It’s Not Always A Winner: Acclaimed Directors Who Had Box Office Bombs

Even the best directors have some misses in their filmography. Nobody is perfect, after all. Sometimes, it’s due to a poor script. Other times, the casting decisions didn’t work out.

Whatever the reason, the director shoulders the responsibility for a movie’s quality. Let’s explore 14 directors who have given us brilliant masterpieces and horrible stinkers.


Robert Zemeckis
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Robert Zemeckis brought us exceptional films from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Back to the Future alone solidifies his iconic status in cinema history. Aditionally, movies such as Forrest GumpWhat Lies Beneath, and Cast Away prove he can deliver provocative, moving, and engaging films.

Zemeckis’ post-2000s career tells a much different story with varied degrees of success and quality. The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol have their fans but don’t have universal appeal. His most egregious missteps belong to films like Welcome to Marwen and Pinocchio. The latter features terrible changes to the storyline and characters, poor CGI, and lackluster performances. The changes insult the original film and the audience so much that we cannot believe this is the same director.


Tim Burton
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With an unmistakable macabre visual and thematic style, Tim Burton creates dark, enchanting, and engaging tales such as Edward ScissorhandsSleepy Hollow, and Big Fish. While only some films find an audience, Burton rarely misses the mark. However, Planet of the Apes offers the audience little value. This atrocious remake features poor special effects, subpar performances, and a clunky story. While he triumphs with so many movies, Burton fails with this one.


Rob Reiner
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Rob Reiner’s career demonstrates his immense talent as a director of many different types of films. He gave us the iconic, hilarious, and romantic fairy tale The Princess Bride, which remains beloved by countless fans. Additionally, you can put Reiner in the hall of fame for rom-coms, coming-of-age, satirical, and political movies with When Harry Met SallyStand By MeThis Is Spinal Tap, and A Few Good Men.

That begs the question: how on Earth did Reiner falter so much with North, the star-studded dud from 1994? In their review, critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel famously eviscerate the film, calling it “thoroughly hateful, shockingly cold-hearted, vulgar, stupid, deplorable, first-class junk.” Ouch!


Oliver Stone
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Films like Wall StreetJFKPlatoonThe Doors, and Born on the Fourth of July demonstrate Oliver Stone’s ability to create astounding, compelling cinema. The praise audiences and critics have for these films is significant. On the other hand, Alexander goes down in history as one of the worst of Stone’s career. The over-bloated film features mediocre and often laughable direction and performances. It never delivers one ounce of epic or engaging dialogue or action as it should.


M. Knight Shyamalan
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M. Night Shyamalan gives us the perfect example of a director who soars with one film and fails miserably with another. And we cannot deny his odd career trajectory. The Sixth Sense put Shyamalan on the map. The movie blends suspense, drama, chills, and shocking twists, creating a powerful film that stays with viewers. While not for everyone, Signs and The Village (a personal favorite) also feature compelling stories and atmosphere.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Happening shocks audiences in the worst way possible — for being a deplorable piece of filmmaking. Similarly, Old’s ridiculous plot causes unintentional laughter.


Guy Ritchie
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Guy Richie has a good track record for bringing audiences engaging films with a distinctive style. Many consider Snatch a thrilling, irreverent dark comedy classic; likewise, Sherlock Holmes breathes new and energetic life into the beloved characters. But his film with then-wife Madonna defies all logic. Truthfully, Swept Away amazes viewers in the worst way with its horrible acting, bizarre editing, unlikeable characters, and unbelievable plot. This box-office bomb epitomizes the term “dumpster fire.”


Francis Ford Coppola
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It boggles the mind how the remarkable filmmaker who revolutionized and revitalized cinema with such masterpieces as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now could stumble so significantly. But not even Francis Ford Coppola is above reproach. He gave us the bizarre film Jack, about a child who ages rapidly that not even the great Robin Williams could save. Likewise, audiences that saw it found the odd film Twixt baffling.


James Cameron
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Nowadays, we say never to bet against James Cameron. He can bring us brilliant “four-quadrant” films that delight the masses and garner critical acclaim, such as TitanicAvatarAlien, and The Terminator. But his career did not begin with this kind of quality or success.

Cameron’s first feature-length film, Piranha II: The Spawning, does not inspire confidence in his directing abilities. However, the laughably awful movie fits into the “so bad it’s good” category and could be enjoyable, akin to how they watch movies on Mystery Science Theater 3000.


The Coen Brothers
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Most consider No Country For Old MenFargoThe Big Lebowski, and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou astounding films. The two brothers infuse their movies with equal amounts of intensity and subtlety, finding a balance of style and substance. But The Ladykillers doesn’t even feel like one of their films. Devoid of their usual style, instead, we get a humorless, unpleasant movie filled with odd choices and miscasting.


Brian De Palma
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Brian De Palma knows how to bring drama and thrills without sacrificing character development, genuine emotion, and style. Films like The UntouchablesScarfaceCarrie, and Mission: Impossible exemplify this. Unfortunately for De Palma, we also know him for directing one of the most infamous stinkers of all time.

The screen adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities features a string of bizarre choices, from the miscasting of Tom Hanks to the happy score that does not match the film’s tone to the disjointed plot filled with poor execution of serious issues. This film disappointed general moviegoers and, most significantly, fans of the book.


Tom Hooper
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Tom Hooper’s directing skills become apparent when we watch The King’s Speech and Les Misérables. In both beautiful, engaging, and poignant films, Hooper brings out the best in his cast and knows how to frame a moment to elicit powerful emotions. But when we watch Cats, all that goes out the window and into the garbage. Cats feels like a weird fever dream instead of an actual movie.


Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski at the "Cloud Atlas" Los Angeles Premiere, Chinese Theater, Hollywood, CA 10-24-12
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We cannot deny how much The Matrix captured the world’s attention and changed the face of cinema. Subsequent filmmakers tried to replicate but could never duplicate that lightning in a bottle. Unfortunately for the directors of The Matrix, neither could they. Their messy, incoherent, and pretentious film Jupiter Ascending fails on every level.


Bob Clark
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Bob Clark gives us a hilarious and heartwarming piece of nostalgia with A Christmas Story. This beloved film delights viewers yearly, features one iconic moment after another, and epitomizes the term classic. How could the director of such a film also give us the low-brow, ridiculous, and brainless (ironically) Baby Geniuses? The world will never know.


Martin Brest
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Sadly for Martin Brest, most now only remember him for the infamously horrible film Gigli. That movie made the real-life couple of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck look devoid of natural chemistry. Brest most likely wishes filmgoers would ignore this blemish and remember his fantastic efforts, such as Beverly Hills CopMidnight Run, and Scent of a Woman.

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The Fugutive
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Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

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