In this article, we’ll take a look at directors the same way I’ve recently been looking at groups of actors. I did a little preliminary checking and decided to take things in a slightly different direction. The “Director Title Belt” process sets up comparisons and context for accomplishments in a manner I very much enjoy.
I understand it as such: the Title Belt is awarded each year to the ______ who stands above his/her peers in the field in question. It can be held for multiple years consecutively or non-consecutively. It is not simply the “most successful” in any particular category be it financial success, critical success, the volume of output, or the collection of awards earned. Each of those aspects and some simple subjective sense are used to determine the Title Belt holder for a given year. If no one steps up and takes the belt in a given year, the previous year’s champ gets to keep it.
As is usually the case, your input is greatly desired. If there’s a director that you think deserved a shot at the belt, let me know in the comments. The hilarious guys at Whiskey Cinema did a series on this article and I encourage you to check it out.
So, let me set the ground rules for the Feature Film Director Title Belt. In order to make a claim on the title, you must have produced a hit in the given year. A hit is defined as a full-length feature film which meets one of two criteria:
What is a Hit?
Either 2 of these 3 benchmarks:
≥1 major award nominations (more on this in a minute)
≥$100 million gross domestic receipts, non-adjusted, per the-numbers.com
≥80% fresh critical score on rottentomatoes.com
OR 1 of these 3 more extreme versions of the benchmarks:
≥4 major award nominations
≥$250 million gross domestic receipts, non-adjusted
≥95% fresh critical score
Of the 79 directors I analyzed, there were 338 films over the past 50 years that met these criteria.
The awards I’m considering are the following:
- The Academy Awards (Oscars)
- The Golden Globes
- The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs)
- The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (Saturn Awards)
- Cannes Film Festival Awards
- The Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
A Razzie nomination immediately disqualifies a film from being a hit regardless of any other benchmarks achieved.
Obviously winning an award is better than just being nominated, but this isn’t just simply a list of the “Best Director” winners, that would be boring.
I’ve also eliminated any one-hit wonders. Literally. For a director to hold the Title Belt, he/she must have achieved a hit more than once in their career. I’m also going to arbitrarily start in 1970. Mainly because my knowledge of films prior to 1970 gets pretty fuzzy.
At the end of each Decade, I’ll crown a “Director of the Decade” which will be in the same spirit of the Title Belt but won’t simply be the director with the most belts. The number in parenthesis is the count of years that particular director has held the belt.
The 70’s Year by Year
“M*A*S*H” Robert Altman
The other important famous films made in 1970 were “The Aristocrats”, “The Conformist”, and “El Topo”, none of which were directed by someone eligible for my version of the Title Belt.
Altman’s debut, “Countdown” wasn’t particularly successful in ‘67 but “M*A*S*H” made an impressive $82 million, is 86% fresh, and earned him a win at Cannes, and nominations from the Oscars, Globes, and BAFTAs.
TITLE BELT: Robert Altman
“A Clockwork Orange” Stanley Kubrick
“The French Connection” William Friedkin
“Taking Off” Miloš Forman
A strong bid for the greatest director of the 60s, Stanley Kubrick, his dystopian psych-horror received 6 award nominations and currently rates 89% fresh on tomatoes.
The Czech director Miloš (roughly pronounced Mee-lowsh) Forman had quietly debuted in ‘64, but his first hit didn’t come until ‘71. The comedy was adored across the pond earning six BAFTA nominations. Forman himself received two BAFTA noms and won one of two nominations at Cannes.
Friedkin’s crime thriller won him an Oscar and a Globe and was nominated for a BAFTA. It’s 98% fresh but confused me royally.
TITLE BELT: Stanley Kubrick
“The Godfather” Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola takes the belt without much question. The gangster epic won 3 of it’s 4 major award nominations, pulled in $135 million (which adjusts to over $400mm) and is 98% fresh.
TITLE BELT: Francis Ford Coppola
“Mean Streets” Martin Scorsese
“American Graffiti” George Lucas
“Badlands” Terrence Malick
“The Exorcist” William Friedkin
“The Long Goodbye” Robert Altman
“Serpico” Sidney Lumet
Some competition! Scorsese had debuted in ’67 but hadn’t scored too well on either his first film, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” or his second “Boxcar Bertha” (’72). “Mean Streets”, however, is a critical darling sitting at 96% fresh according to the tomatoes.
Friedkin’s second (and last) hit is one of the most iconic horror films of all-time. For a 70s film to breach $230 million is simply extraordinary. A genre-defining classic that also earned the director a Globe award and an Oscar nomination.
The enigmatic Malick made his debut in ‘73 as well. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star as a pair of young lovers who become murderers. The tragic tale is based on a true story and inspired some of the greatest filmmakers in history. Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino both name Malick’s epic as foundational to their careers. The film is 98% fresh and earns its spot on the list purely on critical acclaim.
The primary competitor in the 60s to Kubrick was Sidney Lumet. He scored four hits during the decade and is probably most well known for his hit “12 Angry Men” from 1957. Despite making a film every year from ‘65 to ‘78, “Serpico” was his first hit to qualify since ‘70. The Pacino vehicle earned Lumet a BAFTA nomination and is 90% fresh.
Altman’s second hit was an Elliott Gould vehicle in a sort of Dirty Harry type crime thriller. It was a critical smash, sitting at 97% fresh.
Lucas made his debut in ’71 with the critical success “THX 1138” but didn’t score a hit until “American Graffiti.” Sitting pretty at 96% fresh, the nostalgic high-school flick was nominated for 5 Oscars (2 for Lucas) and a Globe while making $115 million.
TITLE BELT: William Friedkin
“Godfather Part II” Francis Ford Coppola
“The Conversation” Francis Ford Coppola
The Sugarland Express” Steven Spielberg
“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” Martin Scorsese
“Chinatown” Roman Polanski
“Murder on the Orient Express” Sidney Lumet
“Young Frankenstein” Mel Brooks
“Blazing Saddles” Mel Brooks
Coppola gets an easy win with a particularly dominant multi-hit year. The much-anticipated Corleone family sequel won Coppola 3 Oscars and got him two more Globe nominations. It also sits at 97% fresh. However, his most successful film critically (at 98% fresh) was actually “The Conversation” for which he also received a whopping 8 major award nominations, including a double-win at Cannes.
Comedian extraordinaire Mel Brooks also logged a double hitter. Working with the inestimable Gene Wilder, Brooks spun edgy culturally significant yarns with as many memorable jokes as any films ever made. For “Blazing Saddles” he earned a BAFTA nomination and pulled in $128 million. For “Young Frankenstein” he won a Saturn, was nominated for an Oscar, and made $86 million.
Lumet kept on making hits with an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous story. Albert Finney’s Poirot is good and Lumet got another BAFTA nomination (they love him) and it’s 89% fresh.
Roman Polanski scored a pair of hits in the 60s including horror staple “Rosemary’s Baby.” In the 70s he continued his success starting with “Chinatown.” The crime thriller starring Jack Nicholson is a noir classic that sits at 99% fresh and earned Polanski a win from both the BAFTAs and the Globes, and an Oscar nomination.
Spielberg’s first feature film is already a hit with many, many more to come. The thriller took home a couple of nominations and a win at Cannes and is 91% fresh. Scorsese’s title garnered a pair of nominations and is 88% fresh.
TITLE BELT: Francis Ford Coppola (2)
“Barry Lyndon” Stanley Kubrick
“Jaws” Steven Spielberg
“Dog Day Afternoon” Sidney Lumet
“Nashville” Robert Altman
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” Terry Gilliam
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Miloš Forman
Pacino and Lumet teamed up again but this time Al found himself on the opposite side of the law. The directing was awarded with a nomination from the BAFTAs, Globes, and Oscars. At 95% fresh it’s his most critically acclaimed film since “12 Angry Men.”
Altman continued to crank out films and hit for the third time with “Nashville.” In between the hits his non-hits such as “Thieves Like Us,” “Images,” and “Brewster McCloud” all were decently received but didn’t reach the benchmarks. The multi-threaded human interest tale earned Altman a pair of Oscar nominations as well as a Globe nom and is 92% fresh.
Kubrick is back with a 5 award-nominated, limited-release analysis of depravity and the human condition. Tomatoes has it 94% fresh.
One of the greatest comedies in the history of film was made by the mostly British comedy troupe Monty Python. I say mostly British, because the director and animator Terry Gilliam is actually from Minneapolis. Gilliam won a BAFTA award and the hilarious and silly deconstruction of King Arthur is 97% fresh.
Jack Nicholson soared to incredible heights in the 60s and 70s and one of the most impressive performances of his career is in Forman’s adaptation of Dale Wasserman’s play. Themes of sanity, freedom, humanity, and a biting critique of mental health institutions formed one of the most indelible films of all-time. It exploded at the awards, earning multiple Oscars including one for Forman and he also won a BAFTA and a Globe. It also made a respectable $109 million and is 94% fresh.
However, Spielberg’s second feature is 97% fresh, got nominated for a Globe and a BAFTA, and made an extraordinary $260 million. In adjusted numbers, it’s one of 8 movies to eclipse a billion dollars. (Spielberg has another on that exclusive list).
The supposed “movie of the decade” if the Whiskey Cinema guys are to be believed, “Rocky” ends up as a one-hit-wonder for John G. Avildsen. There, I mentioned it, you can shut up now.
“Cuckoo’s Nest” was a critical darling but the financial impact plus the cultural ubiquity of “Jaws” is undeniable.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg
“Taxi Driver” Martin Scorsese
“Assault on Precinct 13” John Carpenter
“Network” Sidney Lumet
“The Tenant” Roman Polanski
Scorsese delivered his most critically acclaimed film with a typically tough, gritty street thriller he’s the master of. Sitting at 98% fresh, “Taxi Driver” got Scorsese a BAFTA nom and a win at Cannes.
Polanski starred in his next hit “Le locataire” or “The Tenant.” The 88% fresh film was nominated at Cannes.
Lumet kept on cranking out the hits with the fascinating “Network.” A film for our time, Lumet stripped bare the screen consumer’s psyche with the help of a career-defining performance from Peter Finch. Lumet received a nomination from the BAFTAs, Globes, and Oscars and won the Globe.
John Carpenter had already received a Saturn award for his debut “Dark Star” in ’74 which missed the hit threshold by a single rotten tomatoes percentage point. “Assault on Precinct 13,” a story of unlikely alliances in the face of extreme violence and mayhem, however, is beloved at 98% fresh.
TITLE BELT: Sidney Lumet
“Close Encounters of a Third Kind” Steven Spielberg
“Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” George Lucas
“The Duellists” Ridley Scott
“3 Women” Robert Altman
“Annie Hall” Woody Allen
The answer is clear, but let’s look at the competitors anyway.
Spielberg’s sci-fi epic, starring his friend from “Jaws” fame Richard Dreyfuss, pulled in 7 directing award nominations, won a Saturn, earned $136 million and is 96% fresh. This actually accounts for the most major award nominations Spielberg got for a single film.
Scott’s debut got two nominations at Cannes and won one and is 92% fresh. This movie looks awesome and I need to get my hands on it.
Altman earned a nomination at Cannes as well for his 94% fresh drama.
Woody Allen had been making films since ‘66. They were critical darlings but hadn’t made any money or caught the attention of the Academy. It all changed with “Annie Hall.” Written by, directed by, and starring Woody (as many of his films are), this abstract analysis of how two people fall in love hit award gold. He won two of three Oscar nominations, won two of three BAFTA nominations, and had three additional Globe nominations. The nine award nominations set the tone for what will be a prolifically decorated career.
The runaway winner sits at 93% fresh (which just proves 7% of critics are morons), won a pair of Saturns, got a Globe nom, and got the only 2 director-related Oscar nominations in the Star Wars franchise to date. Its true victory rests in the enormous $461 million domestic gross receipts which in adjusted numbers is 2nd all-time at a staggering $1.57 billion.
TITLE BELT: George Lucas (2)
“Halloween” John Carpenter
“Superman” Richard Donner
“Days of Heaven” Terrence Malick
The big hitters from the early ’70s took a year off and some new blood got a shot at the belt.
Donner’s fourth feature was one of the original superhero blockbusters. It took in a respectable $134 million, a Saturn nomination, and is 94% fresh (with a great soundtrack).
Malick’s second film is as earthy and American as his first. This time the Academies took notice and he received a Globe nomination and won one of two nominations at Cannes. Then he stopped making movies, with just the two masterpieces to his name, for twenty years.
Much like Lucas in ’77, Carpenter launched what has become one of the longest-running “franchises” in Hollywood history. “Halloween” was the first of 11 films in the Michael Myers saga. Serial killer horror films are not generally well-received, however, Carpenter’s launching pad is a certified fresh 95%.
The cultural impact of Carpenter’s film trumps the superhero blockbuster.
TITLE BELT: John Carpenter
“Apocalypse Now” Francis Ford Coppola
“Alien” Ridley Scott
“Tess” Roman Polanski
“Manhattan” Woody Allen
Sir Ridley’s 2nd feature launched a franchise of its own, with 8 films out and more in production. “Alien” won Scott a Saturn and is at 97% fresh.
Polanski’s third consecutive hit is a romantic drama that earned him both a Globe and Oscar nomination.
Allen wrote, directed, and starred in another fourth-wall-breaking relationship drama. This time, the tone is more tragicomic but it worked, as the 95% fresh rating reveals. He set a new personal record with $40 million in tickets, earned an Oscar nomination, and won one of three BAFTA nominations.
Coppola’s 4th feature film, and incidentally 4th hit of the decade, is his most awarded film, getting him 3 Oscar nominations, winning 2 Globes, winning one of two BAFTA noms, and winning twice at Cannes. Sitting at 96% fresh, the Vietnam epic signaled the peak of Coppola’s run.
George Miller also debuted with his peculiar action flick “Mad Max” but it was primarily released in Australia and didn’t quite make the benchmarks for a hit.
In this case, while the Alien franchise keeps making films and making money, I can’t overlook the 9 award nominations for Coppola and “Apocalypse Now.”
TITLE BELT: Francis Ford Coppola (3)
The 70s Wrap Up
$$$ in millions:
I think the data is pretty clear, the “Director of the Decade” for the 1970s is…
Francis Ford Coppola
The 80s Year by Year
“Raging Bull” Martin Scorsese
“The Elephant Man” David Lynch
Lynch had made his debut in ‘77 with the critically acclaimed “Eraserhead.” Unfortunately it didn’t make a dent at the boxoffice or the awards. However, “The Elephant Man” is 92% fresh and made a big splash for Lynch with the academies. He received two Oscar noms, two BAFTA noms, and a Globe nom for the trippy but poignant film about humanity.
Critically successful (95% fresh) street drama “Raging Bull” earned Scorsese an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA nomination. It also got Robert De Niro his 2nd Oscar.
Other heavy hitters laid eggs (De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”) or just took the year off.
A notable exclusion, you may notice, is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” While I find the film riveting and genius, it earned a Razzie nomination for worse Director and was therefore disqualified.
TITLE BELT: Martin Scorsese (2)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” Steven Spielberg
“Thief” Michael Mann
“Escape to New York” John Carpenter
“Das Boot” Wolfgang Petersen
“Ragtime” Miloš Forman
“Prince and the City” Sidney Lumet
“Time Bandits” Terry Gilliam
“Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” George Miller
Good group of flicks here.
Forman was again at the center of the Academy with his racially charged story of turn-of-the-century America. Forman was nominated for a Globe himself but the film holds 8 other Oscar nominations and is 92% fresh.
Petersen’s German-language Sub-movie is a classic of the genre (a favorite genre of mine) and received rave reviews to the tune of 98% fresh. It also earned Petersen 2 Oscar nominations and a BAFTA nom.
Gilliam and the Monty Python crew tackled time travel, sort of, in the 89% fresh comedy “Time Bandits.” He earned a pair of Saturn noms and made a respectable $37 million at the gate.
Michael Mann’s debut received a nomination at Cannes and is 96% fresh.
Lumet received an Oscar and a Globe nomination for his 91% fresh cop thriller.
George Miller’s sequel got a pair of Saturn nominations and is 93% fresh. Few films are quite as inventive as “The Road Warrior” and Miller’s practical effects magic is extremely impressive.
