Movies & TV Shows

10 Directors Who Improved Over Time, According To Reddit

With Dan Trachtenberg teasing a possibility of a sequel to the survival thriller Prey, movie fans are currently enjoying the success of the latest Predator installment. More importantly, viewers have noted a remarkable improvement in director Trachtenberg’s filmmaking ability, having submitted decent efforts like 10 Cloverfield Lane and Black Mirror‘s “Playtest” at the start of his career several years ago.

The conversation has sparked movie fans on Reddit to discuss other directors whose filmography gets gradually better over time as they learn about their audiences and how best to please them. Whether Peter Jackson or James Gunn, it’s a common sensation for directors to get more popular over the years, but a consistent increase in quality doesn’t come around that often.

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James Cameron

It’s hard to imagine that somebody as successful and highly-acclaimed as James Cameron could ever be considered an amateur, but his first directing credit probably isn’t one that he’s particularly proud of – Piranha 2: The Spawning is hardly considered his best work. But James Cameron has now advanced way beyond the days of poor disaster movie sequels, with two of his movies grossing over two billion dollars (via Box Office Mojo) – which marks a clear improvement.

Reddit user rcrom writes about how Cameron’s work on Piranha 2 inspired one of his best projects to date: “But working on Piranha 2 and having a fever dream about a chrome skeleton emerging from the fire is why we have Terminator now! So, Cameron improved very fast.” Cameron has since become a visionary director, bringing forth Oscar-nominated movies like Aliens and Terminator 2 but, more importantly, advancing the visual masterpieces on the big screen with Avatar that cemented his name as one of the greatest.

Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis has provided audiences with plenty of iconic movies over the years, such as Forrest Gump and Back to the Future, but his early career showed a lack of vision and memorability. Films such as Used Cars never really pushed him into the spotlight, only earning a small amount of money at the box office (via Box Office Mojo).

However, Zemeckis’ films quickly became much more popular as he adopted a much more sensationalized style, creating high-budget productions that went on to earn much more money. Redditor iaintshaq98 put it simply by saying that “If we’re going by the numbers, Robert Zemeckis got off to a slow start.”

Peter Jackson

Best known as the man behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s career wasn’t always this successful. Most of his early projects have been categorized as “very fun schlock” by movie fans, such as Reddit user therealprotozoid.

Of course, it’s clear that Jackson’s schlocky style must have disappeared over the years because Lord of the Rings was one of the most successful movie franchises ever. Jackson switched cheap comedy for raw, emotional adventures, and it clearly worked well.

Robert Altman

Now considered to be one of the greatest American directors of all time, Robert Altman’s career hadn’t always been so flashy and prestigious. As Reddit user drrexmorman points out, the projects that people now remember Altman for actually came fairly late in his career.

“Robert Altman spent nearly 20 years directing low-budget tv projects before he made MASH“, they write. MASH is now considered one of the greatest war films ever made, with its highlight being a sharp and witty screenplay that many of Altman’s earlier productions failed to manage.

Francis Ford Coppola

Best known for his revolutionary Godfather trilogy, things weren’t always so easy for Francis Ford Coppola. Although he was undeniably one of the most popular and successful directors of the 1970s, his feature debut Dementia 13 received mixed reviews, thanks to what critics suggested was a rushed and uneven script.

This kind of thing was extremely popular in the 1960s, however, with many popular directors getting their start “on schlocky Roger Corman productions,” as Reddit user tisn puts it. Coppola managed to build his confidence over time and divert from these basic movies, which is what improved his work so noticeably.

David Fincher

Most people know Fincher for his crime thrillers such as Se7en and Gone Girl, but Fincher’s career as a director actually started as early as 1992 with Alien 3. The film doesn’t come anywhere close to Fincher’s later work, mostly because it was before he’d truly found the genre that he felt most comfortable in. Once he started to make crime thrillers, Fincher was unstoppable.

The Alien 3 disaster obviously wasn’t a great start to Fincher’s career, but it didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most popular directors of the 1990s. Redditor la_vida_luca writes: “I remember reading some contemporaneous reviews slagging off this cocky music-video director… we all know how things turned out subsequently.”


James Gunn

This one may be slightly controversial, as many movie fans adore some of James Gunn’s earlier work, but there’s no denying that, for mainstream audiences, the director’s success lies in his most recent projects. Both Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad are two of the best and most critically praised superhero movies of the past decade.

Whilst Gunn did make some pretty beloved movies in the early 2000s – such as the cult classic Slither – many audiences consider these projects to be much weaker both in scale and quality than his studio blockbusters. Reddit user sleep_eesheep writes: “James Gunn made both my favorite installments in the MCU and the worst live-action adaptation on the planet.”

Ingmar Bergman

Bergman remains one of the most tragically underrated directors of all time, but barely anybody remembers his first few films. Films like Crisis and Thirst were far too messy and incoherent for most audiences, which prevented Bergman from gaining international attention until later in his career.

However, Bergman soon adopted a much more philosophical and poetic style that packed the latter half of his career full of masterpieces and unforgettable pieces of cinema that hold up today. Redditor nightsoffellini claims: “the first films are… by all intents and purposes, cheap, boring melodrama.”

Alfred Hitchcock

By the end of his career, Alfred Hitchcock was considered one of the greatest directors to ever live, but the first few years (even decades) of his work didn’t bring him anywhere near this amount of acclaim. Films like The Ring and Champagne showed a lack of technical craftsmanship and critical thought, leaving them critically panned.

Reddit user bagstudios clearly agrees with this, writing that “Some of his early movies are unbearable… it’s a mostly dry spell until you get to 39 Steps and Sabotage over a decade into his career.” It wasn’t until these films that Hitchcock began to make bold decisions with his storytelling, which allowed him to stand out from his competition and develop a name for himself.


Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick’s filmography is one of the most consistently impressive there has ever been. After his first two mediocre projects, every single film that he made was outstanding. But Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss aren’t anywhere near as memorable, mostly due to unrefined writing and basic storytelling.

Redditor traparcyclone writes: “If you watch Fear and Desire, there’s very little indication he would become the famed and very skilled director we now know him to be.” There’s no doubt that Kubrick improved after those first couple of films, in both his writing and direction, which is mirrored in both his critical and commercial successes.

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