Taylor Lautner and Lily Collins in Abduction (2011)
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The best and worst movies from 10 iconic directors

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June 9, 2022

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

The best and worst movies from 10 iconic directors

When reflecting on the great filmmakers of cinema history, people typically remember the contributions that changed what movies could be—films that paved the way for new genres or types of filmmaking, made an impact with their messages, or enabled viewers to interact with the world differently. But even the most renowned directors have been known to make—in the blunt words of New Republic film critic David Thomson—a "disastrous film."

Giggster chose 10 iconic directors across genres, nations, and film history, and consulted IMDb data to determine the best and worst films of their careers. In cases of a tie, the film with the higher Metascore was chosen as their best and the film with the lower Metascore was chosen as their worst. Directors are listed alphabetically.

Contrary to what one might expect, many of the worst films from these acclaimed directors were not made early on in their careers. In fact, several directors made their most poorly received works as seasoned industry veterans. The reasons for filmmakers producing cinematic misfires late in their careers can vary—from having bad collaborators or attempting to replicate early successes to succumbing to egomania or sheer bad luck. Regardless, it's safe to say that these directors' reputations have survived.

Read on to learn more about the career highs and lows of 10 iconic directors.

Kathryn Bigelow’s worst: ‘Blue Steel’ (1990)

- IMDb user rating: 5.7
- Metascore: 54
- Runtime: 102 minutes

“Blue Steel” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop who stops an armed robbery, only to get caught up in the dangerous schemes of a violent witness to the robbery. Made early in Kathryn Bigelow’s career, the film marks the first of her oeuvre to bring together themes she would go on to explore with increasing depth and attention in her later works—anger, toxic masculinity, authority and state violence, and being a woman in a space dominated by men, among them.

While Roger Ebert noted the film’s lack of believability—mostly due to its occasional underdeveloped character arcs and ill-conceived plot points—“Blue Steel” is noted for its influence on women-led action films that followed it, including the 1991 films “Thelma & Louise” and “Silence of the Lambs.”

Kathryn Bigelow’s best: ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2008)

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Metascore: 95
- Runtime: 131 minutes

Bigelow’s Iraq War epic “The Hurt Locker” won critical acclaim and six of its nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director (making Bigelow the first woman to win the award). The film follows the new leader of the U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit (Jeremy Renner in his breakout role) as he and his unit navigate the tensions and violence of combat.

Widely acclaimed as the best film about the Iraq War at the time of its release, it was praised for its gripping intensity and suspense and the performances of its cast. The screenplay was written by former journalist Mark Boal, who based the story on his time accompanying a U.S. bomb squad in Iraq.

Sofia Coppola’s worst: ‘The Bling Ring’ (2013)

- IMDb user rating: 5.6
- Metascore: 66
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Based on true events detailed in Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” “The Bling Ring” follows a group of high schoolers whose obsession with celebrity culture leads them to form a criminal enterprise stealing from the homes of various A-listers. The film followed Sofia Coppola’s early career successes including “The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation,” and “Marie Antoinette.”

While Emma Watson’s portrayal of Nicki earned rave reviews, RogerEbert.com critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky called out “The Bling Ring” for its moral ambiguity and the “neutrality” with which the observational camera documented the criminal acts in the film. In some ways, the movie’s occasionally indecipherable wavering between satire and empathy mirrors that of “Marie Antoinette.”

Sofia Coppola’s best: ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003)

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 102 minutes

“Lost in Translation” follows Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two isolated Americans staying at a hotel in Tokyo. They soon meet and form a relationship, finding ways to relate to the other’s dissatisfaction with life.

Coppola’s second film, “Lost in Translation” was praised by New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell for its humor, cast performances, and emotionality. Other critics, however, raised concerns about the film’s harmful portrayal of Japanese people. The film both continued the legacy of “The Virgin Suicides” in its exploration of themes like alienation while also laying the groundwork for Coppola’s future films with its offbeat sense of humor and vibrant aesthetic.

Alfonso Cuarón’s worst: ‘Great Expectations’ (1998)

- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: 55
- Runtime: 111 minutes

Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic stars Ethan Hawke as Finn (known as Pip in the original) and Gwenyth Paltrow as Estella. The film follows young orphan Finn, who becomes acquainted with the wealthy and manipulative Ms. Dinsmoor and her niece, Estella. The two grow up together in Florida but eventually lose touch. Finn becomes a successful artist, and the two have an unlikely reunion as adults.

Some critics called the film visually compelling (the cinematography was by the legendary Emmanuel Lubezki) but said it lacked substance and charged that the characters—Estella, particularly—were underdeveloped. “Great Expectations” followed Cuarón’s successful drama “A Little Princess” and was the last adaptation of a classic novel he attempted before moving into other genres, like science fiction.

