10 Directors Who Are Still in Movie Jail for Some Reason

You’ve likely heard the term “movie jail” before. It refers to a filmmaker or sometimes a producer who has been collectively ostracized from the movie industry. Usually they have either made a string of critically acclaimed films that never made their money back or, even worse, major bombs that have knocked studios to their knees. And the most frustrating thing about directors thrown into movie jail is that often they are much more talented than the hacks who are given one chance after another because of that one seminal blockbuster hit (we’re looking at you Rob Cohen and Jan de Bont).

Strangely, there are also talented filmmakers who despite their critical and even minor box office success seem to disappear for no apparent reason. And the fact many of them tend to be women or people of color is an issue Hollywood currently believes it’s refocused on rectifying (is it though?). Of course, a number of these directors have found creative havens in prestige television thanks to the Peak TV expansion (Jill Soloway, Rodrigo Garcia). That being said, here are ten creative filmmakers who we are mostly dumbstruck are not working more in the industry.

(Although there is one who simply may have outstayed his welcome. Can you guess who it is?)

Todd Field

Greatest Achievement: In the Bedroom (2001) or Little Children (2006)

Movie that somehow caused problems: Little Children (2006)

Lowdown: After a relatively successful career as a TV and movie actor Field burst onto the scene as the writer and director of In the Bedroom that was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture. Bedroom was also a substantial box office hit earning $43 million global off just a $1.7 production budget. Field followed that up with Little Children, another critically acclaimed drama that earned three Oscar nominations including his second in the Adapted Screenplay category. Unfortunately Children was a bomb theatrically for New Line Cinema taking in only $14 million worldwide off a $26 million production budget. Worse directors have lost much more for Hollywood and worked immediately after but Field has spent the last 10 years looking to develop his next project and, surprise, its in television. Showtime is producing Field’s 20-hour adaptation of the Jonathan Frazen novel Purity starring Daniel Craig. Field is directing at least two of the episodes, but as for when he’ll return to the big screen again? Your guess is as good as mine.

Julian Schnabel

Greatest Achievement: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Movie that somehow caused problems: Miral (2011)

Lowdown: A noted painter, Schnabel has arguably made three classic films: Basquiat (1996), Before Night Falls (2000) and Diving Bell. Before Night was one of the most critically acclaimed films that year and earned Javier Bardem his first Academy Award nomination. Diving Bell earned four Oscar nods including a Best Director recognition for Schnabel. The moving drama almost made the Best Picture cut, but also probably barely broke even after DVD. Schabel’s next film was Miral and that drama was critically panned and, even worse, a box office bomb. In theory Schnabel could be searching for his next project, but he may simply be in independent movie jail because of the financial failure of his last two projects. Considering his creative track record shouldn’t it be three strikes and you’re out?

Frank Darabont

Greatest Achievement: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Movie that caused problems: The Majestic (2001)

Lowdown: Darabont’s experience in Hollywood is slowly becoming worthy of its own movie (or even mini-series). The one-time Young Indiana Jones screenwriter broke through as a director in 1994 with what is now considered an undisputed classic, The Shawshank Redemption. At the time, however, the movie was a massive financial failure. His second helming effort, The Green Mile, seemingly put him on the A-list. Green Mile was no only a critical success, but a box office one ($286 million worldwide) and it also earned four Oscar nods including Best Picture. Unfortunately, Darabont was almost ridiculed for his next flick, The Majestic with Jim Carrey and Laurie Holden. The movie certainly wasn’t good, but was such as financial mess that it put Darabont in serious movie jail. In fact, his next movie, 2007’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist, was something he’d wanted to do for decades and it took him six years to get it off the ground with a relatively miniscule budget compared to his previous pictures. Luckily, The Mist actually made money, but Darabont still hasn’t been able to get out of movie jail. His next project was a monster – AMC’s The Walking Dead – but that ended badly with the network firing him while in pre-production for season 2 (and it only looks worse with the series becoming one of TV’s most popular in the years since). In the years since Darabont has contributed to screenplays such as Godzilla, but at this point it may be more about his style than anyone else’s. He left both Law Abiding Citizen and The Huntsman: Winter’s War due to creative differences although no one would have expected those films to rank up with Shawshank or Green Mile. Could Darabont simply be his own worst enemy?

