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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What filmmaker has never made a bad movie?

I’m starting to wonder if all the handwringing over Inceptionis it the greatest movie ever? is it a con? what does it all mean? — is actually a reaction to the idea that it looks like, maybe, Christopher Nolan has never made a bad movie. He’s had a string of films now — Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and now Inception — that, the general consensus seems to be, range from pretty darn good to pretty darn great, with just a few doubters. I’m not among those doubters: I don’t think Nolan has made a bad film. (I have not seen his 1998 film Following, which was made for $6,000 and got a two-screen U.S. release in 1999, but I hope to remedy that very soon.) But of course he hasn’t made very many yet.

Nolan or others: What filmmaker has never made a bad movie?

And could the notion that a filmmaker always gives us really good movies cause us to see all his/her films through rose-colored glasses? In other words, does it get harder to see a film as less than great the more really good films an artist gives us?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • aquila6

    David Fincher.

    And I wish I could say Ridley Scott, but he has turned in a couple of turkeys in the past.

  • Nate

    David Fincher

    Does that include Alien 3?

    I’d add Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ron Clements and John Musker.

    I’d also say Pixar but none of their filmmakers have a big enough resume yet.

  • RyanT

    First directors are thought of the Wrights, specifically, Joe and Edgar Wright. Looked at the filmography and well they haven’t done much. Joe’s Atonement and Pride & Prejudice were just wonderful. Then he made The Soloist which wasn’t bad per se, but maybe stick to period pieces starring Keira Knightley? Heh.

    Edgar of course have made critical and cult favorites Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Hoping lightning will hit once again with Scott Pilgrim!

    Finally, there’s Neill Blomkamp, who only really has District 9 under his belt. Looking forward to seeing what he does next.

  • Abhi

    The Coen Brothers. Some people would say The Ladykillers or Burn After Reading are bad movies but they really are not. They’re just lightweight compared to many other (more ambitious and brilliant) parts of their filmography.

    I haven’t seen the first couple movies on his filmography but I’d say Stanley Kubrick also qualifies.

    Also, Quentin Tarantino. Some of his movies are not as good as others but they’re all still pretty good.

  • Martin Sane

    M. Night Shyamalan. Obviously.

  • Brian


    I haven’t seen the first couple movies on his filmography but I’d say Stanley Kubrick also qualifies.

    I have seen all of Kubrick’s films, and I have to say, unfortunately, that there’s a reason why few people has seen his first — Fear and Desire is, well, bad. It’s not as bad as Kubrick thought it was, but it’s hard to find because he hated it and tried to suppress it as much as he could.

    And despite what everyone says, I’ll never fully believe that Eyes Wide Shut was finished to Kubrick’s satisfaction before he died.

  • aquila6

    Does that include Alien 3?

    Alien³ is not a bad movie. It’s just not what people were expecting.

  • Jacques Tati?

  • JoshDM

    Uwe Boll. Each individual entry of his entire filmography is beyond “bad” that being labeled as “bad” would be a compliment.

  • Uwe Boll

    Whenever I see his name I think of the World of Warcraft movie. Uwe Boll attempted to apply for the job of director, from which Blizzard CEO Paul Sams replied “We will not sell the movie rights, not to you…especially not to you.”

  • Alli

    Speaking of Following, there is a thief in the movie named Cobb. I think I need to go back and watch it again now that I’ve seem Inception. I haven’t seen the movie in years, and I only watched it once, so I can’t remember if I liked it or not.

  • Drave

    Brad Bird. Of course, he’s only up to three, but three masterpieces in a row is worth quite a bit in my book. He’s got three slots in my top twenty animated films of all time.

    Yeah, I’m having a hard time thinking of any directors who have made more than five films and haven’t had any duds. I’d put Jean-Pierre Jeunet on the list, but I haven’t seen any of his work before Delicatessen, and I know a lot of people will crucify me for saying Alien: Resurrection is a deeply underrated film.

