Do directors whose movies bomb really wind up in jail?

That's All Malarkey
Even acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow, seen here with her "Hurt Locker" stars, felt Hollywood's ire after helming a few flops.
Even acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow, seen here with her "Hurt Locker" stars, felt Hollywood's ire after helming a few flops.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock

Nothing on the previous page is true. Absolutely none of it. Angelina Jolie is not the spokesperson for Director Jail, and Brad Pitt is not in charge of anything there, nor are Tom Hanks and George Clooney.

That's because there's no such thing as director jail. Never has been. The quotes from the aforementioned stars are completely made up, and no attempt was ever made to reach them for their opinions on jails, directorial or otherwise.

"Director Jail" is a fanciful term that pops up in the media from time to time to refer to what happens when a director makes a film that goes belly up at the box office. It's a fairly obvious situation: For a director to make a big-budget Hollywood movie, he or she needs money — a lot of money. The people with the purse strings (the major studios) like to think that when they pony up, they're going to get their lucre back, and then some. If they hand over a chunk of change and it disappears from sight, they get miffed. And the next time that director comes sniffing around for dough for another project, the people they need to talk to always seem to be "in a meeting."

Take Katherine Bigelow, for instance. With films like "Point Break," and "Strange Days," she was a reasonably successful director in an industry not known for gender equality. Then, in 2002, her submarine action flick "K-19: The Widowmaker," bombed. For the next seven years she was in "director jail" [source: Abramowitz]. In other words, nobody would give her any serious money to do her thing.

Of course, that story has a happy ending that involves a little movie called "The Hurt Locker" and a certain statue named Oscar. In fact, Bigelow was the first woman to win for directing a feature. "The Hurt Locker" was independently financed and filmed on a small budget [source: Dawtrey]. But winning that Oscar definitely got Bigelow out of "director jail," and the next time she went looking for money, blank checks were waiting.

Author's Note: Do directors whose movies bomb really wind up in jail?

As you can see from the first page of this article, I got a little carried away with the idea of a directors jail (to the degree that my poor, sleep-deprived editor was briefly convinced that such an institution actually exists). And my feeling is that just because it doesn't, doesn't mean it shouldn't. Directors whose movies free-fall financially might actually welcome a chance to spend some quiet time away from the hustle and bustle in a place that offers them a chance to "rehabilitate." And for beginner screenwriters it could be a great opportunity to break into the business. If nothing else, one of them should option this article and turn into it into a million-dollar script!

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Abramowitz, Rachel. "In Hollywood female directors are still the exception." Los Angeles Times. March 7, 2010. (July 7, 2013)
  • Dawtrey, Adam. "Nicholas Chartier: A profile of the Hurt Locker producer banned from the Oscars." The Guardian. March 9, 2010. (July 7, 2015)
  • "Movie Jail." (July 4, 2015)
  • Rushfield, Richard. "The Rules of Director Jail." Gawker. Nov. 24, 2009. (July 4, 2015)
  • Thorn, Jesse. "Director Paul Feig on Getting Out of 'Movie Jail' with Bridesmaids and The Heat." Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. 2013. (July 4, 2015)
  • Yamato, Jen. "The Fighter's David O. Russell on Breaking Out of Director Jail: 'I Don't Need to Get Burned Twice.'" Movieline. Feb. 24, 2011. (July 4, 2015)