“A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.”– Oscar Wilde
When Oscar Wilde followed suit of a French poet to utter the above quote, what he meant was heartbreaking and shocking at the same time. In a strikingly similar statement that transcends numerous different skills and genres, artists often despise their most widely adored creation. Leo Tolstoy allegedly hated his famed work Anna Karenina. Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein hated the monster he created. It is heartbreaking to think about it because a work of art, when conceived by an artist, requires patience and effort; harbingers of creativity go through emotional and psychological turmoil to produce something they have merely conceived in their brain. However, when the final product does not leave them happy or satisfied, it remains a painful reminder.
Filmmaking is an extensive process. It goes without saying that the skill requires an unfathomable amount of thinking time and hard work. Many times, a filmmaker concocts a specific idea in his head yet cannot bring it to fruition. While it could be due to their own shortcomings, external factors like unnecessary interferences from the studio, scheduling and shooting problems, soaring budgets, lack of funding and more often have a role in this. As a result, they often abandon their projects. While some leave their projects with a heavy heart, others often wear the crowns of embarrassment quite proudly, taking necessary lessons from it.
Every experience is a learning curve, and that can be understood from how auteurs such as David Fincher, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick have been left somewhat ashamed of their works. Even a pioneer like Alfred Hitchcock despised one of his films and felt like he did not do enough. These failures often invoked the desire in these filmmakers to do better and helped them reach the very top. Here are 15 such directors who hated their own films to the point where they refused to address this in interviews.
15 directors who hated their own movies:
15. Stanley Kubrick – Fear and Desire, 1953
Stanley Kubrick’s directorial debut carries an anti-war message. Although it is not specified which war it refers to, the timeline can be located during the Korean war. The fur soldiers who are stranded just six miles from their enemy camp try to find a way to infiltrate enemy lines. However, when one of them accidentally shoots a girl they had kidnapped and whom they could not understand due to language barriers, they start questioning the concept of war. Although they succeed in their mission, they are left with a hollow, questioning heart as well as a friend who is in a state of delirium.
Usually, directors are fond of their first films and look back on them as stepping stones. Kubrick, who was notorious for his perfectionism, was apparently not happy with his debut and hated it. For a man who had nearly pushed Shelley Duvall to the brink of insanity while shooting The Shining to keep up with his reputation of being a perfectionist, Fear and Desire apparently had a lot of loopholes.
Kubrick wanted to acquire all the copies and burn them; unfortunately for him, some survived and was released on Blu-Ray and DVD in 2012 after being aired on Turner Classic Movies the previous year. Although it was not a masterpiece, Kubrick’s amateurish attempt was definitely a great cinematic experience and nowhere near as horrible as Kubrick took it to be.
14. David Lynch – Dune, 1984
Adapted from Frank Herbert’s eponymous novel, Universal Studios and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis had decided that David Lynch should be the director of this film. Lynch, who was reeling from the success of The Elephant Man, rejected an offer to direct Return of the Jedi and took up this offer instead. However, he had never been interested in science fiction and after considering his other films such as Mullholland Drive, Blue Velvet as well as the low-budget masterpiece Eraserhead, one can very well understand that Dune is not within his oeuvre. After working on the script for six months, Lynch was compelled to change it five times.
Lynch was always at loggerheads with the studio for interfering with his creative vision. He was also denied rights over the final cut where his intended three-hour film was reduced to a length of two hours without giving him prior notice, monologues were replaced with still shots that expanded on the film concept. Enraged, Lynch decided to distance himself completely from the production and the film was added to the works of the pseudonym “Alan Smithee”. He also used the alias of Judas Booth as the writer being credited for the film; the name was a clever play of words as it alluded to the Biblical traitor Judas as well as John Wilkes Booth who was responsible for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Lynch hates discussing the film in interviews which tells us how much he regrets his involvement in the project.
13. Alfred Hitchcock – Rope, 1948
One of Hitchcock’s more experimental and controversial films, Rope revolves around a pair of Harvard graduates Brandon and Phillip who resort to a somewhat twisted intellectual activity where they want to prove their intellectual superiority by committing the perfect crime of murdering their classmate David. They host a dinner party afterwards and later reveal the activity as an ode to one of their professor’s seminal lectures. As the night advances, they grow restless and delusional, gradually remorseful, yet rationalise their actions by a false sense of superiority.
