The casualty: writer-director Richard Kelly
Even though it sunk at the box office, the independently made and brain-scrambling coming-of-age oddity Donnie Darko (2001) has amassed a loyal, ever-growing cult following on home video, and it's easy to see why. Combining authentic and sympathetic high school characters with time travel, psychological horror, Tears for Fears, and end-of-the-world paranoia, Donnie Darko is one of the new millennium's most impressive directorial debuts. It's made all the more remarkable when you realize that writer-director Richard Kelly was only 26 in 2001.
After the film's warm critical reception and late-blooming popularity, Kelly had a decent amount of clout, and, to his credit, he avoided signing onto a pointless remake or bland sequel to oversee another original script, Southland Tales. That (for the many who have never seen the bomb) was an incredibly ambitious dystopian musical that clocked in at nearly three hours and satirized both America's celebrity culture and government-provoked corruption of the military. Complete with a proposed comic book to further illustrate the multilayered world he'd envisioned for the project, Kelly's sophomore effort was one brimming with shoot-for-the-stars fearlessness.
And, for the most part, critics loathed it. A disastrous premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival planted the first seeds of bad buzz, which later sprouted into full-blown disappointment when a limited release merely triggered a dismal $375,000 worldwide intake on a budget estimated somewhere between $15-17 million. Just like that, the once-promising Kelly's reputation was permanently sullied with a now-infamous cinematic catastrophe, and all he's been able to direct since was the fascinatingly bizarre but financially pedestrian sci-fi/horror flick The Box (2009).