It’s been more than a decade since M. Night Shyamalan surprised everyone with the wholly original The Sixth Sense. That movie was a rare breed: A box-office monster (with no CGI, mind you) that scored a Best Picture Oscar nomination. It was even more surprising because seemingly out of nowhere, Shyamalan emerged as a major filmmaking talent. His follow-ups Unbreakable and Signs were worth companions to The Sixth Sense, and allowed the director to basically trademark the Twist Ending. It was at the exact moment when Shyamalan seemed like he couldn’t make a bad movie, that he made one. And then another one. And one more after that. And now, with The Last Airbender, in which he abandons his moody-thriller-with-surprise-ending-formula, it seems as if Night has made the worst movie of his career. Oh, and about that career, does it even exist anymore? At what point do studios revoke the benefit of the doubt and stop giving this man their money? But Night isn’t the only talented director whose career has taken an unexpected turn. Here are ten more who’ve lost their way.
Joel Schumacher: Sometime in 1996, Joel Shumacher was sitting in his office on the Warner lot, deep into pre-production on his latest movie, a surefire hit called Batman & Robin. In walked his costume designer with a sketch for the new batsuit, to be worn by George Clooney. Schumacher, feeling it wasn’t anatomically correct enough, decided to add nipples to it. That was the moment when the man behind movies like The Lost Boys and Falling Down, became the guy who did Blood Creek. Yeah, we’ve never heard of it either.
Michael Cimino: He is like the J.D. Salinger of filmmakers. He made one masterpiece, then disappeared, except in his case, it wasn’t by choice. The story of Cimino is well known, and serves as a classic cautionary tale of artistic excess gone berserk. After the incredible success of his second film The Deer Hunter, Cimino was given complete freedom (aka stacks of cash) from the studio for his next project, a Western called Heaven’s Gate. The final product was a bloated, over-budget debacle that nearly bankrupted the studio and put an end to the lenient studios of the seventies, who gave a new wave of auteurs complete creative control of their projects. Cimino has barely worked since.
Roberto Benigni: Life used to be beautiful for this Italian entertainer, especially when he climbed over all those seats to accept the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for his Holocaust fable Life is Beautiful (he later won Best Actor for his role in the film). Then, like any artist who is suddenly labeled as “great” by his peers, Benigni followed up with an ambitious vanity project by the name of Pinocchio. He, a fifty-year-old man at the time, played Pinocchio. It grossed $3 million in the U.S., and aside from the forgettable The Tiger and the Snow in 2005, Benigni hasn’t made another movie since.
Justin Lin: This Asian-American director’s career isn’t necessarily “ruined,” but it hasn’t fulfilled its initial promise. Lin burst onto the festival circuit with Better Luck Tomorrow, a disturbing, fast-paced stories of youth run amok, rare in that it focused on a group of Asian-Americans. At the time, Roger Ebert called Lin a “rising star.” He also said that Tomorrow “looks as glossy and expensive as a megamillion studio production,” prophetic in that that’s exactly what Lin went on to direct, and not in a good way. After trying and failing to make James Franco an action star in Annapolis, Lin went on to direct the third and fourth installments in the Fast and the Furious franchise, and is currently working on Fast Five. Hey, at least this kid’s a fan.
Richard Kelly: Twice we’ve given this hotshot the benefit of the doubt. That’s what happens when you’re the recent film school grad who writes and directs Donnie Darko as your feature debut. Kelly decided to up the ante on his cult hit with Southland Tales, a post-apocalyptic parable on God knows what (we sure don’t, because, well, we didn’t see it). It’s debut at Cannes was one of the biggest failures in the festival’s history. But still, this was the guy who made Donnie Darko. Surely, Southland Tales was only a misfire, right? Wrong. His next movie was the studio-backed thriller The Box, a film that had a marketable plot (push this button, get a million dollars, someone will die) and Cameron Diaz in the lead. Still, he managed to throw in elements of space travel, aliens, and weird columns of water and the whole thing resulted in a meandering mess. In his review of The Box, Peter Travers wrote, “I’m not ready to give up on Richard Kelly and his questing intelligence as a filmmaker. Memories of Donnie Darko stay strong.” We don’t disagree.
Kevin Costner: An especially tragic case, since Costner not only torpedoed his career as a director, but with Waterworld and then The Postman, he also crossed his name off the acting A-list as well. After the Oscar-winning triumph that was Dances With Wolves, Costner took nearly five years to make one of the most notorious flops in movie history. To this day, Waterworld is synonymous with “What the fuck was he thinking?” Then, in what felt like a perverse need to top himself, Costner followed it up with The Postman, which played like Waterworld on land. He redeemed himself somewhat with the well-received Western Open Range in 2003, but by then, Costner’s reputation as a maker of hyperbolic and vacuous epics was established.
Brian De Palma: The maker of some of cinema’s great epic crime dramas (Scarface, The Untouchables), De Palma didn’t so much as burn out, but fade away. Since his last solid crime drama in 1993, De Palma’s filmography has been sporadic. He had success with the first Mission: Impossible film, but Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars, and Femme Fatale were all disappointments. Then, in 2006 when De Palma was set to direct The Black Dahlia, a noir crime thriller in the vain Untouchables, we thought he couldn’t miss. He did.
The Wachowskis: When The Matrix burst onto the scene in 1999, The Wachowskis immediately became some of the most important filmmakers in Hollywood. Here was a a duo that combined groundbreaking special effects and fight choreography with profound philosophical themes. There was no way a movie that seemed so effortlessly good was fluke. Their talent was too pure. When the brothers announced their plans to shoot The Matrix sequels back-to-back and release them six months apart, people thought they had a new Star Wars on their hands. The Wachowskis appeared to be building an empire. Then the movies came out. While not total debacles, they did not live up to the original and were viewed as a missed opportunity. The debacle came after, with the release of Speed Racer in 2008. What was supposed to be another groundbreaking movie from the brothers, the $120 million movie grossed just $43 million. Some called it ahead of its time, we called it sucky. Now the brothers, who are notoriously private, aren’t even brothers anymore. Larry Wachowski has undergone a sex change and goes by Lana. They’re apparently working on an Iraq War movie as seen from the future, starring Arianna Huffington, so it’s safe to say they’re back on track.
Martin Brest: He’s never made a great film, but Beverly Hills Cop and Scent of a Woman are classic in their own right. But it’s hard to argue that Brest didn’t effectively end his career with the making of a single film. It was in 2003, and he hasn’t worked since. Did someone say Gigli?
Roland Joffe: His first two films were The Killing Fields and The Mission. They each earned him Best Director nominations, and starred people like Robert De Niro and Willem Defoe. In 2007 he made Captivity, a torture porn movie starring Elisha Cuthbert. He followed that up with the infamous Mischa Barton t.a.T.u movie You and I. So yeah.