  • Ang Lee. I even liked “Hulk”, and he gets extra points for turning out good work in several totally different genres.

  • doa766

    before the terrible Benjamin Button I would’ve say David Fincher (Alien3 is an Ok horror movie with great photography)

    Insomnia ia an uninspired remake, I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, but Nolan’s first movie, Following is not good, mostly due to the lack of budget but not good anyway

    Tarantino never made a bad movie, Death Proof is not really a movie but it’s not bad anyway and Four Room doesn’t count

    Alejandro Amenabar never made a bad movie (Tesis, Abre los Ojos, The Others, Mar Adentro and Agora)

    this question should only apply to director’s with at least 5 movies, otherwise we could include people like Edward Wright and others

  • doa766

    I meant Edgar Wright on the previous post (WE REALLY NEED AND EDIT BUTTON)

    Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñarritu never made a bad movie, neither did Alfonso Cuaron

    the korean director of The Host, Mother and Memories of Murder has a perfect record so far (don’t remember the spelling)

    I wouldn’t count Paul Anderson because I really dislike Magnolia

  • Jester

    Jason Reitman. Even the couple of his short films that I’ve seen are terrific. I hope he expands In God We Trust into a feature.

    That said, he’s only got three features under his belt so far.

  • Captain Swing

    Can I second Jacques Tati?

  • Rose

    Funny you say the Coen Brothers, I’ve never seen a film of theres that didn’t put me to sleep.

    Now, I can’t say he has never made a bad film as such, but he has never made a humdrum film – Terry Gilliam.

  • jimmy

    paul thomas anderson, spike jonze, j.j abrams, zach snyder, darren arnofsky

  • JoshDM

    paul thomas anderson, spike jonze, j.j abrams, zach snyder, darren arnofsky

    Jonze failed me, rather failed us all, with Where the Wild Things Are.

  • Rob

    Baz Luhrmann. Every film of his is a visual, auditory work of art that never fails to inspire me, no matter how many times I see them. Even Australia, which received a bit of a critical drubbing, contained beauty and splendor the likes of which few directors accomplish.

    I’m also tempted to say PT Anderson, but I haven’t yet seen all of his films.

  • Ken

    You folks won’t like this but I would add Mel Gibson. HIs first movie, Man Without a Face wasn’t great but it surely wasn’t bad. The Passion of the Christ was certainly controversial, but if taken merely from the perspective of a non-biased fan watching a movie about what supposedly happened to a guy named Jesus Christ, I thought it was pretty good (mind you, I’m not the religious sort, I’m just looking for good storytelling and good acting). And I’m not sticking up for the guy. He’s a piece of crap who is probably done with Hollywood (other than some bad reality series perhaps years down the road.)

    What do you think?:

    Apocalypto (2006)
    … aka “Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto” – USA (promotional title)
    The Passion of the Christ (2004)
    … aka “The Passion Recut” – International (English title) (cut version), USA (recut version)

    Braveheart (1995)
    The Man Without a Face (1993)

  • Nati

    Tarantino, mainly. Only Jackie Brown was short of absolutely brilliant. Death Proof is underrated as all hell.

    There’s two or three Coen Brothers movies I haven’t seen, but they too are staggeringly good. Personally I can’t understand why everybody isn’t completely obsessed with Miller’s Crossing – the greatest in a great oeuvre.

    Aronofsky is actually the only director without a single movie I didn’t get very excited about. I can’t wait to see his next stuff. Paul Thomas Anderson only has Sydney in terms of unexciting (but still good) films.

    That’s pretty much it, though I suspect once I see more of Wes Anderson’s, Nolan’s, Bergman’s, Mike Leigh’s and Peter Jackson’s films they’ll join the ranks, or at least some of them are likely to.

    I’m not sure what that means. Possibly the fact these guys aren’t frantically prolific contributes to this – I hear Daniel Day-Lewis only does acting jobs when he thinks the material’s good enough – as opposed to just working whenever he can like most, even successful actors, and that probably contributes to the good impression we have of him.