Carpenter gave us the first installment of the Snake Plissken sagas, which feature prototype Kurt Russell. It received a Saturn nomination and is 86% fresh.
None of these films made very much money.
Spielberg teamed up with Lucas (doing the writing) and created Indiana Jones. Star Wars may have put Harrison Ford on the map, but Raiders made him an unparalleled superstar. Spielberg received an Oscar nom, a Globe nom, and won a Saturn while the film made $248 million. Also registering at 95% fresh, Raiders was a phenomenon and only the beginning for Spielberg.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (2)
“Gandhi” Richard Attenborough
“Diner” Barry Levinson
“Blade Runner” Ridley Scott
“The King of Comedy” Martin Scorsese
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” Steven Spielberg
“The Verdict” Sidney Lumet
Levinson had some writing credits, even earning an Oscar nom for the ’79 screenplay “…and justice for all.” but finally made his directing debut with “Diner” which is 92% fresh and earned an Oscar nomination as well.
Scorsese teamed up with De Niro again but also cast Jerry Lewis in the offbeat, dark film which can only be genre-fied as “Scorsesean.” Nobody saw it ($3 million to date) but it’s 91% fresh and got him BAFTA and Cannes nominations.
Sir Ridley hit on his 3rd feature in a row with “Blade Runner” which capitalized on Harrison Ford’s soaring stardom. The dark, stylish dystopian Sci-fi cult-hit is 90% fresh and received a Saturn nomination.
Lumet’s “The Verdict” made a big impression at the Oscars including a nomination for the director. He also received a Globe nomination for the 88% fresh legal drama.
Sweeping the awards was esteemed-actor-turned-director Richard Attenborough’s biopic of Mahatma Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley. It won 2 Oscars for Attenborough, 1 Globe, 2 BAFTAs, and he was awarded a lifetime-achievement BAFTA at the same time. It’s currently 85% fresh and topped out at a fairly average $53 million.
Above them all stands a little alien. E.T. is one of the few movies to achieve all 3 of the advanced versions of the criteria. It made a staggering $435 million (translates to $1.25 billion, 4th all-time), it’s 98% fresh, and Spielberg was nominated for 2 Oscars, 1 Globe, 2 BAFTAs, and a Saturn.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (3)
“Zelig” Woody Allen
The big movies of the year were “Return of the Jedi” which was a one-hit wonder for Richard Marquand, “Never Say Never Again” which saw “Empire Strikes Back” director Irvin Kershner try his hand at Bond rather unsuccessfully, “The Meaning of Life” by Gilliam which was too episodic and bizarre for any real impact, and “Scarface,” which was De Palma’s best chance at the Belt but it was nominated for a Razzie and missed the cut elsewhere as well.
Woody directed, wrote, and starred in a mockumentary showing off his imaginative editing and camera techniques to place him in famous historical moments as a sort of chameleon character. It earned him a nomination from the Globes, BAFTAs, and Saturns and currently sits at 100% fresh. It started a run of five hits in a row for the enigmatic director.
TITLE BELT: Woody Allen
“Spinal Tap” Rob Reiner
“Splash” Ron Howard
“The Terminator” James Cameron
“Broadway Danny Rose” Woody Allen
“Amadeus” Miloš Forman
“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” Steven Spielberg
A notable non-hit is David Lynch’s “Dune” which has carved out a cult following despite a low box office reception and critical disdain.
When I considered Rob Reiner for Belt contention I never would have guessed this film would make the cut. The zany mockumentary starring Christopher Guest is a well-deserved 95% fresh.
You guessed it, Woody directs, writes, and stars in another hit which is critically adored (100%) and a hit at the awards. His latest exploration of relationships earned a pair of Oscar nominations and won a BAFTA.
Forman hit for the 3rd time with a pitch-perfect biopic of the boy wonder Wolfang Amadeus Mozart. Featuring the performance of esteemed character actor F. Murray Abraham’s life, the film was an award darling. Forman won a Globe and an Oscar and added a BAFTA nomination.
Ron Howard (after starring in the earlier hit American Graffiti) had made his directorial debut in ’77 with the panned “Grand Theft Auto.” Then he had much more success in ’82 with “Night Shift” but not quite enough to make the cut at 90% fresh. Finally, with “Splash” he received a Saturn nomination and was again accepted critically at 92% fresh.
“The Terminator” was James Cameron’s second film, his first “Piranha II: The Spawning” surprisingly failing miserably (6% rotten). For “The Terminator,” Cameron was nominated for two Saturns, winning one, and it is critically adored at 100% certified fresh.
Spielberg somehow managed to churn out another blockbuster, his third in four years, with the Indiana Jones sequel. Not as beloved as the first, it still is 85% fresh, received a Saturn nomination, and made $197 million.
A strong case can be made for Spielberg, his film made more money and held belts two of the past three years running. However, Terminator spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise and is the 100% freshest.
TITLE BELT: James Cameron
“After Hours” Martin Scorsese
“The Color Purple” Steven Spielberg
“The Purple Rose of Cairo” Woody Allen
“Back to the Future” Robert Zemeckis
“Brazil” Terry Gilliam
“Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” George Miller
Notable one-hit wonder Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters”
Scorsese, always making a splash at Cannes, gets two nominations with one win with the bizarre comedy of errors. 88% fresh.
While Gilliam’s earlier work was fairly successful, “Brazil” was perhaps his first foray into serious directing. If one can call any of Gilliam’s work serious. The dystopian trip was a bit of a revelation and earned Gilliam an Oscar nomination and is 98% certified fresh.
Allen’s streak continued with his most successful film. This time he tabbed Jeff Daniels to star in the bizarre romance which breaks the…fifth wall? It’s almost multidimensional. Allen loaded up his trophy case again with an Oscar nomination, a Globe win, two BAFTA wins, a Saturn win among three nominations, and a win at Cannes. That’s five wins and eight nominations!
Four years after the sequel, Miller added a third installment to the Max saga. The dystopian world got more meat but also had some hoky elements. He got a pair of Saturn nominations again, but it’s not quite as fresh as its predecessor at 80%.
Spielberg turned his sights onto an Alice Walker novel about racial tension and identity. Color Purple is nominated for a staggering 11 Oscars, one of which is for his directing. He also received a Globe nomination and the film is 85% fresh.
Robert Zemeckis had enjoyed middling success with his first three features but the time-bending sci-fi starring Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox was a major breakout hit. At 96% fresh, the first of the trilogy made $211 million and earned Zemeckis five major award nominations.
Another tough call. Zemeckis’ film was a blockbuster and launched a trilogy but Spielberg’s was adored by the Academy and demonstrated Spielberg’s ability to not only do “fun” but also serious work.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (4)
“Stand By Me” Rob Reiner
“Aliens” James Cameron
“Hannah and Her Sisters” Woody Allen
“She’s Gotta Have It” Spike Lee
“Platoon” Oliver Stone
“Blue Velvet” David Lynch
Reiner’s Stephen King adaptation met good reviews, is 91% fresh, and got a Globe nomination.
Lynch brought back his star from “Dune” Kyle MacLachlan for a murder mystery. Lynch’s signature style makes the audience feel uneasy and uncomfortable as any director. It’s effective, however, and the film is 93% fresh and earned Lynch both an Oscar and Globe nomination.
Oliver Stone had a limited debut in ‘81 but broke out in a big way with “Platoon” in 1986. Harkening back to Kubrick and Coppola’s great Vietnam epics, Stone demonstrated a deft eye and wowed audiences and the Academies. He won a BAFTA, he won one of two Globe nominations, and one of three Oscars. Six major award nominations!
Woody picked Michael Caine to star in a twisted “family romance” comedy and pulled in $40 million at the gate (more than his previous three hits combined). The awards keep piling up, as he won an Oscar, got two Globe nominations, and won two of four BAFTA nominations.
Spike’s 2nd feature film was a hit. The romantic comedy did well with critics and won at Cannes.
Cameron hit critical gold again. The sequel to Sir Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is one of the rare occasions the second may out-do the first. Witty, gritty, and oh so cool; Sigourney Weaver reprises her role flawlessly. Two Saturn wins and a nearly perfect 99% fresh rating make this a slam dunk year.
Notable exclusion, Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” which simply isn’t respected by the critics at 54% fresh and completely ignored by the awards.
TITLE BELT: James Cameron (2)
“Cry Freedom” Richard Attenborough
“Full Metal Jacket” Stanley Kubrick
“The Princess Bride” Rob Reiner
“Radio Days” Woody Allen
“Good Morning, Vietnam” Barry Levinson
“Near Dark” Kathryn Bigelow
A young Denzel and a peak Kevin Kline star in Attenborough’s racially tense South African drama. At 82% fresh and with a Globe and two BAFTA nominations it comfortably achieves hit status.
Allen made two films in ‘87 but “September” didn’t catch the critics as well as “Radio Days.” The nostalgic drama got him an Oscar nomination and a pair of BAFTA nominations and is 89% fresh.
Bigelow is one of only two women to make the study and has a decent claim to the title “most successful female director.” Her second film, a Vampire thriller, was a hit with audiences and got a Saturn nomination.
After a seven-year hiatus, Stanley Kubrick came back with a bang. The sardonic and biting Vietnam War film earned him an Oscar nomination and sits at 93% fresh.
Superstar comedian Robin Williams starred in Barry Levinson’s much lighter take on the War, a shade different than Kubrick’s. 90% fresh, “Good Morning America” also made $124 million. It is fascinating how fresh Vietnam was for the media creators of the late-80s.
One of the greatest comedies ever conceived, with a peak Carey Elwes, impassioned performances by Mandy Patinkin and Robin Wright, the unforgettable 6-fingered Christopher Guest, and the performance of Andre the Giant’s life sits at 97% fresh. Unfortunately, comedies are spurned by award academies, and “The Princess Bride” only made $31 million.
This is a tough call, “Princess Bride” is obviously close to my heart but only barely making hit status puts it out of reach of the Belt. “Cry Freedom” received the most award recognition but made hardly any money and is the least critically appreciated.
It comes down to two different takes on Vietnam. Kubrick’s loud, angry, protest of the concept of American soldiering or Levinson’s attempt to fight despair with a laugh. “Good Morning, Vietnam” is the more enjoyable experience but it’s hard to argue with Kubrick having made the better movie.
TITLE BELT: Stanley Kubrick (2)
“They Live” John Carpenter
“Rain Man” Barry Levinson
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Robert Zemeckis
“Beetlejuice” Tim Burton
“The Last Temptation of Christ” Martin Scorsese
“Working Girl” Mike Nichols
“Running on Empty” Sidney Lumet
Carpenter, under the pseudonym Frank Armitage, adapted a Ray Nelson short-story about an Alien takeover in his second career hit. A Saturn nomination and 85% fresh signify Carpenter’s first hit among three straight years featuring Saturn nominated Sci-Fi films. The best of which is likely ’86’s “Big Trouble in Little China” even though it missed hit status by two percentage points.
One of the breakout directors of the 60s was Mike Nichols. He posted hits in back-to-back years in ‘67-68. “The Graduate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” made him a household name. Twenty years and eight films later he scored his 3rd hit “Working Girl.” The film earned Nichols Oscar and Globe nominations and is 83% fresh.
Lumet’s last career hit starred the late River Phoenix. The coming of age tale earned Lumet a Globe nomination and is 85% fresh but made hardly any money.
After nearly getting the Belt with “Good Morning, Vietnam,” Levinson came back with his most successful and iconic film. “Rain Man” won 4 Oscars including best director for Levinson, best picture, and best actor for star Dustin Hoffman. Levinson also received a Globe nomination for the 89% fresh film which earned a strong $173 million.
Few films have altered the landscape of Hollywood so distinctly as Robert Zemeckis’ second hit. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” blended animation and live-action in a manner not seen before. While 97% fresh, a single Saturn award and $156 million in receipts undersell the impact of the animated crossover mystery-comedy mix.
For Martin Scorsese, a devout Catholic faith has always been extremely important to his life and work. In ’88 he earned an Oscar nom for the 80% fresh telling of the life of Christ, focusing particularly on the temptations in the story.
After debuting with the 87% fresh Pee-Wee Herman comedy in ’85, few would have predicted the career waiting for Tim Burton. Teaming up with Michael Keaton, Burton scored his first hit with the spooky comedy “Beetlejuice.” Laying the groundwork for his signature dark and bizarre style, B-Juice earned Burton his first Saturn nomination and is 84% fresh.
The battle here, as in previous years, comes down to impact versus immediate success. It also is a convergence of careers going in opposite directions. Levinson will appear two more times in our list while Zemeckis will score hits all the way into the 2000s. Objectively and subjectively, “Rain Man” is the better movie. However, there haven’t been many films that challenged the status quo of Hollywood more than Roger Rabbit.
TITLE BELT: Robert Zemeckis
“Lethal Weapon 2” Richard Donner
“When Harry Met Sally” Rob Reiner
“The Abyss” James Cameron
“Crimes and Misdemeanors” Woody Allen
“Batman” Tim Burton
“Parenthood” Ron Howard
“Born on the Fourth of July” Oliver Stone
“Sex, Lies and a Videotape” Steven Soderbergh
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” Steven Spielberg
“Do the Right Thing” Spike Lee
After the success of the Mel Gibson/Danny Glover buddy cop thriller in ’87, audiences came out in force to support its sequel earning Donner his second hit. With $147 million at the gate and 83% fresh it won’t quite get him the Belt.
After a few misfires, Woody got back in front of the camera along with Martin Landau for a critically acclaimed story about his favorite topic, personal relationships. It brought Woody back into the Academy’s good graces with a pair of Oscar nominations and three BAFTA nominations.
Continuing an impressive run, Reiner’s Billy Crystal romcom actually got an Oscar nomination (though not for directing), earned the director Globe and BAFTA noms, and is 90% certified fresh.
Two years and two films after “Platoon,” Stone returned to Vietnam, in a way, with his more sprawling look at American patriotism and nationalism. Once again he struck a chord with the Academies. He won two Globe awards, one of three Oscar nominations, and was nominated for a BAFTA. A second film nominated six times in just three years.
Cameron, three years removed from earning a Belt with “Aliens,” earned a pair of Saturn nominations and won one with some original material. “The Abyss” is 89% fresh despite pulling in a mere average $54 million.
The success of “Beetlejuice” made Burton one of the most coveted directors in the business. He parlayed that demand into a franchise launching superhero blockbuster. The first film featuring the caped crusader since the ’50s, Batman reunited Burton with Keaton and made a whopping $251 million, however it was ignored by the award committees and is currently only 72% fresh.
A new face made his hit debut in ’89 with “Sex, Lies and a Videotape.” Steven Soderbergh has had one of the more interesting careers over the past 30 years. His debut film won twice at Cannes and also earned him Oscar, Globe, and BAFTA noms. Along with the other benchmarks and 96% fresh, Soderbergh will never quite reach the heights of acclaim his debut afforded him.
Ron Howard found success again after three straight subpar offerings with the Steve Martin comedy “Parenthood.” The 2-hour sitcom is 93% fresh and has made precisely $100 million.
A familiar face also returned from what will be his career-long hiatus of three years without a hit (a mark he’ll match 5x over his career). Spielberg’s third Indiana Jones installment was more respected than Temple of Doom at 88% fresh (over #2’s 85%) and actually has made the exact same $127 million, a rare occurrence for 3rd installments over their corresponding sequel. Incidentally, it’s my favorite of the series.
After “School Daze” didn’t do well in ‘88, Spike bounced back with his second hit. He has become one of the most consistent voices in the discussion of racism and the experience of minorities in America, “Do the Right Thing” was his first successful foray along those lines. Two Oscar nominations (one for Lee), two Globe nominations, and a nomination at Cannes matched its major critical success.
While Soderbergh’s debut hit the most marks, it’s a success in large part due to being the director’s debut and less to anything particular awe-inspiring with the film itself. Burton’s “Batman” made the most money but really isn’t that great of a movie. Donner and Spielberg made sequels that owe much of their financial success to their previous installments. Despite loving Ron Howard, I can’t give the belt to a Steve Martin sitcom, that just isn’t right, however, Cameron’s Abyss is hardly better than the other options. Zemeckis is the current titleholder, what was he up to? “Back the Future II” the sequel to his ’85 hit made a respectable $118 million but was not critically respected at only 64% fresh missing the mark.
