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A Brief History of Directors Hating on Their Own Movies

This week, the director of ‘The Snowman’ joined an elite group of filmmakers who have been unafraid to admit their own terrible, terrible mistakes

The Snowman, a movie about a serial killer who uses the corpses of his victims to make snowmen with coffee beans for eyes, and whose main character is actually named “Harry Hole,” is not good. Joining The Book of Henry, it’s the second movie of 2017 that critics and audiences alike seem completely thrilled to crap on. But here’s something refreshing: The director, Tomas Alfredson, knows the movie sucks, too.

When bad reviews pour in, directors (and studios) typically deflect—they say something like, “The movie was made for the fans, not the critics” or, “It was meant to be provocative.” Not The Snowman director. No: He’s telling interviewers about not having enough time to shoot the film in Norway, and how 10 to 15 percent of the script was never put in front of the camera. “It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture,” he told The Independent.

More directors should be like Alfredson. Everyone’s having a good time celebrating this piece of garbage—and no one’s mad about it, so why not join in and throw some more fuel into the dumpster fire?! To be fair, though, Alfredson did not invent the self-dump. In fact, it’s a tradition held by a very select group of filmmakers. Here’s a brief history of directors who have looked at their own work with scornful contempt.

Josh Trank

Movie: Fantastic Four (2015)

Best “I Know” Quote: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality, though.”

This quote came in a highly publicized, since-deleted tweet from Trank, whose borderline unwatchable superhero movie caused his stock to crater. Trank was going to lead one of Star Wars’ three planned spinoffs, but since the Fantastic Four fallout, he’s yet to direct anything. Shockingly, big studios with multimillion-dollar properties aren’t fans of petty tweets and on-set fracas.

I kinda like how he said, “That’s reality, though.” Such bleak nihilism.

Tony Kaye

Movie: American History X (1998)

Best “I Know” Quote: “The movie they put out was crammed with shots of everyone crying in each other's arms. And, of course, [Edward] Norton had generously given himself more screen time.”

By his own admission, Kaye was a nightmare to work with on his first feature film, which he detailed exhaustively in a 2002 op-ed for The Guardian. “I had immersed myself in books about military strategy, and I got it into my head that I could arrange attacks on theatres that were showing the movie—one idea that almost came to fruition was to send a posse of demonstrators along to barricade the doors and prevent the audience from getting in,” he writes. How normal!

Perhaps the most perplexing element of Kaye’s drama with American History X is that the finished product is actually pretty good—Norton curb-stomped his way to an Oscar nomination. Don’t tell Kaye that, though.

Kevin Reynolds

Movie: Waterworld (1995)

Best “I Know” Quote: “It’s not any better or any worse than most of the films of that genre out there.”

This is a great quote because with it, Kevin Reynolds dumps on his own movie and every other movie like it. Expertly done. It’s not a scathing assessment of Waterworld, but consider the hype that came with this film in 1995. It was a big-budgeted epic—essentially, Mad Max on the high seas—but so much went wrong on the production for both the Kevins (that would be Reynolds and actor Kevin Costner, who reportedly sunk his marriage with an on-set fling) that it was a huge box office flop. Reynolds’s above quote, given in an entertaining oral history of Waterworld for Newsweek in 2015, is just one example of the director’s apathetic reaction to the film. As he bluntly recalls the chaos at sea: “Every day was quite an event.”

Rocky Morton

Movie: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Best “I Know” Quote: “It’s a messy film. It’s a big mess.”

This is what I tell my editor every time I hand in a first draft. Rocky gets it.

David Fincher

Movie: Alien 3 (1992)

Best “I Know” Quote: “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”

Before he became a true-crime savant, Fincher was a young director tasked with continuing the Alien franchise, following in the footsteps of Ridley Scott and James Cameron. It didn’t go well, insofar as 20th Century Fox apparently wanted to “break him” for being obsessed with the minutiae. “It was a baptism by fire,” he also told The Guardian. It’s this kind of honesty and harsh criticism that makes him such a good filmmaker today, right?

Michael Cimino

Movie: Heaven’s Gate (1980), and his entire filmography?

Best “I Know” Quote: “I never knew how to make a film, and I still don’t know. … My background is architecture, painting, that’s where I come from. I’m much more intrigued by a good building than by a good movie.”

Maybe the biggest, most subtle flex in film history. Can you imagine how angry this quote probably makes aspiring directors who can’t get work? Cimino will forever be linked to Heaven’s Gate, a film so disastrous it caused the studio that made it, United Artists, to go out of business. Cimino’s antics were a big part of it; he didn’t want to cut the movie from his preferred length of 325 minutes. I love this man.

Stanley Kubrick

Movie: Fear and Desire (1953)

Best “I Know” Quote: “Pain is a good teacher.”

Kubrick hated his first feature film so much that he tried preventing people from seeing what he called a “bumbling, amateur film exercise.” I haven’t seen Fear and Desire, but Kubrick’s self-own makes it all the more enticing. It must be pretty awful if it taught Kubrick how to make The Shining.