    In answer to your question, though, I think that seeing a few really good movies by one director makes us expect and hope that all his others would be as good, but I can say of myself that I’ve had the experience of seeing three or four really good movies by the same director and getting really excited, and then finding out they have as much medicore material as brilliant – I had this happen to me with Scorcese, Almodovar, Cronenberg and (dare I say it) James Cameron, among others. I tried very hard to like everything else by these people, but sometimes it’s just crap – though, if I could convince myself that it wasn’t, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing. I don’t think any of this “quality assessment” is objective anyhow.

    In spite of myself, though, I find myself admiring people who have never made a god-awful film. Possibly it just means they’re less adventurous, but it seems to me also to suggest that they compromise less and never operate without passion. But what do we know about any of these things at the end of the day?

  • Can’t believe no one has mentioned Hayao Miyazaki yet.

  • Brian

    George Lucas had a great streak going until he made the prequels. Up to that point, the only features he had actually directed were THX 1138, American Grafitti, and Star Wars (A New Hope). Every one a bloody masterpiece.

    And then we all know what happened after 1999. Let us not speak of it.

  • Linda Binda

    William Wyler? Billy Wilder?

    I haven’t seen a single Wilder film, and I’ve only seen Ben Hur and Wuthering Heights by the former, but their résumés look pretty damn good, regardless.

    William Wyler: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0943758/
    Billy Wilder: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000697/

  • mickche

    would you count Peter Weir

  • Hank Graham

    Sorry, gang, I think you’re going way too easy on these.

    Films are such complicated creations it is inevitable that if you keep making them, you will eventually make something that doesn’t work.

    I love Scorsese, but “Gangs of New York” is a bloated misfire. I love Nolan, but “The Prestige” had two such awful characters at its heart that it was impossible to care what happened to either of them (sorry, MaryAnn!). I love Kubrick, but “Eyes Wide Shut” couldn’t have been saved if you’d added the lost reels from “The Magnificent Ambersons” to it. And Fincher’s “Alien³” fails so spectacularly that I find it a bit perverse some are defending it here.

    Kurasawa made “Dodes’Ka-Den.” John Ford made “Mary of Scotland” (a two-fer: bad in its own right, and it managed to make Katharine Hepburn look silly). Coppolla made “The Godfather, Part III.” Spike Jonze has “Where the Wild Things Are.”

    The thing is that making just ONE masterpiece makes up for any number of failures. “Fight Club” would redeem a number of bad Alien movies. “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001,” and “Clockwork Orange” are remembered while “Eyes Wide Shut” will be (justly) forgotten. And “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” makes me forget “The Prestige.”

    And yeah, Shymalan bit the big one with “The Last Airbender,” but that doesn’t diminish “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”

  • nicknack

    first off I have to disagree with Mr. Graham here and say that The Prestige was a very well made movie. Both characters(though quite despicable taken at face value) were multi-faceted, intriguing, and not without redeeming qualities. Not unlike many blokes one would encounter in real life. Now onto the subject at hand. Lets throw James Cameron into the tussle. Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens(a personal fav), The Abyss, Titantic(pretty gay but not a bad movie), and Avatar. Not too shabby.

  • Dart

    The Coen brothers. Their worst films are medicore at worst (“Intolerable Cruelty,” “Ladykillers,etc”). Even if they’re incredibly light and quirky (some would say these are bad qualities), they’re still well-acted, energetic and beautifully shot. And I once heard someone say that the Coen brothers at their worst is better than some people at their best. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Nate

    Now onto the subject at hand. Lets throw James Cameron into the tussle. Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens(a personal fav), The Abyss, Titantic(pretty gay but not a bad movie), and Avatar.

