Although he’s responsible for directing such popular titles as Piranha and Gremlins, Joe Dante continues to be one of the most underrated filmmakers in Hollywood. While primarily steeped in the horror genre, Dante has proven his diverse filmmaking range with everything from Rock ‘n’ Roll Hich School and Explorers to Innerspace and Small Soldiers.
Ever since making his feature debut documentary The Movie Orgy in 1968, Dante has accrued 40 big and small screen credits. He’s worked on horror anthologies such as The Twilight Zone Movie, Nightmare Cinema, Trapped Ashes, etc. and has lent his directorial stylings to such TV series as Night Visions, Masters of Horror, Splatter, and others.
10 Best – Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979) 6.7
Sex, drugs, and abject anarchy rule the day in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, a film Joe Dante co-directed with Allan Arkush in 1979. The film features the music and acting chops of the iconic punk rock band The Ramones.
When a slew of high-school principals quit their job at Vince Lombardi High due to the students’ love of rock ‘n’ roll music, the Ramones-loving Riff Randell (PJ Soles) meets her match in the newly appointed Miss Togar (Mary Woronov). As the two butt heads for schoolyard supremacy, a hostile student takeover of the school ensues.
9 Worst – Burying The Ex (2013) 5.4
The last full-feature Dante helmed by himself belongs to Burying the Ex, a light and breezy zombie rom-com starring Ashley Greene, Alexandra Daddario, and the late Anton Yelchin. Unfortunately, it’s the lowest-rated film of his career, according to IMDb.
Written by Alan Trezza, the film revolves around Max (Yelchin), a young man overwhelmed by his domineering girlfriend, Evelyn (Greene). After a freak accident leaves Evelyn dead, Max feels relieved. However, when Evelyn’s fetid corpse returns from the grave, Max must contend with her jealous ways and protect his new girlfriend, Olivia (Daddario).
8 Best – Innerspace (1987) 6.8
In a bit of a departure for Dante, Innerspace is a sci-fi comedy in which a miniaturized man infiltrates the body of a full-grown adult after a scientific experiment goes horribly awry.
The brash test-pilot Tuck (Dennis Quaid) agrees to undergo a radical experiment to shrink his body in the name of research. When thieves interrupt the process and accidentally inject Tuck into the body of a dimwitted store clerk names Jack (Martin Short), a classic fish-out-of-water scenario unfolds. With time running out, Tuck seeks the help of former flame Lydia (Meg Ryan).
7 Worst – The Hole (2009) 5.7
Much in the same vein as his classic family-centric horror-comedy Gremlins, The Hole is a PG-13 rated spook story made for the preteen crowd. The film stars Haley Bennett, Chris Massoglia, Mason Gamble, Bruce Dern, and Teri Polo.
When two tween brothers inadvertently happen upon an enigmatic hole in the basement of their new house, they enlist the help of neighbors to get to the bottom of the mystery. Once they unlock the endless hole, which they believe is a portal to hell, their deepest and most terrifying fears are suddenly manifested.
6 Best – Matinee (1993) 6.9
Sandwiched in between Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Small Soldiers is Matinee, one of Dante’s best yet most unheralded movies of his career. The film stars John Goodman as a sleazy and schlocky low-level horror movie producer who resorts to his worse impulses during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The plot picks up when Lawrence Woolsey (Goodman) introduces his half-man-half-ant creature-feature Mant! to Key West for locals to view. As he promotes the film through a series of quirky gimmicks, life begins to imitate art.
5 Worst – Looney Toons: Back In Action (2003) 5.7
Aside from The Hole in 2009, Looney Toons: Back in Action is the only full-length feature film Dante made in the 2000s. He spent much of the decade helming a number of television episodes.
Co-directed by Eric Goldberg, Back in Action stars Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, and more as the Looney Toons assist DJ Drake (Fraser), a wannabe stuntman, find his kidnapped father. When they locate DJ’s dad, the Toons go on to pursue the priceless Blue Monkey Diamond.
4 Best – The ‘Burbs (1989) 6.9
In the mordantly black horror-comedy The ‘Burbs, Tom Hanks stars as Ray Peterson, a bored suburbanite who’s nosey neighbors convince him that the new family in town is a secret family of psycho killers.
When the creepy hermit Klopek family moves into the moldering mansion next door, sinister behavior begins to occur. When a fellow neighbor Walter goes missing, Ray and his pals, Art (Rick Ducommun), Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), and Ricky (Corey Feldman) set out to prove the Klopek’s deadly involvement.
3 Worst – Piranha (1978) 5.9
Scripted by indie-auteur John Sayles, Piranha is largely regarded as one of the best bald Jaws knockoffs released in the late 1970s. Despite its middling IMDb mark, the film currently holds a 69% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 71/100 Metascore.
Made for a mere $600,000, Piranha follows a series of unsuspecting victims who are viciously gobbled to death by schools of flesh-eating fish after they are inadvertently released into the waterways of a summer camp. The film was remade as a 3D blockbuster in 2010.
2 Best – Gremlins (1984) 7.3
Fun fact: along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is co-responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating in the mid-1980s. Both films were produced by Steven Spielberg.
Gremlins is a classic Christmas family horror-comedy in which a boy named Billy is gifted with a very cute and mysterious creature called a Mogwai. When Billy and his new pal Gizmo break the rules of the Mogwai code by getting them wet at night, an evil outbreak of rambunctious killer mutant-monsters wreak gory havoc in town.
1 Worst – Hollywood Boulevard (1976) 6.0
Joe Dante’s first narrative feature ranks as the best of the worst of his resume, according to IMDb. Hollywood Boulevard is a comedic thriller in which a Hollywood hopeful named Mary (Mary Woronov) is subjected to one deadly studio mishap after another.
When Mary arrives in Hollywood with big eyes and even bigger dreams, she’s sent to the shady Miracle Pictures to get her foot in the door. However, the low-budget B-movie studio is inept beyond belief and cannot escape a series of fatal accidents.
NEXT: Gremlins: 5 Reasons It’s Aged Well (& 5 It’s Aged Poorly)
10 TV Actors Who Married Their Co-Stars