Five of the Worst Movies by Otherwise Great Directors

Even if you’re the most talented person in the world, chances are you’re going to have a misstep here and there. These five directors might be among my favorites of all time, but it’s worth recognizing that in their careers, they’ve made at least one glaring error that mars their film catalog.

I tried to pick directors that really only had a singular giant hole in their portfolio, and tried to pick movies that were really, truly bad. Some directors I wanted to include just didn’t have any awful movies in their lineup. I couldn’t really fault icons like James Cameron, Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan as ever making a serious mistake with a film. Sure, not everything they make is a classic, but they’ve never made a truly terrible film.

Here are five great directors and their one glaring error.

David Fincher – Panic Room

This was the film that actually inspired this list. Now that David Fincher is one of the top directors in Hollywood, I thought I should go back and rewatch a film I was surprised to learn he directed, Panic Room. I remembered not liking it at the time, but perhaps in my youth I missed something, I thought.

But no, this is a truly awful film in every way, and it seems strange to think Fincher had anything to do with it, much less directed it. Tomboy pre-Twilight tween Kristen Stewart is surprisingly the least of the reasons the film sucks. It’s a film that has more “why would anyone DO that?” moments than any film I’ve ever seen, and it’s a complete mess from start to finish.

Guy Ritchie – Rocknrolla

Guy Ritchie is known for his signature fast-paced crime films like Snatch and Lock Stock. The plot usually revolves around a valuable missing objects (a diamond, some guns) and a colorful cast of characters all trying to get it back.

It’s not a bad formula, but the third time around in Rocknrolla, it almost seems like a parody of a Guy Ritchie movie. The characters (despite a great cast of Gerard Butler, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Idris Elba) and the film’s entire plotline are wholly unmemorable, and none of the cleverness that populates his other features is present here at all. It’s like he tried to do the same thing one more time in the hopes that it would be great, but when it failed, he decided it was time to go commercial. Might sound like selling out, but I thought Sherlock Holmes was grand, and I’m glad he branched out.

The Coen Brothers – Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers are almost always Oscar contenders with whatever film they release in a given year, and even though I’m not necessarily a fan of their comedy (I’m not as nuts for Lebowski as everyone) I respect that quality of their films. Well, almost all of their films.

Burn After Reading had a very funny trailer that involved Brad Pitt dancing and a bunch of serious actors being goofy. The actual film was probably one of the singular dumbest comedies I’ve ever seen, as the film just danced around a plot where no one knew what was going on, and wrapped up in such an abrupt way, you had  no idea what you just witnessed. Really out of character for the duo, and I think it’s their lowest point.

Steven Spielberg – War of the Worlds

You thought I was going to say Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, didn’t you? For as flawed as that movie may be, I always went against the grain and said that fundamentally I enjoyed it, which is NOT the case with War of the Worlds

We all know that Spielberg loves his sci-fi, and normally that it turns out great. But War of the Worlds is far  more like a Michael Bay movie than it is a Spielberg feature, as explosions and Tom Cruise sprinting around populate half the film. The other half? A young Dakota Fanning screaming her lungs out in almost every single scene she’s in, making me not only hate the film, but hate her as an actress for years after that,because that scream has been etched into my mind ever since.

Zack Snyder – Sucker Punch

Perhaps you disagree with me that Zack Snyder is a “great” director, but I love 300 and Watchmen and even his Dawn of the Dead remake, which is why when Sucker Punch was as much of an abomination as it was, I was truly stunned.

There are no words to describe how truly awful Sucker Punch is, and it was far and away the worst film of last year in my opinion. It’s some sort of weird cosplay fetish dream, which you would think I’d appreciate, but the inane plot, horrible dialogue and CGI ravaged fight sequences made the film almost unwatchable. I was incredibly close to leaving the theater entirely, but was fascinated like I was driving by a 27 car pile-up on the freeway. I think the lesson here is to let him direct, but give him source material that’s already proven itself to begin with.

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  1. I disagree with 4 out of 5 of your picks. But hey, to each his own.
    Fincher: Alien 3. Panic room isn’t great but its better than alien 3.
    Guy Richie: I actually like all his movies but I would say his “worst” us loco stock and two smoking barrels. And rocknrolla is my second favorite of his. But from what I hear swept away is absolutely terrible but I never saw it. Who did?
    Coen brothers: I actually don’t like them so I don’t have a pick for their worst. Their worst that I’ve been is Big Lebowski, I never got the insane affection people have for that movie which is mediocre at best. The only others I’ve seen are no country for old men and true grit, both of which I liked.
    Spielberg: Lost World, easy. That was fucking terrible.
    Zach Snyder: 300. Sucker Punch was a mess, I’ll give you that. But it was at least entertaining. I thought 300 was boring as balls.

