35 Greatest Directors of All-Time

by gene-75 | created - 18 Jul 2016 | updated - 03 Nov 2017 | Public

While not every movie they make are great, you will likely see elements of greatness in all of their films.

1. Orson Welles

Actor | Citizen Kane

His father was a well-to-do inventor, his mother a beautiful concert pianist; Orson Welles was gifted in many arts (magic, piano, painting) as a child. When his mother died (he was nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr....

Great Film: Citizen Kane, The Third Man (likely contributions)

Other excellent films: The Magnificent Ambersons, The Stranger, The Lady from Shanghai, Confidential Report, Touch of Evil, The Trial, F for Fake

2. Stanley Kubrick

Director | 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick was born in Manhattan, New York City, to Sadie Gertrude (Perveler) and Jacob Leonard Kubrick, a physician. His family were Jewish immigrants (from Austria, Romania, and Russia). Stanley was considered intelligent, despite poor grades at school. Hoping that a change of scenery would ...

Great films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus

Other excellent films: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket

3. Woody Allen

Writer | Manhattan

Woody Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg on December 1, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, to Nettie (Cherrie), a bookkeeper, and Martin Konigsberg, a waiter and jewellery engraver. His father was of Russian Jewish descent, and his maternal grandparents were Austrian Jewish immigrants. As a young boy...

Great films: Manhattan Murder Mystery, Annie Hall, Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Midnight in Paris

Other excellent films: Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadows and Fog, Mighty Aphrodite, Blue Jasmine

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Director | Psycho

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He was the son of Emma Jane (Whelan; 1863 - 1942) and East End greengrocer William Hitchcock (1862 - 1914). His parents were both of half English and half Irish ancestry. He had two older siblings, William Hitchcock (born 1890) and ...

Great films: Psycho, Strangers on a Train

Other excellent films: The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, Notorious, Rope, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Frenzy

5. Francis Ford Coppola

Producer | Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola was born in 1939 in Detroit, Michigan, but grew up in a New York suburb in a creative, supportive Italian-American family. His father, Carmine Coppola, was a composer and musician. His mother, Italia Coppola (née Pennino), had been an actress. Francis Ford Coppola graduated ...

Great films: The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II

Other excellent films: The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather: Part III

6. Sergio Leone

Writer | Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone was virtually born into the cinema - he was the son of Roberto Roberti (A.K.A. Vincenzo Leone), one of Italy's cinema pioneers, and actress Bice Valerian. Leone entered films in his late teens, working as an assistant director to both Italian directors and U.S. directors working in ...

Great films: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, For a Few Dollars More, A Fistful of Dollars

Other excellent films: Once Upon a Time in America

7. Steven Spielberg

Producer | Schindler's List

One of the most influential personalities in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg is Hollywood's best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. He has an extraordinary number of commercially successful and critically acclaimed credits to his name, either as a director, ...

Great films: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Color Purple, Schindler's List

Other excellent films: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jurassic Park

8. Joel Coen

Producer | The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Joel Coen was born on November 29, 1954 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA as Joel Daniel Coen. He is a producer and writer, known for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), Fargo (1996) and A Serious Man (2009). He has been married to Frances McDormand since April 1, 1984. They have one child.

Great films: The Big Lebowski, Fargo, True Grit, No Country for Old Men

Other excellent films: Burn After Reading, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

9. David Lynch

Writer | Twin Peaks

Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films, David Lynch spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married Peggy Lynch and then fathered future ...

Great films: The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks (TV)

Other excellent films: Mulholland Drive

10. Frank Capra

Director | It's a Wonderful Life

One of seven children, Frank Capra was born on May 18, 1897, in Bisacquino, Sicily. On May 10, 1903, his family left for America aboard the ship Germania, arriving in New York on May 23rd. "There's no ventilation, and it stinks like hell. They're all miserable. It's the most degrading place you ...

Great films: It's a Wonderful Life, Arsenic and Old Lace, Lost Horizon

Other excellent films: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

11. Akira Kurosawa

Writer | Ran

After training as a painter (he storyboards his films as full-scale paintings), Kurosawa entered the film industry in 1936 as an assistant director, eventually making his directorial debut with Sugata Sanshirô (1943). Within a few years, Kurosawa had achieved sufficient stature to allow him ...

