Hollywood's Greatest One-Hit Wonder Movie Directors

Over 100 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Hollywood's Greatest One-Hit Wonder Movie Directors
Voting Rules
Vote up the film directors who are memorable even if they created only one hit film.

The movie business is fickle. One day you're up; the next, you're down. A well-received, financially profitable project is no guarantee of future success, leading to Hollywood one-hit wonders. Film history is littered with talents, including directors and actors, who burst onto the scene only to disappear from the public eye for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes, directors in particular produce a work so brilliant and beloved that this one work overshadows everything else they'll ever make. Although the directors listed here are not currently on the A-list, they always have one movie that will forever be remembered by film fans around the world.

  • 1
    115 VOTES

    Hit Movie: Rookie of the Year

    Non-Hit Movies: N/A

    Daniel Stern was a well-established movie star by the time he got to direct Rookie of the Year thanks to his work in the Home Alone and City Slickers franchises. Stern used that newfound industry clout to direct a family film, the baseball fantasy Rookie of the Year. The film was a minor hit that became one of numerous kids baseball films (Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield, The Sandlot) of that era to become a cult favorite with millennials.

    Stern even resurrected his pitching coach character, Phil Brickma, to inspire the Chicago Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016. But Stern never directed another movie in his long career.

    115 votes
  • Hit Movie: V for Vendetta

    Non-Hit Movies: Ninja Assassin, The Raven, Survivor

    For James McTeigue, an accomplished assistant director, his big Hollywood break came through a longtime association with the Wachowskis, the directors behind the Matrix trilogy. McTeigue was the first AD for both Matrix sequels, which made him a natural choice to direct an adaptation of Alan Moore's classic graphic novel V for Vendetta when the Wachowskis purchased the film rights to the book. 

    V for Vendetta was a solid box office hit when it came out in 2005, but almost immediately, rumors spread that McTeigue didn't direct the film at all and was used as a front to allow the Wachowskis to helm the film without any pressure. That rumor persists, because McTeigue hasn't directed a successful or critically appreciated film since.

    72 votes
  • 3
    65 VOTES

    Hit Movie: American History X

    Non-Hit Movie: Detachment

    American History X, a hard-edge drama about a reformed racist, earned an Oscar nomination for star Edward Norton in 1998. That might have launched director Tony Kaye into the upper echelons of the movie business. Instead, Kaye disappeared, thanks to the turbulent nature of the film's production. Kaye and the studio, New Line Cinema, squabbled over the editing of the movie. Kaye's original cut was rejected in favor of a studio-assembled edit. Kaye was so disgusted by New Line's version of American History X that he lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have his name removed from the movie's credits. Kaye wouldn't direct another narrative feature until 2011. He has been tapped to direct the upcoming movie Civil.

    65 votes
  • 4
    60 VOTES

    David Mickey Evans

    Hit Movie: The Sandlot

    Non-Hit Movies: Beethoven's 3rd, Beethoven's 4th, First Kid, The Sandlot 2

    Sometimes, a hit movie can define a career so much that it's impossible to shake the reputation associated with it. Such is the case with David Mickey Evans, who rose to prominence as the director of The Sandlot, a popular 1993 baseball movie for kids. The Sandlot is a seminal film for millennials and baseball fans alike. But Evans's career is filled with movies chasing that success. He's mostly done children's movies, even going back to direct a sequel to The Sandlot that went straight to video.

    60 votes
  • 5
    53 VOTES

    Paul Brickman

    Hit Movie: Risky Business

    Non-Hit Movies: Men Don't Leave

    Paul Brickman helped create the legacy of Tom Cruise by directing his pantless dancing scene in Risky Business. Brickman likely could have made just about anything after that movie's stunning success in 1983. Instead, he disappeared from Hollywood. Brickman told Salon:

    The success of Risky Business was strange because I had Hollywood coming at me full throttle. I found it very uncomfortable. I moved out of LA immediately. Studio heads sent me wine goblets and food baskets. And people threw material at me right and left, and lined up to meet me. It gets uncomfortable. Some people like the visibility. I don’t. I’m more from the J.D. Salinger school.

    In the same interview, Brickman revealed he was offered movies like Rain Man and Forrest Gump, which both went on to be major hits and Oscar winners. Seven years after Risky Business, Brickman returned to direct the drama Men Don't Leave, but that movie flopped, leaving him with a lot of what-ifs. Brickman has subsequently said he "squandered a really good career" by avoiding the spotlight after Risky Business.

    53 votes
  • 6
    51 VOTES

    Troy Duffy

    Hit Movie: The Boondock Saints

    Non-Hit Movie: The Boondock Saints 2

    The ultimate moviemaking cautionary tale, Troy Duffy's story is one of David vs. Goliath mythologizing and self-inflicted infamy. Duffy was a bartender struggling to make it in the music business in Los Angeles when he witnessed the aftermath of a grisly crime scene, which inspired him to write The Boondock Saints. The film, a vigilante fantasy, was passed from studio to studio through personal contacts. Eventually, it was bought by Miramax Films, then the biggest name in independent film. Miramax (owned by the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein) had made brand names out of outsiders with quirky backgrounds like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and others. It seemed Duffy would be the next Cinderella story to be ushered onto the A-list. Miramax eventually dropped out, however, perhaps owing to Duffy's growing reputation as a difficult person to collaborate with. 

    Franchise Pictures eventually agreed to finance the movie, but through a deal that ended up being onerous for Duffy. The movie struggled to find distribution, and was eventually bought by a small company that dumped it on a limited number of screens.

    Duffy's story became the basis for a critical documentary called Overnight. That documentary painted Duffy as a man out of his depth, incapable of navigating the choppy waters of the motion picture industry. Although Duffy's career did not take off the way he might have expected when he sold his script to Miramax, Boondock Saints did become a cult hit through healthy DVD sales. It was enough to help Duffy get a sequel made, Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day. Although that movie earned a decent $11 million from a scant 524 screens, it didn't lead to further work. Still, thanks to a lawsuit against Franchise Pictures, Duffy is now the owner of the Boondock Saints intellectual property and has enjoyed significant profits from the original, the sequel, and various merchandising deals.

    51 votes