5 Great Indie Directors Who Mishandled Their Transitions to Blockbusters, and 5 More That Could
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5 Great Indie Directors Who Mishandled Their Transitions to Blockbusters, and 5 More That Might

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | November 4, 2013 | Comments ()


Ender’s Game topped the weekend box office, putting up a respectable $28 million, despite controversy surrounding the author of the source material, Orson Scott Card (who recently announced he’d be writing a new set of sequels to Ender’s Game books). The feature is going to need great legs, however, to turn this into a franchise, as so far foreign grosses have not been spectacular, and the $110 million budgeted film is in danger of failing to recoup its investment, which means no sequels.

Meanwhile, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa had a surprisingly great second weekend, falling only 36 percent and putting up another $20 million (the last three entires in the Jackasss series all had drops of somewhere between 44 to 57 percent). Bad Grandpa kept Last Vegas at bay in the third position, with an OK $16.5 million, while the animated Free Birds managed only $16.2 million, despite no competition in the kiddie market.

Speaking of Ender’s middling numbers, director Gavin Hood is no stranger to mediocre offerings. He’s one of the five directors targeted below as indie directors who showed immense potential with small budgets only to fritter it away in the big leagues.

Unsuccessful Transitions from Indie to Blockbuster

Gavin Hood — After breaking through with his powerful, gut-wrenching redemption song, the South African gangster tale, Tsotsi, Gavin Hood struck out with the mediocre Rendition then completely botched X-Men: Origins: Wolverine after on-set tension with the studio. Nevertheless, he got another shot at a blockbuster with Ender’s Game and turned in a decent, though unremarkable feature that’s not likely to further his career.

Seth Gordon — After his phenomenal documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters , many of us had high hopes for Seth Gordon, which he immediately proceeded to fritter away by becoming basically a hired hand for the crappy studio comedies. Four Christmases was abysmal, and though he bounced back with Horrible Bosses (thanks to a terrific cast), he stunk it up again with Identity Thief.

David Gordon Green — Gordon Green is undoubtedly a great filmmaker, as you can see in his best works, George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels. Gordon Green’s first foray into big-budget pictures, Pineapple Express, was a modest success. However, his is subsequent films — The Sitter and Your Highness — were every bit as bad as his best films were good. KEEP THIS MAN AWAY FROM LARGE POCKETBOOKS.

Marc Webb — Webb directed one of my favorite films of the last decade, the anti-rom com rom com(500) Days of Summer, and parlayed that success into helming the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, a movie series that did not need a reboot. The Amazing Spider0Man was better than it had any right to be, and yet it’s still one of the most forgettable superhero films in recent memory, and a total waste of Webb’s talent.

Craig Brewer — Brewer found huge critical success with his first major outing, Hustle and Flow, but slumped so badly with Black Snake Moan that he didn’t land another directing gig for five years. By that time, he’d been reduced to a studio hack hired to direct the Footloose remake, which did inspire one of my favorite review quotes from TK’s assessment: “Footloose doesn’t stumble — it careens off of a cliff with its dick out, screaming with a vulgar incompetence, shitting its pants on the way down.”

Untested Indie Directors Who Have Been Given Blockbusters to Direct

Ryan Coogler — Coogler came out of the gates with the searing, heartbreaking Fruitvale Station (whose Sundance success unfortunately did not translate particularly well at the real-world box office), and now he’s been given the reins to Creed, a sequel of sorts to Rocky, in which Rocky Balboa is asked to mentor the grandson (Michael B. Jordan, in talks) of his old nemesis, Apollo Creed.

Colin Trevorrow — Trevorrow crushed it with his debut effort, Safety Not Guaranteed, so much so that he was on the short-list for Star Wars VII. He didn’t land that gig, but he did manage to land Jurassic Park IV for Steven Spielberg, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Gareth Edwards — Edwards showed tremendous potential with his debut film, Monster — a low-fi alien invasion flick that had the look of a blockbuster — and was given the taks of bringing the Godzilla reboot to the big screen. You can be skeptical all you’d like, but the terrific cast should assuage most concerns: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe. Wow.

James Gunn — Gunn has been bouncing around for a few years with low-budget genre films, Slither and Super, and despite the fact that neither were particularly successful at the box office, Gunn displayed enough potential to land Guardians of the Galaxy for Marvel. It’s got a raccoon! How can it fail?

