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My (Almost) Brilliant Career

From Terrence Malick to Peter Bogdanovich, five directors who shot the gate but stumbled along the way

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In Hollywood, they say you’re only as good as your last movie. Too bad: Some once-acclaimed directors made their last great films a little too long ago.

Early successes: The Boys in the Band, The French Connection, The Exorcist.
Specialty: Versatility — he could helm a sensitive gay drama, a gritty policier, and a supernatural chiller.
Low points: The homophobic Cruising, the glossy Jade, and the supernatural thriller The Guardian.
Upswing? Being married to Paramount head Sherry Lansing means he’ll get at least one more shot at redemption, such as Jericho Equation, a political thriller in development.

Early successes: Badlands, Days of Heaven.
Specialty: Visual poetry — whether it’s Badlands‘ dusty, sun-baked Dakota highways or Days of Heaven‘s amber waves of grain.
Low point: After the box office disappointment of Days, he left Hollywood, prompting Leonard Maltin to dub him ”the cinematic equivalent of J.D. Salinger.”
Upswing? His adaptation of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer is in development and may star Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins.

Early successes: The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon.
Specialty: Making stars of such unlikely sources as milquetoast model Cybill Shepherd and preteen ingenue Tatum O’Neal.
Low points: Anything thereafter starring a girlfriend: Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love (with Shepherd), and They All Laughed (Dorothy Stratten).
Upswing? Certainly not CBS’ recent To Sir, With Love II.

Early success: Five Easy Pieces.
Specialty: Films starring Jack Nicholson in the ’70s.
Low points: Man Trouble, something starring Jack Nicholson in the ’90s; Lionel Richie’s ”All Night Long” video.
Upswing? Reteaming with Nicholson in the noir thriller Blood and Wine; if that doesn’t pan out, Lionel Richie just released a new album.

Early success: The Deer Hunter.
Specialty: Spending money.
Low point: Heaven’s Gate set the standard for big-budget bombs.
Upswing? This fall’s The Sunchaser, starring Woody Harrelson.