Nine Great Foreign Directors Whose English Language Films Flopped

David Carradine in an Ingmar Bergman film

Whether you hail from small town Iowa or a small town China, the lure of Hollywood is always there for filmmakers who exhibit prowess and ambition. Some of the best directors in American cinema were immigrants: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Ang Lee, etc. The following nine were not so lucky. Though note: the term "flop" is relative here. Few of these films were expected to be blockbusters, but they were still crossover hopefuls. The negative critical and audience response they received was significant, given the directors' pedigrees. The point of this list is to show that even the best filmmakers can be thwarted by actors and scripts that do not speak their tongue.

  1. Ingmar Bergman. Perhaps it was Bergman's own hatred for his first English language film The Touch, a 1971 dud starring Elliott Gould (hard to believe now, but he was once an A-lister) and Bergman regulars Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow, that convinced him to try another English language production, 1977's The Serpent's Egg, featuring the unlikely duo of David Carradine (fresh off Kung Fu) and Bergman muse Liv Ullmann.
  2. Wong Kar Wai. Hong Kong's preeminent "new wave" director, he of Shanghai Express and In the Mood for Love fame, delivered an only intermittently compelling American road movie with 2007's My Blueberry Nights. Casting non-actor Norah Jones in the lead was his big mistake.
  3. François Truffaut. Speaking of New Wave, it was this original member of the nouvelle vague who went from classic French films like The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim to the ambitious but poorly-received Fahrenheit 451, a 1966 Hollywood adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel. Like others on this list, Truffaut beat a hasty retreat back to his homeland and never tried to crack the English language market again, though he did act in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  4. Takeshi Kitano. The Japanese master of the deadpan gangster movie, Kitano – sometimes billed as "Beat" Takeshi – brought his trademark style to the US with 2000's Brother, a not entirely terrible melting pot of Yakuza and African American gangs.
  5. Federico Fellini. The Italian genius's English stumble was 1976's Casanova, with Donald Sutherland an unlikely choice for the famous seducer. Like all Fellini films, though, it's wild and weird and worth watching.
  6. Chen Kaige. The Chinese filmmaker who made a big splash with his (overrated) Mandarin period drama Farewell My Concubine went directly to the bottom of the barrel with 2002's Killing Me Softly, a straight-to-video "erotic thriller" starring Heather Graham. Runner up in the "Asian directors who made terrible choices" category: Vietnam's Tran Anh Hung, who went from the transcendent Scent of Green Papaya and Vertical Ray of the Sun to a Josh Hartnett potboiler called I Come with the Rain.
  7. Jean-Luc Godard. French cinema's enfant terrible could hardly be accused of "going Hollywood", but he too succumbed to the allure of working with American stars. His baffling, little-seen 1987 production King Lear – not at all an adaptation of the Shakespeare play – featured everybody from Molly Ringwald to Norman Mailer to Burgess Meredith to Woody Allen! I have not seen the film, but I've been assured that it's not as interesting as it sounds.
  8. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The co-director of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children left his partner Marc Caro in the Gallic dust when Hollywood beckoned, but his 1997 entry in the Alien franchise, Alien Resurrection, was a misfire. Jeunet at least had the good sense to go back to Paris and make the charming Amélie.
  9. Giuseppe Tornatore. The Italian who gave us the sentimental Cinema Paradiso delivered more of the same with his harmless but forgettable The Legend of 1900, released in 1998. As I wrap this up, I can't help but wonder who will make the next list. For as I write this, Korea's Park Chan Wook (Oldboy) and Sweden's Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) are developing their English language debuts. Good luck, guys.