Duncan Jones — Jones’ terrific debut Moon actually landed him an mid-budget flick, Source Code, so he didn’t technically go from indie straight to blockbusters, but he’s making a huge leap from Source Code to take on 2015’s World of Warcraft adaptation with Michael Fassbender.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Art3mis

    (Sarcastic) possible solution: hire a female indie director to helm your next blockbuster. I think men have proven they just aren't a box office draw.

  • Judge_Snyder

    Black Snake Moan is an excellent film.

  • manting

    I liked it though I can see why it wasn't a commercial success. Half the country does not want to see an oversexed white girl chained up by an older black guy. It is, in fact, their worst nightmare. (besides Obama as President)

  • jettcity

    Safety Not Guaranteed? Other than being a box-checking indie (thus critical darling) movie and making a cinematic mess of a good concept, surprised that this would qualify someone for anything.

  • carrie

    World of Warcraft directed by Duncan Jones will be with Colin Farrell and Paula

    Fassbender will be in Assassin 's Creed

  • Pawesl

    Colin Farrell? Well we already know that is going to be a flop.

  • Yiğitcan Erdoğan

    the only confirmed actor in warcraft so far is the guy who plays ragnar in vikings. farrell and patton are not confirmed.

  • John W

    I think the problem with blockbusters aside from the fact that there are more moving parts is there also more studio interference.

    This is something that Neil Blomkamp spoke about when he directed District 9.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Ah yes, The Amazing Spideroman - the little-seen tale of a talented but down-on-his-luck arachnid-themed Italian-American magician.

  • VonnegutSlut

    I would watch that movie directed my Marc Webb.

  • Idle Primate

    I liked webb's spiderman way more than raimi's. I think if it didn't have the reboot cloud over its head people would have been far more receptive

  • manting

    The first one? The one that followed the comic book with exactness? The one that did the best job of anyone telling the origin story of a superhero? The one that is a template for all other comic book movies that have followed? I would agree that spiderman II and III were junk but spiderman I was great (with the exception of the forced Macy Gray performance at a "Tolerance Day" festival. I get it Sony, you want to promote Macy Gray so you force the director to shoehorn her into your movie.)

  • Buck Stodgers

    Template? You mean it followed the template of the Superman films almost exactly. Take a look back at Superman I-III and you'll see Spiderman I-III copied the plotlines almost directly.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Telling is exactly the problem. Raimi told us a lot of things about Peter Parker. He just didn't show them. Webb did that. Compare the first 30 minutes of both movies sometime. Raimi fails building his main character.

    It may have followed the comic book, but that's only a valid thing if you're a comic fan. It doesn't automatically make for a good movie. Besides, Raimi didn't include the webslingers. Webb did.

  • manting

    I believe when you make a movie based on a book or comic you should follow the source material as much as possible. There are only a handful of movies that are better than the source material. Godfather, Jaws, The Shining, and that's it off the top of my head. The list of movies that don't follow the source material and are inferior to it are beyond counting. So when you say "it may have followed the comic book, but that's only valid if you are a comic fan," that seems like crazy talk. I would add that Rami's spiderman had the biggest opening ever when it premiered and it was acclaimed by comic fans and film critics alike. I find it to be a superior film to the reboot but I liked Garfields spiderman just not the story. The second one looks like it could be really good especially if they FOLLOW THE COMIC and kill gwen stacy.

  • Idle Primate

    Superhero stories have more kinship with mythology than novels. Adapting a novel, you have a singular finite story that you want to translate to the screen. Superheroes are archetypes or templates and endless stories are told by many storytellers who reinvent, interpret, or use as a mirror or metaphor. Stories of the gods get retold, changed and can even be contradictory to one another. There isn't a canon or rulebook. They don't need to adhere to some originating source. The whole point is to keep telling new and different stories. In this sense, most faithful is a fairly meaningless concept and would only servr to stifle the function and wonder of mythological characters

  • Shining Through. It's a crap movie, but man, the book it's based on is worse.

  • manting

    Havent seen it or read it.

  • Skip both, would be my advice.

  • manting

    Im way ahead of you there.

  • Clearly. And I congratulate you.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    You know that a big audience doesn't speak for the quality of any media product? As for the critics, I don't know why they praised it so much. Maybe there was nothing better in the genre at the time?

    I don't expect a movie to surpass its source material. I expect it to stand on its own as a movie. There are always things that do not work when transferring a story to another medium. Slaving it to its source is a recipe for disaster.

