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They Once Ruled The Silver Screen: 5 Hollywood Directors Who Lost Their Mojo

Francis Ford Coppola directed one of the most beloved films of all time with 1972’s “The Godfather.”

Two years later, many feel he topped himself with “The Godfather Part II.”

Add other iconic films like “Apocalypse Now” (1979) and “The Conversation” (1974), and Coppola represented the very best of ‘70s cinema.

His last great, — or even good — film remains far back in his rear-view mirror. Flops like 1996’s “Jack” with Robin Williams and, more recently, 2007’s “Youth Without Youth” suggest the director’s creative skills have long since curdled.

Film culture hopes the auteur’s next project, “Megalopolis,” starring Shia LaBeouf, Adam Driver, Talia Shire, and Forest Whitaker, returns Coppola to the heights of his early career.

If not, he’s certainly not alone in losing his mojo.

Many well-regarded directors have squandered their artistry over time. The following four directors fall squarely into that category.

Brian De Palma

Coppola’s ‘70s chum (along with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) toiled in relative obscurity before he adapted Stephen King’s chilling “Carrie” for the big screen. The 1976 film remains one of the best King adaptations, and it secured his place as a first-rate horror movie.

He leaned into the genre, delivering the solid thriller “The Fury” (1978) and, later, the Hitchock homage “Dressed to Kill” (1980) with Michael Caine. His 1982 film “Blow Out” lacked commercial pop, but many praised its sublime artistry and, once again, Hitchcock echoes.

Quentin Tarantino dubbed the film one of the greatest movies ever made.

De Palma’s 1987 blockbuster “The Untouchables” earned co-star Sean Connery his first and only Oscar while cementing Kevin Costner’s stardom. Bravura sequences, like the baby carriage tumbling down a long stairway, defined the director’s signature touch.

His 1990 disaster “The Bonfire of the Vanities” proved so inept it inspired the must-read expose “The Devil’s Candy,” but De Palma rebounded with commercial hits like “Carlito’s Way” (1993) and “Mission: Impossible” (1996).

It’s been a slow, steady decline ever since.

The 2007 anti-war dud “Redacted” couldn’t crack the $100,000 mark at the domestic box office. His 2012 erotic thriller “Passion” got pummeled by critics and ignored by audiences. His most recent film, 2019’s “Domino,” lacked both stars and critical huzzahs.

The director, now 82, has two projects in the works according to (“Sweet Vengeance” and “Catch and Kill”) with little details attached to either. One report suggests the latter title will be a horror movie inspired by producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory crimes.

Rob Reiner

The erstwhile ‘Meathead‘ made the transition from sitcom star to A-list auteur look easy. Sure, 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap” didn’t generate any Oscar buzz, but it quickly became the mockumentary all others must be measured against.

And most come up short.

The “All In The Family” alum’s subsequent hits captured the zeitgeist over and again, from 1986’s “Stand By Me” to “The Princess Bride” (1987). Reiner’s ability to spin crowd-pleasing stories without pandering proved a runaway success. Think 1990’s “Misery,” 1992’s “A Few Good Men,” and 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally,” the ultimate rom-com.

Lately, Reiner’s films barely make a ripple in the pop culture waters. Duds like “The Magic Of Belle Isle” (2012), “And So It Goes” (2014), “Being Charlie” (2015), and “Shock And Awe,” a 2017 political screed leaning into his hard-left politics, got ignored by audiences.

Reiner’s next project could reverse his fortunes, assuming he still boasts the skills to pull it off. He’s directing a “Tap” sequel, reuniting the original faux band for more rock satire.

Kevin Smith

The New Jersey native’s 1994 opus “Clerks” is no one’s idea of a great film. It’s cheaply shot in uninspired black and white and features actors who hardly electrified movie houses.

It still packed plenty of charm and winsome humor, while incorporating Comic Con rants that now power plenty of YouTube channels. Smith’s ability to find the humanity in these low-level clerks jump-started his career, and rightly so.

The Kevin Smith media machine whirred to life.

Smith’s subsequent films, “Mallrats” (1995), “Chasing Amy” (1997), and “Dogma” (1999) delivered more of his cracked humor with bigger budgets and better stars (Ben Affleck, George Carlin, and Shannen Doherty).

Smith’s potty mouth and heartfelt connection with his fan base secured his place in Hollywood even when his films failed to deliver. The director’s ability to change course mid-career also boosted his fortunes. 

His politically-charged thriller “Red State” (2011) shocked fans and critics alike, while 2014’s “Tusk” delivered a squirm-inducing horror unlike anything since 1973’s “Sssssss.”

His films, alas, started a noticeably downward trend around that time. His iconic Jay and Silent Bob characters fueled films meant solely for hardcore Smith fanatics (2019’s “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot”), while 2016’s “Yoga Hosers” proved so painful it couldn’t lean into its clumsiness for cult movie consideration.

Variety described the latter as an “on-screen underwear stain.”

His newest film, “Clerks III,” is an unremittingly lazy effort that finds Smith going through the motions while repeating the original film’s classic bits.

Oliver Stone

You don’t have to love, or even tolerate, Stone’s hard-Left politics to grasp his cinematic genius. The Vietnam veteran used his experiences to power “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), two award-winning films that entertain first and send a message later.

Stone’s 1987 smash “Wall Street” accidentally defined the decade’s rapacious culture, boiled down to star Michael Douglas’ “greed is good” speech. More powerhouse films followed, from “JFK’s” conspiracy laden storytelling in 1991 to 1994’s “Natural Born Killers” starring an unrecognizable Rodney Dangerfield.

Stone could stir the pot like few others, but he had the cinematic chops to pull off his gonzo storytelling.

Even his smaller films, like the under-appreciated 1988 thriller “Talk Radio,” showed his knack for grabbing audiences by the scruff of the neck and giving them a hearty shake.

That skill, put to lesser effect with “Nixon” (1995) and “The Doors” (1991), faded over time. Recent fair like 2016’s “Snowden” and 2012’s “Savages” suggested Stone’s creative fires no longer burned with this signature intensity.

More embarrassing?

His fawning documentaries highlighting his preferred dictators. The 2009 film “South of the Border” praised Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez while his four-part series “The Putin Interviews” flung softballs at the Russian strongman.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 

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