Clint Eastwood may have defined machismo for the Peace and Love generation through his portrayal of “Dirty” Harry Callahan, but today’s film-goers are more likely to think of him as the director of sensitive, nuanced dramas. With the release of his latest effort, Hereafter, we thought we’d take a look at some other actors who successfully swapped one identity in front of the camera for a new one behind it, as well as others who met failure trying.
Action Star Turned Director
The Succesful One: Ben Affleck
Only two films into his directorial career, and Affleck has been one of the biggest shocks to hit Hollywood since, well, Gigli, albeit for some very different reasons. Sure, he shared a screenwriting credit with pal Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, but a string of really bad choices (Reindeer Games? Honestly?) convinced most of us that his contributions were minimal, to say the least.
Well let’s just say he proved us all very, very wrong. His debut, Gone Baby Gone, is an intelligent suspense thriller that actually asks some tough questions. He followed that up with The Town, and while this tale of a thief looking for a way out isn’t anything new, it’s masterfully done and, get this, actually features a pretty damn good performance from Affleck himself.
The Not So Successful One: Sylvester Stallone
When Damon and Affleck were developing Good Will Hunting, the name “Stallone” was like a mantra to them. His success with Rocky was a beacon of hope when they wondered if their film would ever get made.
Fortunately, he stopped being a symbol for them after they won the Oscars. Both Affleck and Sly took roles in cheap action pictures, and although Stallone needs to be given credit for his skills as a writer—he’s got a brain beneath all that muscle—his bouts in the directing ring haven’t been too memorable. The Expendables may have been fun, but it’s not winning any awards.
Child Star Turned Director
The Successful One: Ron Howard
Child stardom on “The Andy Griffith Show” led to later roles in “Happy Days” and films like American Graffiti, but Ron Howard’s best work definitely came when he stepped into the director’s shoes. Starting with low-budget flicks and light comedies, he eventually went on to tackle such challenging projects as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Director. Not bad for little Opie.
The Not So Successful One: Fred Savage
Oh, dear. “The Wonder Years” are definitely over for Fred Savage. He may have helped a nation of kids cope with the trials of adolescence, but the trials of adulthood haven’t been very kind to his career. It’s cool that he’s directed a few episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” sure, but for every hip and hilarious credit he’s got under his belt, there’s a “Hannah Montana” or “Greek” episode lurking on that résumé. Maybe he’s content paying the bills this way, but working on Daddy Day Camp could not have been a fulfilling experience.
The Icon Turned Director
The Succesful One: Robert Redford
Famous for appearing in landmark works of cinema, notably Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, much like his contemporary Eastwood, Robert Redford eventually turned his talents towards directing.
Sure, he’s not the most prolific director out there, but Ordinary People was good enough to snatch the Best Picture Oscar from Raging Bull (in retrospect, it didn’t deserve to, but still, it’s a great film), and pictures like Quiz Show continued to keep him in the limelight well into the 90s.
The Not So Succesful One: Robert De Niro
With only two directorial credits to his name, neither of which are particularly astounding, De Niro can’t be called a very strong filmmaker. A Bronx Tale is effective, but he’s trying too hard to remake parts of Goodfellas. Similarly, The Good Shepherd attempts to remake The Godfather in the form of a CIA pseudo-history. It has its moments, but it’s not a great film.
The Comedian Turned Director
The Successful One: Ben Stiller
Best known for his character work in front of the camera, Stiller tends to make iconic pictures when he’s the director as well. Reality Bites is far from perfect, but it’s a quintessential Generation X film. Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, on the other hand, are modern comedy classics with enough visual appeal to indicate that Stiller has a directorial style all his own.
Just ignore The Cable Guy.
The Not So Successful One: Eddie Murphy
Remember Harlem Nights? Didn’t think so. The most recognition that film got was a Golden Rasberry Award win for Worst Screenplay (Eddie Murphy) and a nomination for Worst Director (again, Eddie Murphy). We wish we could say his career didn’t suffer from this setback, but well, what was the last decent movie this man starred in?
Looking at these names, there is no clear formula for determining who will make the leap from actor to director successfully. Whereas Affleck may be nominated for an Academy Award this season, De Niro’s work behind the camera has been virtually ignored. In an age where the dude who made us laugh when we were supposed to cry at the end of Armageddon is (deservedly) getting more critical buzz than the man who redefined acting for a generation, the world officially makes no sense.
Did we miss anyone? Also, what was the last good movie Eddie Murphy starred in? Let us know in the comments…