie ended up costing triple its budget, earned scathing reviews, and bankrupted its studio. Cimino’s battles and hostility toward studio executives also leaked into the press during production, becoming even more amplified after the former studio head published a book about the debacle. Attempts at a comeback, including Year of the Dragon and Desperate Hours proved fruitless, and today, he lives in relative obscurity.
2 M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan had a high profile run in the 2000s with the triple header lineup of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, all of which proved box office gold. Shyamalan also earned Oscar nods for writing and directing along the way. The director developed a cult following, of which he seemed the most enthusiastic member, portraying himself as a mad genius.
The release of The Village met with shocking critical and audience backlash, which rattled Shyamalan’s image, but not his confidence. Following a very public falling out with Disney, which had released most of his films, the director took a gamble on a “bedtime story” called The Lady in the Water. Not only did he write and direct, but he also took on a pivotal lead role despite limited acting experience. The movie was lambasted on release as an exercise in ego and narcissism, and bombed hard in theatres. An attempt to launch a franchise with The Last Airbender also proved a disaster. Subsequent attempts at restoring his image failed as The Happening and The Visit stalled at the box office, and Shamalyan’s image withered. Though still regarded as talented, his ego overshadows his achievements.
1 Jason Reitman
Reitman came from showbiz stock, as the son of Ivan Reitman, acclaimed director of Ghostbusters and Stripes. Son Jason made a big splash as director of the highly acclaimed indie hit Juno, which nabbed Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. He followed that up with Up in the Air, scoring nominations for Best Picture and Director yet again, not to mention strong box office receipts, thanks to the presence of George Clooney. His next outing, Young Adult, garnered critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, though it fizzled come awards time.
Since then, Reitman’s profile has all but vanished from the Hollywood scene, as his later works, Men, Women & Children and Labor Day, both bombed, suggesting that his early success might have been more due to luck than talent. While it's too soon to say that Reitman's time in the sun is gone for good, his name certainly isn't generating nearly as much buzz as it did just a few years ago.
Which would-be A-List directors do you think deserve a second shot at the big time? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments.
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