Tamara Jenkins

Greatest Achievement: The Savages (2007)

Movie that caused problems: The Savages (2007)

Lowdown: Whatever happened to Tamara Jenkins? I mean, seriously. Whatever happened to Tamara Jenkins? The writer/director has two impressive films on her resume that both eventually got into the black: Slums of Beverly Hills and The Savages. The latter earned two Oscar nominations including a Best Original Screenplay for Jenkins herself. Since then Jenkins has been out of sight. It’s not as though she’s no longer close to the business; her husband is Oscar-winning producer and writer Jim Taylor (Sideways). She’s reportedly wrote the script for Juliet, Naked with Taylor for Jesse Peretz to direct, but the film doesn’t appear that close to heading into production. Considering the obvious lack of women behind the camera shouldn’t Jenkins be near the top of every studio’s list for potential directors? Puzzling to say the least.

Debra Granik

Greatest Achievement: Winter’s Bone (2010)

Movie that caused problems: Unclear

Lowdown: Like Jenkins’ it’s very strange why we haven’t heard more from Granik since 2010’s Winter’s Bone. The Sundance sensation basically introduced the industry and the world to Jennifer Lawrence and earned both women their first Oscar nods. More importantly, Bone was an art house hit taking in $13.7 million worldwide off just a $2 million production budget (it also put distributor Roadside Attractions on the map). Granik did helm the 2014 documentary Stray Dogs and is – in theory – in pre-production to shoot the drama My Abandonment next year although now cast is attached as of yet. That being said, why isn’t she getting more attention from the studios? She developed an HBO pilot in 2012, but like Jenkins, the idea she hasn’t even directed someone else’s script in six years is ludicrous.

Walter Salles

Greatest Achievement: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Movie that caused problems: On the Road (2012)

Lowdown: Salles, who comes from a prominent Brazilian family, broke out globally with his 1998 drama Central Station. An emotional drama that showcased the talents of Fernanda Montenegro, Station was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Foreign Language Film.   It was also a substantial foreign language art house hit earning $5.5 million in the U.S. alone. His follow up, Motorcycle Dairies, is perhaps his best film and won Best Original Song in 2005. However, Salles’ Hollywood problem (if he even cares about it) began with the disastrous Dark Water. The Jennifer Connelly thriller tried to jump on the Japanese horror remake fad that was in vogue at the time after The Ring and The Grudge. The movie was not only a mess but a bomb as well unable to make up its $30 million production budget. Salles didn’t make another English language film until 2012’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road. With a cast including Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst and Elisabeth Moss (at her Mad Men height) it seemed like an art house slam dunk. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The movie got mixed reviews and earned just $8.8 million off a $25 million negative cost. So, at this point Salles likely needs a local art house hit to get him out of movie jail even though the idea of a filmmaker of Salles’ skill being in movie jail seems unthinkable in the first place.

Marc Forster

Greatest Achievement: Finding Neverland (2004)

Movies that caused problems: Quantum of Solace (2007), Machine Gun Preacher (2011), World War Z (2013)

Lowdown: Underappreciated or overrated auteur? Or neither? That’s the quintessential question the global film community continues to wonder about Forster. He’s delivered modern “classics” such as Neverland and Monster’s Ball, but also been seemingly out of his depth on franchise players Solace (although the writer’s strike at the time did him or the movie no favors) and World War Z (a film with such an insanely messy production that it’s truly unclear who really was to blame). Forster tried to return to his indie roots this year with All I See Is You that premiered at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival, but the art house thriller was met with mixed reviews and still hasn’t secured a U.S. distributor. There are countless examples of filmmakers who once they enter the studio/big budget movie world simply can’t get their original mojo back. At this point, Forster is in that bucket and that’s not a good thing.

