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10 Films That Were Disowned By Their Directors

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Nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie, but that doesn’t stop them from getting made. Filmmaking is a complicated, contentious process, so much so that the final product is often so far from what the creators intended that they disavow any knowledge or involvement. Sometimes this comes in the form of taking their name off the film itself and using a pseudonym; other times, they just own up to the mistakes and admit that, yes, the finished movie is pretty terrible. No attempt to rationalize the movie can make it any better, so why try? The films on this list range from deply flawed to just about unwatchable, and all of them inspired their directors to publicly disown them via apologies, disclaimers, or fake names hastily appended to the opening credits. They’re worth checking out, if only to see how something so big can go so wrong.

  1. Alien 3: Alien 3 was the first feature film from David Fincher, who got his start doing commercials and music videos. He would go on to make some amazing thrillers and dramas — The Game, Seven, the fantastic Zodiac, The Social Network — but his first film was a remarkably sloppy affair undone by overbearing executives and a troubled production. The script went through multiple drafts before Fincher was brought on board, resulting in a product that lacked focus or vision, and he was also saddled with technicians who were not his first picks. As Fincher would say years later, "There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked,’ and you have to agree with them, you know?" The film met with tepid critical response and brought low a franchise that had been riding high on two sci-fi classics, Alien and Aliens.
  2. American History X: Released to critical acclaim in 1998, American History X got Edward Norton an Oscar nomination for his role as a former neo-Nazi. But director Tony Kaye — another first-time feature helmer — was, by his admnission and the accounts of others, a terror to work with. Kaye objected to cuts and suggestions made by New Line Cinema as well as edits made by Norton, and he was so opposed to the longer version the studio opted to release that he petitioned to have his name removed and replaced with Alan Smithee, an industry psuedonym used by directors and other technicians who want to disassociate themselves from projects after release. His petition was unsuccessful, but he remained passionately opposed to the released version of the film, saying his shorter cut was better. The film’s profile actually raised the public’s awareness of the Smithee name, something that would come to haunt the industry.
  3. Catchfire: This 1990 film was disowned by director Dennis Hopper even before it was released, prompting the use of the Alan Smithee name in place of his own for the director credit. Hopper released a longer version that he liked for cable that was titled Backtrack — equally as vague — but hated the studio’s theatrical cut. Either way, audiences didn’t seem to care for it, and most people forget that it starred Jodie Foster, as well.
  4. The Underneath: Between his stunning debut with Sex, Lies, and Videotape and his late-1990s resurgence with Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh directed a few films that met with middling reception at best. One of these was 1995’s The Underneath, starring Peter Gallagher (whose presence pretty much dates the film as a ’90s experiment anyway) and based on an old noir novel. The film is mostly forgotten today, in part thanks to Soderbergh’s desire to downplay it, calling it "kind of a mess" that did nothing for his work but help him figure out how to use certain color and light.
  5. Fear and Desire: It doesn’t matter how big a Stanley Kubrick fan you consider yourself to be; you have probably never seen his first feature film, 1953’s Fear and Desire. The war movie met with decent appraisal from critics, but it wasn’t a financial success, and Kubrick quickly distanced himself from the film in terms of tone and content. Years later, upon hearing of a retrospective showing, Kubrick referred to the movie as a "bumbling amateur film exercise"; a little harsh, but then again, the film is indeed markedly below the standard Kubrick would set with Dr. Strangelove, 2001, and The Shining. Bootlegs abound, but there’s never been a legit home video release.
  6. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline: Shockingly, the third sequel to Hellraiser had issues from the get-go. Director Kevin Yagher, primarily (and still) known for his work as a make-up artist, envisioned a dark, graphic film that relied more on plot than the appearance of the creepy Pinhead character that had become the series’ trademark. The movie studio disagreed, and Yagher eventually left the project when his ideas couldn’t match theirs. Director Joe Chappelle was brought in to finish the film, which was credited to Alan Smithee. Yagher returned to make-up work, and future Hellraiser movies were relegated to the straight-to-video market.
  7. Supernova: Credited to "Thomas Lee" instead of real director Walter Hill, Supernova was a stinker that threatened to taint any and all involved. It’s too bad James Spader and Angela Bassett couldn’t use fake names, either. The shlocky sci-fi thriller ropes in everything from aliens to exploding stars, but the end result is just about unwatchable, earning a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  8. Woman Wanted: Kiefer Sutherland directed this 2000 drama, and watching just one minute makes it easy to see why he disowned it and had his name taken off. It’s almost laughably bad, suffering from a lack of pacing, energy, and interesting story. Theories abound as to just what went wrong — how much of the error is Sutherland’s direction, how much was inserted by the studio or editor — but the bottom line is that it’s just plain bad. Try not to laugh when you watch this:
  9. Solar Crisis: This should have been a cake walk: budget of $55 million, sci-fi action story about a crew trying to save the Earth from the Sun’s impending flare, and a cast featuring (seriously) Charlton Heston. Yet director Richard Sarafian’s name was replaced with the popular Smithee credit, and the film’s theatrical release was almost non-existent. Those are two pretty big indicators that the final product’s a disaster. Thank goodness it’s on Netflix, though, where its infamy will live forever.
  10. An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn: This one is a trip down the rabbit hole. Burn Hollywood Burn was conceived as an industry satire about a director named Alan Smithee who has his movie re-cut by the studio. Smithee then asks to have his name taken off the film, but he learns that the only available alternative is, well, the Alan Smithee pseudonym that’s been used for years. It’s a cute but very inside-baseball premise, but the movie wound up fulfilling its own prophecies when director Arthur Hiller hated the final cut so much that he had his name removed and replaced with — you got it — Smithee. So it’s a movie directed by Alan Smithee about a movie directed by Alan Smithee who wants people to think his movie wasn’t directed by Alan Smithee, but a fake Alan Smithee. Needless to say (for those who are still following all this), the film didn’t do well at all, grossing just over $45,000 on a $10 million budget. The debacle prompted to Hollywood to officially retire the fake name.

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