Directors Who Should Call It A Day

I recently ran the Debuts Blogathon with Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop which examined the first features of directors from the length and breadth of world cinema.

One of the areas I was keen for each entry to examine was whether a director’s early output matched their later work. It’s rare to find a director with an unblemished record, but there’s nothing sadder than seeing one whose work you once fervently followed becoming a shadow of their former selves.

In the same way that too many highly respected icons of the big screen gradually transform themselves into jobbing actors (I’m talking to you De Niro), there are unfortunately numerous examples of directors whose later films are a stark contrast to their early career.

You may disagree with some or all of these, but the following are five directors who really should call it a day for the sake of their professional credibility.

Who are the directors you wish would call it quits?

John Carpenter

John Carpenter

From his under-appreciated stoner sci-fi debut Dark Star, Carpenter went on a near-spotless run that included such undisputed genre classics as Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live and, of course, The Thing. It was always going to be a challenge to keep that sort of hit rate up, but the poorly received Escape From LA ushered in a slow, steady decline. Carpenter’s since limped on to direct a number of critical and commercial failures, including the ill-conceived Chevy Chase-starring Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, Ghosts Of Mars and, most recently, the little seen horror The Ward. Although Carpenter’s involvement in the numerous shoddy remakes/reimaginings of his best films seems to take up more of his time these days, one can only hope he decides not to tarnish his once great reputation by sitting himself down again in the director’s chair.

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

It can be argued that it’s a little unfair to include Francis Ford Coppola on this list as his last three projects – Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009) and Twixt (2011) – are smaller, more personal films, but the decline in the quality of his output is sad indeed when you consider what a titan he was. There was no greater filmmaker during the 1970s – The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) is as incredible a run as you’re ever likely to find – and Coppola recaptured some of this magic in his 80s movies Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club and Peggy Sue Got Married. But the wheels started to fall off with 1990’s The Godfather Part III (not a terrible film by any means, but a pale shadow of its earlier chapters) and by the time of the Robin Williams ‘comedy’ Jack Coppola had turned into what we hoped he’d never become – a hack-for-hire.

M. Night Shyamalan

M Night Shyamalan

What the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan? Or was he nothing more than a one-trick pony? The Sixth Sense announced Shyamalan’s arrival in some style, while its superior follow-up Unbreakable (his best film) and alien invasion movie Signs seemed to suggest he was the real deal (let’s forget the final five minutes of Signs just for now). Even 2004’s The Village had its moments, but the cracks started to show in 2006’s Lady In The Water, which features a film critic being horribly killed (in case you wondered whether Shyamalan has a sense of humour, that was your answer). From there his movies have continued to soil a once-promising career, most notably 2008’s The Happening, a film so baffling in its concept and so inept in its execution you have to admire the fact it got made in the first place.

Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma

Five years before Robert De Niro exploded onto the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets he got his big break in De Palma’s 1968 satire Greetings. De Palma actually gave De Niro his first screen appearance in The Wedding Party, released in 1969, but made six years earlier. For this alone De Palma deserves credit, although he didn’t need Bobby’s help to direct some genuine classics of late 70s and 80s American cinema, including Carrie (1976), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1986) and the troubling Casualties Of War (1989). His last great work – Carlito’s Way – was made 20 years ago and in the intervening period his career has gradually nose-dived, from clunky sci-fi Mission To Mars, to the heavy-handed War on Terror polemic Redacted and deeply disappointing The Black Dahlia, which merely underlined his status as the poor man’s Alfred Hitchcock. To make matters worse, his most recent film, 2012’s Passion pales in comparison to his earlier erotic thrillers. Time to bow out Brian.

Tim Burton

Tim Burton

There was a time when I awaited a new Tim Burton film with genuine anticipation. In the late 80s and 90s Burton was responsible for a whole new aesthetic in Hollywood moviemaking. Burton-esque even became a term to describe a certain brand of weird and wonderful cinema, while his surprising appointment as the director of 1989’s hugely successful Batman became the template used by Marvel two decades later (Kenneth Branagh being chosen to direct Thor, for example). Burton has generally been at his best when sticking to more personal material; the problem is that he doesn’t stick to this, choosing instead to clutter his filmography with ever-more disappointing big budget studio pictures, from the misguided Planet Of The Apes remake, to the lacklustre Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, woeful Alice In Wonderland and boring Dark Shadows. There was hope in 2012’s Frankenweenie, but when taken alongside his recent output this feels like a blip in an otherwise stalled career.

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40 comments

  1. The Northern Plights · September 21, 2013

    *coughs* Michael Bay *coughs*
    ~The Dippylomat, Esq.

  2. table9mutant · September 21, 2013

    Shyamalan – Hell yeah! Totally agree with you. But the inclusion of John Carpenter & Tim Burton makes me want to cry a little. Both have made some of my favorite films – I’m not ready to write them off quite yet!

    • Three Rows Back · September 21, 2013

      There’s no greater fan of Carpenter than I, but his glory days are long gone I fear. As for Burton, if he stuck to the likes of Frankenweenie he’d be great again, but he blots his copy book with the studio stuff he does. Cheers for the feedback.

      • Zoë · September 23, 2013

        The Tim Burton one hurts a bit, I agree. He has to do something that is his again. I love the man, but he needs to get back to what used to separate him from the rest. I have not seen a recent movie that made me go WOOOOOOW.

  3. ckckred · September 21, 2013

    Solid list. Coppola is one of my all-time favorite directors, but unfortunately he hasn’t done anything great for decades. I like Brian De Palma’s older work like Scarface, but his recent movies have been pretty forgettable and lackluster.

