20 directors who hated their own movies, from Stanley Kubrick to David Fincher

·11 min read
 (Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox)
(Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox)

There’s no denying that making a film is difficult.

Not only does getting a story from script to screen cost millions (at least, those with well-known actors do), but it also requires both cast and crew to devote years to a singular project.

Despite filmmaking being a labour of love, there are still occasions when a director – the person who arguably spends the most amount of time working on a film – can dislike the final results.

The majority of cases stem from studio interference: when filmmakers have to make changes to their work due to creative differences with the financiers.

Other common causes for dissatisfaction are when directors are rushed into a project (mainly sequels), when they regret an early artistic decision, or – in Steven Soderbergh’s case – when they knew 15 minutes in there was a problem but continued anyway.

Below are 20 directors who dislike their own films, including David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and a few Marvel directors.

David O’Russell Accidental Love

David O Russell began working on Nailed in 2008. Envisioning the film as a romantic comedy with political undertones, the director cast Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal in leading roles, and was awarded $2m (£2m) to make it – and still, the entire filming process was a mess. The set was shutdown a reported 14 times after cast and crew complained about not being paid. Eventually, after key scenes failed to be filmed during production, the entire thing was abandoned. After Russell started getting Oscar attention for The Fighter and American Hustle, though, the studio wanted to release Nailed in cinemas; work continued on the film without Russell’s involvement. The film was, retitled Accidental Love, was released in cinemas, with the director’s name changed to Stephen Greene. Critics, naturally, hated the result.

Alan Smithee/Arthur Hiller – An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn

A film about the pseudonym Alan Smithee that ironically ended up being an Alan Smithee film. Arthur Hiller had no intention of disowning Burn Hollywood Burn, which aimed to lampoon the Hollywood system. The film centred on a director, named Alan Smithee (played by Eric Idle), who hands in a cut of a film only for the studio to recut the entire thing. Life mirrored art as the studio behind Burn Hollywood Burn took the film away from Hiller, who ended up using the Smithee pseudonym on the release.

David Fincher – Alien 3

David Fincher was just 2 when the producers of Alien decided to bring the upstart on board their second sequel. With just five weeks’ preparation time, an unfinished script, and no real clout behind his name, Fincher struggled with the film. “Oh, it was just awful,” he later said. “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.” In 2009, while promoting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fincher elaborated: “I had to work on it for two years, got fired off it three times and I had to fight for every single thing. No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”

Tony Kaye – American History X

There are few directors who have gone so actively out of their way to discourage people from watching their film as Tony Kaye. Unhappy with the way the studio, New Line, had re-cut American History X, the filmmaker wrote multiple open letters – published by the trade press – telling people to avoid the final version. He even had the film pulled from Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “I had tried to get my name taken off it, and replaced with various pseudonyms,” Kaye wrote in The Guardian, three years after the release. “One was ‘Humpty Dumpty’. Another was ‘Ralph Coates’, who played for Tottenham in the 1970s.” The Directors Guild of America would not allow Kaye to change his name, and he has bitterly lived with the accolade of directing the cult classic ever since.

Tony Kaye has distanced himself from Edward Norton film ‘American History X’ (New Line Cinema)
Tony Kaye has distanced himself from Edward Norton film ‘American History X’ (New Line Cinema)

Joss Whedon – Avengers: Age of Ultron

The first Avengers film brought a host of disparate superheroes together, and in the process made over $1.bn (£1.15bn) at the box-office. Balancing all those characters was tough, and come the sequel, Age of Ultron, the director was worn down. Whedon apparently couldn’t muster the ability to watch the entire film after completion, saying: “I’m tied and I had a terrible time.” A year later, in 2016, the filmmaker clarified his comments. “I was so beaten down by the process. Some of that was conflicting with Marvel, which is inevitable. A lot of it was about my own work, and I was also exhausted.” Whedon added that he remains “proud” of the film, yet there are still things about the film that “frustrate” him hugely.

Mathieu Kassovitz – Babylon AD

Before Babylon AD reached cinemas in the UK, the director, Mathieu Kassovitz, was trying to distance himself from the Vin Diesel-led project. “The movie is supposed to teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet,” he said. “All the action scenes had a goal: they were supposed to be driven by either a metaphysical point of view or experience for the characters... instead parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24.” Kassovitz later added the film was “pure violence and stupidity”.

Joel Schumacher – Batman & Robin

Almost everyone involved with Batman & Robin seems to hate the final product. George Clooney has apologised for his Bat-nippled version of the Caped Crusader, while late director Joel Schumacher said sorry multiple times. “Look, I apologise,” he said in 2017. “I want to apologise to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.” After the maligned film reached cinemas, Schumacher said he was treated like “scum”. “It was like I had murdered a baby,” he continued.

Dennis HopperCatchfire

In 1992, Dennis Hopper joined the ranks of directors who released their film under the pseudonym Alan Smithee (famously used when filmmakers disown their own film). Originally called Catchfire, the Jodie Foster-starring thriller about a woman who enters witness protection was later retitled Backtrack, and 20 minutes were cut for the straight-to-VHS release. Hopper rarely spoke about the film; he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from the doomed project.

Everyone involved with ‘Batman & Robin’ has called it was a disaster – including late director Joel Schumacher (Warner Bros Pictures)
Everyone involved with ‘Batman & Robin’ has called it was a disaster – including late director Joel Schumacher (Warner Bros Pictures)

Jerry Lewis – The Day the Clown Cried

Jerry Lewis’s The Day the Clown Cried has never been released. The director, who also starred as the leading character, locked the film – about a clown arrested in Nazi Germany for drunkenly defaming Hitler – in a private vault after completion. Lewis thought the film was so “bad, bad, bad” that he often refused to discuss the project, only commenting very occasionally. “I was ashamed of the work and I was grateful I had the power to contain it all and never let anyone see it,” he said in 2013, adding: “It could have been wonderful but I slipped up – I didn’t quite get it.”

