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Steven Soderbergh Calls It Quits

Did you realize that the upcoming medical thriller ‘Side Effects’ will be the last theatrical feature film from Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh? Were you even aware that Soderbergh directed ‘Side Effects’? If so, you probably didn’t get that information from any of the studio marketing, which neglects to mention the respected and successful filmmaker by name at all. How is it possible that Soderbergh’s cachet in Hollywood has fallen so far that almost no one has bothered to notice that he’s retiring from making movies?

It hardly seems all that long ago that Soderbergh won an Oscar for directing the War on Drugs drama ‘Traffic‘. Between 2000 and 2007, he was responsible for making several notable blockbusters, including that film, ‘Erin Brockovich‘ and all three of the ‘Ocean’s Trilogy‘ movies. Just last year, he had a pretty significant hit with the male stripper drama ‘Magic Mike‘, which grossed over $160 million worldwide based on a meager budget of only $7 million, making it one of the most profitable films of 2012. Love his work or hate it, Soderbergh is an important filmmaker. His decision to retire from the profession at the still-virile age of only 50, and the arrival of his final feature, should be major news events.

Yet here we are. ‘Side Effects’ will limp into theaters on February 8th with limited promotion and extremely low expectations for its box office performance. Soderbergh still has one more movie in progress, the Liberace bio-pic ‘Behind the Candelabra’ starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, which couldn’t even secure theatrical distribution and will air on HBO instead. After that, he plans to devote himself to painting and hasn’t ruled out working in TV if he finds an interesting project, but says that he’s done making theatrical features. Few entertainment media outlets have reported the news of his retirement.

Admittedly, Soderbergh isn’t the most commercially-minded director in Hollywood. The above popular titles may even be considered aberrations in his career. Many of his movies are small, experimental projects like ‘Schizopolis’, ‘Bubble‘ or ‘The Girlfriend Experience‘, none of which were ever designed for mass acceptance or appeal. Most of his hit movies were successful despite Soderbergh’s involvement, not because of it. Audiences were drawn to ‘Magic Mike’ for its lurid subject matter, not its filmmaking pedigree. A number of the director’s mainstream efforts (including the sci-fi drama ‘Solaris’, the all-star disaster thriller ‘Contagion‘ and the action flick ‘Haywire‘) have disappointed at the box office.

In a recent interview with Vulture, Soderbergh explains his decision to retire, what he plans to do with his time from now on, and why making movies today is so much more difficult than when he started. I feel that some of the disdain he expresses for film critics comes across as defensive, and his comments about Hollywood studios being efficiently managed and fiscally responsible are just plain bizarre, but it’s an interesting conversation with a filmmaker known for unconventional choices throughout his career, including when to end it.

[Thanks to Faisal for the tip.]

28 comments

    • JM

      The trailer for ‘Side Effects’ looks pretty damn thriller-y.

      I like that it stars Pompous Jude Law instead of Evil Jude Law.

      It’s like ‘Primal Fear’ without the Eiffel Tower.

  1. I loved his early work (Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic), but when he got more “experimental” in his filmmaking, I found he also became quite uninteresting.

  2. Mike Attebery

    I never get why directors and writers feel the need to announce retirement. Just take a break. They always come back. Soderbergh has made similar declarations in the past. I’m sure he’ll be back. I give it two years tops.

    Shannon, I agree with you. He had a Sgt. Pepper stretch from ‘Out of Sight’ to ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ then he started in on this contrarian thing, like making the awful ‘Ocean’s Twelve,’ where he seemed to go out of his way to avoid making entertaining films. When you shoot in Paris and brag about trying your best not to get a shot of the Eiffel Tower, your perspective is really getting goofy.

    • Not meant to be cocky or pretentious, but when I made a short film during a holiday in Paris, I also avoided filming the Eiffel Tower. I’m not comparing myself to the genius that is Soderbergh, but I just want to say: having said landmark in a movie is so cliche. It’s even a TV Trope => “Eiffel Tower? This must be Paris!”. Even if the scene taking place in the French capital is miles away from the actual Tower. Just add a baguette and some accordeon music and hey, no confusing the audience.

        • Mike

          From experience, if you actually try walking around France with a fresh baguatte under your arm, you arrive at you destination with a flattened, droopy baguette.

  3. Mike Attebery

    I don’t think it’s his worst movie. Not by a long shot. I just remember reading interviews with him when it came out and thinking he seemed to be trying so hard to be a pain in the ass about things. I don’t mind when a director is different and does what he wants, but when he’s deliberately trying to avoid giving people what he *thinks* they want, he’s just being sort of annoying.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      What would you say is his worst movie? I haven’t seen everything he’s directed. Some of them, like Magic Mike or even the new one Side Effects, just don’t interest me. A few of the ones I have seen, like Full Frontal or Bubble, don’t do much for me. But I don’t think I’d call any of his movies “bad.” I usually find that he brings something interesting to anything he makes.

      • Contagion was the most Stanley Kubrick like movie since the end of A.I. it’s a really good movie and it’s weird how it evokes Kubrick the way it does.

  4. Mike

    Hmmm… Ok, Twelve is ONE of his worst. After Bubble I became very selective in which of his movies I bothered with. Before that used to see them all.

  5. JM

    Soderbergh’s movies are more fun than his films.

    But the dude paints portraits of Beckett in his spare time.

    If he has a future, it’s gun for hire.

    HBO should back up a bank truck and tell him to kill ‘House of Cards.’

  6. It must be disheartening to work on something like ‘Solaris’ and get a mixed-to-no reaction and later slop together some paint drying like ‘Haywire’ and still have some people say that they liked it.

  7. I loved Haywire, have watched it a few times already, the action/fight scenes are brutal, well shot, no annoying music, just the hits and man I dont think I’ve seen a hotter girl that can kick ass in quite a long time. I really thought it was a great thriller with a good does of action in the right places.

    Oceans Eleven was pretty damn good, I have the others too, but havent got around to watching them, wasnt a fan of Traffic when I watched it way back when, but my tastes and appreciation for certain things has changed when it comes to movies, so I will probably revisit that. Still want to see Contagion as I thought that looked great from the trailers, but of course I’ve heard bad things for quite a few people.

    Needless to say, sorry to see him go, even though I didnt follow him all the time, he’s a director that did some great works and its always a name that I remember and respect.

  8. Dimwit

    Ignore this. He just loves throwing people off. He’s going to T.V. but will find something that interests him on the big screen sooner or later.

  9. Wow – never realized he directed the Ocean’s movies. That would explain why I felt like something was lacking when I completed each of the movies. He’s not a horrible director IMO, just “different.”

    • Bamboolounge

      Contagion came out in September of 2011 and the article is dated 10/21/11.

      Assuming Haywire was in production when he said that then he told the truth, retired after two more theatrical releases (Magic Mike and Side Effects).

  10. Soderbergh said he was retiring after Haywire but was inspired to make Magic Mike after working with Channing Tatum. I have a feeling that someone so creative can only stay retired so long before he finds inspiration somewhere else.