Josh Trank

Greatest Achievement: Chronicle (2012)

Movie that caused problems: Fantastic Four (2015)

Lowdown: What can you say about Frank that hasn’t been said already? He showed an incredible amount of talent crafting the under the radar hit Chronicle, but became the focus for everything that went oh so terribly wrong with 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot. Worse off for Trank was his public tweets dissing the movie and blaming its bad reviews on studio interference. That will certainly not endear him to any other studios nor will the scarlet letter he’s currently wearing after being unceremoniously dropped from directing a stand-alone Star Wars movie in the months before FF’s release. Trank’s on-set behavior and reports of $100,000 in a rented home during production have also done him no favors an industry that is increasingly impatient with such shenanigans. No one is discounting the fact that Trank is talented. The question is whether he can find an independent producer willing to find financers willing to take a chance investing in whatever his FF follow-up will be.  While he does have an Al Capone movie in the works with Tom Hardy, we’ll have to wait and see if it can get in front of cameras.

Richard Kelly

Greatest Achievement: Donnie Darko (2001)

Movie that caused problems: Southland Tales (2006)

Lowdown: Richard Kelly really is a talented filmmaker. Most cinephiles are convinced of it. Whether he has a second great film in him remains to be seen. Darko became a seminal movie for a generation and the first role that made the world really notice Jake Gyllenhaal. Kelly’s follow up, Southland Tales, was an embarrassing mess of epic proportions that earned just $374,743 in the U.S. theatrically but cost $17 million to make. Somehow, Kelly got another chance in 2009 with Warner Bros. who allowed him to adapt Richard Mattheson’s short story “Button, Button” for the big screen. The Box was everything Southland was not: assured, well acted and compelling. Critics weren’t in love with it and it also never recouped its $30 million budget. While Kelly has had some unfortunate luck along the away (the late James Gandolfini was to star in Kelly’s thriller Amicus) Kelly has not written or directed a feature in the seven (almost eight) years since. Will he ever get another chance?

Mimi Leder

Greatest achievement: Deep Impact (1998)

Movie that caused problems: Pay It Forward (2000)

Lowdown: One of Hollywood’s greatest examples of unfair treatment of female filmmakers is the case of Mimi Leder. She first made a name for herself winning an Emmy for directing an episode of E.R. Her feature break was substantial and pressure filled: DreamWorks SKG’s first release, The Peacemaker. The George Clooney and Nicole Kidman thriller got solid reviews and earned back its $50 million production budget. Paramount and DreamWorks then hired her to helm 1998’s Deep Impact, a tentpole disaster movie that was racing to get into theaters before Michael Bay’s Armageddon. Impact didn’t make as much as Armageddon, but it earned better reviews and was a major blockbuster on its own taking in $348 million global. In fact, Leder made history as the first woman to direct a legitimate Hollywood blockbuster. She then tackled a smaller film with recent Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, 2000’s Pay It Forward. Sadly, the film didn’t even just earn negative reviews, but became a pop culture punchline. Leder found herself in movie jail which was strange considering that Forward wasn’t that much of a box office bomb ($55 million worldwide off a $40 million budget) considering the WB release likely came close to breaking even on DVD (the early ‘00s were a DVD goldmine for studios). But while familiar male hacks kept getting gigs Leder was seemingly blacklisted. A director who, one film earlier, had helmed an unexpected blockbuster. Leder returned to TV where her talents earned acclaim directing episodes of The West Wing and The Leftovers, among other series. Considering the lack of women behind the camera on the big screen, excuse us if we look to the heads of every studio in town wondering why Leder’s name isn’t back on the big screen.

Latest Feed

Follow Us