People that have read my reviews for quite some time probably go in with the impression that I pre-judge a film based on who’s directing it, and whilst that is certainly a factor that’s almost impossible to get away from, it doesn’t change the fact that some of the best moments for me are when you get a film by a director who you think is not capable of making a really great film and you get something genuinely really good. So, I decided I would accumulate some of those films for this list. This is a list of films where you should see that movie but pretty much nothing else that the director worked on – these are the exceptions to the rule.
And this was a genuinely hard list to make. I actually looked into a few lists and critical opinions on which films qualified for this one. That being said, I also wanted to look into a few other directors I’ve had a few issues with to say the least from their professional work. Now, some directors didn’t make the list. Almost every list I saw that was on this subject had The Rock directed by Michael Bay on their list and my response was, “Really?” I wouldn’t call The Rock a good movie. I just found it passable at best. I know that’s a controversial opinion, but I don’t believe I can honestly say I think it’s a good enough film to make the list over these 10 films. I also considered Adam Wingard for this list for his brilliant thriller The Guest, starring Dan Stevens, but when I looked into his IMDB profile he actually has directed a lot of films I really like so he didn’t quite make the ratio of bad films/good films to justify this, no matter how bad films like the Blair Witch sequel that he directed in 2016 and his appalling Death Note adaptation that he made for Netflix were. Josh Trank also escaped the list because he’s only directed two films, being the really good Chronicle and the really awful Fantastic Four from 2015. So he’s one for one at the minute. We’ll see how his career goes when we see his new movie, possibly later this year, Capone starring Tom Hardy as the titular Al Capone.
So as I’ve alluded to, in order for a film to go this list, it has to be a good film from a director who has disproportionately made more bad films to good films. This doesn’t mean that this film is their only good film – they can have two or three good films – but if their bad films far outweigh the good, they’re eligible for this list. Let’s begin! (Oh, and for the record, these films are not placed in the order of how bad I think the director is, simply how good I thought the film was.)
Directed by Richard Kelly
Now, I’m not the biggest Donnie Darko fan in the world, in fact this one barely made the list. It was kind of a toss up between a few films, but Donnie Darko is definitely a decent film and I actually really quite like it. Honestly, the last place on this list was really down to either this or Event Horizon directed by Paul W S Anderson, and while I’m not a huge fan of Donnie Darko, I really don’t like Event Horizon enough for it to make this list. I’ve not quite understood people’s fascination for that film to be honest.
Donnie Darko is Richard Kelly’s formula at its birth; this is the idea of a film he’s always wanted to make and it’s genuinely good. It tells a rather chilling story about time travel and the apocalypse with an excellent leading role for Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a film that’s actually really been boosted by its cult following, having not been a success at the box office upon its initial release. Now, I personally think it’s not the greatest film in the world but there are points of it I genuinely quite like and as a whole the good does outweigh the bad. Richard Kelly unfortunately would never be able to break from this formula, and as a result he’s really become the ire of Hollywood. His scripts have been horrendous, including a terrible screenplay for Domino which he actually didn’t direct, but his directorial follow-up that came five years later, Southland Tales, is one of the biggest messes of a movie I have ever seen in my life. Genuinely. If I ever make a ‘Worst Films I’ve Ever Seen’ list, Southland Tales is going to be on it. I’m not even going to try to explain the plot of Southland Tales to you because if I did I would sound like a raving lunatic that’s gone on a cocaine bender. And after The Box came out which also followed this formula, his career was done. He has not directed a film since and thank God. He never knew how to leave Donnie Darko behind – all his films are about time travel and the apocalypse. He can’t give it a rest and he made all his films have an air of self-importance and pretentiousness. And anyone who’s followed me knows I hate pretentiousness in films. Donnie Darko was his one bright spot and is still worth a watch.
