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Director Displacement

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Wait, what did Tim Burton do, then? note 

"It was nothing but producers then. Sam Goldwyn..." Willy started to wheeze at the name. "The Goldwyn touch. That's what his publicity people called his picture. His pictures? Finally, I said to him, "Sam, has there ever been a picture with the Goldwyn touch that I didn't direct?"
Gore Vidal (quoting William Wyler), Palimpsest

When a work — usually a film — is better known as the work of its producer than as the work of its director. Often a result of marketing, as the name of a well-known producer may be used prevalently in advertising a film where the director is a rookie or largely unknown. In some cases, the director can also be displaced by the screenwriter if the writer is well-known (and neither the producers nor director are). More rarely, all of these can be displaced by an actor if the movie is seen as a star-vehicle.

This trope tends to happen more in America than elsewhere due to Hollywood being a very producer-focused system, as opposed to other countries where directors get much more clout. The Auteur Theory was formed to avert and correct this trope, however, and it has generally succeeded in giving more attention to the work of directors and craftsmen.


Compare with All Animation Is Disney, when a director or producer wasn't involved in a work despite its strong similarities with their productions.


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    Film — Animated 
  • Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas - actually directed by Henry Selick. Burton merely produced it...which helped confuse people fifteen years later when Selick's Coraline was being advertised. The marketing stated correctly that it was from the director of Nightmare. Because of the earlier muddled marketing of Nightmare, people mistakenly assumed Coraline was a Tim Burton film (in reality, Burton had precisely nothing to do with it). It got to the point where Neil Gaiman had to address this in his blog. This was probably intentional by the marketing team since Tim Burton's name pretty much sells to his own little niche, whereas the only people who have heard of Selick tend to be hardcore animation fans.
  • If you talk about the earlier films in the Disney Animated Canon, nearly everybody in the world will think about Walt Disney. Only hardcore animation fans know the names of the actual directors (Walt himself rarely directed cartoons and never directed any of the movies). It didn't help matters that when much of the early Disney animated films were released, they were generally made by a team of segment directors under the command of a supervising director, who was himself answerable to Walt. Under that system, each segment director would direct a single portion of the film, and then report back to the supervising director so he could edit all the portions into a single, cohesive film.
  • Strange Magic is produced by George Lucas and comes from Lucasfilm Animation, so naturally, Lucas' name overshadows that of director Gary Rydstrom, who is primarily a sound designer and never directed a full-length film before.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has three directors. None of them are Phil Lord & Chris Miller, who were the film's producers. The directors are Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman. Lord did co-write the screenplay with Rothman, though. The displacement likely comes from Spider-Verse being a project that felt like it should have failed but succeeded, with Lord and Miller having a history of pulling such a trick.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Everything Ray Harryhausen ever worked on.
  • Steven Spielberg's involvement tends to overshadow the contributions of many films' actual directors.
    • Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper. Most people think of it as a Spielberg film, though he was busy with ET at the time. Spielberg was on set for much of the production (and even saved actor Oliver Robbins' life when the clown prop nearly choked him to death); Hooper was battling a cocaine addiction at the time, so he likely needed someone on set to keep an eye on him. Spielberg also came up with the story, wrote the screenplay and was the major producer, also taking part in the post-production. He said that he and Hooper had a very special relationship, as he had a lot of input, and he has gone out of his way to discredit the rumour that he actually directed the film.
    • The Goonies was directed by Richard Donner but was produced by Spielberg. As an adventure starring children in the lead roles, it does seem typical of early-80s Spielberg movies.
    • Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg, but it is commonly thought to have been directed by Spielberg himself.
    • Young Sherlock Holmes was executive-produced by Spielberg, written by Columbus and directed by Barry Levinson.
    • *batteries not included was also executive produced by Spielberg, yet directed by Matthew Robinson.
    • The Back to the Future trilogy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were executive produced by Spielberg, but directed by Robert Zemeckis.
  • Anything Judd Apatow produced (but didn't direct) after 2005. He produced a few popular comedies from the '90s and early 2000s, like Heavy Weights and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but isn't associated with them that frequently, since they were made before The 40-Year-Old Virgin made him a household name.
  • Tim Burton also got this with the releases of James and the Giant Peach and 9. He served as a producer for both films, along with Timur Bekmambetov on the latter. He also produced Cabin Boy, which was directed by Adam Resnick. He was supposed to direct, but he was busy with Ed Wood.
  • George Lucas:
    • The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are viewed as Lucas' works (and they are, in a way), but they were directed by Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand, respectively. However, this has been less true of Empire over time; Lucas had a very hands-off role in its production, leaving those duties to Kershner and producer Gary Kurtz. In the wake of the prequel trilogy, his critics have been fond of pointing out that the movie he had the least creative involvement with is also considered the best.
    • Return of the Jedi is even more contested. After Empire went WAY over budget and schedule, Lucas decided to be part of Jedi. He was on set for the whole film and some say his relationship with director Marquand was at points bad (to the extent that original DP Alan Hume is said to have quit the last week in protest) and there are talks about how he wanted credit as a second unit director for it.
    • The Star Wars Holiday Special is frequently blamed on George Lucas, even though he had nothing to do with it beyond writing a basic story outline for CBS.