Alfonso Cuarón’s best: ‘Children of Men’ (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 84
- Runtime: 109 minutes

“Children of Men” is a dystopian science fiction film set in the year 2027, after humans have been infertile for nearly 20 years. As society collapses and refugees from across the world come to the United Kingdom, which has become a police state, Theo (Clive Owen) attempts to help humanity’s last hope to survive.

The film was praised for its gutting realism and exploration of complex moral questions around fear, control, violence, and whether means justify ends. With cinematography by recurring Cuarón collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, the ambitious film set the stage for Cuarón’s next two films, “Gravity” and “Roma,” both of which would win him Best Director Oscars.

Ava DuVernay’s worst: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (2018)

- IMDb user rating: 4.2
- Metascore: 53
- Runtime: 109 minutes 

Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” based on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 young adult novel of the same name, became her biggest budget film and distinguished her as the first Black woman to direct a film with a budget exceeding $100 million. The film follows Meg, her younger brother Charles, and their friend Calvin, as they embark on an intergalactic mission to bring back Meg and Charles’ missing father and defeat a dark power called “IT.”

The film features an all-star cast of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Chris Pine, but was a box-office bomb, making $33 million against its $103 million budget. “A Wrinkle in Time” gained a generally lukewarm reception from pundits. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com called the movie “the Platonic ideal of a mixed bag,” simultaneously earnest and sentimental to the point of corniness, with substandard computer-generated imaging, or CGI, and too much plot.

Ava DuVernay’s best: ‘13th’ (2016)

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 100 minutes

“13th” is a documentary that investigates the issue of mass incarceration of Black Americans and other people of color in the U.S., and asserts that the 13th Amendment has allowed the continuation of slavery through a loophole in its language, which makes allowances for forced labor under the condition of being convicted of a crime.

Featuring appearances from activists, politicians, and scholars like Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Van Jones, and Newt Gingrich, the film was acclaimed by critics for its sweeping scope and “electrifying” message and delivery. Following films like “Selma,” and predating later works like 2019’s “When They See Us,” “13th” foregrounds DuVernay’s penchant for filmmaking that highlights how the political and the personal intersect.

Alfred Hitchcock’s worst: ‘Juno and the Paycock’ (1929)

- IMDb user rating: 4.6
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 85 minutes

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound films, “Juno and the Paycock” was based on a 1924 tragicomedy play by Sean O'Casey. Set in Ireland during the Irish Civil War, the film follows a poor family whose bad luck and decision-making land them in a series of comically unfortunate situations.

Filmed as though it were a play, the stationary camera and almost single set (a run-down tenement flat) were not particularly memorable from a cinematic perspective; Hitchcock himself dismissed it later in his career. Critics also panned the film’s offensive depiction of Jews, an aspect that was not a part of the original play and was added to Hitchcock’s version. While well-received in its time, most now regard the film as one of Hitchcock’s most disappointing.

Alfred Hitchcock’s best: ‘Psycho’ (1960)

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Metascore: 97
- Runtime: 109 minutes

Perhaps Hitchcock’s most famous film, “Psycho” represented a watershed moment in cinema history, paving the way for the slasher genre and creating new norms around violence, sexuality, and even the expectation that main characters would be protected from death in films. “Psycho” follows real estate secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she stays at and subsequently disappears from the Bates Motel, owned by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). When Marion’s sister and boyfriend come looking for her, they’re met with a grim discovery.

The film came toward the end of Hitchcock’s career, and while it was similar to his previous works in terms of its suspense and style, it went much further than his past films did in the direction of true horror.

Mira Nair’s worst: ‘Amelia’ (2009)

- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Metascore: 37
- Runtime: 111 minutes

“Amelia” tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s life through a series of flashbacks while she pilots her final fight before her disappearance. Starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere, some critics panned the film for its lack of emotional depth and failure to transform the subject matter. New York Times co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis called it an “exasperatingly dull production,” while NPR’s Bob Mondello called it “inert” and “predictable.” Made later in Mira Nair’s career, “Amelia” followed “The Namesake,” an adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel of the same name.

Mira Nair’s best: ‘Salaam Bombay!’ (1988)

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 113 minutes

Nair’s directorial debut, “Salaam Bombay!” follows a young boy, Krishna, as he lives on the streets of Bombay and attempts to make enough money to return home. Living among a band of thieves, he must learn to survive in a landscape marred by drugs, sex trafficking, and inescapable poverty. Nair cast actual children living on the streets to play the children in the film and used the proceeds from the film to start a nonprofit organization to support homeless children in Delhi. The film received critical acclaim, with Roger Ebert praising its documentarian sense of reality and “emotional power.”

Martin Scorsese’s worst: ‘Boxcar Bertha’ (1972)

- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 88 minutes

“Boxcar Bertha” was Martin Scorsese’s second feature film and tells the story of a gang of outlaws traveling through the South during the Great Depression. Scorsese worked on the film with Roger Corman, who famously mentored him as well as other early-career directors and actors such as Francis Ford Coppola, William Shatner, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, and Polly Platt.

