That Difficult Second Movie

You’ve heard of the difficult second album – you know, those bands who come on to the scene with a classic LP and then can’t seem to follow it for the life of them. But what about the difficult second movie? There’s no doubt that some filmmakers have taken a nosedive after their impressive first outings – whether it’s due to studio interference or just a perplexing drop-off in talent and quality, we’re taking a look at some of the directors who couldn’t follow up their iconic first releases – and, in the process of trying, ended up putting their names on some real garbage, instead.

1. Tom Ford

You remember A Single Man, don’t you? Oh, man, what a film – that amazing Colin Firth performance, the stunning, restrained direction, the intelligent and existential meditation on life, love, and grief…the fashion designer’s first foray into filmmaking still stands as one of the great pieces of pure dramatic cinema, and long may it remain that way.

And then, we’ve got Nocturnal Animals. Another great cast (Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal), another book adaptation, another sumptuous world to fill out – and somehow, Ford managed to fashion (hah) one of the most painfully vapid, stupid movies I’ve ever seen. Nocturnal Animals, a gruellingly boring deep-dive into the Agonised Mind of the Male Creative (because we’re short on those, you see), can only aspire to pretension. Despite dedicated performances and a strong premise, it’s a bafflingly awful sophomore effort from a director with such obvious skill.

2. Tobe Hooper

Look, this is already cheating a little bit, because I know that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn’t Hooper’s first movie (Eggshells, made five years before, holds that title). But it’s the first of his that earned a wide released and kicked off his career as the iconic horror director that came to help define a gritty, grubby, grisly gothic subgenre that has lasted to this day. And man, does he deserve that honour – Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most brutally brilliant slasher films ever made, packed with iconic images, stunning performances, and perhaps the best slasher villain of all time in Leatherface. This is an exercise in superb direction, control, skill, talent – and yet, Hooper could never really follow it up.

His next release, a campy Southern killer-croc narrative named Eaten Alive, was panned, and even today has only earned some vague so-bad-it’s-good praise (oh, and an appalling remake from Hooper himself a few decades later, because once just wasn’t enough). The rest of his filmography has precious few outings to recommend to it – apart from the not-actually-as-good-as-you-remember Poltergeist, we’re talking graceless, gaudy flicks that rarely crept above punishingly awful. How someone with the obvious talent and directorial skill that Hooper displayed in Texas Chainsaw Massacre couldn’t manage another great movie is beyond me, but somehow, he pulled it off.

3. Josh Trank

It’s not much of a stretch to say that directors can just as easily fail in a genre they are comfortable in as they can when they make a jump out of their comfort zone. For instance, Logan director James Mangold is great at meaty character-driven drama: Logan, Copland, and Walk the Line can attest to that. It’s when he tries to go too mainstream and crowd-pleasing, like The Wolverine, Identity, and Knight and Day, that he seems to lose the plot.

Josh Trank is the former, as the Chronicle director made a moderate splash with his found footage superhero flick that gave the world Dane DeHaan and Anthony B Jordan. This led to one of the most infamous superhero disasters, that wasn’t directed by Mark Steven Johnson, with a dark reboot of the Fantastic Four. According to Trank, mere days after the movie’s release, his edit was an amazing work of staggering genius, and Fox came in an ruined it all with hasty reshoots. It also didn’t help that reports of Trank’s aggressive behavior on set surfaced, which led to him getting fired from a proposed Boba Fett movie. He’s currently finishing up post-production on an Al Capone biopic starring Tom Hardy, so let’s hope Trank can get his career back on track.

4. Jan De Bont

For my money, Jan De Bont has directed the best movie of any filmmaker on this list. I know that A Single Man is amazing, and I love it too, but it’s not Speed! Speed is perhaps the greatest purely action movie of the 90s, an intense thrill ride with Keanu Reeves trying to act as Sandra Bullock carries his ass. It’s endlessly quotable, genuinely engrossing, and it was made by the dude who is responsible for Die Hard looking so damn good.

You would think that a stellar first movie, and a host of cinematography credits from movies of the quality og Die Hard, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Hunt for Red October, would be enough for De Bont to become one of the best action directors of his generation. Yet, you would be wrong. Since Speed, De Bont has made four movies, and each of them is worse than the last. His follow-up to Speed was Twister, a movie that you loved as a kid, which should remain firmly in your childhood. Then there is the laughable Speed 2: Cruise Control which has Sandra trying to stop a big boat from slowing down. It’s an awful movie, one that is continually ranked as one of the worst sequels of all time. It only got worse for De Bont from there as his career petered out thanks to a limp adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, and a Tomb Raider sequel that no one wanted. Truly, the Tobe Hooper of action cinema.

By Kevin Boyle and Louise MacGregor

(header image via The 13th Floor)

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