That leaves the Belt between Spike, Stone, and Woody. Crimes was a critical hit and along with Woody’s two Oscar nominations, Landau also received one, however, Spike’s film matched it in award nominations and critical response and out-earned it by about $5 million. Stone on the other hand, crushed at the awards.
TITLE BELT: Oliver Stone
The 80s Wrap Up
With more than triple the financial success than 2nd place and among the tops at every conceivable category, the director of the ’80s is unquestionably…
The 90s Year by Year
“The Godfather Part III” Francis Ford Coppola
“Avalon” Barry Levinson
“Home Alone” Chris Columbus
“Goodfellas” Martin Scorsese
Before we look at how the films did, we can all agree Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” is one of the greatest single movies ever.
So, how did Scorsese’s gangster epic do? While only making $47 million, it stands at 96% fresh and earned him two Oscar noms, two Globe noms, and won 3 BAFTA awards as Scorsese’s most awarded film.
Gangster films were in vogue as Francis Ford Coppola finally completed the Corleone saga. It had been 11 years since Coppola had scored a hit, going 0 for 8 through the 80s. The finale didn’t do nearly as well as the other two installments but did earn the director two Oscar and two Globe nominations. Rather famously, star Al Pacino recalled later they “only did it for the money.”
The success of the ’80s put Levinson on the radar, and in ’90 he scored another hit with an original screenplay about some Polish immigrants. He received a pair of Oscar nominations and a Globe nom and the film is 83% fresh.
Already successful as a screenwriter, Chris Columbus had made his directing debut in the late ’80s with a moderate response. Most comfortable with family-friendly, comedic fare, he struck financial gold with the Christmas-time foil, child-phenom Macauley Culkin. While John Hughes’ screenplay is not exactly critically adored (64% fresh) it made a massive $286 million.
“Home Alone” may have made an enormous amount of money and launched a pair of sequels but comparing Chris Columbus’ directing to Martin Scorsese’s is almost laughable.
TITLE BELT: Martin Scorsese (2)
“Bugsy” Barry Levinson
“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” James Cameron
“Thelma & Louise” Ridley Scott
“Jungle Fever” Spike Lee
“JFK” Oliver Stone
“The Fisher King” Terry Gilliam
“The Silence of the Lambs” by Jonathan Demme was a one-hit wonder and Bigelow’s “Point Break” was a non-hit despite both making an indelible cultural impact.
Another “serious” film from Gilliam, this time dealing with regret, healing, and humanity, earned the enigmatic director both a Globe and Saturn nomination. It’s $42 million take doesn’t seem like much but it put the film well in the black against its relatively low $24 million price tag.
With his third hit in a row, Stone incredibly logged another 6 award nominations. Again focusing on the tumultuous 60s, he focused on the tragic and magnetic person, Jack Kennedy. This time around he only won a single Globe, while also receiving three Oscar nominations, a BAFTA nom, and an additional Globe nom.
Levinson’s career is still going strong today, but he has yet to score another hit beyond his biopic of the father of Las Vegas, Bugsy Siegel. The film won a pair of Oscars, earned Levinson personally two nominations and a Globe nom, and is 85% fresh.
Callie Khouri’s Oscar-winning script helped Sir Ridley’s “girl’s night out” dramedy to 84% fresh. Scott himself earned an Oscar nom and a pair of BAFTA noms as well.
Spike Lee once again pushed social norms and drove conversation with his drama centering around a biracial, extramarital relationship. He won at Cannes and the film is 81% fresh.
Seven years after his inaugural hit, Cameron made the sequel. Like the first, he grabbed a pair of Saturn noms with one victory and was embraced by the critics at 93% fresh. Unlike the first, people came out in droves and T2 made $206 million.
Sci-fi may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the wide-ranging success and cultural impact of T2 are undeniable.
TITLE BELT: James Cameron (3)
“A Few Good Men” Rob Reiner
“The Last of the Mohicans” Michael Mann
“Batman Returns” Tim Burton
“Husbands and Wives” Woody Allen
“Lorenzo’s Oil” George Miller
“The Player” Robert Altman
“Passion Fish” John Sayles
Between Tom, Jack, and the classic “You can’t handle the truth!” outburst, it’s hard to avoid Reiner’s military court hit. It earned Reiner an Oscar and Globe nom, is 82% fresh, and made $141 million.
Miller wrote and directed a drama that caught the critics’ eye and earned him an Oscar nomination. It was quite a departure from his earlier work and despite its 92% fresh rating it only made $7 million.
After a rough decade, Altman bounced back, 15 years after his last hit with his most successful film, “The Player.” The Tim Robbins comedy is 98% fresh and exploded at the awards. He won one of two nominations at Cannes, one of two nominations from the BAFTAs, and was nominated for a Globe and Oscar.
Written, directed, and starring – which should probably be Woody’s nickname – in “Husbands and Wives” earned Allen an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win. 93% fresh for the romcom.
Mann resurfaced, six years after his last movie and eleven since his last hit, with the Daniel-Day Lewis-starring James Fennimore Cooper adaptation. The fantastic movie, if you haven’t seen it, is certified fresh at 95%.
John Sayles made his debut way back in ‘79 and had a few notable non-hits including “Matewan” (‘87) and “Eight Men Out” (‘88) before breaking into the hit column with “Passion Fish.” The film earned Sayles an Oscar nomination and is 100% fresh, although with a somewhat limited viewership.
Another sequel made hit status when the Burton-Keaton combo worked again. A Saturn nom and 83% fresh reveal the $163 million in receipts aren’t purely resting on the popularity of the first film.
In non-hit news, Quentin Tarantino made his 90% certified fresh debut with “Reservoir Dogs” but sadly nobody went to see it. John Hughes and Chris Columbus teamed up again for “Home Alone II” although it’s 30% rotten and deservedly so. M Night Shyamalan also debuted with a whisper, with the limited release “Praying with Anger.” Spike Lee’s biopic “Malcolm X” is critically appreciated but was ignored by the awards.
The ’92 Belt is another tough one. Mann’s epic is, I think, the best film of the three, but both Burton and Reiner deserve their claim. “Batman Returns” is a successful film by my benchmarks, but it is a confusing mess of a movie, so Burton is out. Although my heart is with Reiner, who had a great run of seven hits in ten years (with one more coming), some of the scenes in Mohicans are simply among the best work you’ll see.
TITLE BELT: Michael Mann
“Shadowlands” Richard Attenborough
“In the Line of Fire” Wolfgang Petersen
“King of the Hill” Steven Soderbergh
“Heavenly Creatures” Peter Jackson
“The Wedding Banquet” Ang Lee
“Cronos” Guillermo del Toro
“Short Cuts” Robert Altman
“Schindler’s List” Steven Spielberg
“Jurassic Park” Steven Spielberg
What a year. It also featured one-hit-wonder “Groundhog Day” by the late Harold Ramis and non-hit “Philadelphia” by Jonathan Demme.
So many words could be written about 1993. Peter Jackson got his first hit with a vampire flick, Attenborough adapted CS Lewis’ biography, Ang Lee and del Toro made splashes with their foreign language films, and Petersen and Soderbergh each had their second hits while for Petersen, it would be his last.
But consider for a moment what Spielberg did in ’93. He managed to arguably reach the peak on both of the mountains he had professionally climbed. On the blockbuster side, his dinosaurs at 91% fresh, earned him a Saturn award, and made an astonishing $402 million. On the more impactful, serious side, he won 5 awards personally (2 Oscars, 2 BAFTAs, and a Globe), and brilliantly told the story of a group of Jews who were fortunate enough to be saved from Heydrich’s final solution through the efforts of a German businessman.
No one ever has nor ever will have a year like Spielberg’s 1993.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (5)
“Forrest Gump” Robert Zemeckis
“True Lies” James Cameron
“Ed Wood” Tim Burton
“Pulp Fiction” Quentin Tarantino
“Bullets Over Broadway” Woody Allen
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” Mike Newell
“The Secret of Roan Inish” John Sayles
“Run, Forrest, Run!” Is only one of the many quotable moments from the era-spanning best picture-winning superhit. While some critics aren’t as big on Gump as others (73% fresh), it did earn Zemeckis both Oscar and Globe wins, two BAFTA noms, and a Saturn nom. Where it really stands out is the massive $330 million at the gate and indelible place in American culture.
Cameron churned out his fourth hit in a row with another Schwarzenegger collaboration. Combining blockbuster thrills with comedy, “True Lies” won a Saturn and made $146 million.
Sayles’ second consecutive hit is a family friendly tale about a little girl discovering some Irish legends. Another lightly viewed but critically adored film earning hit status with its 95% certified fresh rating.
Tim Burton did a biography, earning a nomination at Cannes for his take on “The Worst Director of All-Time” Ed Wood. One can’t help but wonder if Burton felt like he was also telling his own story. His second collaboration with Johnny Depp would certainly not be his last. Certified at 92% fresh.
Woody went with gangsters as the context of his comedy and earned another two Oscar nominations and another BAFTA nomination. The 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating was his highest since ‘84.
Mike Newell had been making films since the mid-60s but it wasn’t until he teamed up with writer Richard Curtis and star Hugh Grant that he scored a hit. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is a delightful romcom and it collected a pair of BAFTA nominations, winning one, and is certified 96% fresh.
Rather enigmatically, Quentin Tarantino announced to the world he only planned on making ten films. His second feature is arguably his best. “Pulp Fiction” made $108mm, is 94% fresh, and cleaned up at the awards. QT was nominated for two Oscars, two Globes, two BAFTAs, and one at Cannes. He took home one of each.
While Burton and Cameron made successful films, the real contest is between Tom Hanks and Samuel L Jackson, between “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates” and “Say ‘what’ again, I dare you!”, between Robin Wright and Uma Thurman. Zemeckis’ film is timeless because it is familiar, it shows us things we know and taps into our nostalgia. Any other year, it would carry Z to the Belt. However, Tarantino is a genre unto himself and “Pulp Fiction” is the introduction and the apex of that genre.
TITLE BELT: Quentin Tarantino
“American President” Rob Reiner
“Jumanji” Joe Johnston
“Apollo 13” Ron Howard
“Sense and Sensibility” Ang Lee
“Se7en” David Fincher
“12 Monkeys” Terry Gilliam
“Before Sunrise” Richard Linklater
“The Usual Suspects” Bryan Singer
Close but no cigar for Tony Scott’s “Crimson Tide” a one-hit wonder.
New blood abounds as the decade hits its midpoint. Three directors made their debuts and yet another made his second appearance on the hit list. While the changing of the guard was at hand, Rob Reiner represented the end of the late ’80s-early ’90s directors with his last hit. Reiner’s political rom-com is 91% fresh and earned him a Globe nomination.
Auteur Richard Linklater earned that title with either his ‘93 non-hit “Dazed and Confused” or his first career hit “Before Sunrise.” The film is certified 100% fresh and set the bar high for the young director.
Gilliam’s latest hit despite continuing to make odd and fascinating films was the oddest and most fascinating film of his career “12 Monkeys.” In a year that saw Brad Pitt firmly establish himself as a force in the industry, his performance in Gilliam’s dystopian thriller is spellbinding. A Saturn nomination and 90% fresh put it in the hit column.
Ang Lee had made his debut in Spielberg’s dominant ’93 but his English-film debut directing Emma Thompson’s Jane Austen adaptation wasn’t until ’95. 98% fresh, it earned Lee a Globe nom and two BAFTA noms one of which he won.
Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie teamed up for a thriller which is 89% fresh and earned BAFTA and Saturn noms. Interestingly, Singer was also given the President’s Saturn, usually a sort of lifetime achievement award.
Johnston’s Robin Williams’ comedy about the living board game earned the director a Saturn nomination and made $100 million. At 53% fresh, however, it won’t make much noise in the Belt race. A brief look at Johnston’s career will leave you wondering how he convinces people to continue financing his films.
David Fincher made his debut on the third installment of the Alien franchise in ’92. So if you’re keeping score at home, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and David Fincher directed the first three Alien movies. Quite the run. However, it was his second feature, the murder mystery “Se7en” which scored Fincher a hit. A Saturn nom, $100 million, and 81% fresh don’t do the film justice. Chilling and dark, Fincher flexed the psych-thriller muscles he’d come to be known for.
The last hit on the list is Ron Howard’s third. At 95% fresh, Howard’s retelling of the true near-disaster in space is possibly his best movie. It also made $174 million and earned him a Globe nomination.
Several good films and some strong direction in the list, but the ’95 Belt comes down to Howard and Fincher. I’ve already said much about “Se7en”, so a few words about “Apollo 13.” Ed Harris and Tom Hanks deliver excellent performances that the film centers itself around. While the events are immense in and of themselves, it’s the people which Howard focuses on. I always finish viewing Apollo in awe of how heroic those men were.
Howard’s only hit of the ’90s is as close a second-place finish of any in the whole process. Fincher, however, made himself a must-see director. Sidenote – Kevin Spacey was so effectively creepy in ’95.
TITLE BELT: David Fincher
“Fargo” Coen Brothers
“The Birdcage” Mike Nichols
“Lone Star” John Sayles
“The People vs. Larry Flynt” Miloš Forman
The Coen Brothers made the most fantastic film “Fargo” in ‘96. 93% fresh, the film also earned three directing Oscars noms (one win), a Globe nom, and three BAFTA noms. Pure energy from start to finish in the story, characters, and dialogue. A masterpiece.
After a miss with “Valmont” in ‘89. Forman was dormant until making his biography of controversial photographer Larry Flynt. An Oscar nomination and a Globe win mark the 88% fresh film as Forman’s final hit.
Sayles’ 3rd consecutive hit was also the last of his career to-date. His most successful film by nearly every metric, the Western-styled murder mystery is 94% fresh and earned Sayles a nomination from the Globes, BAFTAs, and Oscars.
The Robin Williams comedy “The Birdcage” was Nichols’ 4th and last hit. 80% fresh, it also made a splash at the box office pulling in $124 million.
In other news, “Independence Day” was Roland Emmerich’s one-hit wonder, Spike made a couple of films with little notoriety, Soderbergh and Burton had less than stellar outputs, Wes Anderson made a quiet debut, Michael Bay made $134 million with nonhit “The Rock”, Carpenter got a lifetime Saturn and gave us Snake Plissken round 2, Levinson adapted a controversial bio, and De Palma launched what I completely unbiasedly believe to be the greatest film franchise of all-time with “Mission: Impossible.”
None of those made the cut.
TITLE BELT: Coen Brothers
“The Lost World: Jurassic Park” Steven Spielberg
“Boogie Nights” Paul Thomas Anderson
“Mimic” Guillermo del Toro
“Titanic” James Cameron
“Contact” Robert Zemeckis
Shout out to one-hit wonders “Men in Black” by Barry Sonnenfeld and “Face/Off” by John Woo. Also Newell’s non-hit “Donnie Brasco” and Lynch’s non-hit “Lost Highway.”
Spielberg made two movies in ’97. I’ll never understand how that’s possible, but his other film “Amistad” earned a Globe nom, but is only 77% fresh with only $44 million in receipts. His hit garnered a Saturn nom and made a beastly $229 million, but is barely fresh at 54%.
Paul Thomas Anderson had debuted the year before to some critical acclaim (“Hard Eight” 83% fresh), but it was “Boogie Nights” which was his first of several hits. 93% fresh, PTA earned an Oscar and a BAFTA nomination.
For the second film in a row, del Toro is able to hit with his “Carpenter-ean” monster film. A Saturn nomination and 91% fresh make him 2 for 2.
Zemeckis hits for the fourth time with a sci-fi yarn of his own, “Contact” made $101 million and earned a Saturn nomination but had its issues, as 63% fresh will show. Zemeckis was also given the President’s Saturn award in ’97.
$659 million. Adjusted for inflation, Cameron’s epic love story aboard the doomed passenger ship has made an astounding $1.196 billion, good enough for 5th all-time. But it didn’t only clean up at the box office, as Cameron won three Oscars, won one of two Globe nominations, and received three BAFTA nominations for the film. 89% fresh and truly iconic, few films have had the impact of “Titanic.”
PTA’s first hit didn’t make any money. Spielberg and Zemeckis were hardly at their best which just makes it easier to give the Belt to the much deserving Cameron.
