The movie industry is a fickle business. Sometimes, after a production wraps and box office sales have long been tallied, behind-the-scenes rumors emerge. It’s pretty rare, but not unheard of, that a film’s credited director was not the person actually calling the shots, as is the case with these movies allegedly ghost-directed.
It's important to note all the information in this list amounts to rumors and he-said-she-said recollection. For some movies with uncredited directors on this list, like Poltergeist and Tombstone, there's a lot of evidence indicating the person credited as director had little say in the final product. With others, like The Thing from Another World, conflicting stories have emerged regarding who was in charge.
Sometimes, these alleged, famous ghost directors only helmed a few key scenes in the picture. Other times, they took total charge of the production. Read about these famous directors who didn't get credit for their work below and leave a comment if you’ve heard any juicy behind-the-scenes rumors about who was really the on-set boss.
Credited Director: Tobe Hooper
Rumored Director: Steven Spielberg
Poltergeiest was a massive hit, raking in almost $80 million and spawning two sequels and a television series. Steven Spielberg was a red-hot director in the early 1980s, with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark under his belt. The director came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay for Poltergeist, then signed on to produce. By many accounts, Spielberg really wanted to direct the haunted house thriller, as well.
So why did Spielberg hand the film to Tobe Hopper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? As it turns out, he was under contract with Universal Pictures in 1982, preparing to direct ET. Therefore, his contract prohibited him from directing any other movie.
When Spielberg was questioned by a reporter about Hooper's role in the supernatural movie, he said: "Tobe isn't... a take-charge sort of guy. If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump in and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that become the process of collaboration."
According to a 1982 issue of FANGORIA, many crewmembers who worked on the film said Spielberg was very active on the set, so much so he should have been given a co-director credit. During a 1982 interview with the L.A. Times, Spielberg said he "designed" the movie with storyboards, was actively involved in all of the camera setups, and set the shot designs. The Director's Guild of America stepped in to investigate the movie's authorship following Spielberg's remarks, but it remains credited solely to Hooper.
Actors: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Beatrice Straight, + more
Initial Release: 1982
#5 on The Best Movies of 1982see more on Poltergeist
Credited Director: Robert Altman
Rumored Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
When you watch a PT Anderson movie (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), it's clear to anyone with an eye for cinema his narrative and visual style borrows a lot from Robert Altman's sweeping, long-take, realist school of filmmaking. When Altman took on A Prairie Home Companion in 2006, the veteran director was in his 80s. The ensemble comedy was his last movie behind the camera, his 89th directing credited.
According to MNSpeak, Anderson took on a lot of the directing duties.
“... the producers of the film probably insisted that Altman commit to a 'backup' director because of his age... and some say [Anderson is] basically running daily production of the film. […] Between cuts, Robert belts directions over a mic while PT runs up to stage and speaks with the actors directly.”
Actors: Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, + more
Initial Release: 2006
Also Rankedsee more on A Prairie Home Companion
Credited Director: George P. Cosmatos
Rumored Director: Kurt Russell
Wyatt Earp-centered drama Tombstone (1993) ran into road bumps as soon as production began. The film's screenwriter, Kevin Jarre, was fired as director early in the production process and replaced by Rambo: First Blood Part II director George Cosmatos. Despite rumors, it took more than a decade for the real on-set boss to emerge.
During a 2006 interview with True West Magazine, Kurt Russell revealed the story of how he directed the film and why it took so long for the truth to come out:
"Tombstone is one that’s actually worth talking about—that was the one time I had gone out and got the money. I backed the director; the director got fired, so we brought in a guy to be a ghost director. They wanted me to take over the movie. I said, 'I’ll do it, but I don’t want to put my name on it. I don’t want to be the guy.'"
Russell went so far as to give Cosmatos a shot list every night for the following day's work, and told him he didn't want any arguments about directorial decisions. According to Russell, this wasn't Cosmatos's first ghost directing job. "I got him from Sly Stallone - called up Sly, said 'I need a guy.' Sly did the same thing with Rambo 2 with George."
Russell told Cosmatos that he would not reveal the film's secret while George was still alive. Cosmatos passed away in 2005.
Actors: Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Charlton Heston, Billy Bob Thornton, Dana Delany, + more
Initial Release: 1993
#13 on The Best Movies of 1993see more on Tombstone
Credited Director: George Cosmatos
Rumored Director: Sylvester Stallone
George Cosmatos may not have directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, as he's credited as having done. Though Stallone isn't listed as the film's director, there's evidence he ghost-directing the second installment in the Rambo franchise, in which he also starred. Stallone officially has nine directing credits on his resume, including four Rocky films, so it's not beyond belief he called all the shots on Rambo: First Blood Part II, as Kurt Russell claimed in an interview about Tombstone.
Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Charles Napier, Richard Crenna, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson-Soul, + more
Initial Release: 1985
#13 on The Best Movies of 1985see more on Rambo: First Blood Part II