One of Hitchcock’s more underrated flicks, the film juxtaposes cold-blooded murder to intellectualism bordering o plain idiocy. Although the storyline is fascinating, Hitchcock himself was not pleased with the outcome and called it a failed experiment. While the tension is palpable, the thrill factor and the shock value which was quintessential in Hitchcock was lost in the dramatic portrayal of the events.
James Stewart was somewhat a mismatch in his role and overall, the film seemed to have found its place outside Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Irrefutably one of the pioneers of filmmaking Hitchcock was not very happy with the stagnance in the film and the melodramatic tone; however, it is still one of his most underrated gems as one might find themselves in a moral dilemma for rooting for the murderers despite the foreknowledge of their heinous crime.
12. Josh Trank – Fantastic Four, 2015
In 1994, an adapted version of the comic book Fantastic Four was put into production. However, the story of three perfectly ordinary men and a woman who get superhero abilities due to genetic mutation after being exposed to a space disaster was so terrible that the studios never released it. Fast forward a few years and the 2005 version was heavily criticised too, despite fantastic performances from the cast, namely Jessica Alba and Chris Evans who received widespread praise. In 2015, a reboot of the same film was released with Josh Trank as the director, produced by 20th Century Fox and Marvel. While fans waited eagerly with bated breath for a new and improved version, Trank shocked them by posting a tweet prior to the release of the film, accusing the studios of meddling with his creative genius and not granting him the freedom to showcase his fantastic vision.
Trank, fresh off the success of Chronicle, had allegedly decided to go for a darker and more sombre version of the film which was disagreeable to the studios as they feared losing the family-friendly audience. They compelled Trank to rethink and reshoot various portions while closely monitoring them. During the film edit, they released a theatrical version after omitting several plotlines from the original cut without consulting the director which, needless to say, enraged him. To cover up their mistakes, the studio exposed his erratic and indecent behaviour; Trank was deeply offended and tweeted out about it. He also dropped the film name from his Instagram bio which shows how angry and hurt he was.
11. Woody Allen – Annie Hall, 1977
Woody Allen is overtly critical of his work, which might confound viewers as he has been a pioneer in the industry for as long as one can recollect. Annie Hall is based on the eponymous nightclub singer with whom Allen’s Alvy Singer falls in love. As Allen breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewers directly, he reflects on his journey from childhood and adulthood which reflected on the various sides of modern romance with surreal sequences trapped in an emotionally stirring, psychological drama. Although Annie Hall is one of Allen’s most acclaimed films, the director was not too happy with the finished product.
Despite taking home several awards, Allen expressed his displeasure at the film not turning out to be quite like what he had envisioned. He had not wanted the focus to be on the romantic story; instead, the focal point was supposed to be the psychological journey undertaken by Alvy Singer as the representative of a man who was in love. “When Annie Hall started out, that film was not supposed to be what I wound up with. The film was supposed to be what happens in a guy’s mind,” said Allen.
He continued by saying, “Nobody understood anything that went on. The relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about.” Allen further said that in the end, he was compelled “to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton, and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in that movie”.
10. Tony Kaye – American History X, 1998
In his directorial debut, Tony Kaye’s film revolves around a brutal white supremacist Derek Vineyard who murdered two black men for trying to steal his truck. Derek, who derived inspiration from his brother Danny, tries to steer clear of racial crimes and prevents his brother from taking the same route as he did. The film won a lot of critical acclaim including a Best Actor nomination at the Academy for the lead played by Edward Norton. Tony Kaye, however, was denied the Best Director nomination and his tussle with the studio as well as the producer (Norton) earned him a bad reputation at Hollywood, so much so that he has only been able to make two more documentaries and one other scripted film in his nearly two-decade Hollywood journey.
Quite often directors are not very happy with their debut films. Kaye was no exception. Although the shooting process was quite a smooth-sailing affair, the main conflict arose when New Line studios suggested quite a number of edits to Kaye’s final cut. Outraged by the unwarranted intrusion, Kaye decided to distance himself from filmography. However, he did not stop at that. Not only did he express his disgust publicly but also tried to malign the film as well as Norton by spending money on full-page ads to attack the cast and crew. In the end, he did not succeed in his malcontent as the film achieved desired results and his sour battle with the film earned him nothing but a bad name and a failing career in Hollywood.
