10 Films That Saved Directors From 'Movie Jail'

Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two... Mad Max: Fury Road?

The Fighter Mark Wahlberg 600x450
The Weinstein Company

‘Movie Jail' is a fictional realm where Hollywood shuns directors who, for one reason or another, have supposedly proven they are incapable of making movies. Reasons for this banishment can vary from a string of box office bombs, a toxic personal life which is affecting their public image, or often just not being deemed 'director material' by studios.

If it is not already apparent, these rules for who is locked up in Movie Jail and who is not are extremely contradictory. For example, known fugitive Roman Polanski is still allowed to make films - and as recently as 2019 even rewarded with Venice's Grand Jury Prize - yet a large majority of female directors can make a successful film and be permanently banished from Hollywood.

However, sometimes all it takes is one hit film to revitalise a director's career and successfully come back from their many years of exile.

Whether it was George Miller's comeback with acclaimed action film Mad Max: Fury Road, or M. Night Shyamalan's sleeper hit Split, listed here are ten examples of when a film managed to save directors from Movie Jail.

10. The Hurt Locker - Kathryn Bigelow

The Fighter Mark Wahlberg 600x450
Summit Entertainment

Despite being - to date - the only woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director, there was a time when critically acclaimed auteur Kathryn Bigelow had been written off as a B-movie director.

Bigelow's career started out strong, principally with a successful string of critically acclaimed indie films, which gave the studios enough confidence to allow her to direct arguably the greatest action films of the '90s: Point Break. However, it was Bigelow's subsequent film Strange Days which divided critics and bombed at the box office bomb, nearly ending Bigelow's career after just five films. For the next 15 years Bigelow struggled to make an impact with audiences or critics, culminating in the terribly-titled K-19: The Widowmaker, which made a measly $65 million on a $90 million budget.

Such was Hollywood's distrust in Bigelow's ability as a director, that even when she found a promising script from journalist Mark Boal, no studio wanted anything to do with it. Undeterred, Bigelow decided to independently produce Boal's script which put a spotlight on the lives of soldiers in a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.

The film, later titled The Hurt Locker, won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture and paved a new path for Bigelow, with her subsequent films Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit focusing more on complex social issues.


An avid cinephile, love Trainspotting (the film, not the hobby), like watching bad films ironically (The Room, Cats) and hate my over-reliance on brackets (they’re handy for a quick aside though).