Many actors have stepped behind the camera and found remarkable success. Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Clint Eastwood have even claimed prestigious Oscars for their directing talents. Barbra Streisand, Greta Gerwig, and Jon Favreau have also shown their skills in the director’s chair.
But there’s a whole other side to these Hollywood stars that you might not be aware of. They’ve tried their hand at directing, but their endeavors might have slipped under the radar for many of their fans. Some of their films are truly exceptional, while others may not have left a lasting impression. Regardless, these movies remain relatively unknown to the general public.
If you’re itching to uncover some surprising cinematic gems, here are a few hidden treasures that were secretly directed by famous actors.
1. Keanu Reeves (‘Man of Tai Chi’)
Keanu Reeves has proven himself as a talented action star in movies like Point Break, The Matrix, and the John Wick series. He is widely recognized and beloved in this genre. In addition to his onscreen success, Reeves is a proficient martial artist, having studied Judo, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, and Krav Maga. He definitely knows his stuff.
Reeves showcased his skills when he took on the role of director for the 2013 film Man of Tai Chi. The movie tells the story of a highly skilled young fighter who finds himself in dire need of money. To make ends meet, he joins an underground fighting ring where he faces a series of opponents. In addition to directing, Reeves also plays the role of the film’s main antagonist.
Despite Reeves’ involvement and the generally positive reviews, Man of Tai Chi did not receive a widespread theatrical release. However, it does not disappoint martial arts movie enthusiasts, as it features plenty of stylish and satisfying fighting sequences.
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger (‘Christmas In Connecticut’)
It’s quite unexpected, but Arnold Schwarzenegger actually directed a made-for-television Christmas rom-com called Christmas in Connecticut. This film, which aired on the TNT cable channel in 1992, stars Dyan Cannon as Elizabeth Blane, the popular host of a cooking show. The story revolves around a live episode where Elizabeth has to cook a meal for forest ranger Jefferson, played by Kris Kristofferson, as a thank-you for his heroic deeds. However, there’s a twist: Elizabeth can’t cook and needs to hide this fact from Jefferson and the viewing audience.
Christmas in Connecticut is a loose remake of a 1945 comedy with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. Schwarzenegger, being a fan of the original, decided to step into the director’s chair as a way to kickstart his directing career. Despite being one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, Schwarzenegger didn’t have much success as a director. The movie received poor reviews, although it managed to attract decent ratings on TNT. It was quite an ambitious project for his first and, so far, only time directing, as it combined romance, comedy, and farcical elements.
3. Ryan Gosling (‘Lost River’)
Ryan Gosling has had quite the journey in his career. He started off on The Mickey Mouse Club, but managed to break free from the Disney Channel stereotype and establish himself as a top-notch actor. What’s impressive is his versatility – he excels in comedy, drama, and action with equal flair. He’s even been recognized by the Academy, earning two Oscar nominations for his outstanding performances in Half Nelson and La La Land.
But what sets Gosling apart is his refusal to be confined to any one type of project. He effortlessly transitions between big-budget blockbusters and smaller, independent films. He’s not one to be pigeonholed, and that’s truly admirable.
In 2014, Gosling decided to try his hand at directing. Although his debut film, Lost River, didn’t exactly wow everyone, it stayed true to his eclectic and bold style. The movie revolves around a single mother, played by Christina Hendricks, who is struggling to make ends meet. In her desperate quest, she finds herself drawn into a mysterious underworld of unconventional burlesque shows. Simultaneously, her son stumbles upon a road that leads to an underwater town. It’s an odd and disjointed premise, and many shared the same sentiment.
Unfortunately, Lost River received poor reviews when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. As a result, Warner Bros. decided to release it in only a handful of North American theaters, with minimal promotion or publicity.
4. Brie Larson (‘Unicorn Store’)
Brie Larson has had quite the dream career. She’s not only a highly respected actress, with an Oscar win for Room, but also a bankable star, leading the blockbuster Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alongside these accomplishments, she has explored various other avenues in her career, such as a short-lived attempt at pop stardom during her teenage years. With her talent and willingness to embrace diversity, it was only a matter of time before she ventured into directing.
For her directorial debut, Larson teamed up with Netflix. The result was the 2017 fantasy film Unicorn Store, where she takes on the role of Kit, a woman who receives an invitation to a mysterious store that promises to provide customers with whatever they truly need in life. Kit, however, sets her heart on owning a unicorn, and the story unfolds as she navigates her quest to make this fantastical dream a reality. This whimsical tale is the type of film that either resonates deeply with viewers or doesn’t quite hit the mark. Nonetheless, Unicorn Store undeniably reflects Larson’s own personality, making it a commendable start to her directing career.
5. Drew Barrymore (‘Whip It’)
Drew Barrymore became famous after her role in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It seems like she really paid attention to director Steven Spielberg and learned a thing or two about making movies. In her only directorial venture, Whip It (2009), Barrymore delivers a slick and consistently entertaining comedy that immerses viewers in the world of a unique sport.
The movie stars Elliot Page as Bliss, a young Texan who is bored with small-town life and yearns for excitement. Bliss gets her wish when she receives an invitation to join a local roller derby team. Barrymore not only injects Whip It with a lively pace and sharp comedic moments, but she also takes roller derby seriously. This allows viewers to truly grasp and appreciate the skills involved in playing the game, as well as the vibrant personalities of the athletes.
