Harry Beaumont, The Broadway Melody (1929): Best Picture winners tend to be safe choices, which is why you likely know who directed them. But you’ve probably never heard of Harry Beaumont. A workhorse who made nearly 100 films, he enjoyed his biggest successes during the silent era, including vehicles for John Barrymore (Beau Brummel, 1924) and Joan Crawford (Our Dancing Daughters, 1928). He also directed The Broadway Melody, the first sound film to win Best Picture. But though he worked until 1948, most of his films have, like his name, been forgotten.
Jerome Robbins, West Side Story (1961): Unlike others on this list, Robbins never petered out; he literally never directed again. Having staged the Broadway version of Leonard Bernstein’s Romeo and Juliet riff, he was brought on as co-director with Robert Wise. The two clashed, Robbins proved difficult and he was quickly fired. However, Wise insisted he retain a co-director’s credit. And that’s why Jerome Robbins is an Oscar-winning director and Alfred Hitchcock is not.
Carol Reed, Oliver! (1968): By the time he mounted this frivolous Dickens musical, Reed’s reputation was secure: He was the masterful artist-technician of Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. But after belatedly receiving his Oscar, he stumbled through two disliked films—Flap and Follow Me!—then, spent, simply retired.
Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter (1978): With The Deer Hunter, Cimino had the world at his feet. Then he made Heaven’s Gate . (For the record, Gate isn’t at all terrible. Unwieldy, sure, but sometimes able to actually live up to its wild ambitions. Still, it would be hard for anyone to emerge underneath such an apocalyptic production; read Steven Bach’s The Final Cut for more.)
Kevin Costner, Dances With Wolves (1990): Whoops!
John Madden, Shakespeare in Love (1998): This Miramax production may have stolen Saving Private Ryan ’s Best Picture Oscar, but Steven Spielberg still got his for directing. Shakepeare’s director, meanwhile, proceeded to one indifferently-received project after another: Captain Correli’s Mandolin, Proof and the long shelved and barely released Killshot. The Debt was also long delayed, but is, for the record, basically competent.