10 Directors Who Reinvented Themselves With Shockingly Different Movies

A lot of directors see making a movie as a job, and they don't always confine themselves to just one specific genre. However, the directors who are considered auteurs tend to stick to what they're best at, and that's why they have so many fans who have a very specific perception of them.

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Between Adam McKay's comedies and James Cameron's action movies, there's a certain expectation that cinema-goers have of these directors. However, whether it's because they get bored or they want to subvert their fans' expectations, they have gone in completely different directions.

10 Adam McKay (The Big Short) - Stream On Kanopy

After working with Will Ferrell on several movies, including the Anchorman movies, Adam McKay became the funniest comedy director in Hollywood at the time. Actors who have worked with him have explained that he even yells ad-libs at them through a megaphone while on set. And that’s why it was a surprise that McKay’s next effort after Anchorman 2 was The Big Short, a satirical drama about the 2007 financial crisis. What’s more surprising is that it even turned out to be McKay’s best movie according to Metacritic.

But that wasn’t the only time Adam McKay invented himself. The director continued to The Big Short approach with another satirical drama, Vice, but later this year, he’ll return with the Leonardo DiCaprio starring sci-fi movie Don’t Look Up. The movie is about a couple of astronomers who discover that a comet is going to destroy Earth.

9 Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings) - Stream On HBO Max

Peter Jackson’s early films aren´t as popular as the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations he became known for. But for those who had seen the directors’ early career movies, the fantasy trilogy was a shocking left turn. Before 2003, Jackson was perfectly happy directing one schlocky horror movie after the next, and though they barely made any money, they are still fun to watch.

Bad Taste and Braindead specifically brilliantly showcased how great the filmmaker is with practical effects in the most vulgar way possible. It is surprising that The Lord of the Rings trilogy turned out as child-friendly as they did, as Jackson likely resisted the urge to throw in a couple of blood squibs.

8 James Cameron (Titanic) - Stream On Starz

Though it might seem totally normal today that James Cameron was behind Titanic, in the '80s and '90s, the filmmaker was the greatest action director there was. All of his movies were filled with the whirring of machine guns, bloody shirts, some of the best shot car chases in history. So it was a shock when the director decided to make what is ultimately a period drama.

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In the end, it became the highest-grossing movie of all time only to be dethroned by another James Cameron-directed movie, Avatar. However, as the ship starts to sink, Cameron’s action directing instincts came in, and though it’s nothing like anything he made previously, it becomes one of the greatest disaster movies ever too.

7 Damian Chazelle (First Man) - Rent On Apple TV

Damian Chazelle was one of the most exciting new directors of the 2010s when his directorial debut Whiplash stunned audiences. The movie followed a drummer's feud with his music teacher, and Chazelle's follow-up doubled down on the music.

His sophomore effort La La Land is one of the most exciting musicals of all time and it breathed new life into a genre that had gotten stale. However, his third movie was a biographical drama about Neil Armstrong. Though Chazelle had written non-musicals before, including the sci-fi thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, First Man carried over almost none of Chazelle's trademarks from his previously directed movies.

6 Martin Scorsese (New York, New York) - Purchase On Amazon

Martin Scorsese is known as the greatest gangster movie director of all time, still to this day, as just two years ago he directed the decades-spanning epic The Irishman. In his formative years in the '70s, Scorsese became prolific for his gritty gangster dramas Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. But after the heavy subject matter of those movies, the filmmaker went out to create something with a little less violence.

New York, New York is a romantic drama, but the reinvention didn't land well with audiences, as it's seen as Scorsese and De Niro’s worst collaboration. The one trademark of the director's that is in the 1977 movie is that it's set in New York. And it's actually more of a love letter to the city than any of his other movies, so much so that the movie is even named after the place twice.

5 Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are) - Rent On Vudu

Spike Jonze is best known for directing surreal dramas that include fantasy elements and often have a negative outlook on relationships and life in general. Both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation were written by Charlie Kaufman, a frequent collaborator of Jonze, and the two distinct movies gave audiences are a clear perception of the duo.

But his third film was on the complete other side of the spectrum, as Where the Wild Things Are is a bombastic and colorful kids’ movie based on the novel of the same name. It’s ironic, as Jonze almost directed Synecdoche, New York instead, another nihilistic Kaufman collaboration that was more in the director’s wheelhouse. However, it wasn’t long until Jonze reverted back to what he does best, as he directed the hopelessly anti-romantic drama Her in 2013.

4 Todd Phillips (Joker) - Rent On Vudu

Though he might not be the most celebrated director, based on box office grosses, Todd Phillips has a better batting average across all genres than most directors in history. Phillips is a prankster at heart, as he directed teen comedies like Old School and Road Trip, and then moved on to helm the Hangover trilogy, which is a billion-dollar grossing franchise.

In 2019, the director completely subverted the expectations that anybody had of him, as he directed the psychological thriller posing as a Batman-related movie, Joker. Though some Redditors think it’s a Taxi Driver carbon copy, Joker was a success on all accounts. Phillips had finally gotten critical recognition, as he won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and the movie became the highest-grossing R-rated release in history, making over a billion dollars.

3 Kevin Smith (Red State) - Purchase On Amazon

There seems to be a trend amongst comedy directors. After they have a string of successful and sometimes even classic movies under their belts, they feel the need to delve into something more serious. Taking a break from the Askewniverse, the comedy cinematic universe he built with movies like Clerks and Mallrats, Kevin Smith directed Red State.

The movie couldn’t have been more different from anything Smith had done in the past. It is a straight-up horror flick about a bunch of teenagers who get kidnapped by a group of murderous and psychotic fundamentalists. The premise is hilarious considering it followed Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

2 Spike Lee (Inside Man) - Stream On Peacock

Spike Lee made a name for himself with the amazing 1989 movie Do The Right Thing. It was a comedy-drama that brilliantly cast light on racial tensions in small Brooklyn neighborhoods. Ever since then, Lee has been creating fascinating and colorful worlds to tell socially conscious stories. However, in 2006, the filmmaker directed the thrilling heist movie Inside Man. It was full of twists, surprises, and it was unimposing and exciting.

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But as it’s that very consciousness that shaped part of his filmmaking style, social commentary isn’t completely absent from Inside Man. For example, the movie features a child playing a fictional video game, which is clearly mocking Grand Theft Auto, on a PlayStation Portable. And at the end of the day, it’s revealed that the bank owner profited off the Holocaust.

1 David Fincher (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) - Rent On Ama

Though his career got off to a rocky start with the sci-fi movie Alien 3, David Fincher is known as being a visionary in the thriller genre. He directed intense detective movies Se7en and Zodiac, the cult classic Fight Club, and the popcorn flick Panic Room. They are all hair-raising on one level or another, but in 2008, he followed up the grotesque serial killer epic Zodiac with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

When it comes to Fincher, the 2008 film is as close to a family movie as it will ever get. David Fincher has improved with age, and Benjamin Button was the beginning of a major sea change for the director. Though he hasn’t returned to that schmalzy kind of narrative, the filmmaker’s movies get more ad more palatable but still retain such high attention to detail.

NEXT: 10 Movie Directors Who Are Their Own Cinematographers

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