With his $160 million ‘Warcraft’ opening this weekend, ‘Moon’ director Duncan Jones is (seemingly) the latest example of an indie filmmaker previously known for smart, interesting little movies selling out to make big, dopey Hollywood blockbusters from then on. Here are some more examples of promising filmmakers whose careers got a lot less interesting when their budgets got higher.
I can think of no current director that fits this week’s topic better than Alex Proyas. After impressing audiences early in his career with his adaptation of ‘The Crow’ as well as the visionary world of ‘Dark City’, Proyas has done nothing but coast on his name and success, turning in movies that range from the mediocre (‘I, Robot’) to bad (‘Knowing’) to downright awful (‘Gods of Egypt’).
What makes Proyas’ downfall even more annoying is that he’s chosen to blame others for his lack of success. During the recent release of ‘Gods of Egypt’, the director publicly put the blame on movie critics for the dismal performance of his film, as if any us (even the known ones you’ll find outside this website) had that kind of power anymore, or as if the critical press had a personal vendetta against him. I have a theory that when Hollywood stops writing checks to get Proyas to direct the next big thing, he might go back to roots and give us something really worth watching. Until then, however, his career has turned into a huge disappointment.
When I walked into ‘The Sixth Sense’, I thought I was going into a straightforward ghost movie. When I left, I was blown away at what newcomer M. Night Shyamalan had done. He basically made an indie-style movie that the masses took to. He did the same with ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Signs’ and ‘The Village’, but with diminishing praise and acclaim each time. After that, he pumped out two movies that ranged from bad to absolutely awful (‘Lady in the Water’ and ‘The Happening’).
After getting bashed for those, Shyamalan bowed down to Hollywood and made two of the very worst big-budget movies I’ve ever seen: ‘The Last Airbender’ and ‘After Earth’. I rarely wish bad things on my enemies, but I willed both of those movies to bomb at the box office. Although Shyamalan himself made that happen, I like to think that the negative thoughts I projected into the universe had something to do with it.
M. Enois Duarte
One movie director who sold out to a major studio, learned his lesson for a while, but then returned for more quick cash is David Gordon Green. The indie filmmaker who brought us the engagingly quirky ‘All the Real Girls’ and ‘Snow Angels’ followed those dramas with ‘Pineapple Express’. Granted, the stoner comedy is not a wholly terrible movie and it became a surprise box office hit, but it’s nowhere near the quality of his previous efforts and makes a weird choice as his first major studio production.
Worse still, Green followed that success with a pair of utterly awful disasters: ‘Your Highness’ with Danny McBride and ‘The Sitter’ with Jonah Hill. That last one could almost be considered the end of his relationship with Hollywood. Thankfully, Green returned to his roots and surprised his fans with another pair of amazing indie dramas in ‘Prince Avalanche’ and ‘Joe’ – the latter of which also gave us one of Nicolas Cage’ best performances. Sadly, Green quickly lost the momentum he gained with ‘Manglehorn’ (which stars Al Pacino) and the snoozefest ‘Our Brand is Crisis’. Here’s hoping he does much better working with Jake Gyllenhaal and Miranda Richardson on ‘Stronger’.
I’ve said this before, but I believe Tim Burton will do anything if a studio comes to him with enough money. The funny thing is, more studios are willing to pay for Burton and his special sauce than you would ever imagine. ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Batman’, ‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Ed Wood’, even ‘Mars Attacks’ (which I detest)… those at least seem like true Tim Burton movies. But ‘Planet of the Apes’? ‘Alice in Wonderland’? ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’?! All of those movies would have been better without Burton, and he would have been better for not having made them!
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I get that the name Darren Aronofsky isn’t emblazoned across the poster art for one summer blockbuster after another, but that’s not for a lack of trying. At one time or another, he was attached or deep in talks to direct ‘Batman: Year One’, ‘RoboCop’, ‘Watchmen’, ‘Man of Steel’ and the ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ sequel, along with about 300,000 other films that either wound up being helmed by someone else or were never made at all (among them ‘The Tiger’ with Brad Pitt and ‘Serena’ with Angelina Jolie). It quickly got to a point that when I’d see Aronofsky’s name mentioned in tandem with any project, it was a countdown until a follow-up article would report that he and the producers had parted ways.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think highly of Aronofsky. That’s saying something seeing as how I paid good money for the insufferable ‘The Fountain’ and all. For all I know, his takes on Wolverine and RoboCop could have been spectacular. If his oddball screenplay for ‘Batman: Year One’ is any indication, they would’ve been defiantly different, at the very least. After that many failed attempts, though – especially with as dismal as several of those movies wound up being – hopefully Aronofsky’s return to the director’s chair will be something far more inventive, far more interesting, and very little like ‘Noah’, his failed attempt to make a big-budget blockbuster for Paramount.
I can rattle off a long list of directors who fit this topic. Especially in recent years, the big Hollywood studios have actively recruited indie filmmakers to helm their mega-budget franchise tentpoles. In doing so, the studios look for someone who has proven that he or she can finish a movie, yet has relatively little power or sway in the industry. They’ll work for far less money and can be pushed around to do what the studio wants much more easily than a Spielberg or a Cameron or a Ridley Scott. That’s how someone like Colin Trevorrow, whose biggest previous feature ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ was made for well under $1 million, can immediately jump to the $150 million ‘Jurassic World’. Likewise for Gareth Edwards with ‘Godzilla’, Josh Trank with ‘Fantastic Four’, Marc Webb with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, and so many more.
In all of these cases, the directors have essentially made deals with the Devil, willingly compromising their artistic values for nice paydays and a chance to join the ranks of the A-List. Honestly, I don’t begrudge any of them for this. I’d probably do the same if I ever found myself in that situation. Nevertheless, as a viewer, it’s disappointing when someone who has demonstrated the ability to make a smart movie turns around and makes a very dumb one next.
Which filmmakers have most disappointed you by selling out their promising careers to make much dumber, less interesting big-studio movies?