The Flix List: Past and present directors who could/should still make great films

By Ted Saydalavong

I’ve written two articles for this site about Hollywood directors, both the hacks and the great ones. So this post completes my directors trilogy posts 🙂 This time I’d like to focus on the past directors who have passed away and some who are still with us but hasn’t done anything significant in a long time.

In no particular order, here are the directors:

David Lean

Lean was known for his epic films such as The Bridge of River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. All three films were huge hits, after Doctor Zhivago he decided to make Ryan’s Daughter, it was a critical and commercial failure and because of its failure Lean didn’t make another film for over ten years. His last film was A Passage to India which came out 14 years after Ryan’s Daughter.  Before his death in 1991, he was trying to get another epic picture off the ground, Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Steven Spielberg, a huge fan of Lean, came on board as a producer but left the project because of disagreement over the script. Eventually Lean was able to secure a huge budget from Warner Bros., $45mil was gigantic back in the 80s and the film was green lit. But he passed away six weeks before principle photography, he had throat cancer. I wonder if we’ll ever see Nostromo on the big screen, I would love it if someone like Spielberg or Nolan takes over the project. I think Nolan can definitely do it since the book was quite dark and epic in scale.

I don’t know if Lean would have successes if he was still alive and working in Hollywood today. I think he’ll have trouble finding money for the type of films that he’d made. As we all know big budgeted films today are mostly comic book based, remakes and sequels. Also, most audience nowadays has sorter attention span so I don’t think they’ll like Lean’s films at all. Unless he decides to include lots of explosions and machine guns in them, then maybe people will pay to see his films. My guess is Lean will probably never stoop that low just to please the audience.

Stanley Kubrick

Here’s a director who was known for being a perfectionist and sort of a madman. Many actors/actresses who’ve worked with him said, it was quite an experience working with him but they’ll never want to be in his film again because he drove them crazy with his long shoots and countless takes on each scene.

His most well-known film was probably 2001: A Space Odyssey and it’s my favorite film of his. George Lucas even copied the look and feel of 2001 for his Star Wars films, if you don’t believe me watch the space sequences in 2001 and then watch Star Wars, they look identical and 2001 came out 9 years before Star Wars. Kubrick was also known for bickering with his cinematographers, for example during the shoot of Barry Landon, he wanted to use natural lighting for the whole film but his cinematographer told him that’s impossible and I believed Kubrick fired him and hired a new one. Eventually he compromised and did use artificial lighting for many scenes. Also, during the shoot of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick didn’t like the script so he decided to shoot the film from the pages of the novel. It drove his cinematographer crazy because he didn’t know how to set up the cameras correctly and it took hours just to shoot one scene.

The last film he did was Eyes Wide Shut, which took over two years to complete. Before his death, he was getting ready to shoot another potential sci-fi classic, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Of course we all know, Spielberg decided to make that movie to honor his friend. I could only imagine what the film would’ve been like had Kubrick directed it, he said he didn’t want to use a child actor for the lead role, so my assumption would be that he’d probably use CGI for the boy character. From what I remember reading, Kubrick wanted to make a dark and gritty world for A.I. as opposed to Spielberg’s light and fantasy version.

Kubrick would have no problem making films if he was still alive today, he’s highly respected in the film industry and any big name actors would kill just to work with him, they’ll regret it afterwards but at least they can say they’ve been in a Stanley Kubrick film.

Sam Peckinpah

Peckinpah was known for the innovative and explicit depiction of action and violence, as well as his revisionist approach to the western genre. Also, he’s known for filming slow motion in action scenes, John Woo and Zack Snyder are still trying to master his techniques in their films. In fact, John Woo admitted that he’s a huge fan of Peckinpah and always tried to emulate Peckinpah’s style on his own films.

Peckinpah became famous after the release of his western epic The Wild Bunch; the film got an X rating back in 1969 because of its violence. After the film’s success, Peckinpah got the nickname “Bloody Sam”. He pretty much started the trend in Hollywood where graphic violence became acceptable in big production films. After The Wild Bunch came out in 1969, the movies of the 70s included lots of graphic violence scenes; these include The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver and many more.

Peckinpah was also known for his combative personality; he refused to edit his films after shown them to studio executives, so the producers had to edit the films when he refused to be involved in the process. Some even called him a misogynist, which explains why famous actresses at the time never appeared in any of his films. Later in his career, he was offered a chance to direct some of the big films from the 70s; these include King Kong and Superman: The Movie, but he turned them all down because he didn’t want to deal with big studio politics. Apparently when he came in the interview for the Superman gig, he brought a pistol with him. He did so much cocaine and drank a lot of alcohol that he became so paranoid and some said it was hard being around him. His hard living style finally caught up with him and he died in 1984 of heart failure. He was only 59 years old.

I believe if Peckinpah was alive today he would be very successful because of independent studios that are available to filmmakers. He won’t have to deal with big studio executives and he can make his films the way he wants and still can find huge audience. You could say Quentin Tarantino is the new Peckinpah because his films are violent and strange, and of course Tarantino is a huge fan of Peckinpah. Also, all of Tarantino’s films were financed by The Weinstein Bros. studios, which it’s still considered an independent studio.