Great films: Rashomon, Seven Samurai, High and Low

Other excellent films: Yojimbo, Sanjuro

12. Quentin Tarantino

Writer | Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Jerome Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. His father, Tony Tarantino, is an Italian-American actor and musician from New York, and his mother, Connie (McHugh), is a nurse from Tennessee. Quentin moved with his mother to Torrance, California, when he was four years old.

In January of...

Great films: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill (Vol 1. & 2.)

Other excellent films: The Hateful Eight, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown

13. Christopher Nolan

Writer | Dunkirk

Best known for his cerebral, often nonlinear, storytelling, acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan was born on July 30, 1970 in London, England. Over the course of 15 years of filmmaking, Nolan has gone from low-budget independent films to working on some of the biggest blockbusters ever made.

...

Great films: The Prestige, Memento

Other excellent films: The Dark Knight

14. Robert Zemeckis

Writer | Back to the Future

A whiz-kid with special effects, Robert is from the Spielberg camp of film-making (Steven Spielberg produced many of his films). Usually working with writing partner Bob Gale, Robert's earlier films show he has a talent for zany comedy (Romancing the Stone (1984), 1941 (1979)) and special effect ...

Great films: Contact, Forrest Gump

15. Yôji Yamada

Writer | Tasogare Seibei

Yamada Yoji graduated Tokyo University in 1954, the year he joined Shochiku as an assistant director. In 1969, he launched the popular "Tora-san" series, the world's longest theatrical film series. "The Twilight Samurai" (Tasogare Seibei (2002)) marks his 77th film as well as his 41th year as a ...

Great films: The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade

16. Barry Levinson

Director | Rain Man

Barry Levinson was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Violet (Krichinsky) and Irvin Levinson, who worked in furniture and appliance. He is of Russian Jewish descent. Levinson graduated from high school in 1960, attended college at American University in Washington, DC. He did well, but decided he ...

Great films: The Natural, Rain Man

Other excellent films: Young Sherlock Holmes

17. John Frankenheimer

Director | The Manchurian Candidate

Born in New York and raised in Queens, John Frankenheimer wanted to become a professional tennis player. He loved movies and his favorite actor was Robert Mitchum. He decided he wanted to be an actor but then he applied for and was accepted in the Motion Picture Squadron of the Air Force where he ...

Great films: Seconds, The Manchurian Candidate

Other excellent films: Ronin

18. Federico Fellini

Writer | Amarcord

The women who both attracted and frightened him and an Italy dominated in his youth by Mussolini and Pope Pius XII - inspired the dreams that Fellini started recording in notebooks in the 1960s. Life and dreams were raw material for his films. His native Rimini and characters like Saraghina (the ...

Great films: 8½

Other excellent films: La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita

19. Ingmar Bergman

Writer | Smultronstället

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July 14, 1918, the son of a priest. The film and T.V. series, Den goda viljan (1992) is biographical and shows the early marriage of his parents. The film 'Söndagsbarn' depicts a bicycle journey with his father. In the miniseries Enskilda samtal (1996) is the trilogy ...

Great films: Wild Strawberries

Other excellent films: The Seventh Seal

20. John Huston

Director | The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

An eccentric rebel of epic proportions, this Hollywood titan reigned supreme as director, screenwriter and character actor in a career that endured over five decades. The ten-time Oscar-nominated legend was born John Marcellus Huston in Nevada, Missouri, on August 5, 1906. His ancestry was English,...

Great films: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Other excellent films: The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Asphalt Jungle

21. Fritz Lang

Actor | Le mépris

Fritz Lang was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1890. His father managed a construction company. His mother, Pauline Schlesinger, was Jewish but converted to Catholicism when Lang was ten. After high school, he enrolled briefly at the Technische Hochschule Wien and then started to train as a painter. ...

Great films: M

Other excellent films: Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge, Metropolis, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat

22. Frank Darabont

Writer | The Walking Dead

Three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont was born in a refugee camp in 1959 in Montbeliard, France, the son of Hungarian parents who had fled Budapest during the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution. Brought to America as an infant, he settled with his family in Los Angeles and attended Hollywood High ...

Great films: The Shawshank Redemption

Other excellent films: The Green Mile

23. Carol Reed

Director | The Third Man

Carol Reed was the second son of stage actor, dramatics teacher and impresario founder of the Royal School of Dramatic Arts Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Reed was one of Tree's six illegitimate children with Beatrice Mae Pinney, who Tree established in a second household apart from his married life. ...

