An advertising gofer-turned-writer and director, Alan Parker began his film career through his association with producer David Puttnam, another ad man with cinematic aspirations, who hired Parker to write the screenplay for the preteen romance Melody (1971). After a stint directing television commercials and short films for the BBC, Parker made his first movie, Bugsy Malone, in 1976. He joined the front ranks of young filmmakers two years later with the fact-based thriller Midnight Express, a brilliant and brutal retelling of the experiences of a young American who escaped from a Turkish prison where he had been incarcerated for drug possession. Both an exposé of government corruption and an indictment of American pomposity, it earned lavish acclaim and a number of honors, including a Best Director Oscar nomination for Parker.
The director followed this success with the megahit Fame in 1980. A box-office smash, it spawned a long-running TV series and became a fixture in the American pop-culture lexicon. Parker's next movie, Shoot the Moon (1982), was a relative failure despite several superb performances, owing in part to its unpleasant subject matter, the agonizing breakup of a marriage. Later that same year, Parker rebounded with a spectacular achievement in a more difficult category of film with Pink Floyd: The Wall, an adaptation of a Pink Floyd concept album that received critical approval and attracted a substantial audience. Parker's next film, Birdy (1984), was similarly acclaimed. The tale of a Vietnam veteran who experiences flight fantasies, it won the Jury's Grand Prize award at the Cannes Film Festival. The director had his next major success with Mississippi Burning (1988). A recreation of the investigation of the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in the mid-'60s, it struck a responsive chord with the public and critics alike. Parker's 1991 movie, The Commitments, a blissful, beautifully structured adaptation of Roddy Doyle's novel of the same name, proved to be a genuine sleeper hit and earned a number of honors, including a Best Director BAFTA award for Parker.
After the disappointment of his next film, The Road to Wellville (1994), Parker was back two years later with Evita, a high-profile version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical. Starring Madonna in the title role of the beloved, controversial Argentinean first lady Eva Peron, the film received mixed critical notices, although it did prove popular with many audience members. Parker returned to Irish soil in 1999 to direct Angela's Ashes, an adaptation of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, it was one of the year's more highly anticipated films.
Four years passed before Parker returned with a new directorial effort, the longest gap of his career. The Life of David Gale was due to be released in time for Oscar consideration in 2002, but was bumped to early 2003 after the studio realized the inane death penalty thriller would surly disappear from theaters in the face of such stiff year-end box office competition. It opened to almost unanimously negative criticism.