Directed by Joel Schumacher
A Time To Kill is a bit of weird film for Joel Schumacher’s career. In terms of releases, it came between Batman Forever and Batman and Robin so we’ve begun to see that Joel Schumacher had kind of gone off the rails and it was just before it was all but confirmed. I heard Tigerland is a really good film that he directed but I haven’t actually watched it yet but consider that that one would probably be in the recommended. A Time To Kill is a film where I know it’s not that great but I somehow find myself kind of enjoying it.
Out of all the films about racism in the 90s it at least, unlike many of those films, acknowledged that racism has become a systemic issue in the Western world and not an individual issue, though it also ultimately concludes a rather unrealistic and simple solution by the end. The film revolves around a father of a child who’s been sexually assaulted by Ku Klux Klan members going on trial for shooting and killing them, with Matthew McConaughey playing his lawyer to try and claim an insanity defense, going against a prosecutor played by Kevin Spacey. Yes, the fact Kevin Spacey plays a prosecutor in this case is an irony that hasn’t been lost upon me.
Now, this film is not an amazing film, hence why it’s rather low down on this list but it’s ultimately one that I still find myself going back to and I think it’s worth a watch. It’s certainly a little more acknowledging of the systemic issues that are still plaguing America to this day surrounding racism, but it doesn’t quite go the full mile. So it’s a nice effort but no dice. I think Joel Schumacher was going to be his serious film that would get him a bunch of Oscar nominations but that didn’t happen as it failed to receive any nominations. Though, Samuel L Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes which he didn’t win. Schumacher’s career obviously derailed after Batman and Robin and while he would recover with some other films they weren’t really generally watched. A lot of people commented that Phantom of The Opera was meant to be his big comeback and that didn’t work either. As I say, Tigerland might be worth a watch; I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. But if there’s a Schumaker film I can recommend, A Time To Kill would be the one.
Directed by McG
Yes, that really is his name. McG is a music video director who moved into films and most of his films have been utterly appalling. That is with the exception of his sports movie We Are Marshall, another one starring Matthew McConaughey, trying to reinvigorate a high school football team after their entire team was killed in the previous season during a plane crash. It’s a typical sports movie but it’s a genuinely really good one.
McG’s direction seems to have really worked on this one and it’s a much better film than anything else he’s done – this is the guy who directed those two terrible Charlie’s Angels films in the 2000s as well as Terminator Salvation which is still fighting with Terminator Genesis for the worst Terminator movie ever. Not to mention the abysmal This Means War, a film that should have killed Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoons’ careers but they somehow survived. Now I can’t say I think We Are Marshall is high art, far from it, but as a whole it’s McG’s best film because he’s put in a situation where he can’t direct the film like he does other movies. When you see a lot of these films, it’s very clear he hasn’t quite got the transition from music videos to film since he seems to direct all of his films like music videos. McG’s career has not resurged and it’s probably for the best. If it wasn’t for We Are Marshall, this guy wouldn’t have directed a single good film in his life.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Yes, two weeks in a row I’m talking about Zack Snyder. I will find a way to not talk about him next week. But as I mentioned, 300 is probably his best film because it kind of suits his bombastic style. It’s also one of the few times where the editing that he seems to put in all of his films actually benefits the production. 300 again is not high art but it is simply really enjoyable for how over the top it is. Yes, it takes a massive dump on historical accuracy, but you tell me that you enjoyed a Gerard Butler performance more than this one; this is the one time I’ve actually liked a film he’s been in.
This wasn’t the start of Zack Snyder’s career – he did that rather underwhelming Dawn of The Dead remake in 2004 which was alright but every film he’s done since then hasn’t been that great. I’ve already commented several times about why I thought his version of Watchmen didn’t work but he’s then gone on to do films like Sucker Punch which is his worst film and I hate with every fibre of my being, Man of Steel which is not a good film and made clear that Snyder doesn’t get Superman, Batman v Superman which proves he really doesn’t get Batman, and Justice League which, granted, because of a family tragedy meant he didn’t get to complete. Everyone who was tweeting with the hashtag #releasethesnydercut, this is something I wanted to tell you for ages: Zack Snyder is a barely competent director who got lucky by having the right film at the right time. There is not a good Justice League movie that Warner Bros refused to release! In fact, if anything, I’d go as far as to say that most of what’s good about that film probably came from Whedon’s influence when he took over direction.
