17 Movies You Didn't Know Were Directed By A-List Actors
These are the stars who've gone behind the camera to make movie magic.
After years of being in front of the camera, many actors find themselves looking for a chance to sit in that esteemed director's chair and yell "Action!" Yes, Hollywood has bred many actors-turned-directors over the years. Of course, you know about Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning directorial efforts and Ron Howard's successful run behind the camera. And recently, you'll recall Bradley Cooper did double duty, directing and starring in A Star Is Born. But they're hardly the only A-list actors to direct major motion pictures. From the movie musical directed by an American favorite to the horrifying flick helmed by a former star of The Office, these are the movies you didn't know were directed by famous actors.
Elf, directed by Jon Favreau
These days, Jon Favreau is most famous for his role as Happy Hogan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what you might not know is that he's also directed some recent classics, including Marvel's own Iron Man and the live-action adaptations of The Jungle Book and The Lion King. However, one of Favreau's earlier hits was the 2003 Will Ferrell Christmas classic Elf, which he almost passed on.
"I took a look at the script, and I wasn't particularly interested. It was a much darker version of the film. I liked the notion of being with Will in his first solo movie after SNL, but it wasn't quite there," Favreau told Rolling Stone in 2013. "So for a year, I rewrote the script. It turned into more of a PG movie from a PG-13… The studio [New Line] read it and agreed to make it, and that's when I was brought on to direct." And rest is holiday movie magic history!
A League of Their Own, directed by Penny Marshall
Penny Marshall is, of course, famous for her role as Laverne DeFazio on the '70s sitcom Laverne & Shirley. And during her tenure on the series, she even directed a few episodes of the sitcom. But that was just the beginning of her directing career. She made her big-screen directorial debut with 1986's Jumpin' Jack Flash, and then, after watching a 1987 documentary about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, she was inspired to create and direct a film about them. Of course, that movie became 1992's A League of Their Own.
"If it had not been for Penny Marshall, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League would still be unknown," Shirley Burkovich, one of the surviving members of the league, told USA Today in 2018. "To have her realize the significance of that league, and to put it into a motion picture that became the No. 1 grossing baseball movie ever made, that to me shows you the type of person that she was."
Pitch Perfect 2, directed by Elizabeth Banks
After starring in the first Pitch Perfect movie in 2012 as an a cappella competition judge, Elizabeth Banks went on to make her directorial debut with the franchise's second film, Pitch Perfect 2, which was released in 2015. But according to Banks, directing wasn't always her goal.
"It was something that I dabbled in and something that I did in college and over time, I really became more and more interested in doing it. It was about five or six years ago now that I really started thinking seriously about it and thinking about the legacy that I could leave in this business if I got to tell stories in my way, basically," Banks told Variety in 2019. She also directed the new Charlie's Angels, starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska.
Hope Floats, directed by Forest Whitaker
Forest Whitaker is a force on the screen, starring in critically-acclaimed films like The Butler and The Last King of Scotland. And while many remember 1998's Hope Floats for its stars Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr., few might not know that Whitaker was the director. Bullock had paired up with Linda Obst to produce the film, and according to Obst, he was Bullock's first choice to direct the 20th Century Fox film. "He had done Waiting to Exhale for the studio, so they were very open to him, but he was so brilliant with Sandy," Obst told E! News in 2018. "Up to that time, she had really done comedy and action, so I think she gave the most nuanced performance of her career—up to that point—because of Forest."
Staying Alive, directed by Sylvester Stallone
Saturday Night Fever made John Travolta a superstar in 1977. But its 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, wasn't met by the same acclaim. And what A-lister Sylvester Stallone doesn't want you to know is that he directed the movie, which has a 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This came after Stallone's directorial debut with the 1978 drama Paradise Alley, and in-between his directorial work on the Rocky franchise. While Stallone also co-wrote and co-produced Staying Alive, it remains the only film he's directed that he did not also star in.
Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde is one of the most recent actresses to make the leap into directing with her 2019 directorial debut, Booksmart. Before that, Wilde had only directed a few shorts and various music videos for bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, producer Jessica Elbaum—who offered Wilde the script—new Wilde was the one for the job.
"I just thought if anyone can do justice to a teen comedy, it's Olivia," Elbaum told Vanity Fair in 2019. "It's so cheesy but I just knew. She has a way about her that suggests she's a director. For someone who had never directed a feature, she spoke with the confidence of someone who's directed 10." And critics agreed: The movie has a 97 percent certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
That Thing You Do!, directed by Tom Hanks
He may be one of Hollywood's most beloved actors, but Tom Hanks doesn't just have acting credits to his name. His first and only feature film directing gig was the 1996 fictional band biopic That Thing You Do!, which he also starred in and wrote. In a 1996 interview with The Seattle Times, Hanks said he was so passionate about the movie and directing that he only agreed to appear in the film so that 20th Century Fox would green-light the project.
Matilda, directed by Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito is most known for his extensive acting career–from Taxi to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia—but he's got a lengthy directing resume, too. The 1996 movie Matilda wasn't the first DeVito directed—he previously helmed 1989's The War of the Roses and 1992's Hoffa—but it was his most successful by far. DeVito said he was inspired to adapt the Roald Dahl book into a movie after his daughter, Lucy, shared the book with him.
