Amy Heckerling: Amy Heckerling directed the starting point for a generation of brilliant high-school films, Fast Times at Ridgemont High before moving on to the stellar European Vacation. In 1989 and 1990, she hit a creative stumbling block, directing the successful but excruciating Look Who’s Talking films before bouncing back in 1996 with Clueless. Unfortunately, it was soon after that success that she crapped out, directing Night at the Roxbury, Loser, and most recently, the straight-to-DVD clunker, I Could Never Be Your Woman, with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer. She does have another film in the works, Vamps, with Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter, but the movie (pictured below) seems unlikely to save her directing career.
John Landis: One of the very best comedic directors of the 1980s, Landis hit an unprecedented successful streak, starting with Animal House and ending with Coming to America. In between, there was Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places. He hit a small dry spell until he rebounded with Beverly Hills Cop 3, but in 1998, he hit rock bottom with Blues Brothers 2000. Landis hasn’t recovered yet, as he’s been mostly relegated to television. He did release a film last year, Burke and Hare, with Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. However, it fizzled in the UK and still doesn’t have a release date in the States. It looks headed straight to DVD.
Martin Brest: Martin Brest cobbled together several scripts and leveraged the improvisational skills of Eddie Murphy to direct the wildly successful Beverly Hills Cop, which he followed up with two additional successful films, Midnight Run, with Robert DeNiro, and Scent of a Woman, which garnered Al Pacino an Oscar win. Meet Joe Black was not met with similar success, however. It was an expensive failure, but it was the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez disaster, Gigli, that put a nail in Brest’s coffin. He hasn’t been seen from since. He’s not the only director on this list whose career was killed by Ben Affleck, either.
Ivan Reitman: If there was one director that could match John Landis, movie for movie, in the 1980s, it was Ivan Reitman, who had a monstrous streak of his own, beginning with Meatballs and Stripes and taking us through two Ghostbusters films, three Schwarzenegger comedies, and the winning Kevin Kline film, Dave. It was that success, and his ability to transition to successful producer, that has allowed Reitman to stay somewhat relevant and occasionally command a project. The results, however, have been disastrous. His last three movies were No Strings Attached, My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Evolution a perfectly good waste of David Duchovny and Orlando Jones. Ghostbusters III is still on his plate, but I’m fairly certain the studio is waiting out his retirement and/or death before they greenlight, afraid of the result if Reitman is allowed near it.
Harold Ramis: Ramis is the other half of that Ghostbusters equation. Ramis, of course, wrote and starred in Ghostbusters in the midst of his own successful writing and directing career, the latter of which included Vacation, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. It’s been a steady climb down since the first Analyze movie, which Ramis followed up with a horrible sequel, a little seen John Cusack film, The Ice Harvest, and what it perhaps the worst movie of the last three years, Year One.
John G. Avildsen: Avildsen was one of the greats in mining formulaic sports films. He directed two Rocky films (including the original) and three Karate Kid films (including the original) and even found some critical success with Morgan Freeman’s Lean on Me. But he also broke apart the terrific working relationship between John Hughes and Molly Ringwald when he convinced her to do For Keeps? instead of She’s Having a Baby. Karma apparently intervened; after 1994’s 8 Seconds with Luke Perry, Avildsen essentially disappeared. He does have a couple of films in the works, including Stano (with Josh Duhamel and Emmanuelle Chriqui), but he’s unlikely to recapture the magic of his 1980s run.
Joe Dante: The man who directed the original Piranha and Howling (both from John Sayles’ scripts) would find great success in Gremlins only to firtter it away with ‘the burbs and a dud of a Gremlins sequel. Those two failures pushed him into television, where he was involved with a great little show, “Eerie, Indiana.” He did return to feature films, as recently as 2009, but that movie, Hole 3D, bombed in the UK and was never even released in the United States.
Boaz Yakin: Does that name even ring a bell? In 1994, Yakin wrote and directed the very well received Sam Jackson movie, Fresh. His next movie, A Price Above Rubies, which starred Renee Zellwegger, Christopher Eccleston, and Julianna Marguiles, wasn’t seen by many, but was good enough to earn Yakin the director’s chair on the $115 million Denzel Washington hit, Remember the Titans. In all likelihood, that’s the last you heard of him. He directed the Brittany Murphy film, Uptown Girls and, as a director, mostly disappeared, although he was also responsible for the script for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. And yet, even after those bombs, Yakin will soon get another chance, as he directed Safe with Jason Statham, due for release later this year.
Peyton Reed: Remember this guy? He directed Bring It on, and then later, he directed Down with Love, which took a few years to find an audience, but now it’s semi-cultish. Then he directed The Break-Up, the $118 million Vince Vaugh/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy that was neither romantic nor comedic, but it did have a few decent things to say about break-ups that many people appreciate about that movie. But then, Peyton Reed hitched his cart to the wrong wagon: Jim Carrey during Carrey’s own slow slide into oblivion. Reed directed Yes Man. And that, folks, was the end of Peyton Reed.
Jon Woo: This one stings, and I apologize if many feel I’m jumping the gun on John Woo, because in Asia, this man is still very much relevant, as his last two films, Red Cliff and Red Cliff II can attest. Those movies broke the Chinese box-office records. But as a director in America, it’s hard to argue against his has-been status. Obviously, like some of the directors above (Reitman, Heckerling, Landis), Woo’s influence will remain long after the man has died. So in a way, Woo will never be a has-been. But on the other hand, for a few years, he crushed it in America with Broken Arrow, Face/Off and the biggest hit of 2000, Mission Impossible II. But then he made Windtalkers and then Paycheck. And the next thing you know, he’s making a made-for-television movie of “Lost in Space,” which by the way, was one of Adrianne Palicki’s first films. And after that run of terrible luck, Woo packed it up and went back to Asia, essentially ending his American career.
Honorable Mentions: Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish), Tim Story (Barbership, Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer), Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty, Ace Ventura)