Terrible movies by great directors

March 31, 2024

Cinematic disasters Hollywood’s greatest geniuses would love to forget — starring Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher, and more.

Terrible movies by great directors


how us a director who never created at least one genuine turkey of a movie, and we’ll show you a director with an extremely short career. There’s simply too many things that can go wrong once a movie goes into production: The budget can get slashed, filming might start before the script is finalized, key actors could drop out, and the studio could meddle in all sorts of irksome ways. That’s why titans of cinema like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott all have at least one movie they wish they could erase from their IMDB page. Some of them were made when they were young novices without any real ability to say no. Some of them were made at the peak of their powers when they made horrid bad decisions out of greed, hubris, or temporary insanity. And many were shot in the waning days of their careers when getting a green light for any project was difficult.

With all this in mind, we assembled this list of truly terrible movies by otherwise brilliant directors. We know some of these will be controversial choices. There are folks out there that truly love Alien 3, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, and Jupiter Ascending. One moviegoer’s disaster is another moviegoer’s cult classic. But we don’t think there are many hardcore Jack, North, or Wild, Wild West fans out there. These are terrible, terrible movies. If we gave truth serum to Francis Ford Coppola, Rob Reiner, and Barry Sonnenfeld, they’d all likely agree.

The 15:17 to Paris (Clint Eastwood)

In 2016, Clint Eastwood took the real-life story of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger — who famously landed a commercial airline on the Hudson River after the engines blew out — and made an acclaimed hit movie out of it, even though the central drama took place over just a few minutes. For his follow-up project two years later, The 15:17 to Paris, he made a similar movie about three Americans who foiled a terrorist attack on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. Tom Hanks played the lead role in Sully, but Eastwood decided to cast the real-life heroes in The 15:17 to Paris. It was a huge mistake since they simply weren’t professional actors. Their big moment of heroism, like Sully’s, lasted just a few moments. That forced Eastwood to pad the story out in monumentally boring ways by showing their life before the incident, and the aftermath of it. Almost none of it was compelling. “[Eastwood] almost seems to be testing the limits of minimalism, seeing how much artifice he can strip away and still achieve some kind of dramatic impact,” The New York Times wrote. “There is not a lot of suspense, and not much psychological exploration, either.” His 2014 movie Jersey Boys was arguably slightly worse, but we’re going to stick with The 15:17 to Paris as the worst movie Eastwood made throughout a very, very long career.

Terrible movies by great directors

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(Steven Spielberg)

At a key moment in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldbum’s character explains why the dinosaur theme park isn’t a very good idea. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could,” he said, “they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Spielberg should have applied this lesson to himself when he succumbed to years of pressure in 2008 and made a fourth Indiana Jones movie. The third one ended beautifully with Indiana Jones and his father literally riding off together into the sunset. When the story resumes two decades later, it’s 1957 and Jones discovers he has a teenage son, played by Shia LaBeouf. They travel to Peru, trailed by Soviet spies, and eventually come across ancient aliens in a temple. Once the thrill of seeing our old friend Indy after all these years washes away, it becomes clear this just isn’t a very compelling story. (We didn’t even mention the moment where Indy survives a nuclear blast in a refrigerator.) The fifth movie was arguably even worse, but Spielberg had the good sense to pass the directing baton to James Mangold for that one. In a better world, only the first three movies would exist.

A Good Year (Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott is at his best when he tries to make something really big, whether that’s a horror movie about a killer extraterrestrial on a spaceship (Alien), an historical epic about a Roman warrior (Gladiator), or a dystopian sci-fi flick about an android hunter (Blade Runner). In 2006, however, he aimed oddly low when he reunited with Gladiator star Russell Crowe for a romantic comedy about a British investment banker who renovates a French estate he inherits from his uncle. It’s incredibly boring and not even remotely funny. “A Good Year is the movie equivalent of poring over a glossy brochure for a luxury vacation you could never afford while a roughneck salesman (Mr. Crowe) who imagines he has class harangues you to hurry up and make a decision about taking the tour,” Stephen Holden wrote in a review. “My advice is to resist the pitch.”

Boxcar Bertha (Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese was a young director still trying to make a name for himself when he agreed to shoot this Bonnie and Clyde knockoff for Roger Corman on a shoestring budget. It stars Barbara Hershey as an orphan at the height of the Great Depression who teams up with a union boss and starts robbing trains. Like every Corman exploitation movie of this time, it’s packed with sex and violence. Scorsese does everything he can to rise above the budget and source material, but it’s ultimately hopeless. His follow-up project, however, was Mean Streets. It meant he’d never have to take on a work-for-hire project like Boxcar Bertha ever again.

Jack (Francis Ford Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola’s Seventies run of The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather II, and Apocalypse Now is probably the greatest four-movie streak in the history of Hollywood. But things took a major turn in the Eighties and Nineties due to high-profile fiascos like The Cotton Club and The Godfather III. By 1996, he was reduced to taking work-for-hire directing jobs like Jack. That’s the unfortunate movie where Robin Williams plays a child whose body grows at four times the normal rate. It’s a decent premise for a serious drama, but this is actually a comedy. He has water-balloon fights with his middle school buddies, buys them porn, and waits for the day he’ll die tragically young. It ends seven years in the future with an elderly Jack delivering a graduation speech, clearly on the verge of death. The movie was a modest box-office hit, but the critics roasted it. It’s only grown worse with age, especially since Bill Cosby plays Jack’s tutor. And whatever one thinks about the movie today, it was certainly beneath the talents of a titan like Coppola.

Alien 3 (David Fincher)

David Fincher had a very difficult task in front of him when he signed on to make the third Alien movie. The 28-year-old director had spent the past few years creating ambitious music videos for superstars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Aerosmith. But he’d never made a movie, and this one had to follow Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking Alien — and James Cameron’s brilliant Aliens. The project had already been through several script rewrites when Fincher was hired, and the studio second-guessed his every move during the agonizing shoot and editing process. The final product is an absolute mess that nullifies the events of Aliens and ends with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character dying, but it’s tough to blame Fincher for it. He was in way over his head, and the studio didn’t have any faith in him. “A lot of people hated Alien 3,” Fincher said in 2009, “but no one hated it more than I did.” Three years after the Alien 3 fiasco, Fincher directed Seven. It turned him into one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, leaving Alien 3 as little more than a tough lesson from his past. “I learned then just to be a belligerent director,” he said in 2009, “which was really, ‘You have to get what you need to get out of it.’ You have to fight for things you believe in, and you have to be smart about how you position it so that you don’t just become white noise.”

– RollingStone.com

Terrible movies by great directors