TITLE BELT: James Cameron (4)
“Saving Private Ryan” Steven Spielberg
“The Thin Red Line” Terrence Malick
The greatest War movie ever made. There’s not really much of a debate but Spielberg wasn’t alone dealing with war in ‘98.
Malick interestingly also made a war movie. Returning after a 20-year hiatus, he chose to adapt a James Jones novel, because that’s what kind of artist Malick is. A War movie built on poetry, Malick’s work once again impressed the critics (80% fresh) and earned him a pair of Oscar nominations.
Among those that would have lost had they been hits were Emmerich’s “Godzilla,” Tony Scott’s “Enemy of the State,” Michael Bay’s “Armageddon,” Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,” the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski,” and Guy Ritchie’s debut “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (6)
“The Insider” Michael Mann
“Sleepy Hollow” Tim Burton
“Magnolia” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Iron Giant” Brad Bird
“The Straight Story” David Lynch
one-hit wonder “The Sixth Sense” for M Night Shyamalan, as well.
Michael Mann brings some thrills from the nightly news in his adaptation of Investigative Journalist Marie Brenner’s story about a whistleblower and Big Tobacco. He earned three Oscar nominations, a pair of Globe nominations, and the film is 96% fresh.
Burton and Depp collaborated for the third time, and once again scored a hit. The Washington Irving adaptation earned Burton a Saturn nomination and made $101 million.
Lynch tells a true story with “The Straight Story” about a 72-year old man who rode a lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin. It had a minimal impact on the box office but was critically adored and sits at 95% fresh.
While “Boogie Nights” was hardly a conventional film, PTA really scrambles his audiences in the converging storylines of the family drama “Magnolia.” 83% fresh, he also received an Oscar nom for the work.
Brad Bird began his career as an animator for TV shows such as “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.” Then later he joined Pixar and has been one of the most powerful creative forces in the industry. In between those two lives, he won a BAFTA for “The Iron Giant.” 96% fresh, the film itself is good but not great, however, it was its success which launched his immensely impactful career.
Iron Giant isn’t quite good enough for me to give Bird the Belt, so Michael Mann and his signature thriller takes it home.
TITLE BELT: Michael Mann (2)
The ’90s Wrap Up
The ’90s were a good decade for filmmaking and James Cameron was no small part in that success. A perfect 3 for 3 on hits, each of Cameron’s movies was and is appreciated by audiences and critics alike. His triple Oscar victory in ’97 with “Titanic” is one of the most dominating performances at the esteemed award ceremony in history. All of that is good for a really solid second place.
1993 alone would nearly be enough to carry Spielberg to consecutive decade Belts. Possibly the greatest historical film (Schindler), possibly the greatest war movie (Private Ryan), unquestionably the greatest dinosaur movie (Jurassic), another $200 million from the dino sequel and by the way had two other films in the decade which made money and earned awards just didn’t quite make my benchmarks.
And so with consecutive decade Belts…
The 00s Year to Year
“Cast Away” Robert Zemeckis
“What Lies Beneath” Robert Zemeckis
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” Ron Howard
“Traffic” Steven Soderbergh
“Erin Brockovich” Steven Soderbergh
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” Ang Lee
“Amores Perros” Alejandro G Iñárritu
“Gladiator” Ridley Scott
“X-Men” Bryan Singer
“Memento” Christopher Nolan
A lot going on all over the board at the turn of the millennium. The non-hits from the year are also impressive, including Emmerich’s “The Patriot,” Friedkin’s “Rules of Engagement,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream,” The Coen Bros’ “O, Brother! Where Art Thou?,” Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” Ritchie’s “Snatch,” and Petersen’s “The Perfect Storm.”
A pair of doubles from Robert Zemeckis and Steven Soderbergh highlight the year. Zemeckis put Tom Hanks on a secluded island and it was awesome. Hanks and his buddy Wilson are 90% fresh and made $234 million. The Ford-Pfeiffer psych-horror is 46% rotten, but still earned Zemeckis a Saturn nom and made $155 million.
Soderbergh did a really nice job telling the story of Erin Brockovich, a woman who single-handedly took on a large power company when their pollution policies put her family in danger. His other hit displayed the multi-threaded storytelling he is so effective at. Each film pulled an Oscar, Globe, and BAFTA nomination, with “Traffic” winning the Oscar. “Traffic” made $124 million and is 92% fresh. Brockovich made $126 million and is 84% fresh.
Jim Carrey put on a fuzzy green suit and earned Ron Howard a Saturn nom and $260 million. Christmas is always a big-ticket.
Iñárritu made a massive splash with his 92% hit weaving several people’s lives stories around their dogs. For the Spanish language film, he took home three awards at Cannes and a BAFTA.
Nolan also made his full-length feature film debut with what can only be described as an absolute trip. Oscar and Globe noms and 92% fresh don’t do the twist in this film justice. While Nolan has skill with characters and dialogue, the distinctiveness of his style centers on the story and his telling of it. If you haven’t seen “Memento,” don’t forget…to give it a try.
After Singer’s success in the mid-nineties, he was selected to direct the first installment of the X-Men franchise. $157 million, 81% fresh, and a Saturn award prove it to be a success as well.
“Gladiator” is one of my favorite movies. Ridley Scott’s best picture-winning historical thriller earned a nomination from the Oscars, Globes, BAFTAs, and Saturn awards and made $188 million.
Finally, we come to Ang Lee’s first great blockbuster hit. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” brought a style of martial arts to the big screen which hadn’t had the notoriety it received up to that point. Using various camera tricks, special effects, and mechanical gimmicks, Lee’s characters seem to defy gravity in the various fight scenes which litter the Chinese thriller-romance film. Audiences and critics alike loved it, scoring 97% fresh and $128 million at the gate. The awards were just as enchanted, sending Lee home with 2 Oscar noms, a Globe win, two BAFTA wins out of three noms, and a Saturn nom.
Between the success and impact of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” it’s hard to avoid the stand out winner for the first year of the new millennium.
TITLE BELT: Ang Lee
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” Chris Columbus
“A Beautiful Mind” Ron Howard
“Ocean’s Eleven” Steven Soderbergh
“The Man Who Wasn’t There” The Coen Brothers
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” Peter Jackson
“The Royal Tenenbaums” Wes Anderson
“Black Hawk Down” Ridley Scott
“Gosford Park” Robert Altman
“Mulholland Drive” David Lynch
“Y Tu Mamá También” Alfonso Cuarón
Among the non-hits was a surprising (albeit narrow) miss from Spielberg “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, Michael Mann’s “Ali”, Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor”, Antoine Fuqua’s best film “Training Day”, Tim Burton’s revival of an old franchise with “Planet of the Apes”, and Joe Johnston’s lackluster conclusion of the Dinosaur trilogy: “Jurassic Park III.”
Fantasy film adaptations were the name of the game in 2001 as both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter sagas launched. Due to the younger age of both the cast and the target audience of the early Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus was selected to direct. He did admirably, with the initial installment scoring 81% fresh, a pair of BAFTA noms and a Saturn nom, and most impressively $318 million in receipts.
Other than perhaps “M*A*S*H” no other film is connected to Robert Altman more closely than “Gosford Park.” The classic Clue-esque murder mystery is 86% fresh and was his most successful financial draw since the 80s. It also earned him another pair of Oscar nominations, a Globe win, and a pair of BAFTA noms, one of which he won. It was his final hit.
The Fellowship of the Ring producers selected a director from a different world entirely. Peter Jackson had mostly done fairly campy horror material prior to directing Tolkien’s epics. A match made in Hollywood Heaven, his larger-than-life interpretation earned a massive $316 million, is 91% fresh and got a ton of award cred to the tune of three Oscar noms, a Globe nom, two BAFTA wins out of four(!) noms, and one win in two Saturn nominations. That’s 10 major award nominations!
Lynch may be most famous for his creation of the television show “Twin Peaks.” It spawned a couple films that didn’t make the hit thresholds, but he was attempting to launch a different TV project with the then titled “Mulholland Dr.” The syndicators weren’t impressed, but someone was because Lynch was given the necessary funds to transform the pilot into a film and a classic was born. His signature unease and depth is in every shot. It made no money but earned Lynch an Oscar nomination, a Saturn nomination, and two Globe nominations.
Less fantastical but no less fascinating was Ron Howard’s biopic of the austere and schizophrenic mathematician John Nash. “A Beautiful Mind” won Howard a pair of Oscars, and earned a Globe nom and two BAFTA nominations. Its 75% Rotten Tomatoes score is frankly embarrassingly low for the quality of the film which earned $171 million in receipts.
Also in 2001, Wes Anderson broke through with a hit after his first two critically acclaimed films didn’t quite make the cut. Anderson, a master of the odd, demonstrated his skill of character creation in the film which is 80% fresh and earned both an Oscar and BAFTA nom.
Scott made two blockbusters in ’01, “Black Hawk Down” and the adaptation of Thomas Harris’ psych thriller novel “Hannibal” which was the sequel to Johnathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” The Anthony Hopkins led film made money and spawned several more but is currently 39% rotten so not a benchmark hit. The other, a Hollywood-embellished true story by Mark Bowden of a downed American helicopter, earned Scott an Oscar nom, made $109 million, and is 76% fresh.
Coming off of their near-miss in ’00, the Coen Bros scored a borderline hit with a black and white, film noir, hijinks story. An Oscar nom and 81% fresh put the impressive ensemble cast into the hit column.
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s Spanish-language road trip story scored 92% and earned the director an Oscar nom and a pair of BAFTA noms to make his feature debut a hit.
With his third hit feature in a row, Soderbergh took the ensemble heist movie to new heights. Managing to get Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and more in the same cast brought out the crowds and earned $183 million and an 82% fresh rating.
If “Apollo 13” wasn’t Ron Howard’s best, “A Beautiful Mind” is; solidifying Howard as a force to watch in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it coincided with the pair of multi-billion-dollar franchise launches which really contend for the Belt. The deftness with which Columbus handled his 11-year-old stars (and the fact he was in on the ground floor during their selection) is an overlooked element of the Harry Potter story. On the other hand, Peter Jackson’s vision for LotR, the enormity of the spectacle, the precision of the cast, and the subsequent execution was nearly flawless. Advantage Tolkien.
TITLE BELT: Peter Jackson
“Catch Me If You Can” Steven Spielberg”
“Minority Report” Steven Spielberg
“Punch-Drunk Love” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Peter Jackson
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” Chris Columbus
In the non-hit news: Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” falls one award nom, 6 percentage points, and $12 million short of being a hit. Lucas’ “Attack of the Clones” wins a much deserved Razzie, as does Ritchie’s “Swept Away.” Louis Leterrier teams up with Luc Besson and launches the fun (but silly) Transporter franchise. Nolan remakes a Norweigan crime thriller with “Insomnia.” Gore Verbinski puts himself in the horror HOF with “The Ring.” Kathryn Bigelow tried submarines with “K-19: The Widowmaker.” And my favorite movie ever, “Signs” by Shyamalan, is 74% fresh, ignored at the awards, and makes $228 million, just short of the hit benchmarks.
After a three year hiatus of non-hit making, Spielberg reminds the world he’s alive with another double-hitter. Hanks and DiCaprio shine in the globe-trotting, believe-it-or-not true story which is 96% fresh and made $165 million. Cruise and Colin Ferrell get futuristic as Spielberg adapts a Philip K Dick short story about the age-old confrontation of free will and fate. “Minority Report” wins Spielberg a Saturn, is 91% fresh, and made $132 million.
PTA hits on his third film in a row by tapping into the surprising depth of Adam Sandler’s acting talents. A pair of Cannes noms, with a win and 80% fresh show the quirky romance’s success.
The two big new franchises don’t waste any time on their sequels, HP’s earning a BAFTA and Saturn nom, $262 million, and 82% fresh. Most fans of the series would rank this or the first as the least enjoyable of the bunch, but mostly due to the later installments’ extreme enjoyability and less to these films’ weaknesses.
Jackson took some liberties with his telling of the second part of Tolkien’s masterpiece. However, those liberties were well received and “The Two Towers” is currently 95% fresh, has made $343 million, and also did quite well at the awards. Unable to quite lock down any wins, Jackson received an Oscar nom, a Globe nom, three BAFTA noms, and two Saturn noms.
Although Spielberg put two films up for the Belt, and both were quite successful, Jackson’s work made so much money and got so much award chatter, it’s hard to take his Belt.
TITLE BELT: Peter Jackson (2)
“X-Men 2” Bryan Singer
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Peter Jackson
“Kill Bill: Vol. 1” Quentin Tarantino
“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” Gore Verbinski
After the success of “The Ring”, Verbinski took his horror chops in a Disney direction taking the inspiration for his blockbuster sea-faring monster tale from a Disney Park attraction. At 79% fresh and with a Saturn nom, the real hit impact of Pirates is at the gate where it made a cool $305 million.
Bryan Singer also cashed in with the second (and most critically accepted at 85% fresh) installment of the X-Men series with $215 million of receipts. Singer was also nominated for a Saturn for his efforts.
Tarantino, after a five-year break, scored his second career hit with the female action star vehicle “Kill Bill” with a pair of Saturn noms and an 84% fresh rating.
However, as if the industry was aware they’d be competing with a juggernaut, the only other non-hit of note is perhaps Ang Lee’s “Hulk.”
Jackson’s trilogy conclusion matched the first two installments in acclaim (93% fresh) and in the box office ($378 million) but far outdid them at the awards. He took home three Oscars, a Globe, two of his 4 BAFTA noms, and two Saturns for a whopping 8 major award wins. Some of those may have been making up for the lack of wins for the other two, but a viewing of “Return of the King” will show you it deserved the love.
TITLE BELT: Peter Jackson (3)
“The Incredibles” Brad Bird
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” Alfonso Cuarón
“The Aviator” Martin Scorsese
“Kill Bill: Vol. 2” Quentin Tarantino
“Collateral” Michael Mann
“Before Sunset” Richard Linklater
“The Polar Express” Robert Zemeckis
While silent during Jackson’s cleanup, the non-hits were plentiful in ’04.
Of the ones that made the cut, we see some familiar names from the ’80s & ’90s. Zemeckis’ final hit (so far) featured another experimental and never-before-seen animation style. Using motion capture technology and then converting it to digital animation, Zemeckis brought Christmas to life from the perspective of some children on Tom Hanks’ train. While critically panned at 56%, Zemeckis nonetheless earned a BAFTA nomination and the film made $186 million.
The other familiar name from an earlier era is Martin Scorsese. It’s not as if he stopped making movies through the ’90s, but six straight fell under the hit benchmarks since his ’90 superhit “Goodfellas” won him a Belt. Scorsese found his new star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and together they began a streak of five hits in a row (one of which admittedly Leo is not in). The first of those was a biopic of the eccentric personality Howard Hughes. The film earned Scorsese a nomination from the Oscars, Globes, and BAFTA, is 87% fresh, and made $103.
Also with his last hit to date, Mann gave us a villainous Tom Cruise, not a common sight, in his 86% fresh thriller. “Collateral” earned Mann both a BAFTA nom and a Saturn nom and made $101 million.
Linklater brought his couple back together from his first hit nine years earlier. Again the critics loved it and it earned him his first career Oscar nomination.
As the title would suggest, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” was only the beginning. Vol. 2 received a remarkably similar response, also earning QT a pair of Saturn noms, also at 84% fresh, and making a hair less money at $66 million next to Vol. 1’s $70 million.
Brad Bird’s second feature is his most well-received to date, sitting at 97% fresh. The action-hero animated movie has made $261 million and earned Bird an Oscar win (plus another nom), a BAFTA win, and a Saturn nom.
Harry Potter waited an extra year before giving Alfonso Cuarón the reigns for the third part of the series. With a decidedly darker and more foreboding tone, “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was slightly more appreciated overall than its predecessors (90% fresh, $250 million) and earned Cuarón a pair of BAFTA noms (with one win) and a Saturn nom.
