Cox has cited Luis Buñuel and Akira Kurosawa as influences, as well as the great Western film directors Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and John Ford. Cox also wrote a book on the history of the genre called 10,000 Ways to Die. While he once directed films for Universal Pictures, such as Repo Man and Walker, since the late 1980s, he has found himself on a self-described blacklist, and turned to producing independent films. Cox is an atheist and is decidedly left wing in his political views. Many of his films have an explicit anti-capitalist theme or message. He was originally set to direct Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but was replaced by Terry Gilliam due to creative differences with Hunter S. Thompson. By August 2009, Cox had announced completion of Repo Chick, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival the following month, but he remained ambivalent as to whether the film would ever be distributed to cinemas. His previous film, Searchers 2.0, was not released theatrically, and only appears on DVD in Japan and North America after a televised screening in the UK on the BBC.
Cox is a fan of the Japanese Godzilla films and appeared in a 1998 BBC documentary highlighting the series. He also narrated the documentary Bringing Godzilla Down to Size and wrote the Godzilla in Time comics for Dark Horse. He tried to direct an American Godzilla film at one point, but unsuccessfully submitted his outline to TriStar Pictures.
Cox began reading law as an undergraduate at Oxford University, but left to study Radio, Film and TV at Bristol University, graduating in 1977. Seeing difficulties in the British film scene at the time, Cox first went to Los Angeles to attend film school at UCLA in 1977. Here he produced his first film, Edge City/Sleep is for Sissies, a 40-minute surreal short about an artist struggling against society. After graduation, he formed Edge City Productions with two friends with the intention of producing low-budget feature films. Since that day Cox decided to dedicate his life for films.
Cox wrote a screenplay for Repo Man, which he hoped to produce for a budget of $70,000, and began seeking funding.
Michael Nesmith agreed to produce Repo Man, and convinced Universal Studios to back the project with a budget of over a million dollars. During the course of the film's production, management changed, and new management had far less faith in the project. The initial cinema release was limited to Chicago, followed by Los Angeles, and was short-lived.
After the success of the soundtrack album (notable for featuring many popular LA punk bands), there was enough interest in the film to earn a re-release in a single cinema in New York City, but only after becoming available on video and cable. Nevertheless, it ran for 18 months, and eventually earned $4,000,000.
Continuing his fascination with punk music, Cox's next film was an independent feature shot in London and Los Angeles, following the career and death of bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, initially titled Love Kills and later renamed Sid and Nancy. It was met warmly by critics and fans, though heavily criticised by some, including Pistols' frontman John Lydon, for its inaccuracies. The production of this film also sparked a relationship with Joe Strummer of the Clash, who would continue to collaborate with the director on his next two films.
Cox had long been interested in Nicaragua and the Sandinistas (both Repo Man and Edge City made references to Nicaragua and/or Latin American revolution), and visited in 1984. The following year, he hoped to shoot a concert film there featuring the Clash, the Pogues and Elvis Costello. When he could not get backing, he decided instead to write a film that they would all act in. The film became Straight to Hell. Collaborating with Dick Rude (who also co-starred beside Strummer, Sy Richardson and Courtney Love), he imagined the film as a spoof of the Spaghetti Western genre, filmed in Almería, Spain, where many classic Italian westerns were shot. Straight to Hell was widely panned critically, but successful in Japan and retains a cult following. On 1 June 2012, Cox wrote an article in The New York Times about his long-standing interest in spaghetti westerns.
Continuing his interest in Nicaragua, Cox took on a more overtly political project, with the intention of filming in Nicaragua. He asked Rudy Wurlitzer to pen the screenplay, which followed the life of William Walker, set against a back drop of anachronisms that drew parallels between the story and modern American intervention in the area. The $6,000,000 production was backed by Universal, but the completed film was too political and too violent for the studio's tastes, and the film went without promotion. When Walker failed to perform at the box office, it ended the director's involvement with Hollywood studios, and led to a period of several years in which Cox would not direct a single film. Despite this, Cox and some critics maintain that it is his best film.
Following the commercial failure of Walker, Alex Cox struggled to find feature work. Effectively blacklisted for working on a studio project during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, he finally got financial backing for a feature from investors in Japan, where his films had been successful on video. Cox had scouted locations in Mexico during the pre-production of Walker and decided he wanted to shoot a film there, with a local cast and crew, in Spanish. Producer Lorenzo O'Brien penned the script. Inspired by the style of Mexican directors including Arturo Ripstein, he shot most of the film in plano secuencia; long, continuous takes shot with a hand-held camera. El Patrullero was completed and released in 1991, but struggled to find its way into cinemas.
Shortly after this, Cox was invited to adapt a Jorge Luis Borges story of his choice for the BBC. He chose Death and the Compass. Despite being a British production and an English language film, he convinced his producers to let him shoot in Mexico City. This film, like his previous Mexican production, made extensive use of long-takes. The completed 55-minute film aired on the BBC in 1992.
Cox had hoped to expand this into a feature-length film, but the BBC was uninterested. Japanese investors gave him $100,000 to expand the film in 1993, but the production ran over-budget, allowing no funds for post-production. To secure funds, Cox directed a "work for hire" project called The Winner. The film was edited extensively without Cox's knowledge, and he had his name removed from the credits as a result, but the money was enough for Cox to fund the completion of Death and the Compass. The finished, 82-minute feature received a limited cinema release in the US, where the TV version had not aired, in 1996.
