The vast majority of filmmakers who have successfully directed a film to completion have done it again; usually multiple times. Presumably, the effort is the hardest on the first go-around, but once you’ve got one feature film under your belt, the idea of jumping back into the director’s seat once more becomes far less daunting.
It’s the case for most, but certainly not for all, as the following eight directors demonstrate. For one reason or another (and often, those reasons can only be guessed), these filmmakers were only true filmmakers once. And following their foray into directing, they either returned to acting or writing, or focused on another aspect of film production, or even just faded into obscurity. Far from an extensive list of all the directors who have only made one movie, the eight below are intended to demonstrate some of the best or most well-known examples.
Charles Laughton: ‘The Night of the Hunter’ (1955)
Of all the one-and-done directors in film history, perhaps none are as well-known or as celebrated as Charles Laughton. The acclaimed British actor gave many great performances throughout his career, and he also directed a single movie that ended up being regarded as a film noir classic: The Night of the Hunter.
It wasn’t nearly as beloved upon release, though, which may have dissuaded Laughton from directing again. Its gritty and often shocking (for the time) story about a terrifying con man who targets a widow and her children for their family’s money may have been a little too intense for audiences during the 1950s. While it seems like the kind of classic that might be safe from getting remade, there is apparently a remake in the works, so maybe that will resonate more with contemporary audiences on release.
Bo Welch: ‘The Cat in the Hat’ (2003)
Looking over Bo Welch’s IMDb page shows that he’s worked as a production designer or art director for numerous high-profile movies, earning four Oscar nominations for his work in the process. His only work as a feature film director, though, is 2003’s infamous live-action The Cat in the Hata bizarre and uncomfortable movie that was destroyed by critics at the time, though seems to be developing a strange (probably ironic) cult following nowadays.
His career hasn’t been as prolific since, though he worked as a director for Netflix’s TV series adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. For what it’s worth, there’s been talk of giving The Cat in the Hat another shot as a film adaptation, though this time in animated form. Time will tell if it fares better than the notorious, now almost 20-year-old Mike Myers version.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ (1992)
At the peak of his powers and popularity, during the early 1990s – and one year after starring in arguably the best action movie sequel of all time – arnold schwarzenegger went behind the camera for the one and only time in his lengthy career… and it was to direct a made-for-TV Christmas movie, which itself was a remake of a 1940s Christmas movie.
The existence of this is bewildering. Not only did it have one of the most famous action stars of all time directing it, but there were some big names in front of the camera, too, including Tony Curtis and Kris Kristofferson. Maybe Schwarzenegger just really loves Christmas and wanted to direct this film about a woman with little cooking experience doing a Christmas food-themed episode live on TV. Maybe he got the Christmas itch a few years later and did Jingle All the Way. Then in between, he did a bunch of action movies. Why not?
Dave Filoni: ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ (2008)
Dave Filoni’s name has been synonymous with starwars TV shows, as he’s produced and directed many of them, including the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Show, The Mandalorianand The Book of Boba Fett. However, his sole directing credit for a feature film belongs to the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie, which serves as an introduction/feature-length pilot of sorts to the series.
While the show gradually received more acclaim as it continued, the film version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars wasn’t particularly well-received. Perhaps Filoni has since felt more comfortable working within the TV realm, and he’s certainly found success within it. He may well direct a feature film again, but for the moment, Star Wars: The Clone Wars remains the only film he’s directed.
Don Barton: ‘Zaat’ (1971)
Don Barton wrote, produced, and directed just a single feature film in his 83-year-long life; that film was Zaat, which has earned a reputation as one of the best bad movies of all time. It’s a challenging, bizarre, and kind of compelling horror film about a scientist who turns himself into some sort of murderous fish/man hybrid.
With next to no budget and a hilarious-looking monster suit, Zaat is an awkward and super-unpolished science-fiction horror movie. In all honesty, it’s not the most consistently fun bad movie out there, but it’s certainly entertaining in parts, and there are a few memorable sequences that make it worth while for fans of no-budget Z-movies (yes, as opposed to B- movies).
Gerald Kargl: ‘Angst’ (1983)
At the age of 30, Austrian director Gerald Kargl directed his sole feature film: the intense and disturbing horror film, angst. Like Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter almost 30 years before, angst is something of a one-hit-wonder classic; truly one of the most twisted and shocking horror films of all time, with an uncomfortably visceral depiction of a serial killer targeting a family while his mind unravels.
Given angst is such a great film, it’s surprising that Kargl hasn’t directed any other feature films. There’s very little information about his career before or after, with IMDb giving him a short biography that says he’s directed and produced documentaries without saying what those titles are or whether they’re feature-length. As such, Angst remains the only feature he’s certainly made, and the mystery as to why he hasn’t made more continues.
Harold P. Warren: ‘Hands: The Hands of Fate’ (1966)
Hands: The Hands of Fate is known for being one of the worst movies of all time… or at least that’s what its reputation suggests. It’s one of those cult movies that might not be THE worst movie of all time, even if it gets cited as one of the worst movies of all time. After all, it’s only 70 minutes long; therefore, any film of identical quality that’s over 70 minutes (so that’s most of them) is objectively worse.
It was the only film ever made by Harold P Warrenwho can be compared to Don Barton, the director of the similarly infamous bad film, Zaat. In 62 years, Warren never made anything else, but his impact on Z-grade movies will forever remain, thanks to the cult classic that the campy, shoddy, and sometimes hilarious Hands: The Hands of Fate you have become.
Tom Stoppard: ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead’ (1990)
Tom Stoppard has had an extensive career in filmmaking but is largely known for his work as a screenwriter, credited for high-profile films such as Terry Gilliams Brazilian and the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love. On the other hand, Stoppard has just one credit to his name when it comes to directing.
That one credit is for the odd and unique Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Deadwhich takes two background characters from Hamlet and puts them in their own strange meta-narrative. It’s a post-modern take on shakespeare that doesn’t flawlessly translate to the big screen (it was originally written for the stage by Stoppard himself), but it’s nevertheless an interesting watch. It also helps that its two lead actors are both very good: a young Gary Oldman and Tim Rothreleased shortly before they each became much more well-known.
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