  4. Joseph@thecinemamonster · September 21, 2013

    Well, I came here hoping to add Tim Burton to the discussion, but you beat me to the punch. Good on ya! I shall be back with another name!

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Good man! There’s plenty of others more’s the pity.

  5. Tom · September 22, 2013

    Excellent points on all, can’t disagree with any of it even if i am nowhere near as versed in any of these director’s careers as you. 🙂

    My person opinion of Shyamalan is that he is indeed a one trick pony. He’s a master of building suspense, but not much more. And considering everything I’ve heard about After Earth, I’m not even sure if he can do that well anymore.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Cheers my friend. I can’t believe Shambolic-man is still making movies to be honest. I dread to think where he’ll go next!

  6. Luke Marr · September 22, 2013

    I agree with most of these although you are missing a few names –
    Christopher Nolan, Zach Snyder, and James Cameron.
    I call that list – Directors who should know when a sequel is either too much or not needed.
    Or Directors who should know the franchises they destroy.
    If George Lucas hadn’t handed Star Wars over recently he would also be on the list.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Well, it was only a handful of names; there are always going to be plenty more. I definitely agree with Snyder and I’ve never really counted Lucas as a director, more a bean counter. I personally wouldn’t put Nolan on that list, but each to their own! Cheers for the feedback buddy.

  7. Victor De Leon · September 22, 2013

    Great post! Man, I love all of these guys. So hard to write them off. They have made some of my favorite films. Especially JC and De Palma but not so much M.Night, unfortunately. I wouldn’t mind if he retired asap. That was a fun read though a bitter pill to swallow. I want to believe at least one or two of them still have a good flick left in them. Good job!

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Thanks very much. I love Carpenter and De Palma’s made some crackers, but they both haven’t done anything of note for years. There are, alas, lots more directors who deserve to be on this list.

      • Victor De Leon · September 22, 2013

        Can’t argue with you there. JC seems to like just sitting back playing video games, watching basketball and collecting royalty checks from Halloween remakes and sequels. I actually enjoyed The Ward but I am in the minority there. De Palma’s “Passion” was a decent return to form for him imo.

      • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

        Fair dues. I know Passion had more of a mixed response. Glad you liked it!

      • Victor De Leon · September 22, 2013

        The one movie I cannot bring myself to watch is Coppola’s “Twixt.” I own a copy but I have read so many really bad reviews that I fear I may cry at how much Coppola has lost control of his craft.

  8. Thomas Ostrowski · September 22, 2013

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned those guys who make those “comedic parodies” like Scary Movie 5 and stuff like that.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      I picked directors who showed promise or we’re great early in their career; I wouldn’t include the Wayans etc in that bracket. You’re right though, they need to retire, although they shouldn’t have started in the first place!

  9. Nick Powell · September 22, 2013

    Great list. Not sure if you’ve followed my coverage of Burton news, but I am absolutely sick of the the man and his films. Not only does he need to stop making movies, but he needs to break up with Johnny Depp, and go write fucked up kids’ books or something.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Ha ha! Appreciate that. It was when I watched Alice in Wonderland I realised the game was up (arguably it was up with Planet of the Apes); that film is dreadful.

  10. whirlwind.supernova · September 22, 2013

    Totally agree with M. Night and Burton. M. Night’s projects always seem to have some sort of promise, then it just doesn’t deliver. Burton needs to stop working with Depp and his wife, and maybe start tapping in new material.

  11. Mark Walker · September 22, 2013

    It’s sad to see the great John Carpenter included here but one that I also find hard to argue with. Nice list, Mark.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Yeah it’s a shame isn’t it? I love Carpenter too, but there you go. Cheers Mark.

  12. mettelray · September 22, 2013

    I would hands down agree with Tim Burton finishing his career.. he has sold himself out and I miss the good old actual chocolate rivers being built instead of CGI’ing everything into what everybody seems to be thinking is “cool”. Oh, Burton… you have come a long way for money.

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

      • mettelray · September 22, 2013

        I’m sure you could have.. or I’m apparently a much better critic when I’m hung over! 😀

  13. Beer Movie · September 22, 2013

    I don’t think there can be too many arguments with any of those you have listed. Burton and Shyamalan both possibly have good films left in them. They have both been on really bad runs of late though as you so rightly point out.

  14. mikeyb @ screenkicker · September 22, 2013

    These are all totally fair although Shyamalan should be number 1 for the sheer shitness of his later films. The Last Airbender and After Earth!

    • Three Rows Back · September 22, 2013

      Cheers! I didn’t have a ranking system, although out of this list he would be number one!

  15. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · September 23, 2013

    Super list Mark. Shyamalan is a weird one, I just don’t know how he’s gone from being such a promising director to a laughing stock in a relatively short time. I think Burton still has something to offer. I thought Frankenweenie was good fun, but he needs to do something a little different and change his game up a bit.

    • Three Rows Back · September 23, 2013

      Appreciate it Chris. Yeah, shamble-alan really went off the deep end. As for Burton, well, he’s been treading water for years.

  16. elina · September 28, 2013

    I didn’t expect to see Burton here and it stings but it’s true. And Coppola as well. Can’t really say anything of the others but simply reading the post and the comments makes me sad – I just hope not all directors go stale.

    • Three Rows Back · September 28, 2013

      Thanks for the feedback. There’s no one more sad than I that Burton’s lost his way but there you have it.

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