Bird’s animated superheroes outstripped the other competitors on the list comfortably in both financial and critical success. But how does one evaluate the “director” of an animated film? It’s notable he didn’t only direct but also wrote the story for the film, meaning it’s entirely his vision and creation. Also, the awards which he received in conjunction with the film are primarily for the writing and not the directing, at least at the major ceremonies I selected to consider. Delving deeper into the other various minor awards he received, you will begin to find he also received a great number of “Outstanding Achievement in Directing” nominations and wins. Coupled with the massive success of the film (and I’d argue in some part a catalyst of the Pixar domination the past 20 years and not simply a symptom of it) and the lack of strong competition, I’m giving him the Belt.
TITLE BELT: Brad Bird
“War of the Worlds” Steven Spielberg
“Batman Begins” Christopher Nolan
“Walk the Line” James Mangold
“The 40-Year Old Virgin” Judd Apatow
“Brokeback Mountain” Ang Lee
“King Kong” Peter Jackson
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Mike Newell
“Corpse Bride” Tim Burton
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Tim Burton
“The Pianist” Roman Polanski
“Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith” George Lucas
The non-hits include Spielberg’s “Munich” (more on that in a moment), Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” Michael Bay’s “The Island,” Guy Ritchie’s “Revolver,” Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” Rian Johnson’s debut “Brick,” Terrence Malick’s “The New World” (his first career miss), and Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man.”
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was the second hit for Mike Newell. Serving as a bridge between Cuarón and Yates, Newell did well with the 4th installment of the franchise. It got a Saturn nomination, made $290mm, and is 88% fresh.
26 years after his last hit Polanski finally made it back to the hit column. The solemn but beautiful story of survival and the human spirit was one of the best movies of the year. With it, Polanski won at Cannes, won two BAFTA awards, and won one of two Oscar nominations.
Ang Lee’s Western broke some social barriers, won him an Oscar, a Globe, and a BAFTA award, and is 87% fresh.
Apatow’s first feature film also perhaps attempted to break social barriers. The comedy earned $109mm and is 85% fresh.
In 1993, Tim Burton wrote the script for a Christmas/Holiday film using a very particular type of stop-motion technology, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” He decided to use that again for the less successful, but still 84% fresh, “Corpse Bride.” Burton received an Oscar nom for the film. He scored a double-hit year when his remake of Willy Wonka earned him a BAFTA nom, was rated 82% fresh, and made $206 million.
Peter Jackson turned his larger-than-life style onto a familiar tale with his sprawling remake of “King Kong.” While I find it terribly boring, the critics rate it 83% and it made $218 million. He also received a Globe nomination and took home one of two Saturn nominations.
After receiving a total of four Razzie nominations and a win for the first two prequel Star Wars films, Lucas finally found some success with the third. “Revenge of the Sith” made $380 million, is 79% fresh, and earned Lucas a pair of Saturn nominations. It marks his last directorial attempt to date.
During the late ’90s and early turn of the century, James Mangold had several fairly unsuccessful films but was able to break through with his biopic of Johnny and June Cash. Starring the enigmatic Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line” made $120 million and is 83% fresh.
Spielberg made two movies in ’05 and while neither were his best work, both are quite special in their own right. The non-hit “Munich” earned a pair of Oscar noms and a Globe nom and is 77% fresh just missing the benchmarks. However, it’s a really interesting movie about the Israeli hit squad sent to avenge the Olympic terrorist attacks. His hit adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion is really masterful, but only earned a Saturn nom and sits at 75% fresh. The $234 million at the gate (Tom Cruise effect?) earned it hit status. The comparatively light response to these excellent films suggests to me a bit of Spielberg-fatigue perhaps.
After a pair of lesser-seen but critically adored sci-fi/thrillers, Nolan got his shot at a blockbuster with a reboot of Batman. It’s hard to pick what Nolan’s is best at because his characters are fascinating, his stories are deep, his settings are intense and developed, and his imagination is wild. Every aspect shined in “Batman Begins” and it earned $207 million, is 84% fresh (too low!), and earned Nolan a pair of Saturn noms, one of which he won.
Burton had a double, but neither really move the needle far enough to top Spielberg or Nolan. If “Munich” is a hit the year is Spielberg’s as he would’ve again scored success on both sides of the blockbuster aisle. However, Nolan’s foray into superheroes and action stars was both sudden and immediately successful.
TITLE BELT: Christopher Nolan
“Children of Men” Alfonso Cuarón
“Pan’s Labyrinth” Guillermo del Toro
“The Departed” Martin Scorsese
“Superman Returns” Bryan Singer
“Mission: Impossible III” JJ Abrams
“Babel” Alejandro G Iñárritu
“300” Zach Snyder
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” Gore Verbinski
also one-hit wonder “Night at the Museum” by Shawn Levy, non-hits “The Prestige” by Nolan, “Deja Vu” by Tony Scott, “Happy Feet” by George Miller, “Miami Vice” by Michael Mann, “Inside Man” by Spike Lee, “Lady in the Water” by Shyamalan, “The Fountain” by Aronofsky, “World Trade Center” by Stone, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” by Adam McKay, and Ron Howard’s Razzie earning “The Da Vinci Code.”
The X-Men moved on from Bryan Singer for a brief time and so he attempted a reboot of Superman. We previously encountered Richard Donner’s hits on Kal-El which were quite successful, Singer’s take wasn’t nearly as good. But it did win a Saturn, is respectably 75% fresh, and made $200 million.
Verbinski cashed in on the success of the first Pirates film, as “Dead Man’s Chest” made a staggering $435 million in receipts. While I really enjoy it, I’m apparently in the minority as it sits at a 53% rating.
Guillermo del Toro tried his hand at a couple of superhero flicks (“Hellboy” and “Blade II”) with minimal success. Then in ’06, he went back to his roots with the very imaginative cross of historical drama and dream-like fantasy in the Spanish-language hit “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 95% fresh, Labyrinth earned the director an Oscar nom, one BAFTA win and another nom, two Saturn noms, and a nomination at Cannes.
A high-profile writer (albeit a fairly unsuccessful one) in the ’90s, JJ Abrams made his directing debut with the third installment of the Ethan Hunt saga. While hardly up to the first film’s standards for this fan, the film earned Abrams a Saturn nom and made $134 million.
Iñárritu’s second career hit was an award darling. The 69% rated film earned the director two Oscar noms, a Globe nom, two BAFTA noms, and three Cannes nominations one of which he won. It’s extraordinarily ambitious and creative, but I (and apparently the critics) didn’t particularly enjoy it.
A new genre began to reach the mainstream with non-hits such as “Sin City” made in the style of writer/stylist Frank Miller. After the moderate success of his feature debut with horror standard “Dawn of the Dead,” Zach Snyder directed the first hit in Miller’s comic-book, CGI laden, neo-noir style. “300” presented a thoroughly romanticized telling of the 300 Spartans who held off the Persians at Thermopylae. It earned Snyder a pair of Saturn noms with one win and made $211 million.
Saying “The Departed” is Martin Scorsese’s best movie is an impossible claim to defend, he’s made too many great movies. However, his remake of the Japanese movie “Infernal Affairs” exhibits some of the most intense suspense and one of the greatest sudden twists I’ve had the pleasure to watch. It earned Scorsese an Oscar win, a Globe win, and a BAFTA nom, is 90% fresh, and made $132 million.
Cuarón’s signature dark and brooding tone fits perfectly with the dystopian PD James novel. His third hit in a row is 92% fresh and earned the director two Oscar noms and a Saturn nom. In “Children of Men,” both the intimate intensities and the atmospheric war environment are handled deftly.
Snyder, Cuarón, and Scorsese had a claim on the Belt in ’06, but there can only be one champion. The uniqueness and success of “300” can be attributed as much to Frank Miller as it can be to Zach Snyder so he’s out and while “Children of Men” is a really intriguing film, it didn’t draw viewers as it only made $35 million.
TITLE BELT: Martin Scorsese (3)
“Ratatouille” Brad Bird
“There Will Be Blood” Paul Thomas Anderson
“American Gangster” Ridley Scott
“Knocked Up” Judd Apatow
“Zodiac” David Fincher
“No Country For Old Men” The Coen Brothers
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” Tim Burton
“Pirates of the Caribbean: A World’s End” Gore Verbinski
also one-hit wonder “Transformers” by Michael Bay, and non-hits including the Jim Carrey horror flick “The Number 23” by Joel Schumacher, “Beowulf” by Zemeckis, “Charlie Wilson’s War” the last film by Mike Nichols, “Shooter” by Fuqua, “Ocean’s Thirteen” by Soderbergh, “The Kingdom” by Berg, and “3:10 to Yuma” by Mangold (ignored by award ceremonies despite 89% fresh).
Apatow’s second hit is scored 90% fresh and made $149 million. The success of his consecutive hits spawned a number of similar sub-par films in their image. The greater Apatow empire is still making money today.
Bird struck gold again with his tale of the Rat who would be a chef. At 96% fresh and a $206 million haul, it earned Bird a pair of Oscar noms (winning one), a BAFTA win, and a Saturn win.
Tim Burton brought the dark but delightful Hugh Wheeler musical to the big screen in Sweeney Todd. A fantastic cast, some great tunes, and a creepy Depp performance carried it to Globe and Saturn noms for Burton and 85% fresh.
In the midst of a flurry of five films in four years, Sir Ridley found a hit in his gangster biopic starring Denzel Washington. Almost “Scorsesean,” it earned him a Globe and BAFTA nom, is 80% fresh, and made $130 million.
After a five year hiatus and 12 years since his first hit, Fincher impressed at Cannes (earned an award nomination) with his telling of the Zodiac killer’s hunters. It is 90% certified fresh.
Verbinski wrapped up his trilogy (at least everyone expected it to be the end) with the least successful of the three. “At World’s End” still made an impressive $309 million but didn’t make as much sense.
Daniel-Day Lewis is one of the very few men with a reasonable claim on the title “Greatest Actor Living.” PTA’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil” is a highlight reel of DDL’s acting. 91% fresh, “There Will Be Blood” got PTA three Oscar noms and three BAFTA noms.
The Coen Brothers re-imagined the modern Western and made one of the most awarded movies ever. In their distinctive writing style, the Coens took the simplest of scenes and made them tangible, memorable, and impactful. 93% fresh, “No Country for Old Men” earned the brothers four Oscars noms of which they won three, two Globe noms of which they won one, four BAFTA noms of which they won one, a Saturn nom, and a nomination at Cannes. That’s five wins and 12 major award nominations.
How to pick between PTA and the Coens? In every metric, the Coens led, albeit slightly. Their advantage in rating 93% to 91%, in receipts $74 to $40, and in awards five of 12 to zero of six. With the utmost respect for “There Will Be Blood,” I have to give it to the Coens.
TITLE BELT: Coen Brothers (2)
“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” Steven Spielberg
“The Dark Knight” Christopher Nolan
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” David Yates
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” David Fincher
“Frost/Nixon” Ron Howard
“The Wrestler” Darren Aronofsky
“The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
also non-hits “Valkyrie” by Singer, “Body of Lies” by Ridley Scott, “The Incredible Hulk” by Leterrier, “10,000 B.C.” by Emmerich, “RocknRolla” by Ritchie, “Hancock” by Berg, “Che: Part One” and “Che: Part Two” by Soderbergh, “Step Brothers” by McKay, “The Brothers Bloom” by Rian Johnson, and “Burn After Reading” by the Coens.
With one of the greatest films of this millennium, Spielberg brought back his action hero, and this time it had aliens! Ok, maybe not so much, the fourth Indiana Jones installment wasn’t quite up to the standards of its predecessors. It still earned a Saturn nom and made $317 million. Spielberg also received a lifetime achievement Globe in ’08.
David Yates took over the fifth film in the Harry Potter saga and he hasn’t relinquished the helm since. His style is now virtually synonymous with HP. “Order of the Phoenix” earned Yates a Saturn nom, made $292 million, and is 77% fresh.
Darren Aronofsky debuted in ‘98 with “Pi” and made a couple other films, all of which were noticed by the critics but not commercially successful or award worthy. He teamed up with Mickey Rourke for a Pro-Wrestling version of “Rocky” which the critics loved and certified it fresh at 98%.
Two years removed from earning a Razzie nom, Ron Howard scored a hit with the 93% fresh political drama. “Frost/Nixon” earned him two Oscar noms, a Globe nom, and two BAFTA noms.
The F Scott Fitzgerald short story about Benjamin Button doesn’t immediately strike a reader as film material (at least it never struck me that way). However, David Fincher isn’t your average reader and adapted it rather beautifully to the big screen. He earned one nomination from each of the four major award academies, Oscars, Globes, BAFTAs, and Saturns. Additionally, the film made $128 million and is 71% fresh.
Now 21 years removed from her first hit, Bigelow crafted a masterpiece. “The Hurt Locker” is a methodical intense look at the modern military experience in the Middle East. It was an award magnet as Bigelow won a pair of Oscars, a pair of BAFTAs, and was nominated for a Globe and Saturn as well. It’s 97% fresh but nobody went to see it and it only made $17mm.
All of that is well and good, Fincher and Bigelow make decent claims on the Belt. But at 94% fresh and earning $535 million, “The Dark Knight” is simply in a league of its own. For his direction, Nolan received a pair of Saturn noms and one win, but the film did get Oscar recognition including the posthumous Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger. I unequivocally believe Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the greatest villain in film history.
TITLE BELT: Christopher Nolan (2)
“Polytechnique” Denis Villeneuve
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” David Yates
“Star Trek” JJ Abrams
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” Wes Anderson
“A Serious Man” The Coen Brothers
“Watchmen” Zach Snyder
“Inglourious Basterds” Quentin Tarantino
“Avatar” James Cameron
“Sherlock Holmes” Guy Ritchie
This doozy of a year included non-hits like Stephen Sommers’ “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” Shawn Levy’s “Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian,” Tony Scott’s “The Taking of Pelham 123,” Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies,” Emmerich’s “2012,” Bay’s Razzie-winning “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” Soderbergh’s “The Informant!,” Harold Ramis’ last film “Year One,” and Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons.”
Of the list of hits, only two make a legitimate claim to the Belt: Cameron or Tarantino.
The Coens got three Oscar noms and a BAFTA nom but almost no one saw “A Serious Man” with a paltry $9 million at the gate.
Abrams rebooted Star Trek and managed to create his own timeline without disturbing the venerated stories of the past. 94% fresh and $258 million but only a single Saturn nomination marks its success.
Guy Ritchie finally broke through with a hit after carving out a career niche of British gangster films. He has a unique flair and applying it to Sherlock’s world was a match made in Heaven. He earned a Saturn nomination and the film made $209 million.
Wes Anderson got an Oscar nom and a BAFTA nom for his 92% fresh animated story.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s debut historical dramatization got a nomination at Cannes and is 86% fresh.
Half-Blood Prince made $302 million and is 83% fresh. Yates’ direction is unfairly overlooked.
Snyder took the comic-book style and applied it to a comic book story. Revolutionary concept. Jokes aside, “Watchmen” is dark, violent, and thrilling. It made $108 million and earned Snyder a Saturn nom.
James Cameron had lain dormant since his Belt winning epic “Titanic” in 1997. When he resurfaced, it was with a massive spectacle of a film. Critics rightly complain its story is predictable and simplistic but that fault pales in comparison to the immensity of the project. That immensity was matched by the enormous $761 million in receipts, 15th all-time in adjusted numbers. Cameron also received three Oscar noms, a Globe win, three BAFTA noms, two Saturn wins, and a lifetime Saturn award.
Tarantino also had a bit of a break with guest director segments in the throwback “Grindhouse” and Frank Miller’s “Sin City.” In ’08 he decided to try his hand at World War II. “Inglourious Basterds” combines QT’s signature dialogue style with some really intense moments. He earned two Oscar noms, two Globe noms, two Saturn noms, and a Cannes nom. Definitely my favorite QT.
Cameron’s sci-fi epic was his last film to date but according to him is the first of a five-film saga. Tarantino’s hit was his sixth of the prophesied ten and another hit is coming. While Cameron’s film made an enormous economic impact it doesn’t hold a candle to QT’s deft storytelling and seamless transitions from suspense to comedy and back.
TITLE BELT: Quentin Tarantino (2)
Coen Bros (21)
A Lee (12)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated the early half of the decade. Peter Jackson’s vision and willingness to take creative risks paid off in a big way. Spielberg certainly has a reasonable claim at his third decade Belt in a row, but Jackson wins it going away.