    • For that matter, Lucas gets most of the blame for Howard the Duck (Willard Huyck), Willow (Ron Howard), The Radioland Murders (Mel Smith) and Red Tails (Anthony Hemingway); he executive produced all four and did come up with the stories for Willow and Radioland Murders, but he didn't write the scripts or direct them.
  • With the exception of The Shining, which everybody knows as the work of Stanley Kubrick, and maybe Stand by Me (Rob Reiner), all of the films based on Stephen King novels are more popularly associated with him than their directors. Unsurprising if you look at what happens to his novels... With that in mind, it makes one wonder how The Langoliers isn't commonly affiliated with its director considering the DVD cover where, in massive outlined, metallic letters, the name of Tom Holland can be seen clear as day, taking over two-thirds of the credits.
  • District 9: Peter Jackson's involvement in the film was a major selling point leading up to the release, due to it being Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut. Since its release, however, Blomkamp's stock has risen, and District 9 is recognized as his film. It helps that the film is set in and about Blomkamp's native South Africa, while Jackson is famously Kiwi.
  • Victor Fleming is the credited director of both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, but they each went through several different directors and are now mostly remembered as the work of their producers: David O. Selznick for Gone with the Wind and Mervyn LeRoy for The Wizard of Oz.
  • The primary creative force behind Casablanca was producer Hal B. Wallis, and not director Michael Curtiz.
  • Val Lewton produced a series of classic horror films for RKO in the 1940s (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, The Curse Of The Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, The Seventh Victim and Bedlam). These are almost universally referred to as 'Val Lewton films' rather than being referred to by their directors' names.
  • Hero (Zhang Yimou) and Hostel (Eli Roth) were both marketed as "Quentin Tarantino Presents (film name)", owing to his production role in those films although in the case Hero his role was limited to "presenting" it to the US audience.
  • Cloverfield is more commonly associated with J. J. Abrams than its director, Matt Reeves.
  • Michael Bay has had this happen a lot over time, being the producer of horror remakes like Friday the 13th (2009). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows were directed by Jonathan Liebesman, but was largely seen as a Bay film.
  • Thomas Edison had a habit of putting his name, and only his name, in the films he produced.
  • When From Dusk Till Dawn came out, some people confused it for a Quentin Tarantino directorial effort, given that he wrote and appears in it, but it was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Since that time, Rodriguez has become more famous as a director and screenwriter, and the film is recognized as part of his oeuvre. Some people even now forget that it was penned by Tarantino, given how uncharacteristic it is of Tarantino's other work.
  • True Romance was the first script that Tarantino ever wrote, but Tony Scott directed.
  • James Cameron:
    • The Cameron-produced film Sanctum was directed by Alister Grierson, but many are convinced that Cameron actually directed the film. This has created the same amount of Hatedom that Avatar suffered.
    • Cameron co-wrote and co-produced Strange Days, but it was directed by his then-wife Kathryn Bigelow.
    • Cameron also co-wrote Rambo: First Blood Part II, though George P. Cosmatos actually directed.
    • Cameron's name was featured in advertising for Alita: Battle Angel, despite being directed by Robert Rodriguez. Though to be fair, it was a pet project of Cameron's for so long.
  • The James Bond films are rarely ever viewed as the works of anyone other than Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and later Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. If you want to see a Bond fans head explode, inform them that Goldeneye and Casino Royale (2006) was directed by the same guy, Martin Campbell. When it came to Sam Mendes, let's say he put his fingerprints all over Skyfall and Spectre.
  • John Hughes:
    • Howard Deutch directed Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and The Great Outdoors, but they're viewed as Hughes films (Hughes was the screenwriter).
    • This also applies to the four theatrically released National Lampoon's Vacation films, which were respectively directed by Harold Ramis, Amy Heckerling, Jeremiah S. Chechik, and Stephen Kessler. And even then, Hughes only wrote the first and third films.
    • In addition, it applies to the first three Home Alone films, which were directed by Chris Columbus (1 & 2) and Raja Gosnell (3).
    • Hughes' first film as a writer was Mr. Mom, which was directed by Stan Dragoti. Hughes was supposed to direct, but he wanted to film in Chicago as opposed to Hollywood.
  • Jon Favreau wrote and starred in Swingers, and then went on to direct a number of other films, including its Spiritual Successor Made, but it was Doug Liman who actually directed Swingers.
  • Some movies that had more than one director tend to get this, especially if one of the directors is more well-known than the other. These examples include:
  • Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman was directed by Darren Grant, but many people believed that Perry directed it himself.
  • The Muppets: The film seems better known for its writing from Jason Segel than Director James Bobin. This partly seems due to the fact that as a professed Muppet fan, he had the ambition of bringing them to the forefront again.
  • The Cabin in the Woods was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, but the actual director was Drew Goddard (who was also the other co-writer).
  • Though the director of the infamous film The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure was a documentary filmmaker named Matthew Diamond, the real brainchild behind the film was Kenn Viselmann, whose Small Name, Big Ego was so rampant that he even named the movie's production company after himself (despite no one really knowing who he was).
  • Austin Powers is better known as the work of Mike Myers, who wrote and starred in the films, than Jay Roach, who directed.
  • Due to the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy, many people assume Christopher Nolan has a great deal of control over the Superman reboot Man of Steel. In reality, he's just the film's producer and has said his direct involvement ended pretty much at the stage of story development because he knew director Zack Snyder was more suited to the Superman material than he was. Unlike many examples, this died down over time, due to other movies promoting Snyder as "the director of Man of Steel" and Snyder's name being front and center in the campaign for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with Nolan's name nowhere in sight despite being an executive producer.
