Five Excellent Films Where Directors Stepped Out of Their Comfort Zone

Movie directors build their reputations and their fan base working in a particular genre. When you go to a movie with a particular director at the helm you can pretty accurately anticipate the style and genre of the film. If you buy your ticket for a David Lynch movie you’re not expecting a light romantic comedy. If you’re looking for a blockbuster you’d trust Stephen Spielberg to deliver. The movie going public has grown to recognize and expect the signature voice and vision of their favorite directors. Directors working outside of their comfort zone are taking a big risk and sometimes it works well. Other times the results are predictably poor. Here’s a list of five amazing films where the director’s decision to try his hand at something new really paid off.

Kenneth Branagh: Thor

Sir Kenneth Branagh is best known as a Shakespearean actor and director. He has accolades for film adaptations of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. He was one half of the golden couple of British cinema in the 1990s as the husband of Emma Thompson and represented something quintessentially British. It came as a surprise to most people to learn that Branagh was to direct Thor, a Marvel comic franchise movie. However Branagh’s crack effort at Thor has received wide critical acclaim and launched the career of the young Tom Hiddelston. Chris Hemsworth, who stars as the God of Thunder himself has said that he learned so much from the British director.

Steven Spielberg: The Color Purple

When the director of ET and Jaws decided to take on the new challenge of the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Color Purple people were skeptical. Many doubted that the director could pull off the intimate and tragic story of an oppressed black woman who endures rape, incest and domestic abuse. The central character Celie Harris played by Whoopi Goldberg manages to find her self worth with the support of two strong female companions. Elizabeth Banks recently retracted a criticism of Spielberg as a director who didn’t direct female leads in light of the film. Indeed it is such a departure from Spielberg’s usual realm of the summer blockbuster that it’s easy to forget he directed it. The film is an amazing example of the fantastic job that a director can do when they step out of their comfort zone.

David Lynch: The Straight Story

David Lynch is known for his surrealist films many of whom have achieved cult status. His hallmarks are strange, unsettling dream-like films including Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. In Straight Story he abandoned his hallmark surrealist film noir and mind-bending visuals for an actual straight story. The film is a simple yet uplifting tale of a real life old man who set off across America in his tractor to visit his elder brother who is ill. It is an inspirational yarn which defied audience expectations.

Martin Scorsese:The Age of Innocence

Scorsese is the master of fast paced dark gangster films such as Goodfellas and edgy modern films like Taxi Driver. When you think of Martin Scorsese the last thing you think of is a period drama and yet Age of Innocence is testament to what happens when a director breaks new ground. The film has at its heart a compelling love story which is told beautifully by one of the greatest film makers of all time working well outside his usual genre.

Spike Lee: Inside Man

Inside man is a romping caper movie brought to the silver screen by one of the most serious directors of the cinema. Spike Lee is widely acclaimed as a passionate commentator and vocal film maker exploring the issues of race and culture head on. He’s provocative, challenging and forward thinking and has directed such films as the biopic Malcolm X. Then in a total departure, he made the plot driven Inside Man which is slick, clever and just plain fun.While the film reflects very little of Lee’s traditional style it is a winner.

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