Movie directors tend to march to the beat of their own drum, and it’s always kind of interesting when a director decides to strike outside his or her comfort zone to helm a picture for a genre they’re not usually associated with. Smash hit or legendary flop, the results are usually memorable, at the least.
Here’s our list of 15 “Out of Left Field” works from some of the biggest directors working today.
Dir. Martin Scorsese
That’s Martin Scorsese, him of visceral movies like Goodfellas and Mean Streets directing an adaptation of a beloved kid’s book. It worked, though, at least with critics – Hugo earned eleven Oscar nominations, including Picture and Director – even though its box office didn’t blow anyone away.
Dir. Brian De Palma
De Palma made his career by creating edgy thrillers like Carrie and Blow Out and blood-soaked crime epics like Scarface and The Untouchables – not exactly the kind of work that would usually scream out straight action-adventure, Mission: Impossible style. Still, he did fine work with Tom Cruise to kick off the franchise, even though he hasn’t come back for any of the exceedingly popular sequels.
Dir. Curtis Hanson
Curtis Hanson’s three 1990s movies were the guilty-pleasure thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, the underrated action film The River Wild and the sterling neo-noir film L.A. Confidential. In the 2000s, he dropped this straight chick-flick adaptation of the Jennifer Weiner novel, starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. An odd choice, and the lukewarm box office and critical reception didn’t do much for his career.
Dir. George Miller
Yes, that George Miller – helmer of the Mad Max films and, curiously, the writer of Babe – created one of the most joyous kids movies of the last decade. Plenty of water to be found in that movie, for sure.
Dir. John Madden
Madden – not the American football commentator or the former New Jersey Devils forward – came to stardom through handsomely costumed English period pics like Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love. His 2011 entry The Debt – certainly out of his comfort zone – was a surprisingly tense and well-acted post-WWII revenge thriller that helped to make a star of Jessica Chastain.
Dir. Clint Eastwood
The man who gave us Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name delivering us this tender love story with Meryl Streep? Sure. Again, though – as is the case with a lot of these films – it certainly worked. Streep got an Oscar nomination and the movie became a highlight of Eastwood’s directorial career.
Dir. Ridley Scott
Scott has excelled in most areas, but light romantic drama might not be his forte. He teamed with frequent leading man Russell Crowe for this flop, with the former gladiator starring as a high-powered London finance whiz who heads to his uncle’s run-down vineyard in France to rediscover his soul. Familiar, forgettable story; audiences were just as unenthusiastic.
Dir. Barry Levinson
Levinson, a director more known for intimate dramas (Avalon or Rain Man) stepped into an entire different dimension with this water-logged adaptation of a Michael Crichton book in the late 1990s. An odd cast (Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson) didn’t help matters, and the movie was a dud.
Dir. Oliver Stone
Fans might have expected the usual government-questioning slant from Stone with this 2006 project; instead, they got a straightforward and well made tale of survival from the tragedy. Out of the norm, yes, but exceedingly well done.
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
The director of The Godfather epics stooped low – way, way low – to get behind the camera of this mirthless Big knock-off with a mugging Robin Williams at its center. Has any acclaimed director had such a strange later career?
Dir. Jim Sheridan
Sheridan made five strikingly accomplished, politically-charged, heartfelt films – My Left Foot, The Field, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer and In America – before disaster struck with this puzzling, flop 50 Cent bio-pic from 2005. A decade later and Sheridan’s career still hasn’t fully recovered.
Dir. Peter Weir
Peter Weir is one of Australia’s most acclaimed filmmakers, directing the war epic Gallipoli before coming to America to helm films like Witness and The Mosquito Coast. He took a bit of an unexpected detour at the star of the 1990s, penning and directing a charming and light-hearted romantic comedy with Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell as the leads. This is one of those features just begging for a remake.
Dir. Kenneth Branagh
That’s Kenneth Branagh, one of the more esteemed English actors and directors out there, sitting behind the lens of a Marvel film that features a demigod smashing things with a hammer. At least Branagh pulled it off, adding a classic spin on the comic tale and making a true star out of Tom Hiddleston (let’s face it, he’s a ton more fun to watch than Hemsworth).
Dir. Adrian Lyne
Lyne, director of the erotic thrillers 9 ½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction, made an unexpected move into horror with this psychological drama from 1990 starring Tim Robbins as a tormented Vietnam vet. It wasn’t a huge hit when it came out, but has developed into a well thought-of cult hit since its release.
Dir. David Lynch
No typical Lynch-ian weirdness here (perhaps reflected in the movie’s name); instead, this the forthright, honest and affecting story of Alvin Straight (a great Richard Farnsworth), who drove cross-country on a lawnmower to see his estranged brother. It’s a wonderful little film, and you’ll want Lynch to do more of these when you’re done with it.
Do you have a favorite director that made an unusual turn? Do these make sense to you as far as the directors’ career paths went? Give us your input in the comments below.