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Roland Emmerich is another director who I’m amazed still has a career because Independence Day is the only good film he ever did. Yeah, it’s a stupid movie and I mean really stupid movie but it’s an enjoyable film nonetheless. It’s an excellent vehicle for all the actors involved and everyone gives a rather comical but pretty good performances and I even dare say that’s probably the 90s in a nutshell as a film. And it’s still great popcorn fun.
The problem is that while Independence Day was a cool blockbuster of several people’s perspective of an alien invasion, he never quite got away from that formula and he just did all of his films as a several people speculation on a world-changing event. You have of course his terrible Godzilla film from 1998. You then have The Day After Tomorrow which didn’t work, as well as his Independence Day sequel which ironically came out on the day of the Brexit referendum which will forever go down as the most ironic release day of a film ever, and was just appalling and a waste of my time and had no sense of humour to it whatsoever, not to mention that it used so much CGI that you felt like you were looking at the green screen throughout the entire film and nothing felt real about it. But the film that really put me over the edge for why I really hate his movies is Anonymous which played into the Shakespeare skepticism conspiracy theory. Seriously, why do we still allow this man to make movies?
Directed by Steven Summers
Steven Summers is definitely a director who hasn’t made a lot of good films but the big exception to that rule is the 1999 adaptation of The Mummy. Universal really wanted to bring back this franchise in a blockbuster way and they picked the right director for it. I really enjoy all the performances in this one since they know what film they’re in and they go with it. Brendan Fraser makes an excellent leading man for this kind of film and the film doesn’t take itself so seriously that it trips up. The effects are actually really decent; they’ve aged remarkably well.
And it proved well with the film’s success considering that it wound up creating two sequels which weren’t very good, and an animated series which had its moments. Now, Summer has broken away from directing for quite some time, especially after this G.I. Joe live action film was critically panned, rightfully so, but I think as a whole The Mummy is going to be his lasting legacy and rightfully so, though I’m still wondering what the hell happened to Brendan Fraser. Come back, man! We miss you.
Directed by Neil Marshall
Neil Marshall most recently got a terrible review from me for his appalling Hellboy movie which I named as my worse film of 2019, and while I will say that I haven’t seen his film Dog Soldiers, it’s had enough critical acclaim that it meant he could make The Descent, a truly amazing horror film. Seriously, if you haven’t seen The Descent and you like good horror movies you should really check this one out. It’s a truly terrifying experience about a group of friends in a cave-diving experience which actively ties into a story of guilt over your actions and coping with grief.
I know it doesn’t sound like it would add together but I promise you if you actually see the film it works out. Neil Marshall’s direction really makes this film work. He chooses to use the camera and the editing to really add to the claustrophobia angle and the terror of what might be out there stalking the group as they’re getting more and more lost. It’s a film which truly can terrify and I really recommend it. Neil Marshall really kicked his career with his follow-up film Doomsday which was basically his massive rip-off of Mad Max, and he didn’t recover with Centurion, pretty much moving into television directing after it, getting hired to direct episodes of Game Of Thrones, West World and Lost In Space. And if Hellboy was meant to be his comeback he’s going to need another film in order to fulfill that criteria. And seriously, I’ve already mentioned how much I hate Hellboy but Doomsday sucks so much. I genuinely found it to be one of the most erroneous films I’ve ever seen in my life.