  2. Zack Snyder’s worst film was Watchman, not Sucker punch. SP was trying to be something different. Watcman was just 2 hours of boring dialog broken up with a blue penis swinging across the screen.

  3. Are you seriously considering picking Rock N’ Rolla over both Swept Away and to a lesser extent Revolver? That point alone renders this list null and void.

  4. Paul, I don’t usually say this, but you’re WAY off base on Burn After Reading. I laughed my ass off at that movie. EVERYONE in that movie is killer, especially Pitt, Malkovich, and Simmons.

    It’s an absurdist take on a crime drama, and it’s hilarious.

    The rest of the suggestions are perfectly accurate.

  5. Yeah, I liked sucker punch, but I watched it after reading all the bad reviews so maybe I had lowered my expectations. I loved the fantasy world and cgi. Panic room was OK. But I thought kristens stewards character was a boy for about half the film. I still think she looks like a man with breasts.

  6. I dissagree with Sucker Punch highly. Most people complain that it had a stupid plot and was just a bunch of meaningless action scenes strung together. Zach Snyder stated that he wanted to make an action movie that wasnt heavy on plot and was basically just a bunch of action scenes, so he accomplished exactly what he wanted to.

  7. My list for those directors (their worst movies)

    Fincher- Alien 3

    Guy Ritchie- Swept Away or Revolver (aside from Ray Liotta I hated Revolver)

    The Coen Brothers- The Ladykillers

    Spielberg- 1941, maybe The Lost World: Jurassic Park

    Zack Snyder- Sucker Punch

  8. Sorry man, but from my german perspectiv the movie from Guy Richtie that made me throw up most is Swept Away. How dare you to like it more than Rocknrolla?? Secret affair with Madonna dosn´t count!

  9. Sucker Punch was awesome. If you disagree, you aren’t geek enough and should stick to Bayformers. Speilberg has made as many bad movies as good ones at this point so I’m not really sure you can still call him “great”, especially if you count production credits.

  10. I guess everyone here forgot that Guy Ritchie directed that horrible Madonna movie while he was married to her. I honestly don’t remember the name of it. Cast Away, Swept Away, or Blown Away? Either way (pun), any of those titles perfectly sum up how audiences felt about it. Especially considering no one here has mentioned it. That one Ritchie did where Statham had hair and Ray Liotta was a bad guy was a giant blender of “WTF is going on here” as well.

    Oh, and as much as I love Cameron, I honestly can’t sit through True Lies anymore. Last Action Hero was Arnolds last GOOD movie. I don’t care what anyone says.

  11. Well first off, Zack Snyder is not a great director. Not by any means. A one trick pony? Yeah, sure I’ll buy that.

    Second, Rock n Rolla was not a very good film, you’ve got that right. Though, I’d go watch Revolver before you call it his worst film.

    Lastly, your assessment of War of the Worlds is pretty off. It has a few explosions, but it is nowhere near the level of a Michael Bay film. That said, it is still probably the right choice as I blame George Lucas for the abomination that was Indiana Jones IV.

  12. I want to scream every time I see someone rag on Sucker Punch. The only thing I can think is that people need to have their movies explained to them since they’re too dense to see through the layers (which, incidentally, was the whole premise of the movie.) Stripped down, the movie was about a girl who defies authority and breaks out of a mental institution, but that wouldn’t have been near as interesting to watch as the METAPHORICAL fighting she does, showing in an artistic and wholly fantastical way of what she does to escape. Come on, people! The movie wasn’t as bad as you seem to think!

  13. I actually like War of the Worlds a lot, but regardless I’d say Amistad, Lost World, Hook, and (allegedly) 1941 would deserve to be here in its place.

    Curious Case of Benjamin Button is at least as flawed as Panic Room, to me, though I don’t really care about either one. It’s got David Fincher all over it, and I wouldn’t call it truly awful, either. I would call it boring, but that’s a similar adjective to the one I’d labe CCoBB with.

    RocknRolla is good. Slightly different from Ritchie’s other stuff (more serious, maybe?), which makes it the only one of his movies that I actually own at this point. I’d put Sherlock Holmes on here, as I sort of think that movie got as much wrong as it did right.

    I believe everybody on Sucker Punch, so I haven’t seen it.

    You know what might make an interesting list? A top five, bottom five Ron Howard movies. That guy makes enough of both to make for an interesting list. Same with Robert Zemeckis. Just a thought.