The director of the aughts is…
The 10s Year to Year
“Inception” Christopher Nolan
“Incendies” Denis Villeneuve
“Shutter Island” Martin Scorsese
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” David Yates
“The Social Network” David Fincher
“True Grit” The Coen Brothers
“The Fighter” David O Russell
“Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
“Alice in Wonderland” Tim Burton
This last decade started strong, the nonhits included Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” Louis Leterrier’s “Clash of the Titans,” Tony Scott’s last film “Unstoppable,” Mike Newell’s “Prince of Persia,” Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” M Night Shyamalan’s double Razzie winner “The Last Airbender,” Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys,” and James Mangold’s “Knight and Day.”
Aronofsky followed up his first hit with his breakout film. Sanity and style are a spiral of color events firmly in his control. $107 million in receipts, 85% fresh, and a nomination from each of the Saturn, BAFTA, Globe, and Oscar awards secured its status.
Villeneuve’s second film was also his second hit. The French-language film is 93% fresh and earned Villeneuve a BAFTA nomination.
The production team running the show for Harry Potter decided to cash in on two films for the final book. The first of them earned Yates a Saturn nom, is 78% fresh, and made $296 million.
Burton’s fourth film in a row was a hit as he adapted Lewis Carroll in his distinctive, bizarre style. Critically, the film was completely panned at 35% rotten but it drew moviegoers in droves, making $334 million. I agree with the critics on this one.
David Fincher also continued a hit streak with his third in a row. His controversial biopic of the prophet of social media, Mark Zuckerberg, is 95% fresh and earned Fincher an Oscar nom, and both a Globe and BAFTA wins.
The theme continues with Scorsese who made his third hit in a row. Teaming up with Leo for the fourth time, his psychological horror/mystery is an engaging, beautiful, and intense film. It earned the director a Saturn nom and made $128 million. The Globes also awarded Scorsese with a lifetime achievement award.
“True Grit” was a classic John Wayne Western from 1969. The Coen Brothers remade it with superstars Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Matt Damon. Hitting on all marks, the film is 96% fresh, made $171 million, and earned the brothers three Oscar noms and a pair of BAFTA noms.
David O Russell had been making films since 1994 and had some critical acceptance. After a six-year break, he scored his first hit. “The Fighter” is most notable for the physical transformation Christian Bale undertook for his role as boxer Dicky Ecklund. However, Russell’s handling of dialogue and the believably intimate nature of his character’s relationships make the film tick. It is deservedly 90% fresh and earned Russell both an Oscar and Globe nom.
Leonardo DiCaprio had quite the year. While Scorsese had him doubting his own memory, Nolan had him delving into dreams. The normal cliches apply: intense, creative, exciting, fascinating, unique, and extremely cool. “Inception” is quite the ride. It earned Nolan a pair of BAFTA noms, a pair of Saturn wins, and solidified his status as one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation. 86% fresh (embarrassingly low) and $293 million both belie how good it is.
Scorsese, Fincher, the Coens, and Russell all flexed their considerable talents but the Belt is Nolan’s.
TITLE BELT: Christopher Nolan (3)
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” Brad Bird
“Hugo” Martin Scorsese
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” David Yates
“Super 8” JJ Abrams
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Fincher
“Rango” Gore Verbinski
“The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick
“Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
“Captain America: The First Avenger” Joe Johnston
Shawn Levy’s “Real Steel,” Spielberg’s “War Horse” & “The Adventures of Tintin,” Ritchie’s Sherlock sequel, Bay’s 3rd Transformers movie, George Miller’s “Happy Feet Two,” and Zach Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” are among the non-hits.
Verbinski’s animated western wins the director an Oscar and a BAFTA is 88% fresh and made $123. He’s hitless since.
Joe Johnston was somewhat inexplicably given the reigns of one of Marvel’s core heroes with the first Captain America film. Remarkably, it stands as his 2nd most critically accepted film at 80% fresh (’99s “October Sky” 90%) and made $177 million. He hasn’t made it back to the hit column since.
Malick has a deeply personal faith and he bared the intricacies of that aspect of his life in “The Tree of Life.” Tapping into the extreme talents of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, Malick won again at Cannes and got another Oscar nomination.
JJ Abrams continued his hit streak with a 3rd in a row, scoring a pair of Saturn noms, winning one, with paranormal Sci-Fi flick “Super 8.” The influence of producer Steven Spielberg is unmistakable. It found well-rounded success with $127 million at the gate, the pair of award noms, and 81% fresh.
After a hit-less decade in which Woody Allen made a movie every single year, he finally scored again with a quirky time-travel romcom starring Owen Wilson. The film made nearly half the total money he made the entire previous decade ($57 of $99 million) and was 93% fresh. He also was back on top with the Academy winning one of his two Oscar nominations, winning one of his two Globe nominations, and scoring a BAFTA and Saturn nomination as well.
After three unmistakably dominant hits in the animated world, Brad Bird was given the helm of one of the more important re-launches in film history (at least that’s how I see it). While not strictly a reboot, Ghost Protocol reinvigorated the Mission: Impossible film universe. It earned Bird a Saturn nom, made $209 million, and is 93% fresh.
Fincher alternated back from historical biography (“Zodiac”, “The Social Network”) to literary adaptation (Benjamin Button) with his 4th straight hit. The Stieg Larsson novel served as perfect kindling for Fincher’s dark, brooding tone. Not nearly as successful as his earlier work, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” still made $103 million and is 86% fresh.
Yates wrapped up one of the most ambitious and undeniably most successful multi-film sagas with “Deathly Hallows, Part 2.” The freshest of the HP films at 96%, it earned Yates a BAFTA win and a Saturn nom and made $381 million.
21 years, 9 films, and 3 hits removed from the apex of “Goodfellas”, Scorsese amazingly soared again with “Hugo.” An adaptation of Brian Selznick’s fanciful and tender story of legacy and family laced with an homage to perhaps the first great filmmaker Georges Méliès. The differences between “Goodfellas” and “Hugo” are obvious and plentiful, but for Scorsese, they both meant seven award nominations and 90+% fresh (93%). Scorsese received a lifetime BAFTA, two additional BAFTA noms, a Saturn nom, two Oscar noms, and won a Golden Globe.
Yates’ mastery of the HP universe is, I believe, too often overlooked. However, mastery may be more apt to describe Scorsese’s uncanny ability to create emotionally tangible films across the widest of genre spectrums.
TITLE BELT: Martin Scorsese (4)
“Lincoln” Steven Spielberg
“The Dark Knight Rises” Christopher Nolan
“The Master” Paul Thomas Anderson
“Looper” Rian Johnson
“Moonrise Kingdom” Wes Anderson
“Life of Pi” Ang Lee
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Peter Jackson
“Magic Mike” Steven Soderbergh
“Silver Linings Playbook” David O Russell
“Django Unchained” Quentin Tarantino
“Frankenweenie” Tim Burton
“Zero Dark Thirty” Kathryn Bigelow
An already busy year, it also included non-hits “Jack Reacher” by McQuarrie, “Men in Black 3” by Sonnenfeld, “Prometheus” by Ridley Scott, “Flight” by Zemeckis, “To the Wonder” by Malick, and the Razzie earning “Battleship” by Peter Berg.
Steven Soderbergh made a movie in 2012. It made $114 million and is 80% fresh.
In “Moonrise Kingdom”, Wes Anderson is right at home with more oddness. 93% fresh, the film earned Anderson an Oscar, BAFTA, and Cannes nom. I definitely have come through this process wanting to watch more of his films.
The other Anderson made a somewhat controversial, not-quite biographical film, loosely based on the life of author and cult leader L Ron Hubbard. Difficult but well-crafted, “The Master” earned PTA a BAFTA nom and is 84% fresh.
David O Russell discovered he liked to work with Jennifer Lawrence, paired her with Bradley Cooper, and scored his second hit in a row. “Silver Linings Playbook” earned Russell a pair of Oscar noms, a Globe nom, and won a BAFTA, is 92% fresh, and made $132 million.
With only his second Oscar nom and a BAFTA nom, Tim Burton’s last hit to date was a return to his stop-motion, doll-like work. At 87% fresh it is his most critically accepted film since “Ed Wood” in ’94.
Bigelow had discovered a niche, as she followed up “The Hurt Locker” with another modern military tale. “Zero Dark Thirty” tells the story of the raid that took out Osama Bin Laden and is most famous for its depictions of torture. Once again she scored big at the awards with an Oscar win, a Globe nomination, and a pair of BAFTA nominations. It also set her personal record with a solid $96 million at the gate.
After the career-making Lord of the Rings epics, Jackson made one mess of a film and then managed to get the support he needed to go back to Middle-earth and adapt Tolkien’s prequel novel The Hobbit. Guillermo del Toro assisted with the screenplays and Jackson developed the story into a trilogy of its own. The first installment earned him a Saturn nom and made $303 million. However, it was critically below-average at 64% and while a mostly enjoyable watch, I have to agree with the critics it’s far from perfect.
While I highly recommend Rian Johnson’s first two movies, “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”, his first hit was “Looper.” The time-bending, dystopian sci-fi earned Johnson a Saturn nom and is 93% fresh.
None of those movies compete with the remaining four for the Belt.
Tarantino followed his Belt-winning hit “Inglourious Basterds” with a Western in the spirit of ’60s anti-racist cowboy-hero Django. QT received an Oscar nom, two Globe noms, two BAFTA noms, and a Saturn nom for the original screenplay. 86% fresh, it was QT’s most commercially successful film yet, making $163 million.
Nolan completed his Batman trilogy with Saturn-winner “The Dark Knight Rises.” At 87% fresh and with $448 million in receipts, it’s actually the most accomplished metrically of the three movies in the series. More significant in scope than the first two, Batman’s enemies come from across the globe and threaten the complete annihilation of Gotham. An extremely exciting and engaging film, it, unfortunately, has a few issues which leave a bit to be desired.
Ang Lee’s latest hit to date was the parable “Life of Pi.” Told as a flashback, the analogy-laden tale is gorgeously depicted using some of the most advanced digital effects ever seen. Symbolically rich and philosophically impactful, Pi is a fantastic movie. Since Lee has yet to make a hit since (two bombs, one in development), a word about his extremely diverse career. It’s hard to fathom how someone could make films as drastically different as “Sense and Sensibility”, “Hulk”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and “Life of Pi.” Quite impressive.
Doris Keans Goodwin probably didn’t expect Team of Rivals to be a book that would make good screenplay fodder. She probably also didn’t factor in the greatest actor of our age teaming up with the greatest director of our age to do a biopic of the immensely important and extraordinarily interesting President Abraham Lincoln. Day-Lewis’ transformation is breathtaking and he carries the film, but Spielberg’s vision and touches of humor amid weighty and complicated events make “Lincoln” an absolute all-time great.
All four Belt worthy films, but it comes down to Lee vs Lincoln. While “Life of Pi” was new and exciting material, it rested on computer-generated imagery for much, if not all, of its beauty and suspense. “Lincoln” drew every ounce of its weight out of the events and characters in the story. Spielberg returned to the top after a 14-year absence from the Belt.
TITLE BELT: Steven Spielberg (7)
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón
“Fruitvale Station” Ryan Coogler
“Pacific Rim” Guillermo del Toro
“Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese
“Star Trek Into Darkness” JJ Abrams
“Blue Jasmine” Woody Allen
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Peter Jackson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” The Coen Bros
“Man of Steel” Zach Snyder
“Behind the Candelabra” Steven Soderbergh
“American Hustle” David O Russell
“Venus in Fur” Roman Polanski
“Before Midnight” Richard Linklater
“Rush” Ron Howard
Also one-hit wonder “Lone Survivor” by Peter Berg, and non-hits (deep breath) “The Wolverine” by Mangold, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” by McKay, “After Earth” and its two Razzie noms by Shyamalan, “The Lone Ranger” and its Razzie nom by Verbinski, “Prisoners” and “Enemy” by Villeneuve (the latter the weirdest movie I’ve ever seen), “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” by Fuqua and Emmerich, “Now You See Me” by Leterrier and “Jack the Giant Slayer” by Singer.
Ron Howard’s latest hit featured the true stories of a pair of Formula 1 racing rivals. While only receiving a modest response from audiences ($27 million), critics are favorable at 89% fresh. Howard received a BAFTA nom for the film and I have it on my to-watch list.
After the relative success of “300” and “Watchmen”, the fledgling DC Cinematic Universe tabbed Zach Snyder to reboot one of their core heroes, Superman. Working with a Nolan brothers screenplay, Snyder managed to make the least-bad Superman movie since Donner’s original 35 years earlier. Least bad is the best I can give it and critics are with me as it sits at 56% according to the tomatoes. It’s hit status comes as a result of the massive $291 million at the gate.
Once again, Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy return to the world created way back in ‘95. 98% fresh and an Oscar nomination mark the genius of connecting the maturation of the characters and the actors over the years.
Soderbergh made another movie, his second hit in as many years. The biopic of flamboyant pianist Liberace is 95% fresh and earned Soderberg a pair of nominations at Cannes.
Polanski’s latest hit was nominated at Cannes and is 89% fresh. He’s still going strong but he hasn’t made it back to the hit column since.
’13 was the debut year for rising star Ryan Coogler. His film “Fruitvale Station” gives an account of New Years’ Eve 2008 for Oakland resident Oscar Grant III. He, most believe very successfully, connects the viewer to the lives of the individuals involved in one of the clearest and most devastating cases of Police/minority violence in recent memory. Among the many deserved awards Coogler received were three nominations at Cannes one of which he won. The film is currently 94% fresh.
Allen’s most recent hit to-date is a drama about a self-centered woman’s selfishness destroying her life. Star Cate Blanchett won the Oscar for Best Actress for her work and Allen was nominated for an Oscar himself and a BAFTA. Allen continued making films, directing an astounding 49 feature films from 1966-2019.
Scorsese and Leo scored again with the wild bio of Wall Street whiz kid (and criminal) Jordan Belfort. This movie is excessively excessive, just like its subject. Scorsese received a pair of Oscar noms and a BAFTA nom for the 78% fresh flick. Audiences also came out to the tune of $117 million.
Smaug was Jackson’s second Hobbit film. I think it’s probably the best of the three and so do the critics who have it at 75% fresh. Audiences came out in slightly lower but still ridiculous numbers, racking up $258 million in receipts. Jackson received two Saturn noms for this one, while only getting one for the first.
Benedict Cumberbatch had a big year in 2013 because while he wasn’t doing motion-capture work as a Dragon, JJ had him rebooting one of the great sci-fi villains of all-time. “Wrath of Khan” is, in my opinion, comfortably the best Star Trek film yet, so I enjoyed at very least the concept of bringing him into the new timeline. The film is solid, with a nice Abram twist on the original concept and is 85% fresh. It also made big money at $229 million and earned Abrams a Saturn nom.
Somehow in the midst of writing the screenplays for the Hobbit trilogy, Guillermo del Toro managed to make a movie of his own. The giant alien-fighting Robot movie, “Pacific Rim”, enjoyed the most commercial success of any of del Toro’s work bringing in $102 million and earned the bearded auteur a Saturn nom.
Perhaps more than any director in 2013, David O Russell was riding quite the wave of popularity and success. His third consecutive hit and third consecutive film over 90% fresh (92%) is his most awarded film to date. “American Hustle” earned Russell two Oscar noms, two Globe noms, and a pair of BAFTA noms of which he won one. It also set his commercial high at $150 million. However, rumors swirled about his difficult personality and the mistreatment of star actresses. And to be honest, the movie is all character and no story.
The Coen brothers’ exploration of life as a musician, personal struggles, and the psychology of the emerging ’60s should be at the top of any film buff’s watch list. This is truly a must-see. 93% fresh, “Inside Llewyn Davis” earned the Coens a Globe nom, a BAFTA nom, a Saturn nom, and won one of two noms at Cannes.
The runaway winner at the award ceremonies was “Gravity.” The list of awards Cuarón received for it is staggering. At the Oscars, he won two of three nominations, at the Globes he won his one nom, at the BAFTAs he won two of four nominations, and he won two of three Saturn noms. That’s 7 wins in 11 nominations, pure dominance. It wasn’t just an award vehicle, however, it also is 96% fresh and made $274 million. A complete sweep of the advanced benchmarks.
