The Biggest Box Office Bombs by Oscar Winning Directors

by | Dec 28, 2019

Nine years ago, Tom Hooper was on top of the world. His third feature movie The Kings Speech had opened to rapturous reviews and was on its way to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. On a modest $15 million budget, the film took in over $400 million worldwide, a staggering success by any standards.

Sadly, his latest release has not been quite so well received. Cats, an adaptation of the long-running Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, has been one of the most widely and loudly mocked movies of recent years. Critics have labelled it a train wreck, and on its opening weekend it scored one of the lowest box office returns ever for a wide release.  Where The King’s Speech scored an impressive 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, Cats is currently languishing on 18%. Academy Award nominations are not likely.

If there’s a silver to all this for Hooper, he can at least say he’s joining some illustrious company. Here are ten other notable directors who went from Best Picture winner to helming a box office bomb…

Ben Affleck

Argo (2012): $232 Million / 96% Rottentomatoes

Live By Night (2016): $22 Million / 35% Rottentomatoes

From Good Will Hunting to Gigli, the career of actor/writer/director/general movie star Ben Affleck has always been one of dizzying highs and crashing lows. But when his third directorial effort Argo took home top honours at the 2013 Academy Awards, it seemed as though he’d finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the goodwill was not extended to his next project Live By Night. A hard-boiled crime drama based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, reviews described the film as rushed, uninspired and derivative. Arriving hot on the heels of his maligned turns in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Accountant, Live By Night’s commercial and critical failure capped off a very bad 2016 for Affleck.

Robert Zemeckis 

Forrest Gump (1994): $678 Million / 72% Rottentomatoes

Welcome To Marwen (2018): $13 Million / 35% Rottentomatoes

It’s fair to say that not everybody loves Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis’ sentimental Best Picture winner from 1994. But even the harshest of critics would probably compare it favourably to Welcome to Marwen, a woefully misjudged drama based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol.

Zemeckis is known as for the visual flair of his films, but most critics found the living dolls that populate Welcome To Marwen to be more disturbing than inventive. A marketing nightmare that tried to tack an unconvincing happy ending onto a much sadder and more complex real life story, the film died a swift death at the box office.

Check out our Forrest Gump podcast here.

Check out our Welcome to Marwen podcast here

Anthony Minghella

The English Patient (1996): $231 Million / 85% Rottentomatoes

Breaking & Entering (2006): $8 Million / 34% Rottentomatoes

A sumptuous period drama based on a beloved Michael Ondaatje novel, Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient is virtually the definition of an Oscar Prestige movie, taking home nine awards at the 1997 ceremony, including Best Picture and Best Director.

One of the stars of that film, French actress Juliette Binoche, worked with Minghella again in 2006 on the romantic crime drama Breaking & Entering, but it’s safe to say that lightning did not strike twice. The film was dubbed dour and contrived by critics, and not even the presence of A-lister Jude Law could attract audiences to what sadly turned out to be Minghella’s final directorial effort.

John Madden

Shakespeare In Love (1998): $289 Million / 92% Rottentomatoes

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001): $62 Million / 28% Rottentomatoes

Controversially beating out Saving Private Ryan to the Best Picture Oscar in 1999, John Madden’s Shakespeare In Love was a smash with audiences and critics alike. For his much-anticipated follow up, Madden adapted Louis de Bernières classic novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin into a sweeping romantic drama. With a still bankable Nicholas Cage and rising star Penelope Cruz in the lead roles, the movie should have been a slam dunk.

In reality, the adaptation was criticised for being dreary and overly sentimental compared to the source material. Audiences weren’t impressed either, and the movie just barely made back its budget. Madden recovered though – he recently directed the hugely popular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies.

Paul Haggis

Crash (2004): $98 Million / 74% Rottentomatoes

Third Person (2014): $2.5 Million / 26% Rottentomatoes

Another divisive winner, there was minor outrage when Paul Haggis’ Crash took home the Best Picture Oscar over Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. But love it or loathe it, the film certainly got people talking, which is more than can be said for Third Person. A romantic drama featuring an impressive ensemble cast including Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis and James Franco, the film was dismissed by critics and barely made a ripple at the box office.