Great films: The Third Man

24. Martin Scorsese

Director | Taxi Driver

Martin Charles Scorsese was born on November 17, 1942 in Queens, New York City, to Catherine Scorsese (née Cappa) and Charles Scorsese, who both worked in Manhattan's garment district, and whose families both came from Palermo, Sicily. He was raised in the neighborhood of Little Italy, which later ...

Great films: The Departed

Other excellent films: Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island

25. David Fincher

Director | Se7en

David Fincher was born in 1962 in Denver, Colorado, and was raised in Marin County, California. When he was 18 years old he went to work for John Korty at Korty Films in Mill Valley. He subsequently worked at ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) from 1981-1983. Fincher left ILM to direct TV commercials...

Great films: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Other excellent films: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, Gone Girl

26. Rob Reiner

Actor | All in the Family

Robert Reiner was born in New York City, to Estelle Reiner (née Lebost) and Emmy-winning actor, comedian, writer, and producer Carl Reiner.

As a child, he often looked up to his father as his inspiration and role-model. Carl Reiner was on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which he created and also starred in....

Great films: Stand By Me, The Princess Bride

Other excellent films: Misery

27. Clint Eastwood

Actor | Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood was born May 31, 1930 in San Francisco, the son of Clinton Eastwood Sr., a manufacturing executive for Georgia-Pacific Corporation, and Ruth Wood, a housewife turned IBM operator. He had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in nearby Piedmont. At school Clint took interest in music...

Great films: Unforgiven

Other excellent films: Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino

28. Milos Forman

Director | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Milos Forman was born Jan Tomas Forman in Caslav, Czechoslovakia, to Anna (Svabova), who ran a summer hotel, and Rudolf Forman, a professor. During World War II, his parents were taken away by the Nazis, after being accused of participating in the underground resistance. His father died in ...

Great films: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Other excellent films: Amadeus

29. Michael Mann

Producer | The Insider

A student of London's International Film School, Michael Mann began his career in the late 70s, writing for TV shows like Starsky and Hutch (1975). He directed his first film, the award-winning prison drama The Jericho Mile (1979), in 1979. He followed that in 1981 with his first theatrical release,...

Great films: Heat

Other excellent films: The Insider

30. Elia Kazan

Director | On the Waterfront

Known for his creative stage direction, Elia Kazan was born Elias Kazantzoglou on September 7, 1909 in Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (now Istanbul, Turkey). Noted for drawing out the best dramatic performances from his actors, he directed 21 actors to Oscar nominations, resulting in nine wins. He ...

Great films: On the Waterfront

Other excellent films: A Streetcar Named Desire

31. Stanley Donen

Director | Charade

Since he was a child, Stanley Donen attended dance classes and debuted on Broadway at age 17. With the help of the producer Arthur Freed and the actor Gene Kelly he got the chance to direct the musicals On the Town (1949), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and Love Is Better Than Ever (1952) which ...

Great films: Charade

Other excellent films: Singin' in the Rain

32. Jon Favreau

Producer | Chef

Initially an indie film favorite, actor Jon Favreau has progressed to strong mainstream visibility into the millennium and, after nearly two decades in the business, is still enjoying character stardom as well as earning notice as a writer/producer/director.

The amiable, husky-framed actor with the ...

Great films: Elf

Other excellent films: Iron Man

33. John Sturges

Director | The Great Escape

John Sturges was born on January 3, 1910 in Oak Park, Illinois, USA as John Elliott Sturges. He was a director and producer, known for The Great Escape (1963), The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). He was married to Katherine Helena Soules and Dorothy Lynn Brooks. He ...

Great films: The Great Escape

Other excellent films: The Magnificent Seven

34. Guy Ritchie

Director | Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK on September 10, 1968. After watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) as a child, Guy realized that what he wanted to do was make films. He never attended film school, saying that the work of film school graduates was boring and ...

Great films: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Other excellent films: Snatch

35. Paul Thomas Anderson

Director | Punch-Drunk Love

Anderson was born in 1970. He was one of the first of the "video store" generation of film-makers. His father was the first man on his block to own a V.C.R., and from a very early age Anderson had an infinite number of titles available to him. While film-makers like Spielberg cut their teeth making...

Great films: Magnolia

Other excellent films: Punch-Drunk Love



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