Note: I would like to mention a couple of directors whose work I’ve never seen but they’re well respected in the film industry, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa.

If you’re a fan of either of them, do you think they’ll be successful if they’re still alive and working in Hollywood today?

Now, here are some directors who are still with us, but haven’t done anything significant for a long time:

Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola was responsible for a few well known films of the 70s, The Godfather 1 & 2, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation. But after the release of Apocalypse Now, he pretty much lost his mojo when it comes to making successful films. In 1984, he made The Cotton Club, one of the biggest box office misfires of that decade. The film’s budget was around $60mil, that kind of number was unheard of back in those days. The rest of his films in the 80s were met with so-so reviews and box office numbers. So finally in 1990, he made The Godfather Part 3, mostly because his production company was going bankrupt and fans really wanted to see another chapter of the Corleone family. Unfortunately the film wasn’t as successful as the first two and to this day, many people still considered it the ‘black sheep’ of the trilogy.

In 1992, he made Dracula and it did pretty well at the box office and people thought maybe Coppola is back. But as it turned out, Dracula was his only big hit of that decade. He was pretty much gone unknown in the 2000s, even though he released a couple of movies, none of them made any noise with either the critics or audience.

I still believe Coppola could make a big comeback, he just needs the right script and get a good leading man to star in the film. For years he said he’s been working on a script of a sci-fi epic drama called Magalopolis, apparently he gave the script to Russell Crowe to read and Crowe loved it and agreed to star in it. The story is about NYC set 300 years in the future and it involves corrupt government in that future society. But unfortunately Coppola said he need about $200mil to make the movie and with his track record, he believe no studio in Hollywood will give him that kind of cash. So in early 2000s, he put the script on hold. I hope he decides to go back and work on it, that script could be his big comeback. Of course the hard part for him is to find investors who’ll fork over $200mil so he could shoot the picture.

William Friedkin

Here’s another guy who has a couple of big hit films back in the 1970s; The Exorcist and The French Connection were pretty big in those days. Just like Coppola, he sort of lost his touch of making successful films after the 70s. He actually made a very good film in 1985 that I recently discovered, To Live and Die in L.A. I knew about it for years never really wanted to see it, so finally I bought the Blu-ray version and watched it. I was surprised how good the film was; if you haven’t seen it, give it a rent. In the 90s and 2000s, he made a few films but they weren’t big hits.

I don’t know if Friedkin can make a comeback since there are so many great filmmakers out there today and he seems to be just another average director trying to make it day by day. I can only wish him the very best because I believe he’s very talented.

Richard Donner

The man who made the first and still the best Superman film and The Omen in the 70s. Then in the 80s and 90s, he made a few hits like the Lethal Weapon films and The Goonies. Just like Coppola and Friedkin, he somehow lost that touch of making a successful film the last few years. The last film I saw that he directed was 16 Blocks and it was awful. Apparently they’re remaking Lethal Weapon, will he be involved? I don’t know but I won’t be surprised if he is because he needs a hit.

I doubt that Donner could make a big comeback as a director, seems to me he just lost interest in directing films. He produced a lot of films, so maybe he prefers doing that instead of directing. Rumors been going around that he actually directed the last half of X-Men Origins: Wolverine because the original director walked off the set. I don’t know if that’s true or not, it’s Hollywood so anything’s possible.

Well those are my list of past and present directors who should or could make some successful films in today’s market. Do you have your own list? If so, feel free to name them.

25 thoughts on “The Flix List: Past and present directors who could/should still make great films

  1. Very nice article. I haven’t seen it yet, but didn’t Coppola do “Tetro” not too long ago?

    I hate to sound like a snob, but I almost wonder if today’s movie-going audiences would have the patience for something like, say, David Lean’s 3+ hour epics. Or Kubrick’s experimental and challenging films. I don’t doubt that they’d get some critical acclaim but it seems like the average movie-goer would reject it.

    I bet Peckinpah, on the other hand, would do very well because of his stylized violence.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks John and yes Coppola did make Tetro, I think it came out sometime in late 2000s, I haven’t seen it either. The last movie I saw that he directed was The Rainmaker back in 1997.

      As I stated in the article, I don’t think most of today’s audiences will like Lean’s films because they’re long and doesn’t have explosions every 10 minutes. Also, I just don’t think he can get any studio to finance his films either. After Ryan’s Daughter, some said he’s past his prime, even Doctor Zhivago was panned by some big named critics when it came out in the 60s.

      Kubrick on the hand, he has no problem making movies even if they don’t make a lot of money and big named stars will kill just to be in his films.

      I totally agree about Peckinpah, if he’s still alive and kicking, he would be very successful in today’s market.

  2. Hey Ruth, Very nice read this!! Some great writing that shames me when I look at my blog 😦

    I am with John on this one. I think that maybe the throw away culture of the teenies generation probably just wouldnt get Kubrick’s style. Everyone is after a cheap thrill these days.