Known for his low-budget “exploitation films,” Corman’s influence—for better or worse—is apparent in “Boxcar Bertha,” but Roger Ebert points out that Scorsese’s voice manages to shine through in the film’s mood and treatment of violence.

Martin Scorsese’s best: ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 145 minutes

Frequently cited as one of the quintessential gangster films, “Goodfellas” stars Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci as associates of the Mafia in Brooklyn. Tracing the events of the men over the course of decades, the film highlights the continuous and unpredictable nature of violence and the glorification—and price—of power.

The film had a massive influence not only on the gangster movies and television that followed it, like “The Sopranos,” but also on films like “Boogie Nights” and “Pulp Fiction.” Scorsese made “Goodfellas” after having two decades of filmmaking under his belt, having already created classics like “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.” The film also dealt with topics and locales that became hallmarks of a Scorsese movie: gangsters, wealth and glory, violence, and New York City.

Ridley Scott’s worst: ‘The Counselor’ (2013)

- IMDb user rating: 5.4
- Metascore: 48
- Runtime: 117 minutes

“The Counselor” stars Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt in a screenplay written by novelist Cormac McCarthy about Mexican drug cartels, sex, and betrayal. Despite the A-list cast and director-screenwriter team, some critics were not impressed by the film’s campy violence and sex, as well as its trite dialogue.

A departure in some ways from the themes and genres often depicted in Ridley Scott’s films—science fiction and artificial intelligence in “Blade Runner,” “Alien,” “The Martian,” and “Prometheus,” for instance—“The Counselor” was widely considered a misfire both commercially and critically.

Ridley Scott’s best: ‘Gladiator’ (2000)

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 155 minutes

Scott’s ancient Roman historical drama stars Russell Crowe as a Roman general who is forced into slavery and becomes a vengeful gladiator after Emperor Marcus Aurelius is murdered and replaced by his power-hungry son Commodus. “Gladiator” was a huge commercial success, grossing over $465 million against a $103 million budget. The film also won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe and is credited with bringing the genre of ancient historical epics into the realm of blockbuster pop culture phenomenon.

John Singleton’s worst: ‘Abduction’ (2011)

- IMDb user rating: 5.1
- Metascore: 25
- Runtime: 106 minutes

“Abduction” was the final feature film John Singleton directed before his death in 2019. Starring Taylor Lautner as a high schooler who gets pulled into a world of terrorist plots and corrupt CIA agents, along with his school project partner (Lily Collins), the film was panned by critics.

Slant Magazine’s R. Kurt Osenlund derided Lautner’s performance as laughable, and Stephen Holden of the New York Times described his acting as “an advanced robot simulating human speech.” Lautner was even nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for the role. “Abduction” followed a string of action films Singleton directed at the end of his career, including “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Four Brothers.”

John Singleton’s best: ‘Boyz n the Hood’ (1991)

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: 76
- Runtime: 112 minutes

John Singleton wrote and directed his critically acclaimed debut, “Boyz n the Hood,” when he was just 23, making him the youngest person and first Black director to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar. The film is based on Singleton’s own upbringing in LA and follows Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in his debut role) as he enters his teenage years and contends with gang violence, love, grief, and yearning.

Singleton collaborated on the project with producer Steve Nicolaides; together, the two would go on to work on several more Singleton films, including the Janet Jackson starrer “Poetic Justice.” The director recalled in a retrospective interview that he “was learning how to direct” as the film progressed.

Agnès Varda’s worst: ‘Lions Love (... and Lies)’ (1969)

- IMDb user rating: 5.9
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 112 minutes

French New Wave director Agnès Varda’s documentary-meets-fiction experimental film “Lions Love (… and Lies)” bewildered critics with its genre-defying premise and blurring of lines between staged cinema and reality. The film, set in the late ’60s, takes place in the LA home of Andy Warhol’s actress-muse, Viva, who—along with James Rado and Gerome Ragni of “Hair” fame—luxuriates in nudity and discusses the politics of the day, moving between goofiness and tragedy. Made fairly early in her career, the film also meditates on the role of the filmmaker, with Varda herself appearing at times. This is a theme that would continue to dominate her work in the decades to come.

Agnès Varda’s best: ‘The Beaches of Agnès’ (2008)

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 112 minutes

One of Varda’s quintessential essay films, “The Beaches of Agnès” is a poetic documentary meditation on Varda’s own life—she made the film to celebrate her 80th birthday. The movie follows the filmmaker as she revisits places from her past and playfully collages them with foraged trinkets.

Critics praised her characteristic sense of whimsy and her ability to piece together a cinematic self-portrait that is both “glorious and generous.” Like “Lions Love,” “The Beaches of Agnès” also considers the role of the cinematic and the filmmaker in storytelling. Roger Ebert wrote that the film offered “the most poetic shot about the cinema I have ever seen.”

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