Terrible Movies by Great Directors

Clarisse Loughrey

How to describe the experience of watching a movie by your favourite director only for it to slowly dawn on you that it's a horrible, horrible piece of work? Betrayal? Bewilderment? Anger? Sometimes it just feels so impossible to believe that people as talented as Francis Ford Coppola, Dario Argento, or Gus Van Sant can churn out these cinematic horrors. Yet this week brought yet another of those uncomfortable moments with the release of Pacific Rim, the underwhelming action movie brought to you by the very smart man behind Pan's Labyrinth. What happened there? And what happened with these shockers?

1. The Ladykillers (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2004)

You know that story where Bill Murray supposedly accidentally signed up for Garfield because he thought it was written by Joel Coen (instead of Joel Cohen)? Somedays I really wish the same had happened here and everyone in the world just got confused as to who wrote and directed The Ladykillers remake. Because I find it extremely difficult to handle the notion that the Coen Brothers, as in the same Coen Brothers who made Fargo, genuinely thought the 1955 classic Ealing Comedy would be improved by a joke about IBS. Or that the modern day comedic equivalent of Peter Sellers is one of the people behind White Chicks (aka Marlon Wayans). Yeah, it has to be the Garlfield Joel at work here, right?

2. The Ninth Gate (Roman Polanski, 1999)

I went through what can only be accurately described as a Johnny Depp "phase" in my teens, and even as a mere dull-brained teenager more interested in Jack Sparrow posters than forming any kind of coherent sense of cultural opinion. I knew this film was terrible and the worst thing that everyone involved had ever touched. Granted, it does look absolutey lovely, but so do those cute little Amazonian frogs right before you touch them and they kill you. Death here comes in the form of stupidity, with The Ninth Gate littering its slow-moving screenplay with dumb supernatural things along the lines of a demon/guardian angel/whatever knowing martial arts and a satanic ritual which out-camps the one in Eyes Wide Shut. And check out Frank Langella multi-tasking monloguing AND being on fire as Depp gets stuck between floorboards like a fat cat in a cat-flap. You could very probably blame this for Depp's disappointing millenial career to be honest, as the way he sleep-walks through this role seems to have set a kind of trend that allowed things like Secret Window and The Tourist to happen. Teenage me feels deeply sad right now.

3. She Hate Me (Spike Lee, 2004)

If you're a really respected director, your movie should 100 per cent never remind me of Gigli. Funny that these movies came out within a year of each other and both deal with the male fantasy that lesbians are never as lesbian-y as they claim they are. While Gigli claimed lesbians are only lesbians until the "right guy"/Ben Affleck comes along, here Lee has a guy making healthy bucks from sleeping with (and impregnating) lady-lovers, who are all constantly acting like they're coming onto him and thus not really like lesbians. Parody of the male fantasy or not, Lee really needs to step away from the Gigli vibes at all times.

4. Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004)

This movie got a pretty bad backlash when it was released, and every single ounce of it was deserved. Just how did Stone manage to take one of the coolest, most badass historical figures ever to exist and churn out this dreary piece of crap? Somehow Stone managed to confuse the word "badass" with "whiney", the result is a historical epic entirely about an annoying blonde man-child complaining about destiny for ages and then dying. He didn't even have the balls to commit to a true depiction of Greek bisexuality, so while Alexander and his barbaric wife get a lengthy sex scene, Alexander is allowed only to stare at Hephaestion (Jared Leto)'s big puppy dog eyes and give him slightly extended bro-hugs. Although worst of all has got to be the Irish accents, or more importantly Stone's claim that this was an intentional artistic move to show the differences between Greeks and Macedonians and not because Colin Farrell couldn't not be Irish for two seconds.

