I can throw a ball from half court and get it in. Most people can. Anyone with the physical strength to hurl a ball that distance can
do it. Does that make us great basketball players? No. Great would be the ability to accomplish that feat at a higher frequency than the majority.
That's one way you could go about answering the question of who is a great director. I mean there's gunna be a million ways to skin this cat, but that's one.
I feel cherry picking a few outstanding films from a director's filmography highlights perhaps instances of great direction
, but doesn't necessarily identify a great director
. Just as throwing a ball from half court into the hoop is a great shot
, but doesn't necessarily identify a great shooter.
So what's a "half-court shot" in directing terms. Different answers for different people really. Whatever abitrary line in the sand you use, whether it's 100% return on investment, or a film that scores 7.5 or better on imdb, it doesn't really matter, provided you apply that benchmark on every attempt in a director's filmography. Then you have to establish what the industry average is so you can identify between "great" and "lucky".
But for fun lets look at a handful of directors, and define an instance of "great direction" (i.e. the halfcourt shot) as a film with a 8.0 imdb rating or better. And then we'll look at the director's filmography and determine how many films they made and what percentage of those films met that criteria. i.e. their shot frequency.
First though we have to define lucky. If anyone can make a half court shot given enough attempts we have to determine what frequency of making that shot that is average and then we can define what frequency is great
. This is very difficult to do.
Some director's never make a film that's 8.0 or better... however that does not necessarily mean they couldn't or won't. Their careers may have been too short... they may have been unlucky in that they didn't manage it in their first three attempts and then didn't get thrown good projects ever again. Who knows. Mel Stuart never cracked 8.0. He made Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which was close (7.8 )... but no other major blips. But he also only took 6 attempts at directing feature films. Anyways, I think the average when you factor in EVERY director is near zero.
When you look at all film ratings across imdb the average is about 6.2/10
8.0 is quiet rare. In fact, of films with 5000 votes or better, there are only a little over 800 films to achieve it. However, some directors do achieve it with an uncommon frequency.Hitchcock
managed it 10 times out of 50 films. So 20% of the time. Curtis Hanson
managed it once in 13 attempts. 7.5%Steve McQueen
has done in 1 in 3 attempts. 33%Alfonso Cuarón
is 0 for 9. 0%Kathryn Bigelow
is 0 for 11. 0%Christopher Nolan
is 8 for 10. 80%Francis Ford Copolla
went 3 for 4 in the 1970's, but is 3 for 25 overall... so 12%
These are of course BIG names in directing, an nowhere near indicate an average among all directors. Again, I would put the average around zero.
Ultimately though, while it's interesting to look at the question in this way, my feeling is that directors have too few films in their careers to establish a stable (i.e. meaningful) rate of success. Going back to the analogy, a halfcourt shot is something you can do 1000 times a day for thousands of days in which you are phyiscally capable. A director can only make a couple films a year. A few dozen in a lifetime, max. So there's that problem. Evens so... directors that manage it more than once in their career... well it's pretty damn uncommon.