  14. I don’t give a shit, I like Sucker Punch. It’s ridiculous, relatively stupid, pretentious, overly cgi’d, and overall weird. BUT, it speaks to me. I enjoy it for what it is. It’s not perfect, by any means. But I like it. It kind of bothers me when people rag on it, it’s not supposed to be an Oscar contender! It’s fun! Stupid, ridiculous fun!

  15. I enjoyed Rocknrolla and Burn After Reading. Usually all of your Lists are pretty spot on, but I gotta disagree with you on those 2 movies. To each his own I guess.
    I would have put James Camerons Avatar on this list. The visuals were fucking amazing, but that was the only thing the flick had going for it. IMHO the plot really didn’t make sense to me and the story felt very weak.
    Also, unobtanium? Really?

  16. Spielberg took the War of the Worlds premise and made it into a movie that focussed entirely on a dysfunctional family dealing with crisis.

    That would have been fine if everyone in the family wasn’t annoying.

  17. Dude you’re going to bring up Rocknrolla as a shitty Guy Ritchie movie and not even mention Swept Away? Have you seen Swept Away? It’s fucking terrible.
    And yes I just scrolled up and saw a lot of comments pointing this out, but I feel the point should really be driven home.
    Swept Away is by far Guy Ritchie’s biggest mistake. Fucking awful.

  18. Each to their own and all that but I laughed like hell at Burn After Reading and I really enjoyed Sucker Punch for doing something a little different. To be fair the rest of the films on the list are average rather then bad. But hey, it’s just opinion…so folk don’t even like Alien 3.

  19. Burn After Reading > LADYKILLERS!!!
    Panic Room > Alien 3
    RocknRolla > Swept Away
    War of the Worlds > Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

    These aren’t even close. WTF are you smoking?

  20. “Zack Snyder’s worst film was Watchman, not Sucker punch”… Sometimes it’s even hard to say “to each his own”. This is a good idea for a list, and I agree with most of these.

    By the way, great call on Burn After Reading. It’s just a terrible film, I got the feeling that everyone involved, included the Coens, knew that something was off.

  21. Tastes will differ. I realise this. However, I think a lot people have been absolutely right to say that some of these are just the WRONG choices.

    “Rocknrolla” wasn’t good. This is true. (Although the last five minutes where the dull character we’ve been following suddenly turns into a badass was pretty entertaining.) The thing is that Rocknrolla was, essentially, a failure to return to form after two absolutely horrifically dreadful films: “Revolver” and “Swept Away”. As bad as “Rocknrolla” was, those other two are the real let-downs in Guy Ritchie’s career.

    To be honest, Sherlock Holmes is yet another of these movies elevated by Robert Downey Jnr’s performance. It’s really not very well directed. I’m inclined to believe that the success of “Lock Stock” and “Snatch” may well owe a larger debt than previously realised to “Matthew Vaughn” (director of Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass and X Men: First Class) who produced both of those early Guy Ritchie hits.

    Not everyone liked Burn After Reading. The thing is, the Coens have two types of movies. Quirky comedies and serious crime thrillers. In actual fact, if you look closely at their career, ALL of their movies are black comedies. Still, the form those black comedies take goes into one of these two camps. Quirky comedies include movies like “Raising Arizona”, “Hudsucker Proxy” and “A Serious Man”. Serious crime thrillers include movies like “Blood Simple”, “Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men”. Personally I prefer the quirky comedies and to my mind “Burn After Reading” is one of their best.

    The thing is that no matter which kind of Coen brothers movie most appeals to you, the chances are that you felt let down by “The Ladykillers”. It just isn’t as clever, well formed or funny as any of the other Coen brothers movies. Any problems you might have with “Burn After Reading” are just going to seem petty by comparison to this rather less ambiguously disappointing film.

    A lot of people are pointing out “Alien 3” as David Fincher’s least impressive movie, but I cannot possibly agree. “Alien 3”, “Seven” and “Fight Club” are my favourite Fincher entries. I’m not so keen on “The Game” and “Panic Room” but I don’t think either of them were major disappointments. “Panic Room” just seems like a big let-down because everyone was so pumped by “Seven” and “Fight Club”, so “Panic Room”‘s failings were that much more obvious. For me, however, the biggest let-down from Fincher (and to be honest, I really wasn’t terribly impressed by “The Social Network”) was “Zodiac”. “Zodiac” has no satisfying ending. It has fairly banal scenes where people who are about to die horribly barely get a chance to show any character before being slaughtered and pretty much everything that happens in the film is instantly forgettable. Perhaps “Zodiac” deserves some credit for trying to do something different, but that’s little consolation for me while it’s sending me to sleep.