Directed by Todd Phillips
I’m really surprised this one doesn’t come up. Todd Phillips in my opinion really has not directed that many good films, and while he has produced some decent stuff, his direction is really weird in my opinion. This was more for me since your opinion of whether he’s a good or bad director really will depend on your opinion of The Hangover movies, but I really don’t like The Hangover movies. And he’s since gone on to really become a Martin Scorsese impersonator.
After he really drained any love we might have had for The Hangover with his terrible follow-up films and the fact he produced that abysmal found footage film Project X, still a film that makes me want to dropkick anyone involved with it, he went on to direct War Dogs which was his blatant attempt to replicate The Wolf of Wall Street but he then followed that up with Joker which, yes, also has the fact that he’s taking a lot of ideas from Scorsese, this time mainly putting the plots of King of Comedy and Taxi Driver together, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that this is his best film and it’s well deserving of the amount of Oscar nominations it got. Joker is a truly mystifying film on several levels that will really make you questions everything that’s happening within its film. It’s a really dark look at how one bad day can really screw everything up for you. Granted, I wouldn’t like Joker as much if it wasn’t for its ending since it kind of doesn’t entirely strike a balance over whether society is to blame or whether Joker is responsible for his own downfall. But the ending nails this film and I really found it be an excellent movie overall. I put it in my 10 Best Films of 2019 for a reason and I really recommend if you haven’t checked it out to give it a go. Extra points for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. Todd Phillips is hoping to capitalize on this with the fact he’s working on a sequel to Joker as well as also currently directing a bio-pic of Hulk Hogan, something I’ll be very interested to check out.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Every list I looked in doing my research for this one put The Sixth Sense as the de facto Shyamalan film for this list. While I agree that M. Night Shyamalan is a terrible director that got lucky by having The Sixth Sense as his first film, something that he hasn’t quite been able to move away from. But in my opinion, Unbreakable is his best film. Unbreakable is quite a cynical film about comics and superheroes but it came at a time when it was kind of necessary and it’s a genuinely excellent psychological story about a man coming to terms with being a survivor of a major disaster.
Bruce Willis gives one of the best performances of his entire career, as well as an excellent performance from Samuel L Jackson, and it’s genuinely an excellent character piece. It’s still great by today’s standards. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much when I re-watched it in preparation for reviewing Glass but I stand by that Unbreakable really does still work even after comic films have had a resurgence with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, obviously we know the Shyamalan story of how bad his films got, including films like The Village, The Lady In The Water, The Happening and of course, The Last Airbender. But after, he became a hired gun for Will Smith’s vanity project After Earth. He actually started a slight resurgence with both The Visit which I actually review rather favourably, as well as Split which genuinely surprised me in how good it was. However, as much as I thought he might be back in the saddle and learning what made his films really good, he then made Glass. And oh boy, that film sucked, as anyone who saw my ‘Worst Films of 2019’ will attest to.
Directed by Brett Ratner
Y’know, when I started this list I was planning for Unbreakable to be no.1, but then when I was doing my research I was being told Brett Ratner directed Red Dragon and I had completely forgotten about that. Yeah, the guy who nearly killed the X-Men franchise with The Last Stand and directed the Rush Hour movies as well as Tower Heist and he did one of the segments for Movie 43, directed the other really great Hannibal Lecter film that isn’t Silence Of The Lambs or Manhunter.
You have Anthony Hopkins back as Hannibal Lecter as well as an excellent performance by Edward Norton. Now, a lot of comparisons have been made to Manhunter since both of them are adapting the same book but I actually think this in many ways is a superior film. Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins have an excellent on-screen back-and-forth with one another and that’s not to mention performances from Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman; an excellent cast all round. If you liked Silence Of The Lambs and you haven’t seen Red Dragon you really need to get round to that as it’s another excellent film. And I’m genuinely surprised that a director as poor as Brett Ratner managed to direct a film this good. Seriously, track this one down if you can – it’s an excellent film.
Got any that you think I missed? Leave something in the comment section if you think you have a good film done by a bad director.
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