Cuarón’s dominance in every phase earns him his first Belt.
TITLE BELT: Alfonso Cuarón
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Russo Brothers
“Interstellar” Christopher Nolan
“Whiplash” Damien Chazelle
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Bryan Singer
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G Iñarritu
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
“Gone Girl” David Fincher
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Peter Jackson
The non-hits include David Ayer’s “Fury,” Shawn Levy’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer,” and Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes.”
The X-Men franchise left its original helmsman to pursue other things after the massive success of X2 in ’03. 8 years later, a new collection of mutants began their story and Singer provided screenplay work. The sequel to that film, “Days of Future Past,” was oddly the most successful X-Men film he’d be a part of. 90% fresh (which is surprising, to say the least – I was not high on the film myself), the film earned Singer a Saturn nom and made $234 million.
Peter Jackson once again completed a trilogy with “The Battle of the Five Armies. At 59% fresh, it was a long way from the award-winning delirium of “Return of the King.” Jackson did receive a Saturn nom, however, and the film made $225 million.
Linklater had mostly flown under the radar, only drawing the attention of film buffs and a particular slice of the industry. The unique and ambitious project “Boyhood” was rewarded with critical acclaim and massive notoriety. He filmed a young actor, Ellar Coltrane, for 12 years, chronicling a scripted story but informing it with actual events from his life. The groundbreaking experience earned Linklater a pair of BAFTA wins out of three nominations, a Globe win of two nominations, and three Oscar nominations. Three wins and eight nominations!
After Joe Johnston’s solid introduction to the First Avenger, the true architects of the MCU took over. The Russo brothers had found most of their success directing for television (“Arrested Development”, “Carpoolers”, “Community”) with minimal traction in the film world. That has all changed, and it started with Captain America 2. In reality, the remaining Captain America films were the first Avenger films as they feature an ever-growing cast of superheroes. The Russos have established the modern standard for handling this type of multi-lead situation. In terms of the metrics, it works, “Winter Soldier” made $260 million, earned the Bros a Saturn nom, and was 89% fresh.
A rising star made his hit debut with the feature-length version of his own award-winning short. “Whiplash” is a brilliant piece presenting contrasting ideas of the pursuit of excellence. Extraordinarily intense, the film is both inspiring and human. It earned the young director an Oscar nom, two BAFTA noms, a Saturn nom, and a nomination at Cannes.
David Fincher’s latest movie was his most commercially accepted film with $168 million at the gate. I can’t say much about it, because the film’s success is in the extreme manner in which Fincher toys with your mind and emotions and any details about the story would ruin that. I can vouch that it’s very effective. Fincher coaxed career-best performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and tonally the film keeps the viewer off-balance in an almost rollercoaster type experience. The critics seem to agree that it’s effective, having it 87% fresh and it earned Fincher a Globe nom.
The king of odd (my title), Wes Anderson, struck academy gold with his hit “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The peculiar examination of a luxurious Eastern European hotel features a fantastic cast, a topsy-turvy story, and some intricate and beautifully executed set-pieces. The film is 91% fresh but catered to a limited audience making only $59 million. Anderson did extremely well at the awards, however, earning three Oscar noms, two Globe noms, winning one of three BAFTA noms, and earning a Saturn nom.
Wes didn’t win any of those Oscars because Iñarritu scored his third hit and walked away with three Oscars, one win in two Globe noms, two BAFTA noms, and a Saturn nom. Birdman is 91% fresh and was a master class in acting from co-stars Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. It was literal candy for theater-nuts (which I’m guessing most of the Academy would be classified as) but had enough compelling drama and soul-searching to keep the more average viewer (me) engaged.
Nolan’s fourth hit in a row was one of the most meta films to reach blockbuster-esque status maybe ever. Grappling with extreme sci-fi elements (interdimensional travel, time dilation, extraterrestrial colonization) while simultaneously expressing themes of family, love, and connection with breathtaking execution. You can fuss about the science all you want, at the end of the day “Interstellar” isn’t really about science, its about the connection between a father and a daughter and the way that connection ripples through time.
Fincher, Wes, Alejandro, and Nolan all have legitimate claims at the Belt. 2014 is a year of excess for me as I’ve seen so many of the films. It’s a year of piles and piles of average, B+/A- material. It is interesting then, that striding atop the mound of mediocrity stands four or five (“Whiplash” was amazing) of the best movies I’ve ever seen. For this year’s Belt, I want to consider how I felt upon the conclusion of watching each movie.
Even though I haven’t watched any of them very recently, the effects of each are still fresh. Fincher left me shocked, stunned, and repeatedly saying “what just happened” and “I’m never looking at ______ the same way again” and things of that nature. Anderson left me smiling, having thoroughly enjoyed the hijinks and personalities he presented. Birdman left me impressed but a bit disappointed, part of me feeling like an outsider getting a glimpse of a fascinating but terrible world and part of me glad I was detached from it. “Interstellar” left me inspired, touched, and in awe of the mixture of unbelievably cool and extremely relatably poignant. Each deserves the Belt, but there can only be one.
TITLE BELT: Christopher Nolan (4)
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” Christopher McQuarrie
“Bridge of Spies” Stephen Spielberg
“Creed” Ryan Coogler
“Sicario” Denis Villeneuve
“The Martian” Ridley Scott
“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” JJ Abrams
“The Revenant” Alejandro G Iñarritu
“The Big Short” Adam McKay
“Trainwreck” Judd Apatow
“Mad Max: Fury Road” George Miller
Non-hits include Brad Birds’ “Tomorrowland” (his only career miss to date), Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” Levinson’s “Rock the Kasbah,” Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” Emmerich’s “Stonewall,” Spike’s “Chi-Raq,” Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” Malick’s “Knight of Cups,” Shyalaman’s “The Visit,” Russell’s “Joy,” Columbus’ “Pixels,” Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” and del Toro’s “Crimson Peak.”
McQ had some very early success as a screenwriter, winning a pair of awards for Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” in ’95. Although his directing success was limited, he was given the keys to the Mission: Impossible franchise and has not disappointed. Rogue Nation matched the tone and feel of Ghost Protocol perfectly and scored extremely well with the critics (93% fresh). A moderate blockbuster, the 5th installment of Ethan Hunt made $195 million at the gate.
Fresh off his groundbreaking debut, Ryan Coogler worked up a spinoff to the immensely successful Rocky franchise. “Creed” was formulaic, sure, but it’s a tried and true formula. Audiences and critics alike didn’t complain as it’s 95% fresh and made $110 million.
I am not in the target audience for Apatow’s latest film, however, apparently, there are some out there who find Amy Schumer palatable. 85% fresh, $110 million.
Sir Ridley hit a bit of a dry spell with five straight non-hits rating out at 55% (“Body of Lies”), 43% (“Robin Hood”), 73% (“Prometheus”), 34% (“The Counsellor”), and 65% (“Exodus: Gods and Kings), so it was a welcome surprise when “The Martian” hit on all marks, 91% fresh, $228 million, and an Oscar, BAFTA, Globe, and Saturn nom, winning the Saturn. The common theme of man vs nature transplanted to the farthest imaginable destination gave it a fresh and renewed sense of danger and adventure.
30 years after the third Mad Max, George brought the dystopian world back with more polish and spectacle than before. The results were fantastic, it made $154 million, is 97% fresh, and earned Miller two Oscar nominations, two Saturn nominations, and a Globe nomination.
Villeneuve got another nomination at Cannes for his hit “Sicario.” Unlike the first Cannes hit “Polytechnique”, the Mexican-cartel assassin film was in English and made a solid splash at the box office at $47 million. 92% fresh, the film sets a dark tone and rides the oh-so-cool personalities of its triple stars Blunt, Del Toro, and Brolin.
Leonardo DiCaprio has played many memorable roles throughout his career. However, for various reasons which have been well chronicled, up until 2015 he had failed to reach the supposed pinnacle of his craft, the Best Actor Oscar. Then Iñarritu cast him as Hugh Glass, a trapper trying to make his livelihood in the devastating environs of 1820s frontier America. A brilliant performance earned the esteemed actor his Oscar and launched a million “what is Leo’s greatest role” debates. Another time perhaps, but this article is about the director.
Iñarritu’s latest film, “The Revenant”, is a simultaneously beautiful and grotesque spectacle. The characters in it are secondary to the environment they find themselves in, often struggling to survive. The shots of nature aren’t just pretty, but awesome in the sense that they seem dangerous, uninviting, and powerful. Like in “The Martian” man vs nature, the classic Jack London tale, is familiar but not boring, revealing both the strength and fragility of the human spirit. The director earned two Oscar noms, winning one, and won a Globe and two BAFTAs. Only 78% fresh (ridiculous), it did well at the gate setting Iñarritu’s personal record at $184 million.
In a meeting of the greats, Spielberg and the Coen Brothers collaborated on a biographical tale set in the Cold War. With a touch of exaggeration common to Hollywood, they shed a light on an American hero, James Donovan, as he navigated the dangers, philosophies, and injustices of the Red Scare endeavoring to preserve what America does and should stand for. It’s rare for a film featuring a Supreme Court ruling to be this exciting, but Spielberg mixes the elements masterfully and the Hanks/Rylance pairing shines. A bit overlooked, the film earned Spielberg an Oscar nom and a pair of BAFTA noms and is 91% fresh.
After ten years of financially successful but critically panned films, Adam McKay literally invented a genre. At least, as far as I’m concerned, before “The Big Short” I had never seen anything remotely like it. The structure and rhythm of a comedy, but with a decidedly non-comedic and even possibly boring historical topic, McKay’s offbeat analysis of the housing crash is one of the most perfect films I’ve ever watched. Four superstar actors presenting almost characterizations but almost impersonations of completely anonymous yet extremely pivotal individuals explaining nuanced market-forces economics and delivering compelling, emotional performances. Simply wonderful. 88% fresh, McKay earned two Oscar noms, winning one, a Globe nom, and two BAFTA noms also winning one of those.
One of the most anticipated films in the history of cinema, ten years after the solid but still subpar conclusion to Lucas’ ill-fated prequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” annihilated the box office. $937 million, nearly $200 million more than Abrams’ other five hits combined! But not simply a cash cow, the safe but fresh reawakening of the seminal franchise is 93% fresh and earned Abrams a pair of Saturn noms, taking home one. Thousands of words could be written about Abrams’ choices in casting, story elements, exclusions/inclusions, etc but I’ll simply say the film was decidedly Star Wars and that’s all I could’ve hoped for.
Iñarritu, McKay, and Abrams. A more different group would be hard to assemble. Each made an impact in a different way, Iñarritu made the best film of the three, I can comfortably say that, along with Leo’s Oscar and the awards the director earned, it also won Best Picture, the second consecutive for Iñarritu after Birdman in ’14. McKay invented a genre and if ’18’s “Vice” is any indication, it’s a genre he intends to expand. Abrams gave rebirth to a frustrated yet fanatical fanbase. Three days after the premiere, I waited in a line for an hour and a half, a line that included two Chewbaccas, a litany of Stormtroopers, and at least one Jedi on the outskirts of a fairly large but by no means thriving city. Iñarritu and McKay gave us things we wanted but didn’t necessarily know we wanted them, Abrams filled a need which we all felt.
TITLE BELT: JJ Abrams
“Captain America: Civil War” The Russo Brothers
“Arrival” Denis Villeneuve
“La La Land” Damien Chazelle
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” David Yates
“X-Men: Apocalypse” Bryan Singer
non-hits include “Suicide Squad” by David Ayers which earned a whopping $325 million but also a Razzie nom, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ang Lee, “The BFG” by Speilberg, “Silence” by Scorsese a highly underrated and extremely interesting film, “The Brothers Grimsby” by Louis Leterrier (this is the last time you’ll ever see “Silence” and Grimsby in the same sentence), “Allied” by Zemeckis, the double Razzie nominated “Independence Day: Resurgence” by Emmerich, the surprisingly good “13 Hours” by Michael Bay, “LBJ” by Reiner, the unnecessary but ok remake of “The Magnificent Seven” by Fuqua, the hilarious “Hail, Caesar!” by the Coens, Burton’s latest “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” by Razzie nom’d Zach Snyder, “Split” by Shyamalan (missed hit status by 4%), “Patriots Day” by Peter Berg, Oliver Stone’s latest film “Snowden,” and “Inferno” by Ron Howard to conclude(?) the Dan Brown trilogy.
A lot of quality material fell short in various metrics and the remaining films aren’t nearly as inspiring as the previous two years, however, they’re still potential contenders. Side note, I’ve seen more films made in 2016 than any other year – a whopping 92 at last count.
The last X-Men film Singer had a hand in was easily the worst of the franchise (48% rotten is evidence) but it made $155 million and earned Singer a Saturn nom. There is an enormous number of problems with this film, needless to say, it will not truly contend for the Belt.
After the success of “Whiplash”, Damien Chazelle’s next project was highly anticipated. A fact that only increased when it became clear the film would star young superstars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. A film made primarily for the subset of individuals who enjoy the making of movies as much as the movies themselves, the whimsical musical dealt with the same conflict as “Whiplash” between artistic achievement and a “normal” life. The film earned Chazelle two Oscar noms with one win, two Globe wins, and two BAFTA noms with one win. Critics and audiences also appreciated it at 91% fresh and $151 million at the gate.
One of the most anticipated and ambitious films to date, the Russo brother’s conclusion of the Captain America trilogy was a huge success. $408 million and 91% fresh earned the brothers a Saturn nom. However, possibly counter to popular opinion, the Marvel Universe has enormous issues that are all on display in Civil War. A quick list of things I perceive to be the primary issues in the MCU: 1) Their villains are on the whole horrible, 2) the humor of the films is extraordinarily juvenile, 3) the characters, with a few exceptions, have not changed one iota from film #1 to #22, 4) outside of the primary Avengers and a few other core characters, the acting is subpar (and in some cases, downright poor), and 5) the fact the films are comic book adaptations have not prevented the filmmakers from attempting to use them as vehicles for social and current events commentary. I don’t suggest they aren’t enjoyable, but I’m also not giving the Russos a Belt for Civil War.
David Yates had steered the last four Harry Potter films to $1.27 billion in receipts and an average of 84% fresh on the tomatoes. So it only made sense he’d make some more films. It turned out JK Rowling had more Harry Potter stories for the world so he didn’t have to wait long. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was to Harry Potter like Force Awakens was to Star Wars – it just felt like a Harry Potter film. It worked to the tune of $234 million in receipts and a BAFTA nom for Yates.
The second year in a row Villeneuve scored a hit, this time in a Nolan-esque sci-fi. Combining linguistics, first contact, time, and a touch of familial connection, Villeneuve’s story, and Amy Adams’ performance are stellar. The film earned the director an Oscar nom, a BAFTA nom, and a Saturn nom. It also set Villeneuve’s personal records to date with $101 million at receipts and 94% fresh.
Damien Chazelle Denis Villeneuve
“The Post” Stephen Spielberg
“Dunkirk” Christopher Nolan
“Blade Runner 2049” Denis Villeneuve
“Phantom Thread” Paul Thomas Anderson
“Logan” James Mangold
“The Shape of Water” Guillermo del Toro
“Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” – Rian Johnson
non-hits include “Alien: Covenant” and “All the Money in the World” by Ridley Scott, “Transformers: The Last Knight” by Bay, “Justice League” by Snyder, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” by Ritchie, “Song to Song” by Malick, the Razzie nominated “mother!” by Aronofsky, “Detroit” by Bigelow, and “Logan Lucky” by Soderbergh.
The other female director that made the study was Patty Jenkins. Her directorial debut, “Monster” didn’t quite make the cut back in ‘03 meaning that “Wonder Woman” was a one-hit wonder.
I haven’t had a chance to see del Toro’s fish-out-of-water morality play, however, it did extremely well at the awards. The director won two of three Oscar noms, one of two Globe noms, one of three BAFTA noms, and earned a pair of Saturn noms. 92% fresh, it’s a good thing del Toro is around or Doug Jones might have trouble getting work, am I right?
I also enjoyed PTA’s love story between the great (retiring?) Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps. PTA earned a couple of Oscar noms and the film is 91% fresh. Like most of PTA’s work, it didn’t draw much of an audience though making only $21 million.