    I agree with you that, as much as Zack Snyder gets a lot of badmouthing, I was extremely surprised by the bad reviews for Sucker Punch (which unsurprisingly mean that I haven’t seen the film myself). While Zack Snyder might not have a reputation as a great filmmaker, he has a reputation for making films that are fun and I absolutely agree that, whatever else, “Dawn of the Dead”, “300” and “Watchmen” were all really solid fun movies with a great deal more to them than the average Hollywood trash.

    To add my own contribution:
    Quentin Tarantino – Death Proof. Seriously what the hell was going on there? Loads of time building up some of the most annoying characters ever only to replace them with a completely different set of similarly annoying characters who we barely know. Finally ends with a driving sequence which is, to be frank, mostly pretty dull. The Grindhouse team-up ended up making Rodriguez look like the better director. As much as I love Rodriguez (when he’s not making kids’ movies), Quentin Tarantino ought to be able to knock spots off him.

  22. I rather enjoyed Panic Room. Sure, it didn’t do anything special but not all movies need to be great just entertaining, and Panic Room was entertaining. And dare I say but Dwight Yoakam needs to be in more movies. Sling Blade, Minus Man, and Panic Room, he’s always been good to great and doesn’t mind playing a POS.

    Burn After Reading is rather enjoyable also. Pitt is amazingly funny and steals the movie. The best thing about the Coens’ is their lesser films are better then most other films, again not everything a Director does needs to be Oscar worthy.

  23. I’ve consistently disagreed with the negative reviews for Sucker Punch. I’ve read and heard about how Hollywood can’t think of anything original and all they do is remake movies or give us the exact same movie as a sequel (Hangover 2). Yet when someone comes up with an original and entertaining movie it gets hammered with negativity. Now I get it if you don’t like it. But I read the exact same review for Fast 5 when you watched it and you raved about it. You gave the same reasoning for why you like/disliked the movies but one gets a great review and the other didn’t. That makes no sense.

  24. I really liked Rocknrolla, actually, and have to add my voice to the cry of “What about Swept Away?”. At least Rocknrolla stayed true to from. Oh, and don’t get me STARTED on Revolver. I have nothing interesting to say about it, so don’t even BOTHER getting me started.

    I too disliked War of the Worlds, but I haven’t seen the other 3 movies on the list.

  25. sorry but saying that Sucker Punch sucks is like saying that Watchmen does it too considering how similar is in terms of contruction of the events, musical spaces and photography and in a way brutality. Sucker Punch is actually a good movie even thought few liked it.

  26. Dude, if you think sucker punch is a truly awful movie then you have some serious issues !! It might not have won any awards or a 5 star rating at the cinemas, but it surely was not one of the worst movies ever !! Your taste in movies must not be very good if you think that movie stinks.
    I want to know what you think is a great movie ? If you think Brokeback mountain is an excellent movie, yup, your gay !
    This movie sucker punch was great, hot women, great fight scenes and a story that leaves you thinking, what is not great about that ??
    You need to rethink your ideas of a great movie there bud. . . . because I think you never even watched that movie at all and if you did, then you must be gay. ..

  27. Umm, have you seen Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers? Those two are without a doubt the low point of the Coen’s career. Not to mention, Burn After Reading is nowhere near their least best effort.

    True RocknRolla was bad, but Revolver was even worse.

    I can agree with you on Panic Room. Fincher can be given leniency for all that happened on Alien 3; however, with Panic Room it felt like he specifically set out to make your typical “Hollywood” thriller that anyone could have made.

  28. Personally, I thought Sucker Punch was absolutely fantastic. But I’m weird and I like really out-there, stylized, crazy movies like that. Some people just can’t handle those types of movies. Psh. Mortals.

  29. I don’t understand why everyone hates “Suckerpunch” so much. I thought it was a pretty good movie – not the greatest movie ever, but good. Also, War of the Worlds was much better than that last Indiana Jones travesty.

  30. This list has a lot of problems. Ladykillers was much worse film than Burn After Reading. Swept Away better than RocknRolla? Are you insane….or have at least never heard of imdb? War of the Worlds was often very harrowing and it was very faithful in may ways to the original classic novel. Best of all it retained the point to the original story where a powerful empire is turned in to the overmatched indigenous people by invaders who lose it all in the end because of the inherit problem with occupying another nation. It even made it more topical by referencing the Middle East by having Cruise essentially becoming a suicide bomber at one point. All interesting ideas. Plus that movie made a serious amount of money.

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