    • Snyder would later end up being a publicity usurper himself, with his name outshining director Noam Murro's in the promotion of 300: Rise of an Empire, due to having directed the original film and being the producer.
  • Gentlemen of Fortune is often viewed as Georgi Danelia movie, but the actual director was much lesser-known Aleksandr Seryj. Georgi Danelia was a co-writer and art director.
  • The '50s classic The Thing from Another World was officially directed by Christian Nyby, but is often seen as Producer Howard Hawks's film. How directly Hawks was involved in production has long been debated, even by people who actually worked on the film.
  • Though it was directed by David Fincher, many still see The Social Network as Aaron Sorkin's movie.
  • The Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home is a messy case. Martin Scorsese is credited as director, and most people just assume he was the driving force behind it. But it was actually Dylan's longtime manager Jeff Rosen who instigated the project and conducted and filmed the interviews and gathered the raw footage. Scorsese's job was to assemble everything into a finished film. Rosen is credited as a co-producer.
  • My Favorite Wife was billed as "A LEO McCAREY PRODUCTION Directed by Garson Kanin." Leo McCarey also received credit for co-writing the story.
  • Play It Again, Sam starred Woody Allen and was written by him and based on his play, but the movie was directed by Herbert Ross.
  • Any movie that comes from Ghost House Pictures will be more associated with Sam Raimi than the directors, similar to Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes studio mentioned above.
    • The trailer for the former company's The Possession has an extreme example. In addition to Raimi, it puts more emphasis on the film's screenwriters, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, over director Ole Bornedal (who's name is basically buried at the end of the trailer).
  • The Longest Day has only one name in the Blu-Ray cover, that of producer Darryl F. Zanuck. It helps the thing is an Epic Movie with an All-Star Cast and five directors, that only came out because of Zanuck's guidance.
  • Knowingly averted by Mel Brooks, who kept his name out of promotional efforts for The Elephant Man despite producing it, for fear of audiences mistaking it for a comedy film because of his involvement.
  • The notorious 1994 The Fantastic Four movie is known colloquially as "The Roger Corman FF", despite the fact that he only produced it (Oley Sassone was the real director.)
  • Home video releases of the original The Out-of-Towners have generally tended to play up the name of writer Neil Simon, while making little-to-no mention of the actual director, Arthur Hiller.
  • Orson Welles would have been the first to debunk the rumours that he directed The Third Man. That was Carol Reed.
  • John Huston wrote the screenplay for High Sierra, but Raoul Walsh directed it.
  • The Wachowskis:
  • Sergio Leone produced My Name Is Nobody, but Tonino Valerii directed. That said, Leone did direct some scenes uncredited. After the film's release, it was promoted as a Sergio Leone film, much to the frustration of both men.
  • Cameron Crowe wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High based on his novel, but it was directed by Amy Heckerling.
  • Luc Besson was a writer and producer on The Transporter and Danny the Dog, but both films were directed by Louis Leterrier.
  • Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script for The Great Gatsby (1974), which was directed by Jack Clayton.
    • He was also a writer on Patton, which Franklin J. Schaffner directed.
  • The Coen Brothers wrote the scripts for The Naked Man (J.Todd Anderson), Gambit (Michael Hoffman) and Unbroken (Angelina Jolie), and, with the exception of the latter, are the primary figures associated with the films.
  • John Woo executive-produced and choreographed the action scenes for The Replacement Killers, which Antoine Fuqua directed. He was also a producer on Bulletproof Monk, which Paul Hunter directed.
  • John Carpenter was involved with Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Halloween (2018) as a writer, producer, and composer but left directing duties to Rick Rosenthal, Tommy Lee Wallace and David Gordon Green respectively. Carpenter did direct some additional scenes for the second film.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its sequel, Shock Treatment are more often associated with creator and writer, Richard O'Brien rather than director, Jim Sharman.
  • The Muppet Movie is more known for Jim Henson than its director James Frawley who previously directed many episodes of The Monkees.
  • Alan Rudolph's 1977 film Welcome to L.A. sometimes has the direction mistakenly credited to producer Robert Altman. Understandable since Rudolph clearly picked up a lot of stylistic touches from his mentor (like a Hyperlink Story) as well as borrowed some members of Altman's stock company of actors.
  • Zig-zagged by Irwin Allen. Everyone calls The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno "Irwin Allen movies" even though he was just credited as producer and the directorial credits went to Ronald Neame and John Guillermin, respectively. However, for both films, Allen himself directed the action scenes but elected to forego a co-director credit.
  • Mortal Engines: The name of producer and co-writer Peter Jackson shows up more in advertising and discussions than that of director Christian Rivers.
  • Edgar Wright only executive-produced Attack the Block, yet his name was all over the advertising.
  • M. Night Shyamalan wrote and produced Devil, but John Erick Dowdle directed. That said, it still feels like a Shyamalan film.
  • Jim Abrams and the Zucker Brothers wrote The Kentucky Fried Movie, yet John Landis directed.
  • Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn were producers on Mean Machine, the English remake of The Longest Yard, yet it was directed by Barry Skolnick.
  • Richard Donner produced The Lost Boys and was supposed to direct, but was busy working on Lethal Weapon (1987), so Joel Schumacher directed.
  • Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed are generally seen as James Gunn films but he wrote them while Raja Gosnell directed them.
  • Robert Rodriguez wrote the original script for Predators and was heavily involved with the film, but his commitment to Machete meant that Nimród Antal directed.
  • In a more retroactive case, X-Men Origins: Wolverine seems to be mostly associated with screenwriter David Benioff, mostly following the much maligned final season of Game of Thrones, of which Benioff was one of the showrunners, with critics of the season attributing many of the faults of the film to Benioff, though Benioff only wrote early drafts of the script and he wasn't responsible for the most negatively received aspects of the film. Regardless, Benioff seems to have supplanted the film's director Gavin Hood in terms of association.
  • Although Jordan Peele has been a writer-director, he wrote and producedCandyman (2021), but Nia Dacosta is the director.