In 1996, producer Stephen Nemeth employed Alex Cox to write and direct an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. After creative disagreements with the producer and Thompson, he was sacked from the project, and his script rewritten when Terry Gilliam took over the film. (Cox later sued successfully for a writing credit, as it was ruled that there were enough similarities between the drafts to suggest that Gilliam's was derivative of Cox's. Gilliam countered that both screenplays were based directly on the source book, and any similarities between the two screenplays were a direct consequence of this.)
In 1997, Alex Cox made a deal with Dutch producer Wim Kayzer to produce another dual TV/feature production. Three Businessmen. Initially, Cox had hoped to shoot in Mexico, but later decided to set his story in Liverpool, Rotterdam, Tokyo and Almería. The story follows businessmen in Liverpool who leave their hotel in search of food and slowly drift further from their starting point, all the while believing they are still in Liverpool. The film was completed for a small budget of $250,000, and did not receive a cinema release in America. Following this, Cox moved back to Liverpool and became interested in creating films there.
Cox had long been interested in the Jacobean play, The Revenger's Tragedy, and upon moving back to Britain, decided to pursue adapting it to a film. Collaborating with fellow Liverpudlian screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, the story was recast in the near future, following an unseen war. This adaptation, titled Revengers Tragedy, consisted primarily of the original play's dialogue, with some additional bits written in a more modern tone. The film is also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Chumbawamba.
Following this, Cox directed a short film set in Liverpool for the BBC called I'm a Juvenile Delinquent - Jail Me!. The 30-minute film satirised reality television as well as the high volume of petty crime in Liverpool which, according to Cox, is largely recreational.
In 2006, Alex Cox tried to get funding for a series of eight very low budget features set in Liverpool and produced by local talent. The project was not completed, but the director grew interested in pursuing the idea of a film made for less than £100,000. He had originally hoped to shoot Repo Man on a comparable budget, and hoped that the lower overhead would mean greater creative freedom.
Searchers 2.0—named for, but in no way based on The Searchers— became Cox's first film for which he has sole writing credit since Repo Man, and marked his return to the comedy genre. A road movie and a revenge story, it tells of two actors, loosely based on and played by Del Zamora and Ed Pansullo, who travel from Los Angeles to a desert film screening in Monument Valley in the hopes of avenging abuse inflicted on them by a cruel screenwriter, Fritz Frobisher (Sy Richardson). It was scored by longtime collaborator Dan Wool aka Pray for Rain (Sid & Nancy, Straight to Hell, Death & the Compass, The Winner, Three Businessmen, Repo Chick among others). Although the film was unable to achieve a cinema release in America or Europe, Cox claimed the experience of making a film with a smaller crew and less restrictions was energising. It is available on DVD in Japan, and was released in October 2010 in North America.
Alex Cox had attempted to get a Repo Man sequel, titled Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday, produced in the mid-'90s, but the project fell apart, with the script adapted into a graphic novel of the same name. For his next micro-feature, he wrote a fresh attempt at a Repo follow-up, although it contained no recurring characters, so as to preserve Universal's rights to the original. Repo Chick was filmed entirely against a green screen, with backgrounds of digital composites, live action shots, and miniatures matted in afterwards, to produce an artificial look. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival on 9 September 2009.
As of July 2012, Cox was teaching film production and screenwriting at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In 2013 Cox directed Bill, the Galactic Hero, developed from a science fiction book by Harry Harrison. It was funded by a successfulKickstarter funding campaign, raising $114,957 of the original $100,000 goal. The movie was to be filmed, created and acted by his film students in monochrome with supervision from professional film makers who would be giving their time on the film for free.
Cox’s 2013 book The President and the Provocateur examines events in the lives of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald leading up to Kennedy’s assassination, with reference to the various conspiracy theories.
In a March 2007 blog post, Cox referred to Vice President Dick Cheney as "secret architect of the 9-11 atrocities." In the same article, Cox called the September 11 attacks "Plan Pearl Harbor," referring to the false flag conspiracy theory surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor.Sleep is for Sissies (1980)
Repo Man (1984)
Sid & Nancy (1986)
Straight to Hell (1987)
El Patrullero (Highway Patrolman) (1991)
Death and the Compass (1992)
The Winner (1996)
Three Businessmen (1998)
Revengers Tragedy (2002)
Searchers 2.0 (2007)
Repo Chick (2009)
Bill the Galactic Hero (2014)
Tombstone Rashomon (2016)
Kurosawa: The Last Emperor (1999)
Emmanuelle: A Hard Look (2000)
Bringing Godzilla Down to Size (2007) - narrator
Moviedrome (as presenter) (1987 to 1994)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters - BBC, contributor
In His Life: The John Lennon Story as Bruno Koschmider
Mike Hama Must Die! (2002)
I'm a Juvenile Delinquent – Jail Me! (2003)
10,000 Ways to Die (2008)
X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker (2008)
Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday (2008)
Three Dead Princes (Illustrator) (2010)
The President and the Provocateur: The Parallel Lives of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald (2013)
Alex Cox's Introduction to Film: A Director's Perspective (2016)