Star Wars has become hotly controversial these days and Last Jedi is easily the most polarizing entrance in the franchise yet. As far as the metrics are concerned it was nothing but a rousing success. Johnson won one of two Saturn noms, the film is 91% fresh, and it made $620 million, almost ten times Rian Johnson’s career earnings up to that point. No matter the noise, Johnson didn’t only bring some welcome freshness and direction to the series but has also earned enough clout to have his own Star Wars trilogy in the works, which I, for one, am very excited about.
James Mangold made his largest career commercial splash four years earlier with the unnecessary but fun comic book film “The Wolverine.” He returned to the character with what I believe is the best comic book film yet in “Logan.” Nearly doubling his financial record with $226 million and 93% fresh, it earned him an Oscar nom and a Saturn nom. A gritty film about the passing of the torch featuring an excellent performance from Patrick Stewart, if “Logan” turns out to be the last time Wolverine graces the big screen as part of this film universe, it was a fitting send-off.
For the third year in a row, Villeneuve scored a hit. Way back in 1982 Sir Ridley Scott’s hit “Blade Runner” built a fascinating world and despite a reasonably concluded story left open the possibility of a sequel. It only took 35 years for Villeneuve to come along and finally make that film. Not without its flaws, “Blade Runner 2049” is a wonderful example of the rich possibilities in many 70s and 80s sci-fi. Incidentally, Villeneuve’s next project is a remake of ’84s non-hit “Dune” and having read the source material, I’m very excited. Villeneuve earned a BAFTA nom and a Saturn nom on the 87% fresh film.
Spielberg’s latest hit is a socially topical biographical piece on an extremely important episode which faced the Washington Post during the Nixon administration. With signature excellence, Spielberg captured the big picture while focusing the film on the people facing extraordinary circumstances. It’s a very intimately filmed movie in which stars Hanks and Streep shined. 43 years after his first hit Spielberg earned yet another Oscar nom and Globe nom for the 88% fresh flick.
A few paragraphs up I described how Adam McKay pioneered a genre with “The Big Short” and how that genre seemed to be here to stay and could shape how some stories are told in the industry for quite a while. Nolan’s “Dunkirk” has the potential of making a similar impact on filmmaking. An extremely immersive experience, initial viewings are likely to induce significant feels. Metrically, it checks all the boxes: $190 million, 92% fresh, an Oscar nom, a Globe nom, and a pair of BAFTA noms. In describing it, I’m hesitant to get too specific, because the mechanics of the story, and his telling of it, are very unique and some of their effectiveness is enhanced in that unique state. Also, Nolan has formed a working relationship with Hans Zimmer which mirrors the Spielberg-Williams partnership in many ways. The most specific way would be the combined genius of the two men. Zimmer puts that genius on full display for “Dunkirk” matching Nolan’s creative story structure musically.
Nolan may not have won as many awards as del Toro or made as much money as Rian Johnson but the creativity and gravitas of “Dunkirk” are simply on another level.
TITLE BELT: Christopher Nolan (5)
“Incredibles 2” Brad Bird
“Avengers: Infinity War” Russo Brothers
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” Christopher McQuarrie
“Roma” Alfonso Cuarón
“Black Panther” Ryan Coogler
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Bryan Singer
“Isle of Dogs” Wes Anderson
“Vice” Adam McKay
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Coen Brothers
“BlacKkKlansman” Spike Lee
“Ready Player One” Steven Spielberg
The non-hits include Yate’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” Zemeckis’ “Welcome to Marwen,” Fuqua’s “The Equalizer 2,” Chazelle’s “First Man,” Soderbergh’s “Unsane,” Joe Johnston’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” and Ron Howard’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
After Brad Bird’s only miss he bounced back with his first sequel, “Incredibles 2,” and avoided many of the pitfalls of follow-up animated sequels. Not quite as fresh as the original, it still sits at 94% and made a whopping $609 million.
McQuarrie was given control of the Mission: Impossible franchise with the 5th film (Rogue Nation) and Fallout matched it in both tone and success. 97% fresh and $220 million in receipts make it the most successful installment of the franchise yet.
Bryan Singer’s latest hit was a biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. However, accusations of impropriety have dogged Singer for years and they finally caught up to him while working on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He was asked to leave the project and didn’t even appear with the production team at the Globes. However, he did receive a BAFTA nomination for the film which made $187 million but is only 62% fresh.
Adam McKay’s latest hit was “Vice.” Christian Bale literally transformed into Dick Cheney. It earned McKay three Oscar noms, two Globe noms, and a BAFTA nom.
Wes scored his 4th hit in a row with a stop motion film featuring Dogs in Japan. Have I mentioned Wes Anderson likes odd? Despite the extremely peculiar setting, the film was very interesting. It earned the director both an Oscar and a BAFTA nom and is currently 89% fresh.
“Black Panther” has the distinction of being the only comic book film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Coogler was nominated for a pair of Saturn awards winning one of them. The King of Wakanda is 97% fresh and brought out the crowds to the tune of $700 million.
Filmmaking is often a very personal experience for a director. That point has rarely been clearer than in Cuarón’s latest hit “Roma.” Masterfully crafted, the episodic black and white piece follows the twists and turns in the life of Cuarón’s nanny from his childhood in Mexico. A very evocative film, my primary gripe with it was it’s often beleaguered pacing. Cuarón earned four Oscar noms, two Globe noms with one win, and an incredible seven BAFTA noms. “Roma” is 96% fresh but was directly released to streaming as a Netflix original so box office numbers aren’t applicable.
Another direct to Netflix release made the list. The Coen brothers earned an Oscar nom for the 92% fresh film. Really a series of short films, the Coen’s signature dialogue work, and extreme characters give each episode independent value. A mix of original stories and adaptations, it includes material by Jack London and Stewart Edward White. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes a Coen Brothers film great but one of the key elements is always speech. Coen brother’s characters always speak in a very distinctive and usually colloquial manner. Many writers/directors have a particular voice that can be recognized and the Coen brothers don’t necessarily differ from this observation however their “voice” translates into the socio-cultural setting of their films seamlessly. In “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” they apply their voice to the Western genre, and like elsewhere the fit is snug.
The Russo brothers scored their latest hit as well. The MCU had been building towards a confrontation between the many heroes and the supervillain Thanos. Many of the issues at the core of the Marvel films were significantly less problematic in Infinity War. It’s 84% rating feels low, particularly when compared with the Russo’s other MCU films Civil War (91%) and Winter Soldier (89%). However, it made $11 million more than those two combined with $679 million at the gate. Its sequel, the end of an era, is one of the most anticipated films upcoming.
Even though I enjoyed Buster Scruggs and Infinity War more than “Roma” it’s undeniable that Cuarón’s work was a tour de force.
TITLE BELT: Alfonso Cuarón (2)
“Aladdin” Guy Ritchie
“Ford v. Ferrari” James Mangold
“Knives Out” Rian Johnson
“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” JJ Abrams
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” Quentin Tarantino
“The Irishman” Martin Scorsese
“A Hidden Life” Terrence Malick
“Avengers: Endgame” Russo Brothers
Non-hits include “Gemini Man” by Ang Lee, “Midway” by Roland Emmerich, “6 Underground” by Michael Bay, “Dumbo” by Tim Burton, “Glass” by M Night Shyamalan, “The Laundromat” & “High Flying Bird” by Steven Soderbergh, and “The Gentlemen” by Guy Ritchie.
Ritchie was tabbed, somewhat surprisingly, to helm one of the Disney live remakes. It had its issues, as noted by it’s 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating, but it earned Ritchie his second career Saturn nomination and cashed in on the Disney wave to the tune of $356 million.
After a few missteps, Malick got back to his hit ways with “A Hidden Life.” A three hour sprawling story of a conscientious objector from the Nazi party, it’s not a film for everyone. However, Malick won one of two nominations at Cannes and the film is 80% fresh.
Scorsese has been making movies for at least 52 years so he’s the last person you’d expect to find introducing groundbreaking innovation. However, that’s exactly what made “The Irishman” so special. The old familiar staples of Scorsese’s career, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and others were brought back to play out the Jimmy Hoffa saga with a lifespan-level scope. In order to accomplish this with actors who were perfect for the end of life parts but not the rest, Scorsese got Netflix to bankroll cutting-edge de-aging CGI. It’s an imperfect science (as demonstrated by Ang Lee’s failed “Gemini Man”) and in places, it doesn’t work for Scorsese either. But his trademark storytelling and great work from De Niro, in particular, makes this a must-see. It earned the director two Oscar nominations, two BAFTA nominations, and a Globe nomination and is 96% fresh.
With his second hit in a row, Mangold told the story of Ford Automotive’s vanity project at Le Mans. A technically impressive film, it’s true strength was in its leads, the excellent superstars Christian Bale and Matt Damon. It earned $117 million, is 92% fresh, and earned Mangold an Oscar nomination.
After the controversy of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars entry, he returned to a more comfortable genre, the murder mystery. “Knives Out” is a really delightful and colorful film and it earned Rian an Oscar and BAFTA nomination, made $162 million, and is certified fresh at 97%.
The greatest interconnected film saga perhaps in history reached an end of sorts with “Avengers: Endgame.” 21 distinct full-feature films led up to the culminating events in the Russo brothers’ magnum opus. It’s a delightful and satisfying conclusion to the Avengers story, so far, and it gave a fitting send-off to several of the core heroes. It was also immensely successful. It earned the Russos a Saturn nomination, is 94% fresh, and made a bonkers $858 million at the gate.
Another epic saga drew to a close in JJ Abrams’ latest hit. “The Rise of Skywalker” was the ninth “episode” and twelfth true Star Wars film. It is nearly as divisive as its predecessor “The Last Jedi.” A bombastic, fast-paced, and explosive film, it makes many choices and your opinion of them likely varies. Critically, the film suffered and is currently only 52% fresh. However, it was still a massive success at the Box Office, raking in $513 million.
After the moderate failure, by his standards, of “The Hateful Eight” Tarantino came back with perhaps his finest film. Referred to occasionally as a love-letter to Hollywood, the meandering look at potential, legacy, and nostalgia is quite a display of QT’s deft style. With $142 million in receipts and 85% fresh, it would be a hit without the massive award love. Tarantino personally received three Oscar nominations, two Globe nominations (winning one), three BAFTA nominations, and a nomination at Cannes for career-best nine award nominations.
Avengers, Star Wars, or Tarantino? Perhaps I’m revealing personal bias, but Tarantino’s film is simply better.
TITLE BELT: Quentin Tarantino (3)
Russo Bros (4)
del Toro (15)
Russo Bros ($2.205b)
“Inception,” “Interstellar,” “Dunkirk,” and “Dark Knight Rises.” Case closed.
Final Wrap Up
Some summary comments.
Since 1970, 24 different directors rose to the challenge and earned a Title Belt.
Thirteen of those directors only managed to earn one Belt – George Lucas, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Robert Zemeckis, Oliver Stone, Denis Villeneuve, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird, Ang Lee, William Friedkin, David Fincher, Sidney Lumet, and John Carpenter.
Four more only got two: Stanley Kubrick, Alfonso Cuarón, the Coen Brothers, and Michael Mann.
Three others earned three – Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Francis Ford Coppola.
James Cameron and Martin Scorsese earned four.
Christopher Nolan got five.
Steven Spielberg led all directors with seven.
Five decades meant five “Decade Belts” were awarded. They went to Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg twice, Peter Jackson, and Christopher Nolan.
Spielberg led all involved with 20 hits, Scorsese was next with 14, Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet each had 12, and Tim Burton was the only other director in the double digits with 10.
Financially the top 10 (in non-adjusted, domestic gross) over the period studied were:
10. Tim Burton ($1.839b)
9. Christopher Nolan ($1.867b)
8. James Cameron ($1.949b)
7. Robert Zemeckis ($2.096b)
6. Peter Jackson ($2.105b)
5. Ron Howard ($2.107b)
4. JJ Abrams ($2.198b)
3. Russo Brothers ($2.281b)
2. Michael Bay ($2.327b)
1. Stephen Spielberg ($4.552b)
All of those directors scored at least one hit with Michael Bay being the only one not to qualify for a Belt due to only having a single hit.
Ranking system – 1 point for a nomination, 2 points for a win (Razzies negative points)
5. Martin Scorsese: 14 noms, 1 win = 16pts
4. Stephen Spielberg: 16 noms, 3 wins = 22pts
3. Francis Ford Coppola: 13 noms, 5 wins = 23pts
2. Coen Brothers: 16 noms, 4 wins = 24pts
1. Woody Allen: 22 noms, 4 wins = 30pts
5. Quentin Tarantino: 10 noms, 2 win = 14pts
4. Oliver Stone: 7 noms, 4 wins = 15pts
3. Martin Scorsese: 12 noms, 2 wins = 16pts
3. Woody Allen: 12 noms, 2 wins = 16pts
2. Stephen Spielberg: 13 noms, 2 wins = 17pts
1. Francis Ford Coppola: 11 noms, 4 wins = 19pts
5. Stephen Spielberg: 14 noms, 2 wins = 18pts
4. Peter Jackson: 11 noms, 4 wins = 19pts
3. Martin Scorsese: 14 noms, 3 wins = 20pts
2. Alfonso Cuarón: 15 noms, 3 wins = 21pts
1. Woody Allen: 23 noms, 9 wins = 41pts
5. Bryan Singer: 8 noms, 2 wins = 12 pts
4. Christopher Nolan: 9 noms, 6 wins = 21pts
3. Peter Jackson: 14 noms, 4 wins = 22pts
2. Stephen Spielberg: 15 noms, 5 wins = 25pts
1. James Cameron: 12 wins, 8 noms = 28 pts
*Tarantino & del Toro both nominated for 9 without a win.
5. Terrence Malick: 5 noms, 3 wins = 11pts
4. Steven Soderbergh: 7 noms, 2 wins = 11pts
3. Robert Altman: 8 noms, 2 wins = 12pts
2. Francis Ford Coppola: 6 noms, 4 wins = 14pts
1. Alejandro Iñárritu: 7 noms, 4 wins = 15pts
5. Roland Emmerich: 5 noms, 0 wins = -5pts
4. Brian De Palma = 6 noms, 0 wins = -6 pts
4. George Lucas: 4 noms, 1 win = -6pts
2. Michael Bay: 7 noms, 2 wins = -11pts
1. M Night Shyamalan: 9 noms, 4 wins = -17pts
I find it really unfortunate Shyamalan is treated this way. I think “Lady in the Water” and “The Village” are highly underrated and “Signs” is my favorite movie all-time. So now that I’ve destroyed my credibility we’ll continue.
10. Quentin Tarantino: 38 noms, 5 wins, 0 R’s = 48pts
9. Alfonso Cuarón: 33 noms, 9 wins, 0 R’s = 51pts
8. Alejandro Iñárritu: 27 noms, 13 wins, 0 R’s = 53pts
8. James Cameron: 27 noms, 13 wins, 0 R’s = 53pts
6. Coen Brothers: 39 noms, 7 wins, 0 R’s = 54pts
4. Martin Scorsese: 45 noms, 8 wins, 0 R’s = 61pts
4. Peter Jackson: 37 noms, 12 wins, 0 R’s = 61pts
3. Francis Ford Coppola: 35 noms, 15 wins, 0 R’s = 65pts
2. Stephen Spielberg: 60 noms, 13 wins, 0 R’s = 86pts
1. Woody Allen: 63 noms, 17 wins, 0 R’s = 97pts
The following directors were one-hit wonders:
Shawn Levy “Night at the Museum”
Michael Bay “Transformers”
Patty Jenkins “Wonder Woman”
Roland Emmerich “Independence Day”
Tony Scott “Crimson Tide”
M Night Shyamalan “Sixth Sense”
Stephen Sommers “The Mummy”
Barry Sonnenfeld “Men in Black”
Harold Ramis “Groundhog Day”
John Woo “Face/Off”
Jonathan Demme “The Silence of the Lambs”
John McTiernan “The Hunt for Red October”
John G. Avildsen “Rocky”
The following directors plied their craft before the time period I looked at, but likely would be Belt holders in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s:
Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Frank Capra, Orson Welles, William Wyler
If you have any others in mind, suggest them or do your own analysis to see if they’d be Belt contenders. Don’t miss the guys ripping this list to shreds on Whiskey Cinema!