Special Features – The Top Five Directors Who Are Getting Progressively Worse

Anghus Houvouras picks his top five five directors whose output is getting progressively worse and rates their chances of redemption…

Some filmmakers age like fine wine.  Others ferment.  Every filmmaker has an occasional miscue or a film that doesn’t live up to expectations.  But there are others who consistently work and yet seem to be spiraling down a slippery descent into mediocrity… or worse.  Here’s a list of the top five filmmakers who have seemed to have lost their way.

5. Francis Ford Coppola

It feels like a lifetime since we’ve seen a Coppola film that is worth the two hour investment.  At one point he was the riskiest, most daring filmmaker in the business.  He took big risks and reaped big rewards.  But then he started turning out junk that barely qualified as mediocre.  It was right around the time he released the family friendly drama Jack with Robin Williams that his films went from well intentioned misfires to irredeemable garbage.  Then, he decided to start playing with the technology (never a good sign) and is now primarily interested in releasing digital garbage that no one has any interest in watching.  Twixt was the kind of awful I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it makes me wonder how someone who turned out some of the best films ever made is now incapable of making something watchable.

Chance at Redemption: Low – As one of the elder statesman of cinema, Coppola seems to have little interest in getting back into the game.  It would be nice to see the man return to form for one last great movie.

4. James Cameron

He’s made the two biggest movies of all time, and yet, has he ever made anything as engaging as The Terminator or Aliens?  The man knows how to push buttons and get an audience to react to his work, but as a filmmaker he’s abandoned the idea of three dimensional characters in favor of three dimensional cinematic theme park rides that assault your every sense.  It’s hard to watch Avatar and see growth.  Malignancy, maybe.

Chance at Redemption: Fair – If Cameron spends as much time crafting characters as he does immersive worlds for them to inhabit, he could deliver a masterpiece.

3. Kevin Smith

At one point I was such a fan.  Clerks was a movie I could put on almost any time and watch again and again.  A wonderful little foul mouthed independent comedy with great dialogue and memorable characters.  Smith took that little film and started an online empire making comic books, an animated series, and subsequent sequels with his most famous chronic characters Jay and Silent Bob.  Unfortunately the movies have been getting progressively worse.  Chasing Amy is a good movie, but almost everything after is a morbidly embarrassing orgy of excess.  Barely watchable junk like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks II, and Cop Out are prime examples of a filmmaker who has lost his way.  He tried to find it again with the low budget Red State, a movie that felt like it was directed by someone who had never made a film before.  Amateur hour style filmmaking that served as glaring proof that nearly twenty years in the film business had taught Smith very little.

Chance at Redemption: Poor – Smith announced he’ll make one more film, Clerks III, before retiring.  It would have to be pretty exceptional to wipe away a decade of miscues.

2. Judd Apatow

Apatow’s descent is a fascinating one.  The 40 Year Old Virgin is a fantastic comedy with great characters, funny dialogue, the kind of R rated sexual situations that had been sorely lacking in comedies, and a brief appearance by Leslie Mann.  He repeated his success with the same basic formula in Knocked Up.  Funny characters, sexual based comedy, for some reason a 2 hour plus running time, and a supporting role for Leslie Mann.  Not as good as the 40 Year Old Virgin (debatable, I know), but not bad.  Then he released the heinously unfunny Funny People with Adam Sandler.  Same formula, same basic type of movie, same two plus hour run time, and a big part for Leslie Mann.  Now Apatow releases his latest two plus hour comedy opus This Is 40.  Same basic scenario, same kind of humor, and what do you know: Leslie Mann.

Apatow’s biggest failing is delivering such predictable product. You know exactly what you’re getting with Judd Apatow.  You’re getting a movie about people who refuse and/or struggle with maturity that’s going to be two plus hours long, and feature Leslie Mann.  A Judd Apatow film has become as predictable as a Michael Bay movie.  There are no surprises, and the material is so similar that it’s starting to feel like he’s directing one, long never ending movie slash Leslie Mann highlight real.

