Reel Releases: Directors make leap to big-budget films

Dame Judi Dench and director Sam Mendes work on the set of the upcoming James Bond film Skyfall, which opens in theaters nationwide next weekend, Nov. 9.

In a little more than a week, James Bond will make his much-heralded return to movie screens after a five-year absence.


A new adventure featuring cinema’s favorite super-spy is notable enough, but what makes Skyfall particularly interesting is the man placed in charge of the newest addition to the successful franchise. Sam Mendes is no stranger to high-profile film projects – his previous work includes the criminally underrated gangster drama Road to Perdition and American Beauty, his exploration of suburbia’s dark side.

Mendes’ bread-and-butter, it seemed, was the smaller film, the character-driven drama and, dare I say it, the art film. A big-budget action film with considerable expectations didn’t seem to be quite his area of expertise. But there have been a lot of directors drawn by the attraction of big budgets, audience appeal and, perhaps, a love for superheroes.

Here are a few filmmakers that, after making a name in serious cinema, went on to big budget blockbusters.


DARREN ARONOFSKY – Darren Aronofsky’s career has been something of a slow build, marked by close brushes with big budgets that eventually fell through. His initial calling card was the complicated math thriller Pi and he received considerable acclaim for briefly resurrecting Mickey Rourke’s career in The Wrestler. Along the way, he very nearly snagged Brad Pitt and a giant budget for The Fountain, a film he later made on a much smaller budget. It looks like that dump truck full of cash finally arrived however. He’s currently filming Noah with Russell Crowe in the title role, and I’m pretty sure flooding the planet costs a buck or two.


CHRISTOPHER NOLAN – Although the thrillers Memento and Insomnia received considerable acclaim and made some money, Christopher Nolan hardly seemed like the obvious choice to reboot an enormously popular franchise. But Batman is hard to resist. Not only did Nolan’s trio of Batman films, which recently wrapped with The Dark Knight Rises, reinvent and reinvigorate the property, but it also made a bunch – and I mean a bunch – of money. I’m pretty sure small and arty is no longer on the horizon for Nolan.


BRYAN SINGER – A lot of people saw The Usual Suspects. It was a good movie. It deserved to be seen. Quite a few, but perhaps not as many, saw Apt Pupil. That’s probably about right. It wasn’t such a good movie. More people, I would guess, saw X-Men than both those movies put together. And once Bryan Singer went big, he never looked back. He did a couple X-Men movies, a Tom Cruise film (Valkyrie) and a little thing about an orphan named Superman. Not bad.


TIM BURTON – Batman must exert a powerful pull. A generation before Nolan took on the property, Tim Burton, who previously was known for making movies about a man-child named Pee-Wee Herman and a ghost named Beetlejuice, took on the dark and violent hero. He stuck with the caped crusader for a couple of films before continuing on his quirky way. His latest film is the recently released Frankenweenie.


ALFONSO CUARON – Where, exactly, does a director go after making a Spanish language coming-of-age love triangle tale? To Hogwarts, evidently. After releasing Y Tu Mama Tambien, he took a three-year break and then made Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Not the expected career path. His only other features since his 2004 play on Potter have been the very interesting Children of Men and upcoming spacemen-in-peril picture Gravity. Prolific he is not. Talented – well, that’s another story.