Nine Directors Who Disappeared

Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff

It's a bummer to watch a talented filmmaker's career stall out. Someone comes along, directs a few noteworthy movies, then poof! You never hear about them anymore. What happens? Some retire without fanfare. A lot give up on features and move to TV (Keith Gordon, Carl Franklin, Agnieszka Holland). A handful keep working, but not on anything you've ever heard of. And then you have these "whatever happened to?" directors.

  1. Bill Forsyth. The Scottish filmmaker made his name in the UK with That Sinking Feeling and Gregory's Girl, then in 1983 had an international hit with Local Hero, still a cult favorite. He kept busy with cozy comedies throughout the '80s, then stumbled in Hollywood with two flops: the Burt Reynolds vehicle Breaking In and the Robin Williams epic Being Human. Forsyth recovered enough to unleash Gregory's Two Girls in 1999, a less-celebrated sequel to his famous film. He was 55, and hasn't worked since.
  2. Todd Field. The actor-turned-director hasn't plied either trade for a decade now. Field first knocked audiences' socks off with his Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom. Five years later, he returned with another award-festooned drama, Little Children. Since then? Nada – though if you believe IMDb, he currently has both a new feature and a new TV series in pre-production.
  3. Martin Brest. Now here's a guy whose career is truly dead, and its tombstone reads: "Killed by Gigli." Brest was still in his 20s when he scored with the 1979 comedy Going in Style. His impressive directorial streak continued with Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, and Scent of a Woman. The goofy Brad Pitt fantasy Meet Joe Black was a misfire, but the last straw was 2003's Gigli, the notorious Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez stinker for which Brest, as writer, director, and producer, had to shoulder the blame.
  4. Jan de Bont. What, indeed, happened to Jan de Bont? The Dutchman established himself as a top-drawer cinematographer on Die Hard, Flatliners, and Basic Instinct, then had a seamless transition into the director's chair with Speed. His next directorial effort, Twister, scored big at the box office, if not with critics. Then came Speed 2, The Haunting remake, and finally Lara Croft 2. Not good movies by any stretch of the imagination, but not bad enough to kill a career. Or were they? Because 13 years on, de Bont has nothing to show for himself other than an executive producer credit on The Paperboy.
  5. Terry Zwigoff. His fantastic documentary Crumb was an art house highlight in 1994. His next two features were the cherished alt-comedies Ghost World and Bad Santa. Three for three! Alas, 2006's Art School Confidential didn't connect like Zwigoff's previous films, and that was that. The director may or may not recover in 2017 with a TV series called Budding Prospects. Depends on whether the pilot gets picked up.
  6. Ron Shelton. The sports-loving director went big with Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump, but his later features were a lesson in diminishing returns: Cobb, Tin Cup, Play It to the Bone, Dark Blue, and finally the execrable Hollywood Homicide in 2003. Shelton tried to launch a TV series called Hound Dogs in 2011, but it was a no-go. He's due for a modest comeback in 2017 with Villa Capri, a typical old fart movie with Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo.
  7. John McTiernan. He was Hollywood's top action man for several years: Predator! Die Hard! The Hunt for Red October! Even his 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair was well-received. But after delivering two duds – 2002's Rollerball remake and a 2003 programmer called Basic (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are in it) – McTiernan was busted for wiretapping his Rollerball producer. His legal troubles began in 2006 and ultimately landed him in jail for a year. Hollywood still isn't returning his calls.
  8. Adrian Lyne. He was the poor man's Ridley Scott, cranking out beautifully-shot but somewhat trashy studio hits like Flashdance, Fatal Attraction, and Indecent Proposal. His one outlier, the dark thriller Jacob's Ladder, has a strong following, and his last film, 2002's Unfaithful, did well enough. So why hasn't Lyne directed since? He was 61 when he made Unfaithful, so perhaps he retired. Yet Scott, at 79, keeps working.
  9. Alan Parker. Parker was often lumped in with Scott and Lyne: not as visionary as Scott, not as tacky as Lyne. But look at this run of high-profile films: Midnight Express, Fame, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Birdy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning... Even Parker's "smaller" efforts, like The Commitments and Angela's Ashes, fared strongly. Then came 2003's The Life of David Gale, a turkey by all accounts, and Parker threw in the towel at 59.