It’s a shame that Barrymore hasn’t directed another film since, because Whip It shows great promise.
6. Gary Oldman (‘Nil by Mouth’)
Gary Oldman, well-known for his ability to disappear into characters, finally won an Oscar in 2018 for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. However, this was just one of many acclaimed performances he had given over the years. It’s astonishing how the same guy who played Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy also played Drexl Spivey in True Romance and Zorg in The Fifth Element. Oldman’s quintessential quality lies in his unpredictability – you never know what you’re going to get, but you can be sure it will be spectacular.
In 1997, Oldman took on the role of storyteller with Nil by Mouth, a low-budget British drama. Set in a working-class London neighborhood, the film delves into the trials and tribulations of a family, with Ray Winstone delivering a powerful performance as an abusive alcoholic. Oldman drew inspiration from his own childhood in South East London, and sought to capture the authenticity of the locals in the film. While Nil by Mouth struggled to make waves at the box office, critics unanimously praised it as a solid directorial effort.
7. Woody Harrelson (‘Lost in London’)
Woody Harrelson deserves credit for his ambitious endeavors. One notable example is his 2017 film, Lost in London, where he takes on the role of himself in a captivating story inspired by real events. After a theater performance in London, all he wants is to return to his hotel, catch some rest, and take his kids to visit the set of a Harry Potter movie the next day. However, instead of a peaceful night, he finds himself caught in a whirlwind of events, including arguments with his wife, paparazzi pursuits, and even an arrest.
But the plot of Lost in London isn’t the only ambitious aspect of the film. The way it was filmed sets it apart. Initially, the movie was intended to be special “alternative content” programming, broadcasted live into theaters nationwide through Fathom Events. However, instead of shooting and then exhibiting the film, Harrelson and his talented cast, featuring Owen Wilson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Willie Nelson, performed the entire movie live. This means that the audience attending the one-night showing not only witnessed the final product, but also had the extraordinary opportunity to see the film being created right before their eyes. Despite the technical challenges involved in such a production, the reviews were predominantly positive.
Woody Harrelson truly demonstrates his determination and creativity with Lost in London. This film not only tells an intriguing semi-autobiographical story but also pushes the boundaries of traditional filmmaking by offering audiences a unique live performance experience.
8. Johnny Depp (‘The Brave’)
If you haven’t come across The Brave before, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It seems that Johnny Depp’s attempt at directing was intentionally kept under wraps and not widely publicized. The film is based on a novel by Gregory McDonald, known for his popular Fletch series, and revolves around the struggles of Raphael, a Native American man portrayed by Depp, who is trying hard to make ends meet. In a desperate attempt to earn money for his family, Raphael agrees to be part of a disturbing project: a snuff film, where he will be killed on camera, under the guidance of a dubious producer/director played by Marlon Brando.
The Brave made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, initially generating a lot of buzz and excitement. However, the response it received was far from positive. Critics were quick to harshly criticize the film, leaving Depp feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable. In fact, he was so affected by the negative reception that he decided to prevent the movie from being released in North America, where he held significant star power. Instead, The Brave received a limited theatrical release overseas, and, interestingly enough, it has never been made available on DVD or any streaming service within the United States to this day.
9. Robin Wright (‘Land’)
Robin Wright, known for her consistently excellent work since the 1980s, often goes unrecognized despite her incredible talent. Whether it’s her roles in The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, or House of Cards, she never fails to captivate audiences. Recently, she made her directorial debut with Land, a film that received rave reviews at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
In Land, Wright takes on the role of Edee, a woman who seeks solace from personal trauma by escaping traditional society and settling in a small wooden cabin on a remote mountainside, far away from civilization. It becomes evident that her lack of survival skills in such conditions is intentional, highlighting the core of the story. Along the way, she encounters Miguel (played by Demian Bichir), the only other person in the vicinity, and they develop an unconventional bond.
Although Land didn’t reach the $3 million mark at the box office, it unquestionably showcases Wright’s ability to delve deep into the emotional aspects of storytelling, both as an actress and as a director. The film leaves a lasting impact, packing an emotional punch that resonates with viewers.
10. Chris Evans (‘Before We Go’)
Chris Evans, known for his role as Captain America in the Marvel movies, became a household name. Despite his prior screen credits, playing Captain America allowed him to break free from the stereotype of being just a “handsome guy” in Hollywood. This showcased his ability to tackle a prominent and flashy role with finesse, opening up opportunities for other noteworthy characters like the scoundrel Ransom Drysdale in Knives Out.
Possibly due to being typecast early in his career, Evans desired to showcase his talents behind the camera. As a result, he ventured into directing with the 2014 romance film Before We Go. In this movie, he stars alongside Alice Eve, portraying strangers who meet in Grand Central Station and spend a night exploring New York City while getting to know each other. The film aimed to capture the same essence and atmosphere as Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy, with even the titles sharing a similar style. However, Before We Go did not quite achieve the desired success. It received negative reviews and had a limited theatrical release, resulting in a domestic gross of only $37,000. Clearly, it did not generate the same financial success as Evans’ Marvel endeavors.