    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Custard, I agree that most of today’s audiences won’t appreciate Kubrick’s work. But then again, audiences back in those days didn’t like his work either, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a flop and most critics didn’t care for it.

  3. Thanks John & Custard for the comment, I wish I could take the credit but it’s my cinephile friend Ted who wrote this 😀

    @John – I certainly don’t mind a 3-hr epic at the movies if it’s a great story that’s done well. I’d rather sit through that than a 1.5 hour of garbage Hollywood’s been churning out lately.

  4. Vince

    Great post, Ted! I’m right with you on Kubrick and Peckinpah. I think their strength is the adaptability to the current audience. You could argue that they were right there with the times. Not 100% but pretty close. I’ve often wondered if Hitchcock could succeed in this day and age. I lot of people forget that he directed a serial killer film called Frenzy in the 70s which he could easily adapt to today. Another is Michael Powell who did a strange but very good film called Peeping Tom. I realize that these are both ‘racy’ films but that seems to be the trend in the Tarantinos and other ‘violent’ sub genre directors.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Vince and a good call on Hitchcock, I knew I forgot some other big named director when I wrote this article. I’ve heard of Powell, mostly from Tarantino since that man knows so much about films from the 60s and 70s. I might have to check out his films.

  5. Did you know that “Doctor Zhivago” was shot in my home-country of Vojvodina? All those wide lowlands of Vojvodina played the part of Russian plains 🙂

    Out of all of these directors David Lean would be the only one for whose films I have a certain respect. The others don’t have a sentiment that I like in films.

    1. Ted S.

      Wow I did not know that Dez, that’s cool. Doctor Zhivago is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, Lean and his cinematographer did an excellent job of shooting that movie.

      1. yep, Ruth probably remembers how I told her some time ago that since they were shooting ZHIVAGO during winter, we didn’t have daffodils in Vojvodina for one of the major scenes when all the fields are covered with these lovely yellow flowers, so they had to plant like hundreds of thousands of daffodils in the middle of winter just to shoot the scene.

    2. I think I’m with you too, Dezzy, Doctor Zhivago is one of my late mom’s favorite films.

      Well Ted, already knows I don’t think quite highly of Peckinpah… sorry Ted 🙂

      1. Ted S.

        No apologies needed Ruth, ha ha. Peckinpah is not for everyone, I recommended a few of his films to my friends and they hated most of his work too.

  6. The impression I had on Coppola is that he has more or less turned his back on Hollywood and is only interested in doing smaller films. Am I wrong?

    1. Ted S.

      That could be true John, Apocalypse Now really took a toll on him and don’t forget The Cotton Club, that one pretty much destroyed his reputation because it tanked so bad at the box office.

  7. The last thing I vaguely remember Coppola’s name being attached to the credits of was Jeepers Creepers, which actually creeped me out a bit and I thought it kinda felt a bit different than everything that had gone before. But maybe I was just judging it according to the label (Coppola) attached to it. The Coppola films used to watch in Uni – The Godfather etc. just seemed to be so accomplished, I think he genuinely peaked in the 70s. Which is a shame.

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah he was the executive producer of Jeepers Creepers, my guess is he probably just invest in the picture and never actually set a foot on the set.

  8. I still recommend Tetro. And i’ve been seeing Kubricks films on blue-ray, and 2001 is my least favorite so far. I know its highly regarded and all, but it kind of just lost me near the end. My personal fav is Eyes Wide Shut. I loved the scene where Cruise’s character enters the room with all the people in masks.

    1. Ted S.

      I might have to check out Tetro, like I mentioned before the last Coppola’s film I saw was The Rainmaker.

      You know I haven’t seen Eyes Wide Shut since I saw it back in theater, so it’s been a while. I remember enjoying it quite a bit. If you haven’t yet, do check out Paths of Gory, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Barry Landon.

      1. I’ve seen A Clockwork orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket all on blu-ray. I am hoping his other films get the same treatment.

        And as for the question of whether he could still make movies. I think it would be hard to get another movie like 2001 done, but all of his other movies i’ve really liked so i think he could still make movies that would resonate with modern audiences.

  9. I think the likes of Coppola and Friedkin can’t reproduce the quality of their earlier films because what drove them then is either lost forever or isn’t what drives them now.

    I think a part of it is the power of youth and the feeling that they were – during the period where they produced their best work – ie. the 1970s – doing something that was making a difference to them, the people around them, the industry as a whole and popular culture. I doubt they have those feelings now.

    Donner, on the other hand, could still produce decent work. The Goonies 2 please!

    1. There’s also a timeliness aspect to consider. When Coppola made “The Godfather”, he made it grainy and saturated it with black, and audiences at the time weren’t used to seeing something quite like that. Now, it’s sort of old hat. That’s not to say that Coppola couldn’t adjust to film techniques of the current era; just that it’d be a different ballgame altogether.

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