"We read it together at night, and I was thrilled," DeVito told the Chicago Tribune in 1996. "And I thought if I ever could make a movie for my kids, this would be the one." Eventually, his dream became a reality. Not only did his kids love his adaptation, but DeVito told the paper, "I've even had kids who have read the book tell me they like the movie better, and that's the greatest compliment I could have."
The Prince of Tides, directed by Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand is an esteemed actor and singer, but did you know she's also done notable work behind the camera? Streisand's second directing credit came in 1991 with The Prince of Tides; she made her directorial debut with Yentl in 1983.
Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised Streisand's second dip into directing. "By directing one good film, you prove that you had a movie inside of you. By directing two, you prove you are a real director, and that is what Barbra Streisand proves with The Prince of Tides," Ebert wrote at the time of the movie's release. "In Yentl, and again here, Streisand shows herself as a director who likes emotional stories—but doesn't simplify them, and pays attention to the human quirks and strangeness of her characters."
Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie has had her fair share of iconic starring roles, but she's also dipped her toes into directing a few times. Unbroken, which was released in 2014, was Jolie's second directing credit, following 2011's In the Land of Blood and Honey. And while Jolie is more well-known for her acting, she says she prefers being behind the camera instead. "There is a huge freedom that comes from being behind the camera," Jolie told Elle in 2015. "It brings a lot of responsibilities as well, but is intensely rewarding. Particularly the chance to help draw out the best in young actors, like Jack O'Connell in Unbroken, who is a remarkable talent."
The Cable Guy, directed by Ben Stiller
No one can forget Ben Stiller's work in 2001's Zoolander. But before he directed and starred in that classic, he directed the Jim Carrey-fronted film The Cable Guy in 1996. It wasn't Stiller's first dive into directing either; he had previously helmed Reality Bites in 1994. However, though he had starring roles in that movie and in Zoolander, Stiller only had a small part in The Cable Guy, which is also why many people don't know he served as director.
Hanging Up, directed by Diane Keaton
Veteran actress Diane Keaton dabbled in directing for a short period of time. She made her big-screen directorial debut with Unstrung Heroes in 1995, and five years later, she directed Hanging Up, which was her second and last directing credit. And that's mostly because, despite having an A-list cast—Keaton starred with Lisa Kudrow and Meg Ryan—the film was not a major success. "When you have a failure like Hanging Up, people aren't going, 'Gee, can you direct my movie?'" Keaton revealed at the Zurich Film Festival in 2014. "So I haven't had many other opportunities to direct again. But I'd like to."
Harlem Nights, directed by Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy is a comedy legend in Hollywood, but he attempted to get a little more serious for his directorial debut with 1989's Harlem Nights. Unfortunately for Murphy, the crime drama, which he also starred in, received less-than-stellar reviews. The Washington Post asked, "Does it matter to Eddie Murphy whether Harlem Nights is good or bad? It doesn't look like it." Unsurprisingly, it was Murphy's first and last directing gig.
Keeping the Faith, directed by Edward Norton
The former Incredible Hulk himself, Edward Norton, made his directorial debut in 2000 with Keeping the Faith, which he also starred in alongside fellow actor-turned-director Stiller and Jenna Elfman.
After helping to write and produce the film, Norton decided he ought to be the one to helm it as well, seeing as directing was something he'd wanted to try out eventually. "I started to think what was the point in giving this to someone else so we could sit around wondering if they would get the jokes?" Norton told The Guardian in 2000. So, he took a chance and tried his hand at directing! Nearly two decades later, his second feature directing gig, Motherless Brooklyn, is set to premiere later in 2019.
A Bronx Tale, directed by Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro is a veteran of the big screen, but he's not always front and center. In 1993, he made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale, a film he also starred in. The movie was adapted from a play that premiered Off-Broadway in 1989, and in 2016, a musical adaptation was created, which De Niro also co-directed. Since the Bronx Tale feature film, De Niro has only directed one other film: The Good Shepherd in 2006.
Wine Country, directed by Amy Poehler
We all know Amy Poehler as a comedic force in front of the camera, but while starring on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, she also decided to take her talents behind the scenes to direct a few episodes, as well.
Still, her first big-screen directing gig didn't come until 2019 with the Netflix film Wine Country, about a group of women headed to Napa Valley for a weekend away. "I had been excitedly thinking and talking and looking to direct a feature, and then like most good things, it happened a little organically," Poehler told IndieWire in 2019. "We were on our own trip, and I turned to Emily Spivey, who ended up writing the script with Liz Cackowski, and I said, 'This could be a movie.' And I just forced deadlines on people until it became one."
A Quiet Place, directed by John Krasinski
The 2018 horror movie A Quiet Place was heralded for its innovative use of silence and became a true phenomenon. While John Krasinski was certainly a force on-screen, he was also the one taking the reins behind-the-scenes as the director. He studied horror films to prepare, telling Smithsonian magazine in 2018 that he noted "every single music cue, tension beat or jump scare" that "worked" on him. "I wanted to put my whole self into a movie," the former star of The Office said. And if you've seen it, you know he succeeded. And for all the actors you should know more about, check out The 50 Most Popular Actors of All Time.
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