David Lynch – Dune

Following the success of his Oscar Best Picture winner The Elephant Man, David Lynch could have done almost anything. Despite having not read the book, Lynch agreed to adapt Dune, choosing the project over the third Star Wars, Return of the Jedi. Lynch soon started work on turning Frank Herbert’s epic novel into a screenplay, turning in over five drafts. Yet, despite the preparation time, the final results were less than satisfactory for the director. “I started selling out on Dune,” he said. “Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in.” The book was adapted with better results by Denis Villeneuve in 2021.

Josh Trank – Fantastic Four

Everything was looking good for Fantastic Four before filming began; some of Hollywood’s most promising actors were playing the main characters – Michael B Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell – while Josh Trank, coming off the back of runaway success Chronicle, was hired to direct. During post-production, though, everything fell apart. Trank was forced by the studio, Fox, to do extensive reshoots (you can tell which scenes were reshot because Mara’s wig looks awful and Teller has varying lengths of stubble). The month before the film’s release, the director spoke out on Twitter. “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this,” he wrote. “And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” The film bombed at the box office, making between $5m and $10m (£3.8m and £7.6m).

Josh Trank was vocal about his dislike of the finished cut of ‘Fantastic Four’ (20th Century Fox)
Josh Trank was vocal about his dislike of the finished cut of ‘Fantastic Four’ (20th Century Fox)

Stanley Kubrick Fear and Desire

Few filmmakers have spotless filmographies, and Stanley Kubrick believed the blotch on his to be Fear and Desire – the renowned-perfectionist’s cinematic debut. As his stature as a director grew, Kubrick was said to grow increasingly disgruntled with the anti-war film about four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Reports emerged in the 1960s that Kubrick had destroyed the original negative print, and was hoping to destroy all leftover prints. In 1964, Kubrick called the film “a serious effort, ineptly done”.

Kevin Yagher – Hellraiser: Bloodline

The fourth film in the horror series Hellraiser had a troubled production. Original director Kevin Yagher was ordered by the studio to reshoot scenes, which he refused to do. Joe Chappelle stepped in, leading to Yagher demanding the Alan Smithee pseudonym be used. The final film – which acted as both a prequel and a sequel to the other three films – was not screened for critics, and was dismissed by many fans.

Noah BaumbachHighball

Noah Baumbach is now a beloved filmmaker (thanks to The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Marriage Story), but he wasn’t always as acclaimed. Baumbach despised his second film, Highball, so much that his directing credit was changed to Ernie Fusco and his writer’s one to Jesse Carter. “It was just too ambitious,” he said of the film, which concerns a newly married couple who end up inviting too many people to their Brooklyn flat for a party. “We didn’t have enough time, we didn’t finish it, it didn’t look good, it was just a whole... mess. We couldn’t get it done, and I had a falling out with the producer. He abandoned it, and I had no money to finish it, to go back and maybe get two more days or something.” It was later released on DVD without Baumbach’s approval.

Tomas AlfredsonThe Snowman

While Swedish director Tomas Alfredson received acclaim for the Oscar-nominated Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, his follow-up film, mystery thriller The Snowman, was ripped apart by critics. “Our shoot time in Norway was way too short,” he explained following the film’s release. “We didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing.” Alfredson added that, despite The Snowman being in development for years, with Martin Scorsese once attached as director, around 10 to 15 per cent of the script wasn’t filmed. “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture,” he added.

Alan Taylor – Thor: The Dark World

Alan Taylor – of Game of Thrones and Sopranos fame – seemed a perfect fit for Thor,. When the sequel was released, though, many were disappointed with the finished product. Taylor later criticised the project, saying: “The Marvel experience was particularly wrenching because I was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie. So, that is something I hope never to repeat and don’t wish upon anybody else.”

Michael Bay – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The first Transformers was a decent-enough popcorn film. Critics may not have been enamoured by the CGI blockbuster, but they hated the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, even more. Director Michael Bay agreed. “When I look back at it, that was crap,” he said of the film in 2011. “The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks. I was prepping a movie for months where I only had 14 pages of some idea of what the movie was. It’s a BS way to make a movie.”

Even Michael Bay knows that his ‘Transformers’ sequel was rubbish (Paramount Pictures)
Even Michael Bay knows that his ‘Transformers’ sequel was rubbish (Paramount Pictures)

Steven Soderbergh – The Underneath

“I think it’s a beautiful film to look at and I think the score is beautiful,” Steven Soderbergh once said of The Underneath, “but 15 seconds in, I know we’re in trouble because of how f***ing long it takes to get through those opening credits. That’s just an indication of what’s wrong with this thing: it’s just totally sleepy.” The film, about a recovering gambling addict, was an unsurprising box-office flop. “I can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone other than to look at in the context of someone’s career,” Soderbergh added.

Kiefer Sutherland – Woman Wanted

During the 1990s, Kiefer Sutherland wanted to progress from acting to directing. Although his feature-film debut as filmmaker, 1997’s Truth or Consequences, was not exactly a critical success, he persevered, directing the 2000 flick Woman Wanted. Sutherland was so disappointed with the results, he released the film under the pseudonym Alan Smithee – becoming the last person to ever use the famed name. He has not directed a film since.

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