Top 10 Directors Who Destroyed Their Careers with One Movie



Top 10 Directors Who Destroyed Their Careers with One Movie

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Spencer Sher
No one could have predicted just how destructive these movies would be. For this list, we're taking a look at directors who experienced an enormous flop that either temporarily or permanently did massive damage to their reputations. Our countdown includes George Lucas, Paul Verhoeven, Frank Capra, M. Night Shyamalan, and more!
Script Written by Spencer Sher

Top 10 Directors Who Destroyed Their Careers With One Movie

Well, that didn’t work out as planned. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Directors Who Destroyed Their Careers With One Movie.

For this list, we’re taking a look at directors who experienced an enormous flop that either temporarily or permanently did massive damage to their reputations. They can since have bounced back, but they must have at least been hindered in the short term. Good movies, bad movies — as long as it blew a hole in the director's career, then it will be considered.

#10: The Wachowskis

“Jupiter Ascending” (2015)

With “The Matrix 4” on the horizon, it can be easy to assume that the Wachowskis have recovered from the critical and commercial blunder that was “Jupiter Ascending”. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind. For starters, “The Matrix 4” will be their first feature film since “Jupiter Ascending” felt flat on its face in 2015, and only Lana Wachowski is involved with the project. Netflix’s “Sense8” notwithstanding, “Jupiter Ascending” put the nail in the feature film coffin the Wachowski’s had been slowly building for themselves since 2006’s “Speed Racer”. Between that film, “Cloud Atlas” and finally “Jupiter Ascending”, Lilly and Lana Wachowski lost a lot of credibility when it came to helming major Hollywood productions.

#9: Paul Verhoeven

“Showgirls” (1995)

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Paul Verhoeven was one of Hollywood’s hottest directors. The Dutch import had accrued a considerable amount of goodwill thanks to the box office successes of films like “RoboCop”, “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct”. However, the wheels officially came off the track with 1995’s “Showgirls”. Overflowing with sex, nudity, and violence, the film was given an NC-17 rating, which, when coupled with a wave of brutal reviews, led to it failing to recoup its $45 million budget. While the film would later achieve cult status in the “so bad it's good” genre, Verhoeven’s name never carried the same weight in Hollywood circles. He made two more films in America before returning to Europe, where he continues to work.

#8: Frank Capra

“It's a Wonderful Life” (1946)

The story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and its director, Frank Capra, is a true roller coaster ride of emotions. Prior to the film, Capra was widely considered to be Hollywood’s It-director. He’d won six Academy Awards, and his films consistently raked in tons of cash. Then came “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Today we know it as a Christmas classic, but back then it was considered a major flop, with critics lambasting the film for being overly sentimental. The film played a key role in the eventual demise of Capra’s production company Liberty Films, and he would never again reach the heights of his pre-“It’s a Wonderful Life” fame. Fun fact: the film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director! Go figure.

#7: Roberto Benigni

“Pinocchio” (2002)

The 71st Academy Awards belonged to Italian actor and director Roberto Benigni. “Life is Beautiful”, which he wrote, directed and starred in, picked up three Oscars, including
Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor, and Benigni was on top of the world. So, it must have felt like the world was imploding following the release of 2002’s “Pinocchio”. Benigni once again served as writer, director and star, but this time the result was downright cataclysmic. One of the few films to hold a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Pinocchio” was called “creepy”, “awful” and “visually atrocious”. Benigni picked up a Worst Actor Razzie and his Hollywood career went arrivederci.

#6: Richard Kelly

“Southland Tales” (2006)

Following the release of “Donnie Darko”, which failed to do well at the box office but subsequently became a cult classic and home video success, Richard Kelly was seen as one of Hollywood’s hottest up and coming directors. He followed it up with “Domino” in 2005 and “Southland Tales” in 2006. While both films failed to hit the mark with fans or critics, it was the latter that truly cemented Kelly’s status as a one-hit wonder. The film’s Cannes premiere is the stuff of cinematic legend, with critics agreeing it was one of the worst films the festival had ever seen. Cinemagoers clearly felt the same way, as the film pulled in less than $400,000. Kelly hasn’t made a finished film since 2010.

#5: Martin Brest

“Gigli” (2003)

Over the course of roughly a decade, Martin Brest gave the world “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Midnight Run” and “Scent of a Woman” – all of which were critical and commercial successes. He also had a minor hit in “Meet Joe Black” in 1998. However, 2003 saw the release of his “Gigli,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, and it was an unmitigated disaster. The film “won” six Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Director and Worst Screenplay for Brest, and it was named the worst comedy the awards show had seen in its 25 years of existence. Made on a budget of $75.6 million, it only managed to recoup just over 7 million! Lopez and Affleck’s careers certainly rebounded, but Brest’s didn’t.

#4: Joel Schumacher

“Batman & Robin” (1997)

Even casual film fans know that this comic book abomination, err, sorry, we mean adaptation, marked a low point for the Caped Crusader. The Joel Schumacher-helmed flick featured cartoonish action sequences that would be too outlandish even for the ‘60s “Batman” TV series, a pun-machine in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, an overabundance of costumed nipples, and Batman and Robin on skates. Need we say more? The campiness was all too much to bear and turned the Dark Knight into a laughingstock for years. The same can be said of Schumacher, who never managed to reach the heights of his pre-“Batman & Robin” career. And here we were in the mid-’90s thinking “Batman Forever” was bad. If only we’d known what was coming…

#3: Michael Cimino

“Heaven's Gate” (1980)

Michael Cimino may have won a Best Director Oscar for “The Deer Hunter”, but the sad truth is that no list of directors who rose to incredible heights only to blow it on a single project would be complete without him. “Heaven’s Gate” was one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Made on a budget of $44 million – which translates to roughly $140 million in today’s dollars – the film only managed to recoup under 5 million. The film’s production was beset by issues, many of which were blamed on Cimino himself. For his troubles, Cimino took home the Razzie for Worst Director, and he never again reached the rarified heights of his pre-“Heaven’s Gate” fame.

#2: M. Night Shyamalan

“Lady in the Water” (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory has more peaks and valleys than the Swiss Alps. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s he was one of Hollywood’s most in-demand directors. Then he dropped a string of critical and/or commercial failures in “Lady in the Water”, “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender”. While all three of those films failed to eclipse 30% on Rotten Tomatoes,
one could argue that it was “Lady in the Water” that kickstarted Shyamalan’s downward trajectory. The film was universally panned, with critics calling it “far-fetched”, “self-indulgent” and a “cinematic disaster”. Despite a partial career resurgence with “Split” and “Glass”, it’s difficult not to think that the peak of M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial career is behind him.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are some honorable, or dishonorable, mentions:

Michael Powell
“Peeping Tom” (1960)

Rob Reiner
“North” (1994)

Tod Browning
“Freaks” (1932)

Michael Mann
“Miami Vice” (2006)

Ron Underwood
“The Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002)

#1: George Lucas

“Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999)

The “Star Wars” saga is George Lucas’ baby and no one can ever take that away from him. However, few can deny that “The Phantom Menace” framed the director in an entirely new, and not particularly flattering light. Yes, the film grossed over a billion dollars and yes, Lucas went on to direct the next two movies in the prequel trilogy, but it’s pretty clear his reputation as a director and overall genius auteur had taken a serious hit. With no one to keep him in check, Lucas’ worst directorial traits were allowed to run amuck and the result was a film that only managed to score a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes – a far cry from “A New Hope”’s 92%.