Ron Howard

A Beautiful Mind (2001): $316 Million / 74% Rottentomatoes

The Dilemma (2011): $69 Million / 24% Rottentomatoes

One of the most successful actor-turned-directors in Hollywood history, Ron Howard’s career peaked in 2001 when his biopic of the groundbreaking mathematician John Forbes Nash won four Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Jennifer Connelly also took home a statue for Best Supporting Actress, but her next project with Howard failed to match their previous success.

A dark romantic comedy also starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and Winona Ryder, critics complained that The Dilemma was mean spirited and tonally muddled. A middling box office run failed to recoup the marketing costs, and while Howard bounced back with the critically acclaimed Rush two years later, he also helmed the disastrous In The Heart of The Sea in 2015 and the disappointing Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018.

Clint Eastwood

Million Dollar Baby (2004): $216 Million / 91% Rottentomatoes

The 15:17 to Paris (2018): $57 Million / 23% Rottentomatoes

Clint Eastwood is unquestionably one of the most acclaimed movie figures of all time, with two Best Picture winners under his belt as a director and countless other iconic classics both in front of and behind the camera. He directed his second Best Picture winner in 2004, the poignant boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which also netted Hilary Swank her second Best Actress statue.

Nobody’s infallible though, and in 2018 Eastwood’s attempt to dramatise the events of the 2015 Thalys train attack went badly awry when he chose to cast the real-life heroes who helped subdue an armed terrorist to play themselves in the movie. His intentions may have been good, but the three young men were seriously unqualified to carry a major motion picture, and their wooden acting ultimately derailed the project, which became one of the worst-performing movies of his career.

Oliver Stone

Platoon (1986): $138 Million / 88% Rottentomatoes

Alexander (2004): $167 Million / 16% Rottentomatoes

Oliver Stone has directed some of the most iconic movies of the past four decades, not least the harrowing Vietnam war classic Platoon, for which he received Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Two decades later, his attempt at a grand historical effort about the life and career of Alexander the Great was dogged by controversy, criticised for its historical inaccuracy and plagued by studio interference which resulted in no fewer than four different cuts being released in various formats.

The film performed well in Europe, but the reviews were scathing, and a bloated production budget meant it failed to turn a profit. These days it’s better remembered for Colin Farrell’s dodgy wig and Angelina Jolie’s high-camp supporting performance than any serious merits it may have had.

Sydney Pollack

Out of Africa (1985): $227 Million / 60% Rottentomatoes

Random Hearts (1999): $74 Million / 15% Rottentomatoes

Starring Meryl Streep as a plucky Danish coffee farmer turned famed writer and Robert Redford as the big game hunter who wins her heart, time hasn’t been terribly kind to 1986 Best Picture winner Out of Africa. Nevertheless at the time the movie was a bona fide sensation, and just one of a string of major hits for director Sydney Pollack, who also helmed classics such as Tootsie, The Way We Were and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

This hot streak was very much over by 1999 however, when the romantic drama Random Hearts, starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott-Thomas, landed with a heavy thud. Described as far-fetched, boring and a colossal waste of talent, the film underperformed commercially and has been almost entirely forgotten today.

Kevin Costner

Dances With Wolves (1990): $424 Million / 82% Rottentomatoes

The Postman (1997): $17 Million / 8% Rottentomatoes

Many of the directors cited above have enjoyed hits and misses in line with the natural ebb and flow of moviemaking. However, if any director can truly empathise with the critical whiplash currently being inflicted on Tom Hooper, chances are it’s Kevin Costner.

In 1990, Costner directed and starred in Dances With Wolves, a sensational hit that grossed over $400 million at the global box office and took home seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner. In the intervening years, his status took a hit thanks to the much-derided Waterworld, which he was rumoured to have ghost-directed. However, even that film was a smash hit compared to the disastrous reception that greeted his official Dances With Wolves follow-up, The Postman.

A ponderous three-hour neo-western set in a post-apocalyptic USA, The Postman was derided for its mawkish sentimentality and jingoistic undertones, received five ‘Razzie’ awards for Worst Film, Worst Actor, Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Worst Soundtrack and barely earned back a fifth of its production budget. Once among the most bankable leading men in Hollywood, Costner’s reputation never fully recovered, although his next film Open Range was more warmly received, and in more recent years he’s made inroads thanks to solid supporting turns in films such as Hidden Figures and Molly’s Game.

Have you seen any of these infamous bombs by Oscar-winning directors? Do they all deserve their bad reputations, or are some of these movies unfairly maligned? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

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