Stephen Hopkins has, in the last several years, become one of my favorite "That Guy" directors -- a term I've coined for genre directors who are not household names but who can be depended on to get the job done. They can be stylish, they can be muscular, but more than anything they know how to make clean, satisfying action and horror movies. They're filmmakers like Mark L. Lester, James Glickenhaus, Dwight H. Little (you my boy), Jack Sholder, and Joseph Zito. (The list is much longer, but you get the idea.) Stephen Hopkins belongs on that list.
A Jamaican-born Brit who began his career in Australia, Hopkins got his start shooting second unit for Russell Mulcahey (another "That Guy" director) on Highlander before graduating to his own films. He made franchise sequels, originals, would-be franchise starters, would-be blockbusters, cult action movies -- all of it. He later found a ton of success in television, but it's his theatrical work that gets me excited. He deserves to be celebrated.
1. Dangerous Game (1988) Hopkins' first feature is an Australian sort-of slasher about a psychotic cop who torments and eventually stalks a group of young people who've decided to spend the night in a department store (never a good idea in movies, unless you're Frank Whaley). The movie is stylish but rough around the edges, like some of Peter Jackson's early work minus the splatter. It has that kind of energy. Like a lot of first movies, it doesn't all work but certainly announces a talent. It's easy to see how this movie led to Hopkins getting his next feature, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
3. Predator 2 (1990)
Predator that moves the action from the South American jungle to the streets of a futuristic (by which I mean "1997") Los Angeles. Danny Glover leads a squad of cops in a pretty racist drug war that's interrupted by a visitor from outer space who's come to Earth to hunt for sport. Hopkins brings a workmanlike efficiency to his sweaty sequel, complete with decent world-building and clean action. There's less an emphasis on music video visuals here, suggesting Hopkins could have had a long career as heir apparent to filmmakers like McTiernan or Walter Hill.
4. Judgment Night (1993)
5. Blown Away (1994)
Speed, but it's not without merit. Bridges is good as always; Jones maybe less so, but it doesn't help matters that he had to loop his entire performance twice when test audiences struggled to understand his accent. The craft on display is really first rate, with Hopkins digging into creating set piece after set piece and maximizing the suspense. It's a little on the nose at times -- U2 songs because Irish -- but I miss this kind of studio movie.
6. The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
7. Lost in Space (1998)
Titanic at the box office.
8. The Reaping (2007)