    Spider-Man doesn't really achieve standing on its own. It's better than The Fantastic Four and X-Men 3, but that's not hard. However, it's still a movie that with a painting-by-numbers-story, including a fucking damsel in distress, and abysmal actors (especially Kirsten Dunst). The only good thing in it is Willem Dafoe.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It sounds like crazy talk to me to talk about following comics as a source material when they don't even follow themselves.

  • manting

    true - there is some confusion about clones in the spiderman series but that's only a few years of a 50+ year run. Its gotta be hard telling stories for over fifty years when your main character only ages maybe 5 years in that entire time.
    My point being that source material is the reason many people go to see movies. Fans of Enders Game will go see Enders Game, based on box office returns not many who didn't read the book went to see it. Its why most people hated The first Wolverine movie - it didnt follow the source material. Its not a coincidence that Batman and Spiderman have the biggest box office successes - its because they have the largest fan bases and readership. So, yes, I believe that when adapting a book or comic a director/studio/writer should try to follow the source material as closely as possible. It guarantees asses in the seats. The fan base popularity of source material is why the studios bought the rights in the first place.

  • jthomas666

    Kind of like Gavin Hood. Haven't seen Ender's Game yet, but while origins:Wolverine had its problems, those problems were with the story, not the directing. And one that point, Hood did an excellent job

  • Buck Stodgers

    If you watch the special features, you'll see the story choices were Hood's. But aside from that, the fight scenes were horribly directed. Liev Schreiber looked ridiculous running like a dog.

  • WestCoastPat

    Including Marc Webb in this list is a tad unfair. While you might not have enjoyed the Spiderman reboot, it doesn't come close to the disasters helmed by the other four.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Man, Gordon Green's Snow Angels was a great film.
    And by 'great' I mean 'holy shit that fucking destroyed me'.
    All The Real Girls was quality too. Hell, I even loved Pineapple Express.
    But you are correct - do not give this man large sums of money, for shite will inevitably follow. Give him two twigs and a shoe, and greatness manifests.

  • AudioSuede

    Snow Angels should have made a much bigger splash. That entire movie (minus Kate Beckinsale) is beautifully well made.

    Correction: Kate Beckinsale is beautifully well made too, but maybe not so much with the "acting."

  • zeke_the_pig

    Maybe it's because I was so mesmerised by the whole, but I actually enjoyed her work in Snow Angels. I would watch it again to re-assess, but...well, I value my lack of emotional bleeding at the moment.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    hahah, I read that as "watch it again to re-ass"

  • Uriah_Creep

    hahah, I read that as "watch it again to re-ass"

    In that case, best to rewatch Underworld.

    Mmmmm, rubber catsuit...

  • zeke_the_pig

    Also that

  • Guest

    Additional: Zack Snyder

    Yes Dawn of the Dead was a remake (and had a $28 Million budget), but it was a fantastic one.

    300 - Wasn't a complete failure (depending on your taste) but we can all agree the Watchmen was terrible and every one of his subsequent films was gotten worse as the budgets have gotten bigger.

  • manting

    also 300 was enjoyable but it was pornaviolence. You have a ton of overly buff guys thrusting their spears into others guys with blood moneyshots. The movie was made for 14 year old boys and or gay men that are really into violence.

  • sanity fair

    Hey, now. I'm a woman, and I was 28 when I saw Gerard Butler's abs--um, I mean, 300 for the first time. And I really enjoyed it.

  • manting

    ok, but not many women like violence on 300's scale, is that sexist? If so I apologize

  • Haily

    I don't think it's sexist (it might be true) but as a woman whose favourite genres are horror, action, and sci-fi (300 didn't even register on my violence scale to be honest), I'll point out that she's far from the only one.

    Hell my mom liked 300 and she's not into violence. It's the softening effect of how stylized the movie was. Also, the amount of naked man-flesh.

    I thought 300 was ok. It's style over substance, but so what?

  • sanity fair

    I'm definitely an exception, although the 300 violence was so stylized that it didn't bother the other women I know who watched it. Now would I let a little kid watch it? No.

  • manting


  • manting

    I thought watchman was very good. He did an excellent job of adapting the source material and there are dozens of scenes that are lifted right off the pages of Watchmen. I don't think anyone else could have done a better job. It relaunched the career of Jack Earl Haley and launched the career of Jeffrey dean Morgan. If you want to say that Suckerpunch was 2 hours of softcore pseudo porn for 13 year olds from 1993 than I would agree. His superman stacks up against any of the other superman films and is superior to nearly all of them (especially Singer's debacle). Dawn of the Dead was the BEST remake Ive ever seen.

