Bad films by top-tier directors


honkytonkThere was a bit of buzz on social media created last week by an article listing the top 10 worst films by famous directors. I’d only seen a few films in the list and of those, I strongly disagree with Coppola’s version of Dracula being there as I found it enormously entertaining and a case could be made it’s his best post-Apocalypse Now film. No qualms about Burton’s Planet Of The Apes being there though.

In anycase, it was an interesting premise for a topic and it got me thinking of my own selection of bad films made what would be considered top-tier directors. I’m not talking about misfires, but outright disasters that you couldn’t fathom coming from such highly-regarded filmmakers.

Mike Nichols  – What Planet Are You From?

When he died last year, Nichols was lauded as one of the most important American directors of the past 50 years, although that reputation was largely based on his film work in the late 60s and early 70s. He never really reached the same heights when he resuming directing after a long break in 1983, he could be relied upon to providing solid, well-made, entertaining films. That is, with the exception of his 2000 comedy “What Planet Are You From?”

I recall commenting when I saw this film that it was arguably the worst film I’d ever seen by an Oscar winning director and I think that still stands (although the next one in this list would be a contender). It’s staggering considering Nichols’ comic talents (going back to his days working with Elaine May) that he could make a comedy so inept as this one. Perhaps he just didn’t know how to utilise the talents of star Garry Shandling, who looks so out of his depth that it killed any hopes he had a of a long-term film career.

Apart from the admirable performance of Annette Benning, this film is a total wipeout.

John Schlesinger – Honkytonk Freeway

Schlesinger had a largely excellent career throughout the 1960s and 1970s, making highly successful films in range of genres in both England and America, with the peak being the Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy. But while he continued to work throughout the 1980s and 1990s, his film career never seemed to really recover from this 1981 flop.

While Honkytonk Freeway is forgotten today, in its day it was almost seen as a bigger financial disaster as Heaven’s Gate was, virtually bankrupting the British film company EMI. What started out as a small-budget comedy poking fun and satirising a range of middle American types, the film got completely out of hand budget wise and barely got released after receiving scathing reviews.

Having watched this recently, I actually think its worse than its lowly reputation. Despite having a pretty good cast and potentially interesting premise, the film never gets going at any stage. It is so lumbering in its film style that it barely has a funny moment at any stage and is also quite unnecessarily nasty at times (a trait that occasionally popped up in Schlesinger’s films). It’s the worst type of big-budget film where you can see the expense on screen but nothing that provides any entertainment or thrills.

As for Schlesinger’s direction, you can actually see in the way he shoots the film the talent he had. But he displays no sense of comic timing (not something he was ever known for as a director) and that plays a pivotal role in sinking the film.

Robert Aldrich – The Choirboys

Aldrich made a lot of notable films in many different genres  during his lengthy career. But he was always an erratic, often unsubtle director who could slip into crudeness and misjudgements. ‘The Legend Of Lylah Clare’ has a deserved reputation as an embarrassingly ludicrous look at Hollywood but even worse is his 1977 film ‘The Choirboys’.

A supposed comedy about the off-duty activities of a bunch of policemen, the film from the word go is crass, crude, homophobic and repellent. And it certainly isn’t funny. How obnoxious is it? As well, it’s filmed in a cheap ugly style on obvious backlots that Aldrich may have gotten away with in the 1950s, but not by this time. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen, let alone from a major director.


4 responses »

  1. Even if you’re just taking Coppola’s output into account, it’s not at all a ‘bad’ film. It deserves no place on this list.

  2. I’ve always assumed that Shandling must have taken the failure of What Planet Are You From? badly as he hasn’t written anything since. Even his sporadic acting roles in the last 15 years have been almost entirely cameo appearances. I really miss his work.

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