Guest Post: Six directors’ career who got derailed by box office bombs

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Film directors know that it’s hard to make movies in Hollywood; it’s even harder to actually make a successful one. So when some of them hit the jackpot and make a box office hit, studio executives and fans are expecting nothing less from them in their next film. In the last few years, some filmmakers like Spielberg, Nolan, Fincher and Scorsese seem to be able to churn out hit after hit, but for some, that’s not the case. Below are some directors who’ve had one or two box office hits but haven’t made another successful film since.

1. Andrew Davis

Davis is a native of Chicago and shot most of his films there, and he started in the 80s making small-budget films. Then he got a shot at his first action film, Code of Silence, followed by another action flick, Above the Law. The first film starred Chuck Norris and the latter was Steven Seagal’s debut film. They were modest hits but nothing spectacular. In his next film he got to work with couple of big-name stars. He made The Package starring Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones, but unfortunately the film was a failure at the box office. Nevertheless, he made a name for himself with those three pictures, so he reunited with Seagal and Jones for his next film: Under Siege, his first big hit. He followed that with his biggest hit ever, The Fugitive. After The Fugitive, he was offered a lot of big tent pole projects, but he decided he wanted to make a smaller film. He didn’t know it, but that was the biggest mistake of his career. The following year he made a film called Steal Big Steal Little, a dramedy that was ignored by both the critics and audiences alike.

He went into panic mode to recover his career, and then made a very awful movie called Chain Reaction (starring Keanu Reeves who was also in a slump). Fortunately for Reeves, he bounced back a few years later with a little film called The Matrix. For Davis, on the other hand, the damage was already done and all the offers from the studios disappeared along with his fading career. I think the last film he made was The Guardian, which ironically starred another has-been, Kevin Costner.

2.  Michael Cimino

Cimino directing Christopher Lambert in The Sicilian

Cimino’s career started out on a high note. He first wrote a screenplay to Dirty Harry’s sequel Magnum Force, and he then directed Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (a much underrated film from the 70s). His next film, The Deer Hunter, turned out to be his biggest hit. Not only was the film a box- office success,  but it also won best picture and Cimino took home the best director award at the Oscars in 1979. Unfortunately for Cimino, his next picture was his downfall, the godfather of all box office failures, Heaven’s Gate (one of Hollywood’s ‘forgotten’ misfires). The film not only destroyed Cimino’s career, but it also bankrupted the studio that financed it, United Artists. Cimino did a few films after the Heaven’s Gate fiasco, but he couldn’t recover his career. He’s now pretty much disappeared from Hollywood.

3. Kevin Costner

This might be a controversial pick since Costner only directed three films. Well,  he also directed parts of Waterworld after that film’s original director walked off the set. Anyhoo, his first directing gig turned out to be his biggest box office hit: Dances with Wolves earned close to $200 million at the box office and won several awards at the Oscars—including best picture and director. Unfortunately for Costner, his next directing gig, The Postman, was one of the biggest box office duds of the decade. His next film, Open Range, was very good but it didn’t earn a lot of money and it earned little respect from top critics. He’s currently attached to direct a film called A Little War of Our Own. Since his leading man status is way behind him, he should just focus on directing films. Who knows? He might have a big comeback with his new film.

4. Antoine Fuqua

Fuqua started out directing music videos, and then made a couple of low-budget action films. His breakout film was Training Day; it’s still his highest-earning film. Unfortunately for Fuqua, his next two films, Tears of the Sun and King Arthur, were box office misfires, and they cost a lot of money to make. He was supposed to direct American Gangster right after King Arthur, but he was fired from that picture because he demanded more money and wanted to shoot the film entirely in NYC. The studio wasn’t willing to oblige him since his previous films were huge failures. Currently he’s attached to a few projects, and he’s not sure if any of them will make it to the big screen. I don’t know if he’ll ever have the success he had with Training Day. I think he’s a capable director—but nothing special.

5. Renny Harlin

Harlin’s biggest hit was Die Hard 2; he followed that up with Cliffhanger, which was a modest hit. In 1995 he made Cutthroat Island, and that is still considered one of the biggest box office flops of all time. The film cost more than $100 million, but it only earned about $10 million. The next year he made The Long Kiss Goodnight, another big-budget action film that tanked. Even though his two previous films failed at the box office, Warner Bros. still gave him $80 million to direct Deep Blue Sea. It opened in the summer of 1999 and was considered a modest hit. In 2001 he reunited with Stallone and made Driven, another $70 million picture. Unfortunately the film only earned about $30 million, and Harlin’s career was pretty much in the dump. He made a few films after Driven, but most of them either went directly to DVD or never opened in American theaters.

6. Jan De Bont

De Bont on the set of Tomb Raider 2 w/ Gerry Butler & Angelina Jolie

Jan De Bont started out in the film industry in the 1960s as a director of photography. Some of the famous films he shot were Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October, Basic Instinct and Lethal Weapon 3. His directorial debut was a 1994 summer flick, Speed, and it turned out to be a huge hit. He followed that up with another summer flick, Twister, and again it was a huge hit. So with two huge box office hits in a row, studio executives were kissing his butt and he decided to do Speed 2. Well, as it turned out Speed 2 was his kryptonite. The film cost more than $160 million to produce and reportedly De Bont was a mad man on the set. He and his leading man Jason Patric were constantly fighting during the shoot. The film opened in the summer of 1997, the critics tore it to pieces and most people ignored it. The film ended up being one of the biggest box office busts of the 90s.

De Bont had a couple of big films he intended to direct after Speed 2.  One was a huge budget action-adventure picture about a group of elite special forces hunting down the world’s worst terrorists. Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon films, Die Hard films, The Matrix films) was going to produce and they were eyeing either Eddie Murphy or Wesley Snipes for the lead role. For the younger readers out there, Murphy and Snipes were quite big stars back in the 90s. The other project was the Godzilla remake. If I remember correctly, De Bont asked Sony to give him $200mil to make the film. Of course he didn’t get to direct either of those since Speed 2 was a huge failure and studio executives didn’t want him to be in charge of their tent-pole pictures anymore.

Somehow De Bont was able to get $80 million from Dreamworks to make The Haunting, another bad film. It wasn’t as big a failure as Speed 2, but by this time it’s clear De Bont’s not in the A-list director class anymore. The last film he directed was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, another bad film that tanked at the box office. That was the last film project he was involved in, and he hasn’t done anything since.

Article edited by Bob Filipczak


Well those are some directors who have had one or two hits in their resume, only to watch their career fizzle after one bad movie. It goes to show how tough it is to stay on top of your game in Hollywood. Now some of these directors might have another hit in the future. If I was a betting man, I would pick Kevin Costner as the one with the best shot of returning to the top again.