If there’s anyone you’d expect to toe the party line when talking about a movie, it’s the director.
Film is seen as a director’s medium, with the person in the fancy chair theoretically in charge of everything that happens in front of the camera.
However, that is not always the case. Sometimes, directors turn on their own work and speak out against it. Whether it’s by having their name removed from the project — and often replaced with the in-joke pseudonym Alan Smithee — or by expressing their dislike in interviews, numerous filmmakers have decided to express regret for what they have made in the past.
Roland Emmerich - Independence Day: Resurgence
The belated sequel to Roland Emmerich’s 90s sci-fi classic Independence Day was something of a disaster. Will Smith dropped out in order to make Suicide Squad and, as a result, Emmerich had to “cobble another script together” as quickly as possible.
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The director told Yahoo Movies UK this week that he “should have just said no” and stepped away from the project. He said he wanted to make a movie exactly like the successful original but, given the circumstances, that just wasn’t possible.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 29%
Josh Trank - Fantastic Four
After two moderately successful films in the noughties, Fox decided to capitalise on the boom in big screen superheroes by rebooting the Fantastic Four franchise. Red hot young director Josh Trank was attached to the project, having wowed with found footage superhero story Chronicle. Almost as soon as the movie finished filming, reports circled of rows between Trank and Fox. The studio mandated reshoots, Trank’s cut was binned and the director slammed the eventual movie on Twitter 24 hours before its release.
Read more: Fantastic Four producer admits regrets
Since then, Trank has made no secret of his disdain for the film. He removed the movie from his Instagram filmography and even said earlier this year that he would “gladly” take part in a campaign suggesting it should be erased from history. Ouch.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 9%
Joel Schumacher - Batman & Robin
It’s fair to say that even Joel Schumacher can see the problems with Batman & Robin — one of the most notoriously terrible movies ever made. "I want to apologise to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that," he told Vice in 2017. That’s something of an understatement given the reaction to the film, which is credited with putting Batman movies on hold for close to a decade and, in 2010, was voted as the worst movie of all time by Empire magazine.
Schumacher basically used that Vice interview to atone for his sins on Batman & Robin and it’s an admirably honest account of the movie’s bad decisions. He said he knew not to do a sequel and that he should’ve just walked away, but that he was persuaded as a result of his good relationship with Warner Bros.
The director takes responsibility for everything that happened on this train wreck, whether good, bad, ugly, or bat-nipples.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 11%
David Fincher - Alien³
David Fincher is now considered one of the greatest directors working in Hollywood, with the likes of Gone Girl, Fight Club and The Social Network under his belt. However, his feature debut came in 1992 at the helm of the third movie in the Alien franchise. He has since disowned the film thoroughly, stating in a 2009 Guardian interview that “to this day, no one hates it more than me”.
In the same Guardian chat, Fincher describes the film as him being given an opportunity to move from commercials to movies. “I wish they hadn’t,” he said. The director said he had to work on the film for two years, fighting for every detail and that he was fired three times as well as learning to be a “belligerent a**hole”. It’s fair to say he didn’t have the best time.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 42%
David Lynch - Dune
Frank Herbert’s Dune is infamous for being a hostile work to adapt. Alejandro Jodorowsky put in years of fruitless development work and Denis Villeneuve is currently in the midst of mounting an ambitious version of the story, but it was David Lynch who got the project to the big screen in 1984. The movie was divisive with critics and bombed at the box office. It has since developed a cult following, despite the fact Lynch himself has now disowned the movie.
Read more: Lynch awarded honorary Oscar
In 1992, the oddball filmmaker said he “probably shouldn't have done that picture” and accused himself of “selling out” in regards to his vision for the story. Some cuts of the film even replace Lynch’s name with the aforementioned Alan Smithee pseudonym. Hopefully Villeneuve will have better luck.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 53%
Michael Bay - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Michael Bay, it’s fair to say, is a filmmaker who prizes spectacle above all else. He’s a man who describes his own visual style, infamously, as “f***ing the frame” and has made box office millions with explosions and clanging metal via the Transformers franchise. But even he has regrets when it comes to the 2009 sequel Revenge of the Fallen.
“When I look back at it, that was crap,” Bay told Empire in 2011 with admirable honesty. The director said he was prepping the movie for months with only a 14 page outline of what it was about and said the whole thing was “a BS way to make a movie”. The Hollywood writers’ strike hit this one hard, but not hard enough to prevent the subsequent sequels and the franchise extending into infinity.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 20%
Stanley Kubrick - Fear and Desire
This might seem like an odd entry for this list, given 1953 anti-war drama Fear and Desire is an acclaimed film with a recent Blu-ray release as part of Eureka Video’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ series. But try telling that to cinema legend Stanley Kubrick, who described his debut feature as a “bumbling amateur film exercise” in a 1994 statement released via a publicist.
Read more: How Kubrick made The Shining’s lift bleed
It is rumoured that Kubrick destroyed the original negative for the film and so, for years, very few prints of the finished movie remained in existence, primarily in private collections. The copyright lapsed in the early part of the 1990s, but Kubrick actively attempted to discourage the movie from gaining any sort of audience by repeatedly bad-mouthing it in the press.
Screenings remained rare until after Kubrick’s death in 1999, but it is now available widely on DVD and Blu-ray.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 80%
David O. Russell - Accidental Love
Few films have had a production as unusual as Accidental Love, which was originally titled Nailed. Its offbeat premise follows a woman who begins to campaign for those who suffer bizarre injuries after she is accidentally shot with a nail gun. Principal photography for the film began in 2008, but it didn’t arrive in US cinemas until 2015, which says a lot.
The director behind it is David O. Russell, of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, but he negotiated with the DGA to have his name removed from the project. They wouldn’t let him have the retired Alan Smithee pseudonym, so the movie is credited to Stephen Greene. Russell stepped away in 2010 and issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter saying he was “no longer involved in the project and cannot call it 'my' film”.
The final furlong of the process was chaotic, with actors forced to return for reshoots as a result of their contracts. It’s fair to say that the resulting film did not go down well with critics, who hated it, or audiences, who totally ignored it.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 9%
Steven Soderbergh - The Underneath
Steven Soderbergh is now known for being one of the most prolific filmmakers in modern Hollywood, with a diverse back catalogue spanning all manner of different projects. However, even he is not fond of his 1995 crime film The Underneath — a remake of the 1949 film Criss Cross. The director told the Criterion Collection his “heart wasn’t in it” on the disc for his 1993 movie King of the Hill.
In that same interview, Soderbergh describes the film as “very sleepy” and said he was “already absent” and thinking about his next project while on the set, realising the movie was “dead on arrival” very quickly. “I had everything I needed,” he said, adding “I’m the one that didn’t show up”. It certainly seems Soderbergh is disappointed with himself over what happened to this one, wishing he hadn’t made it even while he was in the process of doing so.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 59%
Kiefer Sutherland - Woman Wanted
Woman Wanted is a bizarre curio. It’s a mostly forgotten adaptation of a romance novel, released in 1999 and notable perhaps only for being the final movie to receive an Alan Smithee director credit. It was star Kiefer Sutherland who was really behind the camera, but he disowned the film and subsequently is not listed for helming it.
By doing so, he secured the movie a legacy he almost certainly never wanted it to have. It’s still appearing on lists like this one two decades after its release.
Rotten Tomatoes score: n/a