    Except he also made Piranha 2 and True Lies

  • matth

    Another way to put this question is, if you ranked directors by how bad their worst film is, whose worst film is best? Nolan does really well. Aronofsky might do better, depending on how you feel about The Fountain. The Coens are undone by “The Ladykillers.” As for Fincher, depending on your sensibilities, you might defend Alien 3, or you might defend BB, but I doubt anyone liked *both* of them.

    Of course, Nolan’s only made 6 movies. If we were talking about the Coens after their 6th movie, they would win this competition hands-down (I think Hudsucker would be their weakest, but it’s still a hell of a movie).

  • LaSargenta

    This is a really hard question for me conceptually as it is more than just the director who determines the film. Also. I really like two directors who, unfortunately, are pack rats and did a lot of student films: Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders. So, they’d qualify if someone had burned a lot of that shit instead of actually allowing it to be shown at theaters for retrospective surveys.

    Too, with someone who’s vision intrigues me, I get something out of even their turkeys and will watch them again and again. (Wells, Ken Russell, Jarman, Peckinpaugh, and the guy who’s name escapes me at the mommet — did French Connection, Exorcist, Cruising…? I’m also blanking on the Italian director who did Il Grande Silencio.) Please pardon me. 3 hours of sleep last night. Head like a sieve.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    I was going to say Miyazaki, but I think “Ponyo” may actually count as a bad film. Even if I’m too old to be the target audience for the film, It still was nowhere near as engaging as Totoro.

    Brad Bird has a great streak going on, and I’d include both Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch, How to Train your Dragon) and Mark Dindal (Cats Don’t Dance, Emperor’s New Groove, and Chicken Little). The problem is that Chicken little and Cats Don’t Dance were not commercial successes, despite one being a great film, and the other being fun, while Sanders had “American Dog” taken way and transformed into Bolt, which may either have been considered a mercy kill or a travesty.

    Can’t add Peter Jackson on that list. He’s made some good bad movies, but I doubt more than a few people could justify “Meet the Feebles” as anything more than a guilty pleasure.

  • nyjm

    *Applauds MaryAnn for slyly creating a discussion that functions to critique Rotten Tomatoes and all the other recent brouhaha concerning movies’ “perfect scores”*

  • CB

    Alien³ is not a bad movie. It’s just not what people were expecting.

    Personally I think Alien 3 is highly underrated; a lot of that I think is bad blood over the killing off of characters people wanted to see again.

    I also think Alien 4 is highly overrated, and yes I’m aware it is not viewed favorably.

    On the other hand, it was clearly either the genesis of or some kind of larval form of Firefly, so maybe it’s a good thing it exists?

  • allochthon

    Who is Brad Bird? IMDB is failing me…

  • allochthon

    Oops, there we go. Why is “Director” buried under “Misc crew?”

  • Tammy Rizzo

    What’s this? No love for Hitchcock? Granted, I haven’t seen every Hitchcock film ever made, but I’d be quite surprised if he’d ever made a truly bad movie.

  • crape69

    I saw some love for both Tarantino and Fincher, which is deserving. In saying that, I haven’t quite gotten around to his Alien film and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to anymore. I am definitely sick of waiting on the Social Network though, it’s one of my 5 most anticipated of the year (with Kick-Ass, Inception, Black Swan, and Shutter Island which sucked)

    I own every Tarantino film and have yet to be disappointed, I think he’s magnificant. To be fair, it’s obvious that he put more work into his films, judging by the huge gaps between films so you have to have high hopes, as opposed to like a Uwe Boll (yuck) or Christopher Nolan (just kidding, he’s mind-blowingly good)

    Aside from QT, Fincher, and Nolan, I love Aronofsky, Scorcese, Guy Ritchie (who’s getting no respect), The Coen brothers, Hitchcock, and of course, Judd Apatow (where’s the love?)

  • Nate

    Guy Ritchie (who’s getting no respect),

    Because he did Swept Away and Revolver

    Judd Apatow (where’s the love?)

    He’s only directed three films

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