    Live Action TV 
  • Paul Henning, executive producer of Green Acres, actually took out an ad in Variety to make it clear that not he but Jay Sommers was the showrunner. (Neither, of course, was the director; Richard L. Bare covered that job for most of the series).
  • Sam Raimi produced Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, but didn't create either of them.
  • Sesame Street is associated with Jim Henson; while he created the Muppet characters, performed some of them and even directed some shorts for it, he didn't actually create the show or direct any whole episodes.
  • Michael Mann
    • Mann was show-runner for Miami Vice in its first two seasons and co-wrote one episode, but didn't create the series or direct any episodes.
    • He was a producer and main creative force on Crime Story, but didn't create the series, though he did direct at least one episode.

  • The wildly popular funk throwback "Uptown Funk" is officially released under Mark Ronson's name, but (outside the U.K.), most people consider it a Bruno Mars song despite him being a featured artist, given his status as a pop megastar whereas Ronson is a largely obscure figure. It's somewhat understandable considering Bruno Mars has established himself as a specialist in Genre Throwbacks, with his "Treasure" being a funk disco track in the same vein.
  • To the majority of the public, Amy Winehouse's cover of The Zutons' "Valerie" is solely hers, when it was actually recorded for Ronson's album with Winehouse as a guest.
  • "The Hanging Tree" from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is almost universally considered a Jennifer Lawrence song, as she sings it in character in the movie, even though it was released under James Newton Howard's name. That didn't stop Billboard themselves from hyping the song's chart performance as a Lawrence song while relegating Howard to a footnote.
  • Likewise, many David Guetta songs are less associated with the French producer than the guest singer ("Sexy Bitch": Akon; "Titanium": Sia; "Turn Me On" and "Hey Mama": Nicki Minaj; "Without You": Usher).
  • While most of Calvin Harris's songs are often seen as his songs, some of them are more associated with the featured artist, namely his collaborations with Ellie Goulding ("I Need Your Love" and "Outside") and Rihanna ("This Is What You Came For"; "We Found Love" isn't an example as it is officially a Rihanna song).
  • The song "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee tends to be associated with Justin Bieber in the Anglosphere instead of its original artists. This case is more extreme than most others, as the song in question became a major hit after Bieber's involvement in a remix (the original didn't have Bieber at all), and the original artists still sing on the remix. Unfortunately, the song's ensuing popularity coupled with Bieber's inability to speak Spanish has led to much disappointment at his concerts.
  • Music video example: Peter Christopherson is often mistakenly believed to direct the entirety of Nine Inch Nails' Broken Movie, but in fact only directed the wrap around segments and the "Wish" and "Gave Up" videos. The videos for "Pinion" and "Help Me I Am In Hell" were directed by Eric Goode and Serge Becker, while "Happiness In Slavery" was directed by Jon Reiss.

