This weekend's Fantastic Four reboot may have won its opening night box office, but the movie's bigger story has been the distance director Josh Trank has very publicly placed between himself and the final product. He's not alone. Just because a director works on a movie for months, or even years, doesn’t mean he or she will love the end product.
British director Tony Kaye has a reputation in the film industry as a perfectionist. While studio executives at New Line Cinema were happy with early cuts of American History X, Kaye wanted more time to refine it. New Line gave Kaye an additional eight weeks to deliver the film, which he used to cut the movie down to 87 minutes. The studio decided to release a longer 119-minute final cut of the film, with help from star Edward Norton.
Outraged by the changes, Kaye disowned the film and publicly attacked American History X during its initial theatrical run. Kaye has tried to take his name off the film, suggesting that the Directors Guild of America use the pseudonym Alan Smithee or Humpty Dumpty to replace his director’s credit.
Although it won four Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and is widely considered his finest work, Woody Allen thought his romantic comedy Annie Hall was a big disappointment. "The film was supposed to be what happens in a guy’s mind, and you were supposed to see a stream of consciousness in his mind and I did the film and it was completely incoherent," Allen said. "Nobody understood anything that went on and the relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about."
In 1984, after the box office and critical success of The Elephant Man, David Lynch took a job directing the film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune for producer Dino De Laurentiis. The project was the third attempt to bring Dune to the big screen after ambitious but failed efforts from producer Arthor P. Jacobs and visionary Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Lynch’s experience making Dune was a long and painful one, overshadowed by the belief that the source material was unfilmable. With the size of the production and its hefty budget, Lynch was unable to retain artistic and creative control while filming, and he slowly distanced himself from Dune.
Currently, there are a number of different cuts of Dune floating around. Some versions replace David Lynch’s director’s credit with the pseudonym Alan Smithee, the false name the Directors Guild of America uses for directors who don't want to be associated with a film.
Director Joel Schumacher made it a point throughout his career to never direct a sequel if one of his movies found success, but he broke his own rule to direct 1997's Batman & Robin. "I always knew that if you get lucky, walk away," Schumacher later said. "But I was shooting A Time To Kill and the studio had been very generous to me, and much was expected of me by the toy manufacturers and the Warner Bros. stores." The final result is considered one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Batman & Robin ended the Batman gravy train for Warner Bros. and DC Comics Entertainment (at least until director Christopher Nolan stepped in eight years later to deliver Batman Begins), and Schumacher has publicly apologized for disappointing fans.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope was an ambitious effort from The Master of Suspense. It’s based on a 1929 stage play of the same name and is presented in real-time with a number of continuous takes stitched together to appear as one long shot. Hitchcock wanted the film adaptation to follow the same structure and presentation as the original play, but ultimately felt Rope was too self-indulgent and bloated. The director called it "an experiment that didn't work out."
Despite critical and commercial acclaim, Hitchcock bought up its film rights with the hope that Rope would never be seen or heard from again. However, upon his death in 1980, Rope was re-released in theaters.
In 1990, Dennis Hopper directed a thriller starring Jodie Foster called Catchfire. During production, Vestron Pictures, the film’s distributors, were unhappy with the way Catchfire was coming together, so they re-edited it to a digestible 98 minutes without Hopper’s approval. Enraged with the studio’s theatrical cut, Dennis Hopper left the project before it was released. "Alan Smithee" was credited with directing the film.
When Catchfire was released for cable television, Hopper re-edited the film with a 116-minute director’s cut and titled it Backtrack.
Stanley Kubrick is considered one of the greatest directors in cinema history, but he was no fan of his 1953 debut, Fear and Desire. He described it as "a bumbling amateur film exercise." Kubrick had even gone as far as to buy Fear and Desire’s original negatives and all available prints to ensure that it would never see the light of day again.
There was only one legal print of Fear and Desire at the George Eastman House, Kodak's archive, and it received a restoration and re-release in 2012.
Six years after the success of his debut feature sex, lies, and videotape, Steven Soderbergh released The Underneath, a film noir starring Peter Gallagher. The Underneath remains a low point for the director, despite moderate critical acclaim. Soderbergh has called the film “kind of a mess” and “dead on arrival” and admits that he made the film at a challenging time in his career and that his "heart wasn't in it." It is currently available through the Criterion Collection as a bonus feature to the DVD release of his 1993 film King of the Hill.
Despite its box office success, one of action director Michael Bay’s worst films is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. While the film lacked a certain punch seen in other Bay efforts like The Rock, Armageddon, and the first Transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen suffered from its lack of script. The film was made during the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007 and 2008, so Michael Bay only had a few pages to build a feature around. Since its release, Bay has called Revenge of the Fallen "crap."
In 1972, Jerry Lewis directed The Day the Clown Cried, which was about a circus clown who is sent to a concentration camp and leads children to the gas chambers. The film never got past the rough edit stages of post-production and The Day the Clown Cried was never released in theaters. Only two known prints of the film exist, and are both under lock and key. Stockholm Studios retains a copy of the film under copyright law, while Jerry Lewis owns a version in his personal film archive. Lewis admitted that, “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad.” Though Lewis had hoped the film would never be seen by audiences, the Library of Congress recently announced that it has added the film to its collection with plans to release it ... in 10 years.
After a career directing music videos, David Fincher took on his first feature film with Alien 3. The third installment of the highly profitable film franchise experienced many woes during production. Fincher started shooting Alien 3 without a completed screenplay, which was constantly being rewritten, and he had to answer to so many producers and studio executives that it almost turned him off of filmmaking entirely. Eventually, Fincher left the project before the film went into post-production. In 2003, when the Alien “Quadrilogy” DVD set was released, he was the only director in the franchise who did not participate in its production or release. It got better for Fincher, and ever since Alien 3, he has had complete control and final cut over all his films.
Director Arthur Hiller attempted to make a post-modern satire about the film industry called Burn Hollywood Burn. It follows a director named Alan Smithee who makes a film, which the movie studio takes away and re-cuts for the theatrical release. The director asks to take his name off the project, but the only pseudonym he could use was “Alan Smithee.” He later steals the film and threatens to burn it.
In a postmodern example of life imitating art, the end result was so bad that Arthur Hiller took his name off the project and actually used the pseudonym Alan Smithee as his director’s credit. Critics and general audiences didn’t get the inside joke, and Burn Hollywood Burn bombed at the box office. It won five Golden Raspberry Awards in 1998, including Worst Screenplay for Joe Eszterhas and Worst Picture.
The Directors Guild of America discontinued the Alan Smithee pseudonym a few years later in 2000.