- Even the best directors can produce duds, often due to experimentation or working outside their comfort zone.
- Some of the greatest directors have blemishes in their filmographies, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher.
- Movies like “1941,” “Boxcar Bertha,” and “The Ladykillers” represent wasted opportunities for talented directors to excel in different genres.
Even the greats slip up on occasion, and incredibly talented directors can still produce bad movies. In careers which can last for decades, it’s no shame if an amazing director ends up with a dud or two. Sometimes this is a result of experimenting with different genres or styles, and the lessons they learn from these projects can benefit them later on. Nevertheless, these flops are still curious to watch, as it’s interesting to see how directors with such high standards can misfire. Looking back on these poor efforts can be amusing, but it also reveals a lot about the complex nature of making movies. If one or two things go awry, even the best directors ever can fail miserably.
Many directors take a while to find their feet, and their debut feature might not represent their best work. David Fincher is one example of this, and some of Martin Scorsese’s earlier movies don’t hold up today either. Another common reason why a great director might produce a subpar movie is that they are working too far out of their comfort zone. This explains why Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg couldn’t come up with great comedies. All of these directors have produced defining works of cinema, but that doesn’t mean that their records don’t have a few blemishes on them.
Steven Spielberg has proven that he can master a variety of genres, from child-friendly adventures like E.T. to thrillers like Jaws, but he hasn’t produced a true comedy classic. Many of his movies have comedic elements to them, but 1941 was his attempt at an out-and-out comedy. 1941 boasted an incredible cast, featuring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Unfortunately, the two comedy giants were not enough to lift 1941 out of mediocrity. Even in a comedy, the most memorable moments are Spielberg’s large-scale action sequences. Of all of Steven Spielberg’s movies, 1941 is perhaps the one which represents a wasted opportunity.
9 Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Boxcar Bertha seems like a studio’s attempt at riding the wave created by Bonnie and Clyde.
Even Martin Scorsese’s remarkable filmography isn’t totally faultless. Four years before Taxi Driver launched him to critical and commercial acclaim, Scorsese directed Boxcar Bertha, a derivative crime movie set during the Great Depression. Fledgling directors during this era rarely had control over the projects they took on, and Boxcar Bertha seems like a studio’s attempt at riding the wave created by Bonnie and Clyde five years earlier. Scorsese has worked with some of the greatest actors of all time, but the performances in Boxcar Bertha are frustratingly flat. Scorsese’s eye for dramatic blocking, evident even at this early stage of his career, does little to help an uninspired script.
8 The Ladykillers (2004)
Joel & Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen have proven with movies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski that they are masters of mixing crime and comedy, but The Ladykillers was a serious miscalculation. The Ladykillers is a remake of a British heist caper from 1955 starring Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. The classic Ealing comedy didn’t need to be remade, and transplanting the plot to the United States made little sense. Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans both have great comedy chops, but their styles are so dissimilar that they look like they’re in two completely different movies, and The Ladykillers lacks the witty charm often associated with movies by the Coen brothers.
7 Alien 3 (1992)
Possibly the lowest point of the Alien franchise, Alien 3 provided Fincher with his feature-length directorial debut. The script lacked the explosive originality of the first two installments in the franchise, and it failed to provide the thrills and scares that fans had come to expect. Sigourney Weaver is typically brilliant as Ripley, and Charles Dance puts in a commanding performance, but excessive studio meddling left Alien 3 without any real vision. Fortunately, Fincher learned from Alien 3, vowing never to sign on to a project without a compelling script again. Both Fincher and the Alien franchise have had better fortunes since the project.
6 Swept Away (2002)
Guy Ritchie mixed his business with his personal life when he cast Madonna in Swept Away. Madonna plays a snobby socialite who ends up stranded on a deserted island with a rugged Italian fisherman. Ritchie’s relationship with Madonna must have blinded him to her horrific acting performance, although the script would have been just as banal and painfully unfunny for any other leading woman. The romantic elements to the plot are completely baffling too, as Madonna shares no chemistry with her Italian co-star, and there is no reason these two characters should fall for each other, besides their physical proximity.
5 Tomorrowland (2015)
For all its visual grandeur, the plot lacks emotional resonance.
Tomorrowland features a stunning futuristic cityscape, which isn’t too dissimilar in scope to Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, but for all its visual grandeur, the plot lacks emotional resonance. Bird’s best work backs up its gorgeous design with equally well-crafted storytelling. By comparison, Tomorrowland feels a little hollow. Bird’s first live-action feature, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, was a highlight of the franchise. It wasn’t as emotionally tender as Ratatouille or The Iron Giant, but it didn’t need to be. It was a great action movie with compelling characters. Tomorrowland never quite gets over its premise, and the characters feel like an afterthought.
4 The Weight Of Water (2000)
The Weight of Water follows two narrative threads concurrently. One is a gripping tale of murder in 1873, and the other is a mundane relationship drama set in the current day. The latter story is supposed to be the dramatic focus, but it is completely overshadowed by the former. The Weight of Water is based on a novel, and the movie struggles to add enough depth to the characters living in the present day. Sean Penn doesn’t register a single emotion throughout the entire movie, which would be fine if there was enough context to understand why. As it is, the erotic undercurrents to the plot are totally lifeless.
3 A Good Year (2006)
Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott made a sensational pair in Gladiator, so it’s unclear why they abandoned everything that made the historical epic so great, and decided to make a sappy romantic comedy six years later. The script for A Good Year offers a lame quip for every occasion, even when Crowe’s character, a narcicisstic trader, finds himself face down in a pile of dirt. For a romantic lead, the character is deeply unlikable, and not just in the movie’s first act when it would be acceptable. Crowe’s cringe-worthy London accent sounds like a bad Hugh Grant impression, and it suggests that he was horribly miscast.
2 Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Lilly & Lana Wachowski
The Wachowskis are already sci-fi movie legends, having created The Matrix, but Jupiter Ascending was a confused mess. The bold visuals aren’t enough to distract from the incoherent plot, which is riddled with misused sci-fi tropes. Eddie Redmayne’s Emperor Balem Abrasax is extremely campy, far more so than the rest of the movie, and his odd speech and negative body language make him one of the least imposing villains imaginable. Jupiter Ascending is enjoyable when it leans into its absurd space opera proclivities, but the tone switches too frequently between goofy spectacle and somber melodrama. There’s only a faint glimmer of what could have been a great movie.
1 The Bubble (2022)
The Bubble is just as rudderless as its movie-within-a-movie “Cliff Beasts 6.”
The Bubble‘s all-star cast, featuring Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, Peter Serafinowicz and more, was drastically underutilized. The Bubble follows a group of pampered actors churning out another installment in a commercially successful but artless franchise, while filming is impaired by COVID-19 restrictions. Ultimately, The Bubble is just as rudderless as its movie-within-a-movie “Cliff Beasts 6.” Apatow’s best comedies supply huge laughs and a genuine emotional heart, but The Bubble can’t replicate either. Rather than making a comedy about a very specific character, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow resorts to Hollywood stereotypes in The Bubble, and the characters aren’t nearly as engaging.