10 Infamous Movies That Doomed Their Famous Directors
Filmmaking is a notoriously difficult business. For any big-budget film, there can be as many as several hundred crew members working on over a thousand separate shots, with sound engineering, lighting, costume designs and practicalities requiring all a high degree of investment of time and expertise.
With so many things that can go wrong, it’s no surprise that achieving some movies turned out particularly traumatic for their directors, who are intimately involved in all phases of the process, from casting to sound design, from editing to the not-so-negligible task of choreographing actors and cameras on set.
For some of the directors on this list, it was simply a matter of making the wrong movie at the wrong time. For others, various factors such as friction between players, escalating budgets, unwise location choices and natural disasters have all conspired to wrest disaster from triumph. In each case, the life of the filmmaker in question has been indelibly altered by his experience.
Throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, British duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger produced a string of timeless films through their production company The Archers, including A matter of life or death (1946)black narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948). In 1959, Powell pulled out of the partnership to do Voyeur, an unpublished study of the life and passions of a serial killer who photographs the dying expressions of his terrified victims. The film, which looks decidedly tame by today’s standards, elicited such a strong critical reaction that Powell’s career was effectively over. A contemporary critic, Sunday time writer Dilys Powell, even called the film “essentially vicious”.
Voyeur has since received the positive critical recognition it rightly deserves: the film is sometimes credited as the first slasher film, beating Alfred Hitchcock’s psychologywhich premiered a few months later, ironically to widespread acclaim.
Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam has a long and distinguished career as a filmmaker, including the critically acclaimed 1985 cult film, Brazil. Behind the scenes of The man who killed Don Quixote, however, pushed the director to his limits. Originally conceived in 1989, the film, which is loosely based on the novel put on Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – suffered a disastrous journey to the big screen, with multiple personnel changes, financial difficulties, legal wrangling, aborted productions and lengthy insurance claims.
“I think movies can – to use a technical term – fuck people’s lives, and that’s at the heart of it,” Gilliam has since said of the film. 29 years after work began on the project, the film finally saw the light of day in 2018, to generally favorable reviews.
French filmmaker Jacques Tati is regularly listed in many director lists. Break is a special gem in Tati’s filmography but it is also a project that brought its creator to immense personal difficulties. The film, which follows two characters visiting Paris who meet several times over the course of a day, serves as a long and delicious visual gag.
Filming spanned an extraordinary nine years, during which Tati constructed a nearly 15,000 square meter set (dubbed Tativille), which included two fully functional mini-skyscrapers. With expenses spiraling, the director took out numerous loans, but the film failed to recoup its production costs, and Tati was left completely bankrupt, having lost the rights to his own older films (which he sold to help pay off his debts). as his family home in the process.
Perhaps the most idiosyncratic director on this list, German filmmaker Werner Herzog put himself and his cast and crew through extremes to end Fitzcarraldoa 1982 historical epic chronicling Irishman Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald’s expedition to unlock lucrative rubber territory in the Amazon Basin.
Based on the real-life story of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald, the production was shot in various locations in South America and involved manually hoisting a 320-ton steamer up a steep hill. Many injuries and even deaths ensued, especially among the natives hired as extras.
Despite fires, illnesses, two plane crashes, and snakebites (one of which prompted a Peruvian lumberjack to cut his foot with a chainsaw, to prevent the spread of toxic venom), production—and Herzog – somehow persevered. “I shouldn’t be making movies anymore,” Herzog said in the 1982 documentary The burden of dreams, on the making of the film. “I should go to an insane asylum.”
Roar has, over the years, garnered a cult following that lives up to its storied reputation as one of the most ill-advised and troublesome productions in cinematic history. Written and directed by Noel Marshall, who previously enjoyed huge success as executive producer for The Exorcist, Roar follows the story of a wildlife defender and his family, played by Marshall himself alongside his wife Tippi Hedren (who starred in the Alfred Hitchcock film The birds), Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, and Marshall’s sons, John and Jerry. Throughout the film, the family is attacked by a variety of big cats, including lions, tigers, and jaguars.
It took 11 years to make, during which time no less than 70 of the cast and crew suffered injuries resulting from the real big cats used on set. Add in a feline virus and dangerous flooding and you can begin to see why Roar billed itself as “the most dangerous movie ever made”. Despite the film’s claim that “no animals were harmed during the making of this film”, three lions had to be put down by local law enforcement after they escaped from the set. Marshall, who was bitten so many times during filming that he eventually developed gangrene from his injuries, never directed again.
It’s hard to believe that Frank Capra’s beloved Christmas movie could ever have caused such woes, but at the time of its release, the film was a financial failure. Contemporary reviews were decidedly mixed, and the feature suffered a loss of $525,000 at the box office against its $2.3 million budget, leading to the sale of its production company, Liberty Films.
Capra himself never really recovered professionally, making several more films but failing to secure the same levels of financial backing. It’s a wonderful life also clashed with the House Un-American Activities Committee, which criticized his perceived “communist leanings.” It was only in the decades that followed, when the film enjoyed regular seasonal television screenings, that its popularity continued to grow.
Director John McTiernan had, by this stage of his career, landed a series of successes, including Predator (1987), die hard (1988), and Last Action Hero (1993). He was seen by the industry as an eminently bankable figure, but Roller proved a commercial and personal disaster for the famous director. The film exploded at the box office, grossing around $25 million against a budget of $70 million. Worse still, McTiernan was later arrested and imprisoned for making false statements to an FBI agent regarding his hiring of a private investigator for the illegal wiretapping. Rollerblades co-producer, Charles Roven, during the making of the film. In prison, McTiernan declared bankruptcy. However, after a long hiatus, he is currently making his first film in over 20 years.
It’s hard to imagine any studio losing faith in the great Orson Welles, but that’s exactly what happened with this unfinished 1942 project, which RKO Pictures unceremoniously unplugged while the director shot on location. in Brazil. Welles desperately tried to finish the film, but to no avail. He later came to believe that the film had been cursed by a voodoo doctor who he believed was the reason for his subsequent decline in Hollywood. Four decades later, some of the recorded recordings It’s all true footage was discovered in the vaults of Paramount Studios.
John Patrick Shanley’s previous film writing credit, Dreamer (1987), saw him hailed as a genius, which meant that Joe against the volcano (which Shanley got to direct as well as the screenplay) couldn’t have been more anticipated. But the resulting film, which starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, proved just too eccentric for commercial success.
Although championed in some quarters, notably by respected film critic Roger Ebert, the film was so widely criticized upon its release that Shanley returned to acting and 18 long years passed before he got the chance to play. write and direct another film. Doubt (2008), which is based on his own Pulitzer Prize and Tony Prize-winning play of the same name, won multiple film awards and Oscar nominations. It may have taken a while, but Shanley has finally redeemed her box office credentials.
In the early 2000s, director Martin Brest enjoyed enviable success after directing Beverly Hills Cop (1984), midnight race (1988), and The scent of a woman (1992). Brest’s next effort, Meet Joe Black (1998), didn’t quite reach the same heights, but that was his next project, Gigli (which he originally wrote and directed; the studio ended up taking full creative control of the film), which effectively ended his directing career. The romantic comedy/crime thriller earned just $7.2 million worldwide against a production cost of $75.6 million, making it one of the most expensive box office flops ever. all time. Gigli also won six Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay of 2003.