Few people in the world are universally loved and even then, it won’t be challenging to find someone who is not a fan of say, Keanu Reeves, Robin Williams, Santa Clause, Betty White or Sir David Attenborough.
Perhaps it is then easier to identify folks who are overhyped or even overrated – folks whose name brings about a level of perception, expectations or quality, but are not appreciated by all. Sure, it’s a matter of preference, much like how you can either be a coffee or tea person or if you’re a morning riser or a night owl – but how do you measure the level of creativity by an individual who has accolades thrust on them, even as you start to question their value?
And 2023 is no better time to discuss the topic of overrated directors, because we’ve seen some of the best output by a noted few, or so we think, or some say. Actress turned filmmaker Greta Gerwig just became the first woman to direct a billion-dollar film (Hi Barbie!) and Oppenheimer has pulled every single insufferable Christopher Nolan fanboy out of the shadows to talk about what a masterpiece the bio-flick is (spoiler alert: they’re absolutely right). Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City is all the rage among his hipster audience, even if it has been dubbed a pretentious mess, and by his own fans no less!
All this buzz has got us thinking – who are some directors that other fanboys and cinephiles love that perhaps, are alright. They’re not bad, and in fact, some of them have even produced something great before, but they have also produced some self-indulgent stinkers that give them a right to be on this list.
Here are 10 overrated directors, in alphabetical order.
1. Quentin Tarantino
Ok, we lied a little bit. Quentin Tarantino is kicking off this list because the former video store clerk once said he’ll only direct 10 movies in his lifetime, and he has given us nine so far. This means that his last one – whenever and whatever it is – will be the last thing we’ll ever expect from him. Love him or hate him, he won’t be making another film.
Tarantino has talent and is a great writer of dialogue and director of actors. The likes of Pulp Fiction (1994), Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Reservoir Dogs (1992) are engaging masterpieces that many fans will call art, but what makes Tarantino overrated is that his movies are so formulaic. Tarantino loves using a nonlinear chapter structure – something that cemented Pulp Fiction in film culture forever – but it’s 2023 and we’re still getting the same type of movies from him.
The dialogue in his movies is taxing too, and something that is amusing for about 30 seconds gets turned into a 20-minute speech – it’s the reason why the action-oriented Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) will always trump the verbally driven follow-up, and we don’t have time for that!
2. Woody Allen
Back to the alphabetical order, we now have the name that should be at the top of every overrated director list – first name Woody, last name Allen. Woody Allen is a director you may have many opinions about, because he’s among America’s most fascinating and iconic filmmakers without any blockbuster hits to his name. Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) are some of his popular works, and in 2004, the director was fourth on the list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians.
Between the confusion of how he even became top of the funny list, the claims of sexual assault mounting against him and his liking towards young women, Allen is also a self-proclaimed lazy director, not that it needs any convincing.
You see it in his works and Allen even said so himself.
“I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he explained in a 2015 NPR interview. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all-be-all of my existence.”
And should laziness be celebrated? You tell us.
3. Wes Anderson
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Wes Anderson. Unlike Allen, Anderson is incredibly meticulous. Every shot, every scene, every set is done with precision, even if they all look and feel the same. Everything he touches is truly Wes Anderson-esque. There’s no one like him, and no matter how many TikTokers or videographers on Instagram attempt to copy his style and aesthetic, they will never come close. Anderson’s consistent style and aesthetic are why fans love him in the first place and there’s no denying that his go-to vivid and highly saturated colour palette of red, yellow, blue, pink and purple creates a movie that doesn’t feel quite real (in a good way).
Unfortunately, his biggest strength has become a contributor to why he is overrated. As stunning as his cinematography is, Anderson’s movies lack certain depth or substance. As he releases more and more movies, it becomes evident that Anderson is a one-trick pony with the same rigid style, oddball characters that are unrelatable, monotone dialogue and a movie that is nothing else but pretty to look at.
Hardcore fans love his staunchness – it’s why The French Dispatch (2021) is so lowly rated even though it is refreshingly different for the director – but for everyone else, Anderson is one of Hollywood’s most overrated directors.
4. Michael Bay
It feels so wrong to put Michael Bay on the list because being overrated means you’re respected more than you should for your work. While Bay is the Running Gag for the film community (he’s probably second to M. Night Shyamalan but we’re giving him a break from yet another list), he is still making big money and big-budget movies that are equally overrated.
The point is that this guy makes movies that bring in millions and in fact, he’s one of the top guys for the action genre. Bay’s “action” movies are brainless and are nothing but massive explosions, helicopters at sunrise, cars crashing, and a 30-degree shot (low angle and slow motion). But he is the master of movie-making Bayhem, and knows how to keep the adrenaline pumping for audiences who just want to see stuff get blown up. That said, Bay still has a spot secured in our list of overrated directors.
