Top 10 Horror Movies Often Attributed to the Wrong Director

By Tyler Doupe'

Generally speaking, horror fans are a well-informed lot when it comes to knowing who directed their favorite (and even least favorite) films. We make it our business to stay on top of which creative output belongs to whom. But with tricky marketing practices and the passing of time, it can be easy for even the most studious horror fan to be tripped up on occasion. And on that note, we are taking a look at ten genre films that are frequently attributed to the wrong director.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Wasn’t Directed by Tim Burton!

The film follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown’s beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual routine of frightening people in the “real world.” When Jack accidentally stumbles on Christmastown, all bright colors and warm spirits, he gets a new lease on life — he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus and taking over the role. But Jack soon discovers even the best-laid plans of mice and skeleton men can go seriously awry.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most commonly miscredited genre films I can think of. Hell, it’s always been marketed as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas like John Carpenter’s Halloween or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The difference here is that John Carpenter directed Halloween and Wes Craven directed New Nightmare. The Nightmare Before Christmas, however, was helmed by Henry Selick (who also directed Coraline and James and the Giant Peach). Burton received a “characters and story by” credit and produced the picture but contrary to popular belief was not at the helm.


Wasn’t Directed by Steven Spielberg!

Strange and creepy happenings beset an average California family, the Freelings — Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) — when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.

Poltergeist lands on the list for a couple of reasons. The first being that Steven Spielberg’s name was placed above director Tobe Hooper’s on several variations of the poster art and that led to confusion from the get-go. Add to that the fact that there have been rumblings about Spielberg being the film’s “true” director for many years and the waters are further muddied. Spielberg did co-write the script in addition to serving as a producer on this terrifying take of suburban specters. So, his presence can clearly be felt. But as far as The Director’s Guild is concerned, Tobe Hooper was the director.  

Related Article: In Exclusive Clip from IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS Horror Icons Insist Tobe Hooper Directed POLTERGEIST

From Dusk till Dawn

Wasn’t Directed by by Quentin Tarantino!

On the run from a bank robbery that left several police officers dead, Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his paranoid, loose-cannon brother, Richard (Quentin Tarantino), hightail it to the Mexican border. Kidnapping preacher Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his kids, the criminals sneak across the border in the family’s RV and hole up in a topless bar. Unfortunately, the bar also happens to be home base for a gang of vampires, and the brothers and their hostages have to fight their way out.

From Dusk till Dawn is one of several memorable collaborations between Quentin Tarantino and filmmaking buddy Robert Rodriguez. Tarantino was heavily involved with the creation of the picture. He starred in the film, wrote the screenplay, and executive produced. And perhaps that’s why people sometimes assume that the auteur director was also at the helm. The studio further confused matters by splashing “from Robert Rodriguez, from Quentin Tarantino” on the poster art, seeming to suggest the duo had co-directed this heist caper turned vampire flick. 


Wasn’t Directed by M. Knight Shyamalan!

Five strangers’ day begins with an elevator ride in a Philadelphia office tower. But, what happens next is anything but ordinary. The elevator gets stuck, and the trapped passengers, who expected to be together just a few minutes, now face the revelation of their secrets and transgressions. Frightening events turn annoyance into terror, as they begin to realize that one of their number is Lucifer himself.

I, myself, am guilty of believing (at one point) that M. Knight Shyamalan directed this confined horror thriller which takes place primarily in an elevator car. While Shyamalan produced and grabbed a “story by” credit, the flick was actually directed by John Erick Dowdle. Dowdle should be familiar to horror fans as the director of the terrifying, The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Although Shyamalan didn’t helm, his involvement is noticeable in that there is a very Shyamalan-esque twist in the final act of the flick.

V for Vendetta

Wasn’t Directed by the Wachowskis!

Following world war, London is a police state occupied by a fascist government, and a vigilante known only as V (Hugo Weaving) uses terrorist tactics to fight the oppressors of the world in which he now lives. When V saves a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) from the secret police, he discovers an ally in his fight against England’s oppressors.

V for Vendetta was marketed as being from the creators of The Matrix trilogy. And while the Wachowski siblings did write and produce the film, their frequent collaborator James McTeigue directed this dystopian graphic novel adaptation. This was McTeigue’s directorial debut and the Wachowski siblings were already well-known for The Matrix trilogy, so it’s easy to see why the studio wanted to highlight the involvement of recognizable names. But that has certainly led to some level of confusion amongst fans over the years.  

Related Article: V FOR VENDETTA Finally Coming to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray


Wasn’t Directed by Steven Spielberg!

A gadget salesman is looking for a special gift for his son and finds one at a store in Chinatown. The shopkeeper is reluctant to sell him the `mogwai’ but sells it to him with the warning to never expose him to bright light, water, or to feed him after midnight. All of this happens and the result is a gang of gremlins that decide to tear up the town on Christmas Eve.

Here is another example of a studio misleading viewers with the Spielberg name. However, in this case, Spielberg didn’t even write the script. He was merely an executive producer. But that didn’t stop Warner Brother’s from splashing his name above the film’s title, leading many fans to infer that Spielberg was the director of this family flick about homicidal, pint-sized creatures running amok. Gremlins was actually directed by Joe Dante.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Wasn’t Directed by Guillermo del Toro!

Lonely and introverted, young Sally (Bailee Madison) has just arrived at the 19th-century mansion that her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) are restoring. While exploring the sprawling estate, Sally discovers a hidden, long-undisturbed basement. Unwittingly, she unleashes a race of malevolent, dark-dwelling creatures who intend to drag her and her family down into the mansion’s bottomless depths. A remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie.

Guillermo del Toro is a master of the macabre and anything to which his name is attached is sure to put butts in seats. And that is likely why Miramax opted to prominently feature his name in all of their marketing efforts for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. However, del Toro only cowrote and produced the flick. In actuality, this suspenseful remake of a 1973 made-for-television movie of the same name was directed by Troy Nixey. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is Nixey’s only feature film directorial effort. He has since returned to his roots as a comic book artist.


Wasn’t Directed by Eli Roth!

A loving father (Andy Powers) becomes a savage killer while wearing a cursed clown costume that won’t come off.

Eli Roth did produce Clown and he was a big champion of actual director Jon Watts’ tale of a killer clown costume. But he most certainly was not at the helm of the project. What misled a lot of fans is that the poster reads: “From Master of Terror Eli Roth”. So, if you don’t read the fine print, it would be very easy to mistake Roth for the film’s director. 


Wasn’t Directed by Wes Craven!

A gemologist (Tammy Lauren) unwittingly frees an evil genie (Andrew Divoff) that plays deadly tricks on her friends and acquaintances.

What I find especially interesting about Wishmaster is that Wes Craven’s only involvement was as an executive producer. Craven had very little to do with the production and was essentially a producer in name only. But that didn’t stop Live Film from splashing Craven’s name all over marketing collateral for the film’s release. FX legend Robert Kurtzman was at the helm of this dark tale of wish fulfillment. And it was a promising turn that gave birth to three follow up efforts of varying quality. 

Candyman (2020)

Wasn’t Directed by Jordan Peele!

In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, Anthony and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.

The last entry on this list hasn’t even seen release yet. But it is nonetheless frequently miscredited. The upcoming Candyman redux/spiritual sequel was cowritten and produced but not directed by Jordan Peele. Nora Ephron award-winning director Nia DaCosta was at the helm of this much-anticipated release. Fans and media outlets alike have repeatedly misconstrued Peele’s attachment to the project. And this misconception is of particular importance to correct, given that women have long had to fight for their seat at the table in Hollywood.