The Great Madcap (1949): Hollywood has a habit of hiring and abusing foreign filmmakers, but at least some—like Asif Kapadia, Indian-British director of the Sarah Michelle Gellar bomb The Return, who rebounded with this week’s Senna—at least got a film in. Luis Buñuel never did. The only work the surrealist (of Midnight in Paris fame) got was supervising Spanish-language versions of MGM films. One of his ideas was even ripped off for The Beast With Five Fingers. It wasn’t until he hit up Mexico that he got work—16 years after his last film, Land Without Bread—and made this hit comedy that, while forgotten, put him back on the path to awesomeness.
La Ronde (1950): The films German-born Max Ophüls made in Hollywood—chiefly Letter From an Unknown Woman, Caught and The Reckless Moment—represent an incredible run. Too bad audiences didn’t notice. He scuttled off to France to make this cyclical rumination on free love, and the rest is history.
Cries and Whispers (1972): Often forgotten is Ingmar Bergman’s awfully short Hollywood period, during which he produced The Touch (1971), which dared pair Bibi Andersson with Elliot Gould. Bolting home, he made the most stereotypically Bergmanesque film he could muster—a meditation on death and dying overwrought enough to score him another Oscar.
The Passenger (1975): Execs might not have understood Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, but it made money, and that was enough to fund Zabriskie Point, one of the more notable bombs of all time. Antonioni waited five years for the dust to settle, and while no more commercial, this art-thriller with Jack Nicholson was at least liked.
Black Book (2006): Paul Verhoeven had a checkered, oft-amazing Hollywood career—including Showgirls , a monstrosity intended to be a monstrosity—but by the nasty but rote Hollow Man, he’d clearly burned out. Returning to the Netherlands, he attempted to play nice—but only on his terms. His journey into WWII territory finds a Jewish spy dying her pubes, falling for a Nazi officer and other backward Verhoeven fun.
Red Cliff (2009): Please stay home, John Woo.
Neil Barsky’s "Koch" Keeps It Light