Chance at Redemption: Fair – Providing he can make a movie without Leslie Mann

1. M. Night Shyamalan

 Could anyone else top this list?  Is there another filmmaker alive that started out with so much promise before crashing down into a firey crater that seems to have no bottom?  At one point I was such a fan of Shyamalan.  I loved The Sixth Sense.  What a perfect little movie.  And with Unbreakable he made one of the best superhero movies ever, deconstructing the idea of an everyday guy with superpowers.  His penchant for twist endings was worrisome.  I think everyone saw the potential for disaster coming when every subsequent film relied on some kind of third act gear shift.  Still, I liked Signs.  It was an effective thriller with another great ending.  The dividing line for Shyamalan’s career was The Village, an imperfect film that I still find myself defending in spite of some pretty glaring flaws.  After that, the man released three of the most laughably put together studio films in the history of cinema.  Lady in the Water was a ridiculous mess.  The Happening might be the best bad movie ever made.  And The Last Airbender was like a master class in how not to put together a film.

Like Coppola, it’s mind boggling to watch someone capable of orchestrating and executing films so early in his career now unable to even construct a cohesive narrative.

Chance at Redemption: Fair – After Earth may be Shyamalan’s return to form.  Whether it’s Sixth Sense form or The Happening form, we’ll have to wait and see.

Agree with these choices? Are there any other directors who you feel have lost their way, and what are their chances at redemption? Let us know in the comments below…

Anghus Houvouras

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  • Agree with Shyamalan and Coppolla especially, but I've recently seen Aliens for the first time and people give it too much credit. Avatar and Titanic are much better. The character development is an improvement also.

  • Michael Prymula

    I thought Six th Sense was an overrated piece of shit, and I actually liked smith's and Coppola's later films.

  • Michael Prymula

    Signs had one of the worst plot twists ever, aliens being allergic to fucking water?! Give me a break!

  • Vinny G

    Next time put a spoiler alert up jack@$$!

  • nick

    You defend Lady in the water and The happening, but call Clerks 2 and <br />Jay and Silent Bob barely watchable? Is it hard to type while having a <br />stroke?

  • nick

    DUDE, SERIOUSLY!!! Spoiler alert on the 10 year old movie everyone has seen or heard everything about!!!

  • So glad to see someone call out Cameron&#39;s Avatar. I thought it was so poorly written that the movie was really unwatchable. I&#39;d actually put him #1 on this list. Smith, I&#39;m not sure I agree with. He&#39;s hit or miss in my book. Clerks 2 was better than the original, IMO. If Clerks 3 hits, then he&#39;ll go down in my book as a good director that experimented and failed on a few. I

  • MagnoliaFan

    That is very debatable. To me, Knocked Up was better than 40-Year-Old Virgin. This is 40 is better than Funny People. Funny People was dreadful. It wasn&#39;t funny; it was depressing. Maybe that was the point. While we are on the subject of Apatow,, you forgot to mention Zack and Miri in Kevin Smith&#39;s work, which was, in my opinion, better than Jersey Girl, Clerks II, and Mallrats. That

  • MagnoliaFan

    Also, where is Dogma? That, to me, is better than Clerks.

  • Alex

    Where does he defend Lady or Happening? He calls one a &quot;ridiculous mess&quot; and the other the &quot;best bad movie ever made.&quot;

  • Alex

    Always happy when someone calls out Avatar, or as I call it, Dances With Wolves Meets Ferngully In Space. Cameron took a decade to play with the coloring books and a week to write the script. That POS got nominated for an Oscar? Please. P.S. Why isn&#39;t Lucas on this list? Like Cameron, he tossed out storytelling and character in favor of playing with the toys. Shameful.

  • nick

    My apologies, I misspoke. I meant The Village and The Happening not Lady in the water. I would consider calling something &#39;the best* bad movie ever&#39; a compliment; I take it to mean that it&#39;s just *this close* to being good

  • You may be unaware of this, but Leslie Mann is Mrs. Apatow. That&#39;s why she&#39;s in all his films.

  • Coppolian

    Twixt is a great film, Take a look at Cahiers du Cinéma and read what have to say about this dazzling oneiric kind of film.

  • spirall

    James Cameron is genius. If you can&#39;t see or figure out that avatar is a masterpiece and a masterclass in film making and story telling, then you must be blind to art and you probably thought star wars was over rated.

  • Deadphil007

    TOTALLY agree with you…mostly, on the Cameron snippet. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Avatar despite its &quot;academic&quot; screenplay. But Lucas should definitely be on this list as well! Dare I mention Howard the Duck and Red Tails…the prequel trilogy notwithstanding?? I only hope they get some real &quot;hungry&quot; and inventive directors to take over the helm for books 7-9…and ZERO

  • Deadphil007

    Yeah! I actually thought Dogma was pretty underrated! J&amp;SB Strike Back was campy fun. I think this list needs to relax its sphincter a smidge!