  • Guest

    I'd have to disagree on Snyder's Supes. It was a soulless, and completely unimaginative (but extremely pretty) take on Superman lore. And while yes I would still put it ahead of (or equal to) Singer's at least he (Singer) tried to tell a story past the origin.

    Superman - 78 >=< Superman II - 81 > Superman - 13 = Superman - 06

  • AudioSuede

    There's never been a good Superman movie. They're all poorly acted, poorly written, poorly directed schlock. Not for lack of a good source material, but that's been the luck of the character thus far.

  • manting

    to be honest Superman is the doucheist superhero. He has every power. Superstrength, superspeed, supervision, superhearing, invulnerability, flight, heat vision, you name it hes got it. This is what makes Superman Returns such a turd of a film. There is no equality of force, Superman vs Luthor in the film is like putting out a campfire with the Pacific Ocean.

  • manting

    really? Lex Luthor hatches a real estate scam? That's it? Also how does superman lift an entire island of kryptonite at the end when one little piece put him on his ass earlier? I like Singer but that movie was so bad that he should be in detention. I grew up with the earlier superman films and they were way too silly. Luthor is not evil or threatening but just comic relief. I love Richard Pryor but he did not fit into the superman mold nor did the film. Superman 2 was the best of the original lot of superman films but only because of Stamp's Zod. Don't get me started on "Nuclear man" either.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    Nice avatar, quite dapper*.

    Now, with that out of the way, allow me to respectfully disagree.

    Surely I can't be sole person on this Earth who enjoyed his Watchmen adaptation despite many perceived flaws, if people seemed to like The Wachowskis' take on Cloud Atlas (which I did if I may add) then there must be more than one individual who thought Zack Snyder pulled it off quite nicely.

    Shifting the cause of the nuclear obliteration of New York City by an intergalactic Lovecraftian alien and blaming it on Dr. Manhattan was quite an unexpected and yet strangely coherent deviation from the source material, though I might as well be missing the point as to why Alan Moore didn't opt to take the same route.

    Jackie Earle Haley was a brilliant casting choice as Rorschach and was one of the most impressive and committed performances I've seen in a comic book film since Ron Perlman as Hellboy, or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

    In retrospect, every single actor, from Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian to Patrick Wilson as Daniel was exceptionally cast and nailed their characters, with the possible odd exception of Matthew Goode as Ozymandias.

    I thought it had some genuine and heartfelt moments, especially towards the end when Rorschach goes all "never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon" on Dr. Manhattan and Jackie Earle Haley absolutely owns it.

    Anyway, I may have started a fire or opened a can of worms by defending this movie but, honestly, I don't get why people so vehemently dislike it.

    *I watched The Hunt (Jagten) last night and I don't think I'll recover so soon, such a fucking great movie and the Academy should just give Mads Mikkelsen the damn Oscar for one of the most heartbreaking performances I've ever seen.

  • merwanor

    Watchmen is my favorite "super hero" movie, even after Avengers, Man of Steel and Nolans Batman movies. If there is one thing I hate, it is freaking internet haters who dish on every movies for every little flaw...

  • Green Lantern

    I LOVED the film version of "Watchmen", and think it's probably the most complete superhero film since "Superman: The Movie".

    Yeah, I said it.

  • AudioSuede

    Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson all did admirable jobs, but the script did not translate from page to screen well AT ALL, and the pacing and rote film techniques were achingly dull. It lacked so much of the bite and vitality of the book because it made the mystery the focus rather than the commentary on the human condition and the paranoia of the Cold War, which was way more heavily emphasized in the source material.

    Also, Malin Ackerman is lucky she still has a career after how horrible her performance was in that movie.

  • manting

    she was the weak link of the film. I thought Haley's performance was dead on, Morgan WAS the Comedian, and Cruddup did a pretty good job as Dr Manhattan.

  • Stephen Nein

    Was Malin the weak link, or was it Snyder's use of Malin? Because when Ackerman had her clothes on, she was just as Laurie as Patrick Wilson was Dan. That damn sex scene broke the movie.

  • manting

    it did. I like the Lenard Cohen song, but it just made the scene that much more awkward. When you add in Archimedes flaming "sploosh" at the end its just. . . eww.

  • Guest

    I totally agree on Jackie Earle Haley. But the movie just wasn't able to do justice to the book /comic (also your opinion may vary depending on your opinion of the book / comic).

    I haven't liked any of Snyder's films since D.o.t.D.

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