7 Directors Who Stole Their Biggest Hits (From Themselves)

#3. Gus Van Sant -- Finding Forrester Is Good Will Hunting

Columbia Pictures

Good Will Hunting is known for introducing Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to the world while simultaneously showing that Robin Williams can act his balls off in a serious role. Finding Forrester, on the other hand, is the next to last movie Sean Connery did before saying "screw thish" and quitting acting. One is the promising dawn of two careers; the other is the half-assed twilight of another one.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

And that's about where the differences stop. Finding Forrester might as well be called Good Jamal Wallace. Both movies are about smart, unappreciated working-class young men who must find their place in an unfair academic system with the help of an older white dude played by an established actor whose movie accent is actually pretty good (Robin Williams' was because he was actually trying, and Sean Connery's because he just used his regular voice).

Miramax Films

Both Jamal and Will have quote-battles with people more educated than them, though some of you are going to call that a stretch because of course the only way to show that a movie character is smart is by showing off how many quotes they've memorized. Both characters also have a close friend/family member whose devotion makes the big triumphant climax possible.

Miramax Films, Columbia Pictures
If you'd told us one of these guys would play Batman, we would have said "They made him black?"

Also, both wise old mentor characters are sad recluses who use their relationship with their pupil to change the direction of their life: Williams goes on sabbatical to travel the world, and Connery flies back to Scotland. And then shit gets meta when Finding Forrester's underappreciated genius meets the actor behind Good Will Hunting's underappreciated genius in the biggest mindfuck of a last scene since The Holy Mountain:

What's weird about this story is that director Gus Van Sant didn't write either movie -- both were scripts he just stumbled across and decided to shoot, and they both turned out to be his biggest hits. Apparently whenever he needs to pay for a new house extension or something, he just dives into the script pile and grabs another poor teen genius drama.

#2. Kurt Wimmer -- Ultraviolet Is Equilibrium

Screen Gems

Kurt Wimmer is a name primarily recognized in the context of people sheepishly admitting that they kinda enjoyed Equilibrium at parties. Then they'll subtly recommend that everyone watch it ("I mean, it's on Netflix Instant, but whatever. No, you passed it"), but they won't push it too hard because they don't want everyone to blame them when they hate it. Ultraviolet is ... yeah, let's not even pretend here. It's just a shittier version of that same movie. They're both the exact kind of movie you'd expect a guy who looks like this to direct:

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Oh thanks, I'm actually the front man for a Doors tribute band, one day, I hope."

But They're Secretly the Same ...

The Wikipedia page for Ultraviolet features a special section about how Kurt Wimmer revisited some of the themes of Equilibrium, only then it proceeds to list every single aspect of the plot. Like how there's a lone hero who dresses all in white:

Dimension Films, Screen Gems
It's so rare to find violent killers who are saving themselves.

Unless they're using guns, in which case they go with black:

Dimension Films, Screen Gems

And they kill a lot of people wearing goofy outfits that obscure their face.

Dimension Films, Screen Gems
"Fuck elbows." -Kurt Wimmer

The clincher is that both characters use "Gun Kata," a martial art where all the years of physical training are replaced with guns, and the ancient philosophy centered on peace is replaced with "shoot people but don't get shot because math." Oh, and on the Equilibrium commentary, Wimmer says he invented it while dicking around in his backyard.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"One of those days where you just gotta say 'Hey, let's get baked
and cause a scene at an Applebees,' you know?"

There's also a lot of weirdly specific plot points that are revisited (both heroes bluff their way out of a test in an all-white room, both antagonists are patriarchal dictators who are revealed to be indulging in the very thing they seek to outlaw), but after finding out about that Gun Kata thing, making fun of this guy seems cruel. In a world of focus testing and product placement, Kurt Wimmer is an 8-year-old boy playing around in his backyard -- only he has a Hollywood-sized budget for his imagination. That's so heartwarming and beautiful that if it doesn't make you smile a bit, then get bent, you jerk.

#1. Christopher Nolan -- Inception Is Memento Is The Prestige Is The Dark Knight Trilogy Is Insomnia

Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan is hailed as one of the most original directors of the past few decades: He's given us wild, imaginative ideas like a thriller that's told backward, a heist film set in people's dreams, and a Batman movie that wasn't completely dumb. He's done movies about 19th century magicians and insomniac detectives in Alaska -- what other present-day director can boast that kind of range?

You know what's next.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

Every Christopher Nolan studio movie (you can shut up about Following now, smartass) is about a man motivated by someone's death, usually his wife's. Also, all these men caused that tragedy in some way: The reasons include "giving your wife insulin shots," "asking your parents to leave the opera," and "literally shooting your partner."

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
They all like guns, except one, who prefers batarangs.

Every one of these men works outside the law and goes on an unfeasible quest that involves fooling large amounts of people, whether it's through magic tricks, dream heists, elaborate coverups, or simply putting on a Dracula costume. In Memento, he actually uses his memory problem to fool himself. All these men meet a woman who will help them, but who also turns out to be a huge threat to them -- sometimes with good reason, and sometimes she's just a dick.

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
Chris Nolan got dumped by a brunette at some point, didn't he?

But Nolan's calling card is his endings -- nope, we're not talking about the fact that most of them are montages set to dramatic music and maybe a voice-over narration, but the fact that they all wink at the audience. Memento ends with the guy saying "Where was I?" as we loop back to the first scene. The Dark Knight Rises has the "I like that name ... ROBIN" line. Insomnia's protagonist says "Let me sleep" as he dies. The goddamn top from Inception. But the best one is The Prestige, which ends with a magician talking about surprising the audience, just as the movie shows you Nolan's trademark Last Shot Plot Twist.

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
Not to be confused with the equally important Michael Caine Money Shot.

Rather than taking away from Nolan's movies, this just proves that an artist can create vastly different works using the same tools. (But, you know, maybe let the "Michael Caine" tool rest for a while, he's getting pretty tired.)


JF Sargent is writing a sci-fi adventure book that he plans on writing again, later, only worse. "Follow" him on Twitter and "Like" him on Facebook.

Maxwell Yezpitelok has a FREE online comic that's secretly a remake of all the awesome things ever. He's also on Twitter.

For more directors who may be losing a step, check out 9 Awesome Directors Who Temporarily Lost Their Mind and 12 Classic Movie Moments Made Possible by Abuse and Murder.

Chris Nolan needs to make another damn type of movie. Hold his feet to the fire and click the Facebook 'share' button below.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here

299 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!