Hollywood can be a fickle business. You can have innumerable critical and financial successes, even amassing Academy Award nominations along the way, but if you fail hard enough, it’ll be sufficient to put you out of the running for good. It’s common for film directors to hit a stride and then endure a slump after that initial wave of popularity, and typically, it is something that directors both accept and eventually recover from with their latest hit.
The examples that follow are something altogether different, however. These instances see the director in question diving headlong into the critical and commercial abyss after a string of hits, and as of yet, failing to return to popular notoriety. It is a testament to both the power of the Hollywood machine, and also to the fact that perhaps some of these guys were just in the right place at the right time when things were going well…
8. Rollerball/John McTiernan
This one’s particularly heartbreaking on a personal level, because John McTiernan was one of my favourite directors growing up, having helmed some of the best action films of the 80s and early 90s, including Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and I would even say the vastly underrated and misunderstood Last Action Hero. If nothing else, the guy knows how to make a thrilling actioner, and got to work with some of the biggest stars that the blockbuster film has ever seen.
Then came Rollerball.
Though McTiernan had middling outings in the much-troubled The 13th Warrior and The Thomas Crown Affair, it was the director’s 2002 remake of the 1975 James Caan-starring film that stopped his career dead in its tracks. Re-purposing the original’s political undercurrent and reconfiguring the piece as a more straight-up action film, it’s little surprise that the film was massively panned by critics, with Roger Ebert referring to it as “an incoherent mess, a jumble of footage in search of plot, meaning, rhythm and sense”. The performances – especially that of American Pie star Chris Klein, and Rebecca Romijn, who earned a Razzie nomination for her work – were panned, and McTiernan’s direction was savaged, helping it rank among the worst-reviewed films of the 2000s on Rotten Tomatoes.
Most embarrassingly of all, it earned a paltry $26m at the box office, against a budget totalling $70m. Though this was probably enough to stop people returning his calls, he did attempt a rebound with 2003′s Basic but to no avail, again flopping with pundits and at the box office. As it stands now, McTiernan hasn’t directed a film since, and his being investigated by the FBI in 2006 for reportedly lying about Anthony Pellicano’s wire-tapping investigation only taints him further.
It’s a shame as I’d much rather see him directing the new Die Hard film than John Moore.