9. Noah Baumbach – Highball, 1997
Noah Baumbach is well-known for his delicate portrayal of relationships and while shooting Mr. Jealousy, he saved up a considerable amount of money for an experimental project. He wanted to reprise the same cast members in the film and shoot it within just six days. However, lack of planning and vaulting ambitions did not age well and Baumbach was left with an utter mess. Lack of sufficient raw footage for the film narrative led to a lot of incomplete sequences as he had to finish shooting early.
Baumbach also had a major fall out with the cast and crew, mainly because the cast could not allocate other dates to this highly experimental project of his. Dissatisfied with the final product and disgruntled by the lack of fruition of plans, Baumbach discarded the project completely. The film credited a certain Ernie Fusco for direction and a Jesse Carter for writing. However, the studio released a DVD of the same film without any prior information being sent to Baumbach which angered the director.
8. Tomas Alfredson – The Snowman, 2017
Initially set to be directed by Martin Scorsese, the film was later directed by Tomas Alfredson who himself despised the final cut agreeing with the critical response to the film. Adapted from Jo Nesbo’s eponymous crime thriller, the film starring heavyweight ensemble names such as Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chloe Sevigny and more, was to be shot in Norway. The film suffered due to a rushed shooting schedule which led to ample mistakes and a lack of coherence in the script. Considered rushed and lacking a crux of the story, the film suffered like a jigsaw puzzle where a lot of pieces were missing that led to a disastrous result, according to the director.
As he was quoted saying, “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture.” Alfredson, however, defended the film against critics who sent him severe backlash over the lack of geographical accuracy. He said that since it was “and his main intention was to not make “a documentary about the geography of Norway” and his main intention was to “make a fictive thriller”, he did not “give a shit,” he said, before adding: “Even if not everything is geographically correct”.
7. Kevin Reynolds – Waterworld, 1995
A disaster in every way, Waterworld was set in a post-apocalyptic world and eventually caused an apocalyptic end to a friendship between Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner. The film which was set in the near future and involved a polar ice cap melting and submerging more than half of the land actually sent the studio neck-deep into debts, becoming the most expensive films of that time. The film was laden with the misfortune of facing extremely bad weather conditions including a destructive and untimely storm which caused production costs to soar. The ever-changing shooting schedule, too, caused more harm than good.
Most importantly, it adversely impacted Costner and Reynolds’ relationship. When Costner started getting too involved in the filmmaking process, trying to encroach Reynolds’ creative domain and influence his decision-making process, the trouble in paradise allegedly began. When it became unbearable for Reynolds, he simply quit. However, he was credited for his contribution to the film yet never hid his displeasure. Costner, in an explosive interview with the press, delivered some fuming tea when he said that since he was dissatisfied by Reynolds’ directorial skills in Rapa Nui, he got involved with the filmmaking process to stop a disaster from ensuing.
6. Joel Schumacher – Batman and Robin, 1997
Ridiculous and outlandish with garish neon colours and jarring bat-nipples that stare at you in the face, Joel Schumacher’s sequel to Warner Bros studio’s Batman Forever is considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Schumacher, who blamed the studio for forcing him to do a sequel instead of an origin story, later accepted his faults and shared the blame for making such an embarrassing and nonsensical film. Starring George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, the film was absolutely pathetic due to its visuals; Tim Burton’s absence was palpable and overwhelming in the production team.
Joel was criticised by several actors for destroying their mindset. He would allegedly sit on the crane with a megaphone in his hand talking about how they were shooting a cartoon. O’Donnell complained that shooting the sequel felt entirely different from the original film as everything felt “a little soft”.
“On Batman Forever,” he said, “I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.”
5. Dennis Hopper – Catchfire, 1990
Dennis Hopper had always tried remaining very tight-lipped about what motivated him to quit the filmography of Catchfire, but over the years rumours have been abuzz. Despite having a stellar ensemble cast including bigshots like Jodie Foster, Joe Pesci, Dean Stockwell as well as a cameo from Bob Dylan and Catherine Keener, the film failed miserably. It came to be known as Backtracker on cable television. The film was heavily criticised for seemingly being too easy and cluttered.