5. Psycho (Gus Van Sant, 1998)

Well, this movie was definitely brainstormed on a bar napkin. While perhaps I can understand Van Sant's motivation to create a shot-for-shot remake of such a heralded classic, it's a motivation that is entirely self-indulgent and makes no consideration for its audience. Because who the hell would want to see this? A movie which is exactly the same as its predecessor except for tiny additions like a masturbation scene, in one of those insulting moves which assumes modern audiences are too dumb 4 subtext. Maybe it could have offered the opportunity to allow one of the finest actors of our generation the chance to take on such a complex role as Norman Bates, in the same way there's a certain thrill in seeing different takes on Hamlet. Oh wait, no, he cast Vince Vaughn. Never mind. Go home, everyone.

6. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen, 2001)

A lot of people seem to blame the fact The Curse of the Jade Scorpion sucked (alongside other Allen flops Scoop and Celebrity) on his sort of weird self-imposed rule that he has to make a movie every year. It's not hard to believe considering Jade Scorpion definitely stinks of bad time management, in which Allen clearly didn't give himself enough time to brainstorm his concept properly; that or wasted all the time away procrastinating on making a ship in a bottle or something equally useless. It's lazy, lazy, lazy; using the '40s pulp parody as an excuse for an almost robotic re-hash of his New York neurosis, with every supporting character existing only as an audience to his wisecracks.

7. Dinotasia (David Krentz, Erik Nelson, 2012)

OK, so this technically wasn't directed by Werner Herzog, but let me explain. All the footage featured in this feature-length documentary is lifted from a Discovery Channel TV series called Dinosaur Revolution, with Herzog just adding his trademarked sombre insanity as narration over the top. Although it's worth noting one of Dinotasia's directors, Erik Nelson, is a long-time Herzog collaborator, working on Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. And you can 100 per cent tell it's an ex-TV show, considering the graphics are straight-up '90s like a cheap rip-off of Jurassic Park. To make things worse, Herzog's narration is extremely sparse, so it's more like the kind of sarcastic commentary that annoying friend makes everytime you invite them over to watch a DVD, with that "wait for it, wait for it" kind of glee at the thought everyone's eventually going to get murdered by a meterorite.

8. The Phantom of the Opera (Dario Argento, 1998)

This is kind of depressing as Argento had once said that there were only two classic horror films he had any interest in remaking. One was Frankenstein, the other The Phantom of the Opera. You'd really think fulfilling some kind of life-long dream would mean you'd make extra sure it's not crap. Yet, Argento's version opens with a scene of a baby playfully grabbing onto the whiskers of a stop-motion, red-eyed rat to symbolise the formation of deep, spiritual bond. Great. Everything about this movie just comes off so painfully cheap. From cheesy music to stiff acting, at times it plays more like a daytime soap opera than a gothic horror, except with Argento's trademark gruesome bits inserted here and there. The Phantom doesn't even wear a mask, so he's less of a Phantom and more of a gothic interloper who eats people's tongues and dreams about people stuck in rat traps.

9. Deal of the Century (William Friedkin, 1983)

The first, last, and only William Friedkin comedy. I guess it's good to always give new things a try, but then you have to accept the fact that sometimes that thing will haunt you for the rest of your life. In Friedkin's defense, it's not like he's literally incapable of doing dark comedy, considering that fried chicken scene from Killer Joe had me giggling and Googling the number of a therapist at extactly the same time. Maybe Friedkin thought he could make the kind of satire of the American dream that lies within the morally bankrupt, something along the lines of Catch 22. He probably shouldn't have cast Chevy Chase, then. Although he's great, Chevy Chase always plays Chevy Chase and everything he touches turns to Chevy Chase.

10. Jack (Francis Ford Coppola, 1996)

A child who grows so fast that by the time he's 10 he looks like a 40-year-old man? LULZ. He can buy Penthouse magazine! And fill a whole coffee can with farts! He doesn't fit into the desks at schooL! LULZ. Oh wait, his life is going to be tragically cut short because of his disease. ANTI-LULZ. Seriously, burn all copies of this movie and its ham-fisted, emotionally exploitative schmaltz. So disappointed in you, Coppola.

So, which flops have you questioning your allegiance to your favourite directors? Let us know in the comments!

Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou

Main image via

Unconventional by Tradition

Discover how urban creatives helped us design our new packaging.

Read more