5. Tim Burton
Tim Burton is quirky, and he likes and does quirky things. He likes fairytales, aliens and men with scissors for hands and for a big part of his career, only likes working with Johnny Depp. The mind of Burton used to be a creative place and viewers often get curiouser and curiouser about what the director might do next, except after achieving a signature look for himself, his movies went down a rabbit hole, fast (we’re talking about the billion-dollar Alice in Wonderland in 2010 that was a disgrace to its source material).
Just like Anderson, Burton is stuck in his ways of delivering on aesthetics, that sometimes, the story falls through. His love for CGI may not necessarily serve him always too. Fans love Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman (1989) and Beetlejuice (1988), but how many remember Big Fish (2003), Big Eyes (2014) and Big Ears… we mean, Dumbo (2019).
6. Ang Lee
Like many directors on this list, Ang Lee’s films are visually stunning but lack a certain drawing power. There’s no denying that Lee has talent, but his movies always felt emotionally distant from the audience. Take Life of Pi (2012) for example. Life of Pi is undoubtedly a visual masterpiece and is one of the best 3D films of all time, alongside James Cameron’s Avatar (2009, 2022) movies. The story of a young boy and a bengal tiger’s fight for survival is an incredibly emotional one, and yet, there’s little emotional impact on the viewers.
Lee’s acclaim as a successful director is built on his visual skills of movie making, but the other aspects of his movies feel regrettably shallow. If you ask any Asian, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) isn’t that amazing a martial arts flick, and who really watched The Ice Storm (1997) or Ride with the Devil (1999)?
Brokeback Mountain (2005) is perhaps the only exception.
7. Baz Luhrmann
No one, and we mean no one, loves excess and maximalism like Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann is heavy on the glitz and glam, and his movies feel as if Christmas and Valentine’s Day had a child whose exuberance exploded on the screens. Yes, his works are heavily stylised – and that’s part of him working his magic as a director – but after 10 minutes into a Luhrmann film, one can’t help but feel tired. There’s too much going on, and as intentional as it is, his movies are incredibly messy and incoherently edited. Perhaps, one must surrender and embrace the madness in order to enjoy a film from Luhrmann, but just like a kid in a candy store, you will leave the cinemas with a sickly feeling and maybe a tiny headache.
8. Ridley Scott
Unless you’re 40, you’d likely have no issue with us saying this…Ridley Scott is overrated. Scott has garnered a reputation as a great filmmaker throughout his career, but how many truly great films has he created that aren’t just Alien (1979) or Blade Runner (1982).
Scott’s works are either hits or misses and this translates in both his movies and TV works (what even was 2020’s Raised By Wolves?). Again, Scott does not lack the visual flair and is perhaps every dad’s favourite sci-fi director, but it’s the 21st century now and we have the likes of Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve and Jon Favreau who can easily take that mantle if viewers actually give them a shot. Scott hasn’t truly earned the title of a classic director if his only great works are Alien and Blade Runner.
Take them away and what else is there, hm? Much to think about.
9. Zack Snyder
We have Zack Snyder on the list of overrated directors, fully prepared for the blowback from his legion of fans. Snyder’s movies are insufferable, and the director has equally insufferable fans too, so that doesn’t help with his standing on the overrated-underrated scale. Remember how there was a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign that started in 2018 that went on for years? And then when we finally got Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), it turned out to be a 4 hours snoozefest of an already crappy superhero film to begin with.
Snyder has made some good films – Man of Steel (2013) and 300 (2006) included (heck, some of us even liked 2009’s Watchmen) – but the only reason why Snyder exploded in popularity was because of another problematic director (cough, Joss Whedon) who tanked his Justice League (2017) film. If you’re going to be an acclaimed director, it better be because of what you bring to the table, or in this case screens, and not because of a fellow colleague’s downfall.
10. Wong Kar–Wai
Ask any film student who are some of their favourite directors and we can bet with 100 per cent certainty that Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai falls on that list. Wong’s style is definitely unique. He loves oversaturating his colours and has beautiful sound design in his music, but none of these aspects serves much point. Instead of using colours to convey emotion, Wong does it because well, it’s pretty.
And even if you have beautiful sound design and some of the smoothest camera pans, they all amount to nothing if your viewers are bored and falling asleep. Wong is without a doubt, a cinematographer, but as far as his characterisations and story arcs go, there’s still much to be desired.
Bonus: Hayao Miyazaki
Before you come at us with pitchforks, hear us out. Hayao Miyazaki has delivered some of the most beautiful animated films of all time, but are they really the pinnacle of anime? The answer is no.
Miyazaki is known for his originality and elegant storytelling, and his style is something many modern animators try to emulate. His movies are of a specific genre, specifically Slice of Life and Fantasy, but Miyazaki should not be the end all be all of anime. Studio Ghibli has put out plenty of classics that are deserving of praise, but Miyazaki is not above or superior to other anime storytellers.
There are plenty of amazing anime-makers that are deserving of the praise, but remain underrated as they are unknown to the wider Western audience, or to Hollywood. Miyazaki’s films are anime, but for people who don’t watch anime. Hence, Miyazaki belongs on the list of overrated directors, anime fans, you can back us up on this!