The history of science fiction and fantasy at the cinema is littered with wreckage. It's hard enough to make a movie, and nearly impossible to make a good movie. So it's not surprising that even some of the best directors in Hollywood have at least one stinker in their resumes. With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan confirms his membership in an elite club: genre film-makers who've never made a truly regrettable movie.
Here are six science fiction and fantasy movie directors who've never made a bad movie.
Note: We're not including directors who've only made a few movies total. So no Joss Whedon, and no J.J. Abrams. And obviously there's some subjectivity about what constitutes a "bad movie" — for example, Peter Jackson is disqualified purely on the basis of Lovely Bones. Even if you liked Prometheus, Ridley Scott is probably bumped already, thanks to Legend. With that out of the way, here's our short, exclusive list:
At this point, he's not only made a pretty solid Batman trilogy, he's also made a point of doing his own challenging projects as well. His track record includes the mind-bending Memento and Inception. But also, he succeeded in taking Christopher Priest's tricky "feuding magicians" novel The Prestige and turning it into a stylish, clever film. He easily earns a place on this list.
Yes, we think eXistenZ is a decent movie, trippy "trapped in a weird body horror video game reality" sequences and all. We like M. Butterfly fine. And Dead Ringers, his weird "twin gynecologists" movie, is pretty solid as well. And of course, Cronenberg has more than his fair share of classics under his belt too, from Scanners to Videodrome to The Fly to Eastern Promises. His place on this list does depend on the early reports that Cosmopolis is a clunker being false, however.
His early Mexican films are just great. Mimic isn't his greatest work, and it definitely has some flaws — but it's not a bad movie at all. And after that, you get into a string of films that are either good or great, including the two Hellboy films, Blade II, and the utterly beguiling Pan's Labyrinth. And after seeing the first footage from Pacific Rim, his "giant monsters vs. giant robots" movie, we're confident that it will be at least decent.
But wait — what about Avatar? Actually, we don't think you can call Avatar a bad movie, even if you don't think it was a great movie. It's a well-worn story, but Cameron tells it reasonably well, and it's also gorgeous as fuck. And if you allow him Avatar, then Cameron's record looks pretty strong. Titanic is sentimental — but more solidly constructed than its namesake. The Abyss actually holds up quite well. Then there are True Lies, the two Terminators, and Aliens, all of which are great. You do have to disqualify Piranha 2 as having been directed by Cameron, however.
She's spent a lot of her career shuttling back and forth between science fiction films and straight-up action thrillers, before going gritty and topical with The Hurt Locker and her new Osama Bin Laden film, Zero Dark Thirty. Her action and science fiction movies include the classic vampire film Near Dark, the cop movie Blue Steel and the "undercover agent" movie Point Break. Really, though, her place on this list depends on what you think of Strange Days, her movie about a weird future where people buy and sell memories. It's definitely got some clunky bits, and it's not a great movie — but we'd argue Strange Days has enough jarring, weird moments to stick in your mind. And it never descends into actual "bad movie" territory.
And finally, the only director to make the transition from Pixar to live action successfully. (Bird's colleague Andrew Stanton nearly makes this list — but even though John Carter succeeds at doing many things, it also fails at a nearly equal amount of its goals.) And Brad Bird's filmography includes not just the Pixar classics The Incredibles and Ratatouille, but also The Iron Giant — which takes Ted Hughes' sad, beautiful children's book and turns it into an utterly lovely film. And even though Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is mostly a pretty brainless action film, Bird makes it look just astonishing, especially in IMAX. We've never seen anything like some of the Dubai sequences, plus Bird manages to make Tom Cruise look like he's really scared and engaged during those action scenes, instead of just competent and disengaged.
Thanks to Annalee, Meredith and Keith for the input!