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20 Trailers That Prove ‘Visionary Director’ Is the Most Meaningless Phrase in Movie Advertising

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If you watch a lot of movie trailers you may have noticed a new trend in film advertising, one that is quickly coming to rival the use of sad covers of pop songs or Imagine Dragon soundtracks: The phrase “visionary director” to hype a particular filmmaker’s involvement in a movie. Though the phrase has appeared occasionally in coming attractions throughout the years, it seems to have risen substantially in popularity in the last couple months. There were two “visionary” trailers in just the last week alone.

As with everything else in the film industry, someone does something successfully and then others copy it. Lots of others, in this case. Here are just 20 recent examples (and believe me, there are more). Some of these filmmakers absolutely merit the title of “visionary director.” And some of them are so bad that their association with the phrase devalues it completely.

1. The Assassin (2015)
Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien”

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A frequent theme you will see on this list: Foreign directors making their highest-profile U.S. releases. The great Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, was referred to as a visionary in the trailer for The Assassin, his most prominent film from a domestic standpoint after a long career in Asia and on the festival circuit. The people making these trailers must believe, rightly or wrongly, that the phrase “visionary director” translates to potential customers as “you may not know who this director is, but trust us, they’re very important and special.”


2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
Director: Ang Lee
Exact Phrasing: “From the Visionary Mind That Brought You Life of Pi

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Another weird theme on this list: Even when it’s applied to a legitimately great director, “visionary filmmaker” tends to get trotted out to promote those great directors’ weakest films. In the case of Ang Lee, a director who might arguably be a visionary, it got stuck in the trailer for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which wound up being the worst reviewed film of his entire career.


3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Ridley Scott
Exact Phrasing: “The Visionary Filmmaker Behind Alien and The Martian

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Visionary or not, Ridley Scott is not the director of Blade Runner 2049; Denis Villeneuve is. They could have called him a visionary, but I guess they decided not to. Instead they went with Scott, who is undeniably the bigger name of the two. Can someone be a visionary producer?


4. Crimson Peak (2015)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Guillermo Del Toro”

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Guillermo del Toro is a visionary. I don’t have a problem with this.


5. A Cure for Wellness (2017)
Director: Gore Verbinski
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Gore Verbinski”

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A Cure for Wellness is a visually impressive movie, and I actually like Gore Verbinski as a director. But is he a visionary director? Even with the good movies on his resume (RangoThe Weather Man, the first Pirates of the Caribbean) it feels like a stretch.


6. The Darkest Hour (2011)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Exact Phrasing: “Presented By the Visionary Director of Wanted

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Here’s another case of the visionary line being applied to a director who’s not even the director of the movie they’re advertising. Timur Bekmambetov, he of the visionary film Wanted (¯_()_/¯), just produced (and presented, I guess) The Darkest Hour, a movie about a bunch of Americans trying to survive an alien invasion in Moscow. The actual director was Chris Gorak. Not a visionary, apparently.


7. A Field in England (2013)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Exact Phrasing: “From the Visionary Director of Kill List & Sightseers

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If we use the dictionary definition of a “visionary” (“a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like”) then I think filmmaker Ben Wheatley deserves that description more than most of the people on this list. I don’t love all of his movies, but he’s definitely a forward-thinking director; even though it’s set centuries ago, the strange and surreal A Field in England is a good example of that.


8. Gods of Egypt (2016)
Director: Alex Proyas
Exact Phrasing: “From the visionary director of I, Robot and The Crow

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It takes a true visionary to imagine an Egypt populated by Australians and gods who transform into giant flying robots.


9. The Great Wall (2017)
Director: Zhang Yimou
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Zhang Yimou”

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Another “Yeah this guy might be a visionary director, but is this really a visionary work?”


10. The Hunter’s Prayer (2017)
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Exact Phrasing: “The Visionary Director of Terminator 3 and Breakdown

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I wrote a grad school paper about Arnold Schwarzenegger that extensively featured Terminator 3, and even I am like “Visionary and Terminator 3? Are we sure about this?” And hey, Breakdown is fun, too! But visionary? Yeah no, sorry.


11. Kill Switch (2017)
Director: Tim Smit
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Tim Smit”

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Are you familiar with Tim Smit? No, that might be because Kill Switch is actually his feature directorial debut. From zero to visionary in less than one film! Slow your roll, Kill Switch trailer. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


12. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Director: Tim Burton
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Tim Burton”

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The fun part about being a visionary is it doesn’t matter how many bland, boring, or flat-out bad movies you make, once you’re a visionary, everything you make is from a visionary director. Planet of the Apes? From visionary director Tim Burton! Mars Attacks? From visionary director Tim Burton! Dark freaking Shadows? From visionary director Tim Burton!


13. A Monster Calls (2016)
Director: J.A. Bayona
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Filmmaker J.A. Bayona”

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Well, The Orphanage was pretty spooky, I guess?


14. The Neon Demon (2016)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Exact Phrasing: “From Nicolas Winding Refn, Visionary Director of Drive

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Dismiss Refn and his work if you want, but I think if you asked members of the general public to describe what a movie by a “visionary director” looks like, a lot of them would come up with something like The Neon Demon. For better or worse.


15. Okja (2017)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Exact Phrasing: “From the Visionary Director of Snowpiercer

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I’ll allow it.


16. Stoker (2013)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Exact Phrasing: “From the Visionary Director of Oldboy

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See The Assassin blurb. “Who’s Park Chan-wook? He directed Oldboy? I thought Spike Lee was making that?” “That’s the remake, this guy made the original.” “Okay, but who is he?” “Um, he’s a visionary?” “Oh cool.”


17. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Director: Luc Besson
Exact Phrasing: “The Visionary Director of The Fifth Element

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See, if they had gone with “From the visionary co-writer and producer of Space Jail,” I would have been 100 percent on board with this one. But no, they had to go with The Fifth Element instead. Everyone knows Space Jail is Besson’s visionary masterwork. Everyone knows this.


18. Watchmen (2009)
Director: Zack Snyder
Exact Phrasing: “From the Visionary Director of 300

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Easily the most notorious example on this list, a visionary designation so controversial it actually inspired thinkpieces. (And this is back in 2008, not 2017, when every movie inspires thinkpieces no matter how boring it was.) Snyder had made a ruthlessly efficient Dawn of the Dead remake, and a boldly graphic adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. Was he a visionary? His fans certainly think so, and his slavishly faithful Watchmen did nothing to change their minds.


19. Wonderstruck (2017)
Director: Todd Haynes
Exact Phrasing: “The Visionary Director of Far From Heaven and Carol

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If you’re looking for someone to take a shot at Todd Haynes, look elsewhere. Todd Haynes is an amazing director — so amazing, in fact, that he deserves better than a marketing cliche. There’s got to be a more interesting way to characterize his work, right? 


20. A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
Director: Ava DuVernay
Exact Phrasing: “From Visionary Director Ava DuVernay”

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Ava DuVernay is the only woman director on this list, and it’s nice to see this phrase so often applied to male auteurs used in a different context. That’s great; and A Wrinkle in Time looks gorgeous. Still, this is the 14th trailer on this list from just the last two years. It might be time to find a new word to use to describe great directors.

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