When it comes to notable directors, many tend to remain active for long periods of time, creating a rich legacy of work behind them. While some filmmakers still maintain a significant presence within the industry, others have stepped away from the spotlight and opted for a much lower profile. Some quietly released from work while others stayed away; however, their impact within the industry still endures.
Some of our favorite filmmakers decided to end their huge careers on a high note, while other legends spent over a decade between movies, just waiting. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable directors who stepped away from the spotlight before making triumphant returns, and some who didn’t return at all.
In the ’80s and ’90s, few directors had such a mastery of the body horror and sci-fi department as the Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. Cronenberg rose to fame with classics such as Videodrome, Fly, and dead zone, and even continued his success well into the 2000s with acclaimed dramas such as A history of violence and Eastern promises. Around 2015, he released A map to the stars, which featured an ensemble cast including Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson.
Cronenberg stopped making a follow-up feature for seven years and has been relatively quiet, although his son recently made his own body horror film, Possessor in 2020 who was very influenced by the work of his father. Thankfully, Cronenberg will be returning to the big screen soon with his upcoming return to body horror, Future Crimes; regardless, his formidable filmography remains one of the best of all time.
Francis Ford Coppola
If you didn’t already know who Francis Ford Coppola was, you are sure to know one of his many iconic films. In the 1970s he created two of the greatest films of all time with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and ended the decade with the classic war epic Apocalypse now. However, after the 1970s Coppola’s career faltered, and although he had some moderate successes, none could quite match his earlier works.
In the 2000s, Coppola sporadically released a few underseen films, but overall strayed from directing and no longer garnered the attention he used to. As such, he is now financing his next film Megalopolis with its own $120 million, a massive budget for an indie film that’s sure to see something at least creative and interesting as a result. Despite his step back from the movie world, Coppola never lost his passion for the industry and recently helped restore his ultimate cut for The Godfather Part III.
Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn has established himself as one of the most stylistic filmmakers working today, and his films elicit strong reactions whether you love them or hate them. Refn broke into the mainstream with the 2008s Bronson with Tom Hardy and the 2011 cult hit Conduct directed by Ryan Gosling. After its resounding success, Refn decided to make weirder and more abstract films such as Only God forgives and The neon demon before going to Amazon for his series Too old to die young.
Refn has been eerily quiet, having not directed a feature film since 2016; he’s been attached to various projects over the years, some of which have fallen through the cracks while others may or may not be in development, like his troubled remake of manic cop. While Refn’s upcoming feature films remain a mystery, whenever he decides to return the results should be nothing short of fascinating, especially given his filmography.
Perhaps the ultimate example of the reclusive filmmaker, Terrence MalikOver the years, the activity of has been characterized by significant returns and prolonged absences. Malick made a name for himself with the first films Badlands and Days of Heaven. After disappearing from the industry for more than two decades, he returned in 1998 with his clever war film The thin red line.
From there, Malick was on and off over the years, but released a steady stream of projects in the 2010s, finding a new wave of energy in his 70 years with the movies. Tree of life, Perfectly, Knight of Cups, and Song by song. Malick still maintains a relatively low profile and is selective about how often he releases projects, but remains an influential film presence. His next movie The way of the wind is set to release in the future, and until then, Malick’s extraordinary and elusive filmography still resonates.
Although you may or may not recognize John McTiernanof his name, you must have seen at least one of his films. He had a string of hits, including the infamous Bruce Willis vehicle die hard, The Hunt for Red October with Sean Connery, and 1999 Thomas Crown case with Pierce Bronson and Rene Russo. McTiernan was on a roll until box office flops and legal issues sadly derailed her career. Since then, McTiernan has remained inactive, which is a shame considering his past successes and successes. Although he stayed away from the limelight, many of his films endure, retain their popularity and are rediscovered to this day.
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