  • On Your Toes: While George Abbott did direct the 1954 and 1983 revivals of the show, he was merely a co-librettist in the original production, which was directed by Worthington Minor. The original producer, Dwight Deere Wiman, was also credited for "supervision" of the "entire production." (Abbott famously mocked this style of credit later in his career, when it was taken up by director-choreographers Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, as "entire part of mother played by Lizzie Flop.")

    Video Games 
  • Nintendo:
    • Shigeru Miyamoto largely stepped back into a producer/advisor role starting with the Nintendo 64 generation, the last game he directed being Mario Artist Paint Studio in 1999. Despite this, sequels in various franchises he created, such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, still get attributed to him to some extent (the torch of Mario games was given to Yoshiaki Koizumi, who then became an example in his own right when he passed that torch to current series director Kenta Motokura, while that of Zelda games was given to Eiji Aonuma and later shared with Hidemaro Fujibayashi). This is especially the case with the Pikmin games, which he created after backing away from the directorial role and thus never actually directed a single installment.
    • Nintendo R&D1's early games (Metroid, Kid Icarus, Wario Land... etc) are often credited to executive producer Gunpei Yokoi, who was more focused on hardware development and had little input on the games his department produced.
  • An example in Metal Gear Solid 2 comes from the game's soundtrack. The game was heavily promoted to have famed movie composer Harry Gregson-Willaims as the man behind the game's score. And while he does compose the official theme of the game and some cutscene music, all of the in-game music and even majority of the cutscene music was done by Norihiko Hibino. This became confusing when fans of the music purchased the official soundtrack, only to discover that all of the in-game music was missing, causing Konami to release another soundtrack, which included all of Hibino's work, meaning majority of the music found in the game. There is also the fact that Willaims' name is shown in big bold print during the openings of both part 1 and part 2 of the game, while Hibino's name is shown in small print during the ending credits.
  • Zone of the Enders is far more commonly associated with producer Hideo Kojima than it is to either Noriaki Okamura or Shuyo Murata (respectively the directors of the first and second game).
  • For all that the Mega Man series is associated with Keiji Inafune, he actually only acted as the game director on two entries, Mega Man 4 and Mega Man X (and even then he co-directed both games with Yoshinori Takenaka). Starting with Mega Man 3 he did take on a loose role as the creative lead for the series, but other people handled the actual direction of the games.
  • The Tekken series is always associated first and foremost with Katsuhiro Harada, even though he only started to direct the series with Tekken Tag Tournament.
  • Chrono Trigger has writer Masato Kato (probably because he was the one who ended up directing the sequel), its main artist Akira Toriyama, and its composer, Yasunori Mitsuda; those three tend to overshadow the three directors Yoshinori Kitase, Akihiko Matsui, and Takashi Tokita in terms of association with the game in particular.

    Western Animation 
  • Exosquad's producer Will Meugniot is often credited as the series creator (and not in a My Real Daddy kind of way), though he clarified in multiple interviews that the series was created by Jeff Segal.


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