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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

Relatively unknown films from some of the biggest names in movie-making.

10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies
Jon Mundy
18 May 2024

To be a famous movie director is to be in an enviable position. It’s you that comes up with the ideas, casts the hottest actors, and dictates the conversation within your country’s movie industry.

That’s not to say that every film from a famous director is a runaway hit. Name us a well-known director with an extensive body of work behind them, and we’ll name you at least one film you probably forgot they ever made – if you even knew that it existed in the first place.

These films might have suffered from a troubled production, poor marketing, a critical mauling, or box office disaster. Perhaps audiences didn’t warm to them, or maybe they’re simply flanked by far more ‘important’ entries in the director’s filmography.

Whatever the reason, it’s a fascinating exercise to pick through some of the most famous directors and identify their not-so-famous movies. Which of these is your favourite? Be sure to vote below.

10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

1. Tim Burton and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

It would be inaccurate to call Pee-wee’s Big Adventure an unfamous movie. This spin-off from a popular early ’80s stage show proved to be a big enough hit that it spawned two sequels. What’s often overlooked is that it was also the feature film debut of a certain Tim Burton. This is probably indicative of the fact that Burton would subsequently embark on his own highly idiosyncratic path through Hollywood, setting out a bold signature style with Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissor Hands. Among such company, this deeply conventional comedy is something of an odd one out.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

2. Steven Spielberg and Always

Name a Steven Spielberg film, any Steven Spielberg film. We have no idea what you’re going to say, but it almost certainly won’t be Always. Indeed, we wouldn’t be at all surprised if you drew a complete blank at the mere mention of the film. Perhaps that’s because it launched in the same year (1989) as an altogether more famous Spielberg effort, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This gentle remake of the 1946 romantic drama A Guy Named Joe never stood a chance against Indy, even with Audrey Hepburn appearing in her final film role.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

3. Peter Jackson and Meet The Feebles

Peter Jackson’s early domestic career as a purveyor of bad taste (also the name of his first film) is pretty well established by now. However, the Lord of the Rings director’s second movie, Meet the Feebles, tends to be overlooked. It’s an odd film alright, playing out like a particularly subversive spin on The Muppets. Meet The Feebles follows a cast of ostensibly cute anthropomorphic animal puppets on tour with their musical production, then uncovers their seedy private lives in a manner that would leave Miss Piggy staring bashfully at her shoes.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

4. Brian De Palma and Blow Out

Five years on from Carrie and just two years before Scarface, Brian De Palma released a movie called Blow Out starring John Travolta. The Saturday Night Fever actor plays a sound effects technician who stumbles upon evidence of a political assassination. Not ringing any bells? That’s understandable given that it didn’t make much of an impression with audiences at the time, failing to get close to making back its $18 million production budget. It remains an effective Hitchcockian suspense thriller, however, and one that has well and truly earned its latter day cult status.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

5. Ridley Scott and Someone to Watch Over Me

After making three visually distinctive genre films in Alien, Blade Runner, and Legend, few would have predicted that Ridley Scott’s next move would be a slick contemporary erotic thriller, the likes of which were ten-a-penny in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Perhaps the film’s generic nature – as well as its flat box office performance – explains why it’s so easy to forget. Scott still manages to imbue this rote thriller with his slick visual style, though, and there’s a recognisable dash of Vangelis in the score.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

6. James Cameron and Piranha II: The Spawning

For at least 30 years now, James Cameron has been the kind of titanic (pun intended) Hollywood director who can dictate the terms of his next project. That’s tough to believe if you scan back to his feature debut. Cameron’s subsequent proclamations have probably tricked you into thinking this was The Terminator, but it was actually Piranha II: The Spawning. The combative director was airdropped into this schlocky horror sequel, but a low budget, chaotic production, friction over the final edit, and box office calamity resulted in Cameron washing his hands of it.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

7. Scott Derrickson and Hellraiser Inferno

American filmmaker Scott Derrickson is known as a modern master of the horror genre, with acclaimed films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister earning him the keys to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016’s Dr Strange. But the very first film he wrote and directed was 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno, the fifth entry in a horror series that kicked off in 1987. It has the dubious honour of being the first entry to go straight to video, though several eagle-eyed critics at the time praised the movie and noted Derrickson’s potential.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

8. Danny Boyle and Millions

Pop quiz, people: can you name the film that came smack bang in the middle of Danny Boyle’s epic eight-year run of The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire? OK, so this very entry has given the game away, but we wouldn’t blame you if you were still none the wiser. Millions saw the director eschewing his usual gritty tone to make a heart warming family film about a nine-year-old boy chancing upon a bag of cash. If nothing else, it proved that the man behind Trainspotting could also do wholesome.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

9. Rob Reiner and The Sure Thing

It’s easy to forget, but Rob Reiner really was on an epic roll during the initial stages of his directorial career. This Is Spinal, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men all followed one after another between 1984 and 1992. There’s one film missing from that list, however. Reiner’s second movie, The Sure Thing, is often misplaced amidst all that eclectic brilliance. On its own terms, this is a warm-hearted teen comedy that’s perhaps most notable for having given a shockingly young John Cusack his first lead role.

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10 Famous directors and their not-so-famous movies

10. Park Chan-wook and Stoker

You’d think that the first English language film from a highly-rated South Korean auteur would expand said filmmaker’s audience, yet Park Chan-wook’s Stoker feels like a curiously overlooked addition to his oeuvre. It’s not even that this stylish psychological thriller is a bad film - it’s very good indeed, with a killer cast that features Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. Perhaps the director of such uniquely dark fare as Oldboy, The Handmaiden, and Decision to Leave is inextricably bound to his homeland, at least in the audience’s minds.

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