  • Jbottom

    I think Tim Burton Should be in this list as his work is getting more boring and predictable as the years go along. All he is doing now is remaking films with the same cast and crew he always uses. Johnny Depp as lead, Helen Bonham Carter in a minor role and Danny Elfman as his composer. Granted Alice in wonderland was good, but this guy really needs new areas to explore and possibly use new

  • Bryant Russo

    haha i was about to write the same exact thing…i was just checking if someone had written it first

  • Nino

    Why doesn&#39;t anyone like Howard the Duck? Don&#39;t get me wrong it&#39;s not a great movie, but it holds so much nostalgia. If anyone else had directed it besides Lucas it wouldn&#39;t have received such bad reviews. <br />Great list, I could care less about Apatow. His movies are forgettable.

  • vangpo

    You forgot George Romero.

  • vangpo

    Avatar better than Aliens? You must be on crack.

  • SFT

    i agree with a few. but on the other hand the author of this is a mega douche.

  • Bo_Crowder

    Lucas isn&#39;t on the list because he is and always has been a complete hack of a director/screenwriter. He&#39;s a great ideas man and a producer, but he can&#39;t write or direct for shit.

  • Bo_Crowder

    Star Wars was overrated. Enjoyed Avatar (despite being fairly cliche) though.

  • DoigtDuPeuple

    Avatard IS NOT Dances With Wolves Meets Ferngully In Space!!! It&#39;s Pocahontas!! .. Seriously.. look it up.. same story… Cameron sucks … Oh and they forgot to mention Spielberg and Lucas.. <br /><br />Smith &amp; Apatow dunno about those two as they have a &#39;niche&#39; in what they do. Their movies do good vs budget they are given and dish out what you expect from them. <br /><br />M&

  • Llarips

    What&#39;s the point of art if it&#39;s incredibly boring, unoriginal, and had a huge budget which returned very little substance? Clearly not a great masterpiece. I thought Star Wars (4,5,6) was pretty brilliant, I might add.

  • The Grand Wazoo

    James Cameron? Please. The credibility of this &#39;list&#39; was instantly shredded when Cameron was included (obviously an insincere attempt to be controversial and generate traffic). The fact of the matter – and a certain demographic of geek better get used to it – is that both Titanic and, especially, Avatar were terrific movies and hugely popular (and in order for Cameron to be getting

  • The Grand Wazoo

    What&#39;s actually shameful is that you think- like countless other ignoramuses who have parroted this accusation ad nauseam without a single original thought in their tiny brains – that Cameron drew his stock from Dances with Wolves and Ferngully, instead of the raft of much older sci-fi literature that obviously served as a far greater influence on his film. It&#39;s okay, though; you&#39;re

  • Not 20-something. Hate reality TV. Used to like James Cameron films but think they&#39;re getting progressively less interesting. I do like Nolan. He hasn&#39;t peaked and plummeted. It could happen i suppose, but hasn&#39;t yet. Oh, and i couldn&#39;t care less about award nominations. Only sad people require outside validation for the creative art they enjoy.

  • &quot; Why doesn&#39;t anyone like Howard the Duck?&quot; Because it&#39;s a piece of shit.

  • carl weston

    agreed, i&#39;m like wtf!

  • Leslie Mann is consistently the strongest part of Apatow&#39;s films–his problem is that he can&#39;t gracefully make the transition from TV writing to film writing, trying to cram 6 subplots into a 2+ hour running time that TV might&#39;ve afforded him 12 30-minute episodes to more gracefully flesh out. What he needs is a writing partner with the guts to edit the material, not ditch his leading

  • tylerandjack

    Is it ironic if a writer accuses a director of amateur hour filmmaking and mis-spells amateur? Or did I miss some sly joke there? Admittedly, I thought Red State was an excellent movie even with that ending that so many hate but, still, throwing stones while in a glass house is a bit of an amateur error 😉

  • tylerandjack

    Ahh, at least you were able to get back to it and edit it.

  • tylerandjack

    Aha, glad to see that you were still able to edit the piece 🙂

  • SNA

    &quot;and in order for Cameron to be getting worse, something like True Lies or the theatrical cut of The Abyss would have to be superior to them. News flash: they aren&#39;t&quot; <br /><br />Oh yes, they are.. Well, Titanic (despite the teen-love theme) and True Lies are more or less equally good. I agree Cameron doesn&#39;t belong on this list, for one disappointing movie, but Abyss quality

  • Yes. I was aware. While im not 100% sure, i dont think California law dictates you cast your wife in every movie you make.