The main difficulties arose due to the friction between Foster and Hopper. Apparently, on the first day of filming, the actress was shooting the shower scene when she yelled cut due to her lack of satisfaction with the take which angered the filmmaker. Hopper later revealed in an interview that Meryl Streep, who was very eager to work with Hopper, was warned against doing so by Foster who tried spreading rumours about his “AA mentality” where he was allegedly “sober drunk”.
4. Steven Soderbergh – The Underneath, 1995
Steven Soderbergh’s grand success at the Cannes following the release of his film Sex, Lies and Videotape, was followed by this disastrous film which left the director extremely unhappy. The film saw the director delve into the neo-noir genre and present a story with a robbery gone wrong as well as a twisted ending.
However, the film lacked effective sequences and fell flat. It was, as admitted by Soderbergh, “dead on arrival” and an utter mess. He said that the film was shot when he was going through a difficult phase in his life and did not have his “heart” in it. This resulted in a mess that was demoralizing for the filmmaker who had taken a leap of faith and shifted from the realm of indie cinema into that of big studio films.
3. Jerry Lewis – The Day The Clown Cried,1972
Jerry Lewis’ notorious film was controversial and infamous due to the sensitive subject matter is dealt with and never made it past the rough cut. The film’s only remaining incomplete version was sent to the Library of Congress. However, the film is set to have a small release in 2025. It focuses on a clown who was empanelled to lure the Jewish children into the gas chambers in Auschwitz. The clown, who was enrolled to do this job, continued doing so obliviously until he discovered the true nature of his job one day and decided to follow the children into the chambers.
Depressing and dark, the film noted the departure from slapstick comedy on the part of comedian Jerry Lewis who wanted to dabble in dark subject matters. However, his hatred towards the film knew no bounds and he despised his idea of exploiting a sensitive matter such as the Holocaust to direct a film. He wanted people to forget about it and in various interviews expressed his displeasure and embarrassment at having directed such an abomination. “You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
2. David Fincher – Alien 3, 1992
Had David Fincher paid heed to Ridley Scott’s advice, he would have never regretted his directorial debut. However, can one really blame him for taking up this massive opportunity of directing a sequel to the Aliens franchise of which he was a huge fan? Despite Scott’s warnings of not debuting with a big studio, Fincher chose to do so anyway. His experiences were extremely pathetic, leaving him embittered and at loggerheads with 20th Century Fox for quite some time. Fincher was only 28 and had not garnered the stature of an auteur yet. However, his young, bright mind abounded in ideas and he wanted to express his creativity with full freedom.
Fox, however, had other plans and compelled Fincher to commence shooting within five weeks which was extremely difficult for the young filmmaker. Denied a creative outlet, the decisions were premade and the script was already ready. He was denied entry into the editing room and the theoretical cut was released without seeking his consultation or permission. Fincher, later, released his own version of the film which reinstilled the audience’s belief in the superiority of his creation over the one made by the studios. His anger and hatred towards the film were thus completely justified. “I had to work on it for two years, got fired off it three times, and I had to fight for every single thing,” said Fincher. “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”
1. David O. Russell – Accidental Love, 2015
David O. Russell had quite the bad boy reputation for his anger issues and on-set tantrums. By the time he started shooting his film Accidental Love in 2008, people were already wary of him as he was quite difficult to work with. The production of the film not only suffered and went into an unprecedented hiatus due to lack of finances and funding but also Russell’s reputation took a toll on it. Realising his position, Russell was pragmatic enough to quit the production and take a break to analyse and reassess his career choices.
Following a wonderful metamorphosis, Russell was back with a bang with back-to-back hits namely Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter and American Hustle, all of which earned him high praise and critical acclaim. Considered some of the best films of his career, abandoning Accidental Love was perhaps one of the best decisions he made. However, the studio tried to use his success to their advantage by releasing the film in 2015. The result was disastrous as, despite a stupendous cast, the film was an utter failure. Russell withdrew his name from the filmography credits and his credits have been allotted to a Stephen Greene.