Top 10 One-Hit Wonder Movie Directors

Script written by Matthew Thomas. If at first you do succeed, don’t try again. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 one hit wonder directors. For this list, we’ll be looking at directors who hit it big with one film and then failed to reach the same heights afterwards. However, having had subsequent minor success does not preclude their inclusion here. Their one successful film does not have to be their first kick at the bucket either. Special thanks to our users TheDude for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest.
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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 One-Hit Wonder Directors


If at first you do succeed, don’t try again. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 one hit wonder directors.

For this list, we’ll be looking at directors who hit it big with one film and then failed to reach the same heights afterwards. However, having had subsequent minor success does not preclude their inclusion here. Their one successful film does not have to be their first kick at the bucket either.

#10: Kimberly Peirce
“Boys Don’t Cry” (1999)

Inspired by the real-life story of Brandon Teena, this indie romantic drama tells the tale of a transgender woman living life as a man despite little acceptance of that choice at that time, and who was subsequently murdered for that choice. Kimberly Peirce resolved to bring Brandon’s story to the masses by choosing to focus on the positive example he set for others, and the result was a film that inspired others to live their truths. Since this acclaimed film, however, the director’s delved into mediocrity with the uneven war drama “Stop-Loss,” and then fell further with the underwhelming “Carrie” remake.

#9: Troy Duffy
“The Boondock Saints” (1999)

When Miramax bought the rights to produce “The Boondock Saints” for close to half a million dollars with an untested director at the helm whose band was to perform the soundtrack, it seemed like Troy Duffy bought into his own hype. In the end, he lost his movie deals and the film industry’s respect due to his arrogance. However, when “The Boondock Saints” was released on video, it managed to garner a sizable following. Due to his previous behavior though, nobody wanted to work with him afterward, except for a onetime shoot to make a sequel that failed to recapture the first film’s glory.

#8: Michael Cimino
“The Deer Hunter” (1978)

When Michael Cimino was ascending the stairs to the Academy Award podium to receive Oscars for Best Director and Picture, we’re certain he couldn’t have known he’d never reach that height again. The fact that the film he released a mere two years later would garner him a Razzie for Worst Director must have been unfathomable in the late ‘70s, but that absolutely turned out to be his fate. However, crafting an epic Vietnam War drama that haunted audiences with its unflinching depiction of war and introducing many to Russian Roulette is a pretty great legacy.

#7: John Singleton
“Boyz n the Hood” (1991)


Blazing onto the scene with an uncompromising and incendiary portrayal of the lives of youths in the hood, John Singleton was set to become an important storyteller for years to come with this 1991 drama. Instead, his efforts since “Boyz n the Hood,” highlighted by films like “2 Fast 2 Furious” and a “Shaft” sequel, lacked the voice or gravitas of his debut effort. An outspoken critic of the Hollywood system and their treatment of African Americans, to be fair, his subsequent work could arguably have become more acclaimed if he’d had more artistic freedom.

#6: Irvin Kershner
“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)


George Lucas may be the most famous man behind the “Star Wars” series, but it was Irvin Kershner who was at the helm of the film that is often cited as the best in the series’ history. Holding the distinction of making one of the most beloved films of all time, it is probably near impossible to live up to that achievement thereafter – and while the director certainly had a respectable career, he never managed to relive the level of accomplishment that “The Empire Strikes Back” gave him.

#5: Charles Laughton
“The Night of the Hunter” (1955)

This long time actor of film and stage with experience in directing for theater decided to try his hand at film direction and he hit one of his first pitches right out of the park. Focusing on a supposed man of God who is in fact a serial killer that has to deal with a pair of children in his crosshairs after he kills their mother, this thriller grabbed audiences by the throat and never let go, and later influenced multiple moviemakers. Unlike other directors on this list, however, Charles Laughton appeared to have been satisfied with his efforts and never directed a film again.

#4: Tony Kaye
“American History X” (1998)

Releasing a film about an ardent group of racists, one of whom eventually sees the errors of his ways, may have been perfect Oscar bait, but it was also akin to walking a tight rope. Make the neo-Nazis too likable and catcalls of racism arise, or make them too villainous and you’d be written off as simplistic and cartoonish. Tony Kaye expertly navigated those pitfalls in this crime drama, which also earned his lead actor an Oscar nod. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made anything in the film industry quite so expertly ever since.

#3: Paul Brickman
“Risky Business” (1983)


after years of mostly writing movies, Paul Brickman crafted the film that really thrust Tom Cruise into stardom, and with this rom-com, put a scene on celluloid that remains to this day one of Cruise’s most enduring images. In the years since, he only directed one other film - which received mixed reviews and made only 6 million dollars at the box office - and only wrote a couple of other movies, none of which made a significant mark on cinema history.

#2: Richard Kelly
“Donnie Darko” (2001)


“Donnie Darko” barely doubled its 3.8 million dollar budget at the box office, but after coming out on DVD, it became a must-see film for anyone who considered themselves a cinema buff. Though many viewers didn’t really understand what they were seeing or what it was all supposed to mean, they knew there was something about the supernatural drama that was entirely engrossing. Richard Kelly’s next works were highly anticipated until they came out – as “Southland Tales” lost just about everyone and his follow-up to that, “The Box,” furthered his descent.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Tom Hanks
“That Thing You Do!” (1996)
- Vincent Gallo
“Buffalo ‘66” (1998)
- Billy Bob Thornton
“Sling Blade” (1996)

#1: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999)


Two directors, two careers and one little movie that you’ve probably never heard of. These two men came together to direct this found footage horror flick that went on become one of the most successful indie movies ever. Taking a budget of less than 25 thousand and turning it into a box office smash of nearly 250 million dollars, these two seemed to have their fingers on the pulse of society. And yet, neither capitalized on his success and it took another seven years for either to release a film. By then, the hype surrounding them was gone and their skill in creating box office gold seemed to be too.

Do you agree with our list? Which director do you think is a one-hit wonder? For more film Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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