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10 Regrets from Famous Filmmakers About Their Iconic Movies

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Big screen flops can really weigh on directors. Likewise, rumors about on-set antics slipping into the news might stir some remorse. However, some top-tier directors have moved past worrying about box office flops or rebellious actors.

Interestingly, a bunch of these big-shot directors have shown remorse over certain iconic scenes and movies they’ve made due to unforeseen repercussions or the incorporation of elements that later became socially unacceptable. In no specific order, here are ten renowned filmmakers who’ve voiced regrets about their celebrated films.

10. Jaws – Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg, one of the film industry’s leading storytellers, has had quite an impact from his director’s chair. However, not always for the best. His 1975 hit, Jaws, has been held responsible for halving the North American shark population.

Some experts reckon the movie sparked a shark hunting craze, a sentiment Spielberg agreed with in a 2022 interview. He confessed his continued regret over this consequence, attributing blame to both the book and his movie. Yet, according to the Shark Trust’s leader, Spielberg shouldn’t be too tough on himself. He suggests the film’s influence has been blown out of proportion, with overfishing being the real issue.

9. Midnight Express – Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone scooped an Oscar for scripting this 1979 classic. So, why the regret? The culprit is overdramatization. The film recounts the true story of Billy Hayes, an American jailed in Turkey for drug trafficking, who endures some harsh treatment from the locals. The issue was that Stone’s screenplay was so effective it cast an unfavorable stereotype on Turkish people.

Years after its release, Turkey blamed the movie for amplifying racist attitudes toward the country. Many Americans developed a belief that Turkey was a backward nation with a medieval justice system that disregarded human rights. However, the reality was different. Foreigners were treated better than Turkish prisoners, and the country was making solid progress on human rights.

During a meeting with Turkey’s Culture and Tourism minister in 2004, Stone didn’t deny these claims and confessed to overdramatizing the script. Although Turkey acknowledged Stone’s apology, they pointed out that it couldn’t mend the damage caused by such artistic criticism.

8. Terminator – James Cameron

James Cameron, the man behind blockbusters like Titanic and Avatar, doesn’t see himself as a director who focuses on violence. But when he reflects on his earlier films, especially Terminator and True Lies, he feels troubled by the excessive gun violence they contain. He believes such aggression doesn’t belong in the conscientious filmmaking of today.

Cameron has asked himself if he would create films like Terminator now, concerned they might glorify guns. This introspection led him to eliminate 10 minutes of excessive violent scenes from Avatar: The Way of the Water. As an action movie director, he recognizes that his films need some conflict, but he aims to make it meaningful, not over-the-top.

7. Sabotage – Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock expressed regret over unnecessary violence. Not in Psycho, but a scene from his 1936 movie Sabotage. The plot revolves around an anarchist trying to bomb London’s Picadilly Circus. The ending is teeming with Hitchcock’s typical suspense as an undercover detective tries to locate the terrorist without revealing his identity. To evade the detective, the terrorist hands the bomb, disguised as a parcel, to a little boy, who then boards a bus.

Unfortunately, the bomb does explode, presumably killing everyone onboard. This ending drew harsh criticism, with Hitchcock later admitting his regret over the scene. He felt the bomb should have been discarded and described the child’s death as a gross misuse of cinematic power.

6. The Great Dictator – Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin’s most successful and significant film was The Great Dictator. In it, he didn’t bother hiding the fact that his character, Adenoid Hynkel, was a send-up of Hitler. Nowadays, poking fun at such a notorious figure might seem harmless, but Chaplin ended up regretting making the movie when he learned about the atrocities of the concentration camps.

In his memoir, Chaplin confessed that if he’d known about the Nazis’ lethal madness earlier, he wouldn’t have made light of it. This film resurfaced in the public’s mind in 2014 with the contentious debut of The Dictator, a comedy spoofing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The movie reignited the same debate Chaplin wrestled with: Is it okay to ridicule such

5. The Evil Dead–Sam Raimi

Long before Sam Raimi was known for 2007’s Spiderman 3, he was already famous for The Evil Dead, a low-budget horror flick from 1981. Even though it was light on special effects, the movie was heavy on blood and gore. This chilling debut paved the way for four more films and a TV series. But, Raimi admitted there’s one notorious scene he wishes he’d left out.

The scene in question involves a woman and a possessed tree branch. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember. If you haven’t, you can probably guess. Reflecting on it, Raimi felt the scene was too extreme and offensive. He didn’t set out to offend people; his goal was to entertain, thrill, and scare them. Yet, interestingly, a similar scene was included in the 2013 remake produced by Raimi.

4. The Godfather Parts II and III—Francis Ford Coppola

“There should have only been one” That was the unexpected answer from Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola when asked about The Godfather series. It’s peculiar, especially since he won Best Director for Part II. So, why the regret for creating one of the most celebrated trilogies in film history? Coppola believes his work sparked a surge of remakes and sequels, which he feels stifles creativity and innovation.

He mourns the loss of good film studios, the ones that would encourage directors to create both surefire hits and riskier, more experimental films. He worries that today’s studios, seduced by the financial success of trilogies like The Godfather, are only interested in box office profits.

3. A Clockwork Orange–Stanley Kubrick

Who’d guess that the film director himself would implement the “most effective censorship of a film in British history”? That’s exactly what Stanley Kubrick did in 1974 when he banned screenings of A Clockwork Orange. It wasn’t that Kubrick thought his violent film was inciting real-life violence; rather, he was offended that others blamed his film for societal crime.

Kubrick believed violence in society stemmed from complicated social and economic factors, not from art. Offended by the associations drawn by politicians and critics, and feeling they missed the film’s message, he decided to pull the film. It was only after Kubrick’s death in 1999 that the film was re-released in the UK. As no crime waves ensued and the film became a classic, it seems Kubrick was right all along.

2. Animal House–John Landis

In the 1978 National Lampoon comedy, Animal House, director John Landis had one regret—a Confederate flag hanging in a dorm room. It wasn’t his idea to include the flag; it was already in the actual fraternity house where they filmed. But looking back in 2021, Landis regretted his initial “who cares?” attitude and leaving the flag in the shot. Today, he acknowledges the flag’s symbolism of racism and slavery.

Yet, aside from the flag, Landis wouldn’t change a thing about the film. Despite the movie’s outrageous sexual politics and characters, it’s clear it was a humorous exaggeration of reality, one that really resonated with audiences. This resonance helped it overcome initial critical disdain and become a comedy classic.

1. Vice–Adam McKay

Adam McKay’s 2018 movie, Vice, featuring Christian Bale as ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, had its share of critics. Despite eight Academy Award nominations, the film was called out for skirting around the Democrats’ role in the Iraq war. In a 2022 interview, McKay confessed he agreed with the criticism and regretted not laying more blame on the Democrats.

Overall, though, McKay felt the movie had a positive impact. Although the Cheney family didn’t like it, he thinks it might have nudged Liz Cheney to reconsider her previous stance on gay marriage, despite her sister being in a same-sex relationship.

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