The Great Directors of Cinema

This list will be specific to directors who produced a consistent quality through their filmography. If they have since lost their way, their names have been or will be removed. If one of the people on this list directs 3 lackluster or uninspired films in a row, they will be removed. To be re-added, they must direct at least 2 great films back-to-back. This list will be updated every few years to be narrowed and expanded, as necessary. The list in is order of the year they released their first feature.
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1.
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 Eileen Hitchcock (born 1892)...
“ The father of modern cinema. The rest of Hollywood took up until the last twenty years to catch up to him. Sadly, now they just try and re-create his work again and again. Today, the 'Thriller' genre is mostly, nothing more than Hitchcock's original ideas, told through the eyes of different writers and directors. ” - themissingpatient
 
2.
Billy Wilder
The second of two sons, his father ran a chain of railway station cafes. As a youth he was obsessed with everything American. encouraged by his mother he enrolled as a law student at the University of Vienna but quit after 3 months to be a writer on a magazine which although poorly paid it gave him a great amount of experience interviewing such as Richard Strauss and Sigmund Freud...
 
3.
Akira Kurosawa
Writer, Yojimbo
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 Sanshiro Sugata. Within a few years, Kurosawa had achieved sufficient stature to allow him greater creative freedom...
 
4.
Ingmar Bergman
Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July fourteenth, 1918, the son of a priest. The film and T.V. series, The Best Intentions is biographical and shows the early marriage of his parents. The film 'Söndagsbarn' depicts a bicycle journey with his father. In the miniseries Private Confessions is the trilogy closed. Here...
 
5.
Stanley Kubrick
Director, The Shining
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 produce better academic performance...
“ Kubrick broke all the rules of early cinema, inspiring an entire generation of film director's to follow in his footsteps. In his career, he explore and mastered every genre. He was the first director to move the camera in unique ways that did not take away, but instead, actually added to the story he was trying to tell. Take a look at how different 'Dr. Strangelove' was not only for it's time but also compared to Kubrick's other films, especially 'Eyes Wide Shut.' He knew what was funny and how to make audiences laugh. He knew how to push the boundaries of cinema as he did with '2001: A Space Odyssey' & 'A Clockwork Orange.' He knew how to scare us as he proved with 'The Shining.' But most of all he knew how to force his audience into thinking for themselves and having their own opinions and views on his work and the subjects presented in the stories he told. No one should ever dare deny what this one man did for cinema. ” - themissingpatient
 
6.
Sidney Lumet
Director, 12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet was a master of cinema, best known for his technical knowledge and his skill at getting first-rate performances from his actors -- and for shooting most of his films in his beloved New York. He made over 40 movies, often complex and emotional, but seldom overly sentimental. Although his politics were somewhat left-leaning and he often treated socially relevant themes in his films...
 
7.
Andrei Tarkovsky
Writer, Solaris
The most famous Soviet film-maker since Sergei M. Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky (the son of noted poet Arseniy Tarkovsky) studied music and Arabic in Moscow before enrolling in the Soviet film school V.G.I.K. He shot to international attention with his first feature, Ivan's Childhood, which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival...
 
8.
Roman Polanski
Director, The Pianist
Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international filmmakers. Roman Polanski was born in Paris in 1933. His parents returned to Poland from France in 1936, three years before World War II began...
 
9.
Milos Forman
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 Buchenwald and his mother died in Auschwitz...
 
10.
Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese directed landmark films such as the crime film Mean Streets (1973), the vigilante-thriller Taxi Driver (1976), the biographical sports drama Raging Bull (1980), the black comedy The King of Comedy (1983), and the crime films Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), all of which he collaborated on with actor and close friend Robert De Niro...
“ I'm not a fan of all of Scorsese's work, yet the work that he has done through-out the years, from Taxi Driver to The Departed and Hugo, he has proved himself time and time again to be one of the most powerful filmmakers alive. ” - themissingpatient
 
11.
Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick was born in Ottawa, Illinois. His family subsequently lived in Oklahoma and he went to school in Austin, Texas. He did his undergraduate work at Harvard, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in philosophy in 1965. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society, he attended Magdalen College...
“ Terrence Malick direction of films is comparable to how a poet writes a poem. Everything is on a grand-scale, his pictures larger than life with some of the most beautiful images ever captured by any other director working in narrative feature films. While To The Wonder and Knight Of Cups have split critics as to whether his films are pretentious or brilliant, his work is still provoking. ” - themissingpatient
 
12.
Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota near Medicine Lake. When he was 12 his family moved to Los Angeles where he became a fan of Mad magazine. In his early 20's he was often stopped by the police who often suspected him of being a drug addict and Gilliam had to explain that he worked in advertisement...
“ An artist on an entirely whole other level. He is able to shift between serious, intense dramatic scenes driven by characters being played by great actors to shocking and borderline offensive scenes of morbidly dark humor seamlessly. While his early films included a Python-esque feel, with The Fisher King Gilliam proved he could tell a straight story and was damn good at it too. ” - themissingpatient
 
13.
David Lynch
Born in 1946 in Missoula, Montana, David Lynch was raised in small-town America. After high school, he went to Boston to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Shortly after that, he planned a three-year trip to Europe to work on his art, but didn't take to it and left after 15 days. In 1977...
“ Lynch tells two very different types of films; there is the straight stories and there are his abstract dream-like works. Lynch is the true meaning of what it is to be an artist. His early works especially, are like moving paintings that tell a story - what that story is, is up to you to define. If you watch (what I refer to as a trilogy), 'Lost Highway,' 'Mulholland Drive' and 'Inland Empire,' you will see a method of story-telling that is completely like no other. It forces us to not only use our own imagination but also rely on our intuition to make sense of all that we see, hear and feel. It's not for all types of audiences, yet you can not say he hasn't already proven that he can tell a straight story, for example: 'The Elephant Man,' 'Blue Velvet' and (perfectly titled) 'The Straight Story.' ” - themissingpatient
 
14.
Wes Craven
Director, Scream
Wes Craven has become synonymous with genre bending and innovative horror, challenging audiences with his bold vision. Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Caroline (Miller) and Paul Eugene Craven. He had a midwestern suburban upbringing. His first feature film was The Last House on the Left, which he wrote...
“ Wes Craven, the master of suspense! The creator of the fantasy-horror genre, with A Nightmare on Elm St. and the unforgettable, over-looked masterpiece, Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Though he has made some errors balancing horror and comedy in his films, you still can not argue that as far as directors go, he is the master of suspense. Take 'Red Eye' for example, it's two people sitting on a plane together and yet we, as an audience, can't take our eyes off the screen, sitting on the edges of our seats. ” - themissingpatient
 
15.
Steven Spielberg
Undoubtedly one of the most influential film personalities in the history of film, Steven Spielberg is perhaps Hollywood's best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. Spielberg has countless big-grossing, critically acclaimed credits to his name, as producer, director and writer...
 
16.
Jim Jarmusch
Moved to New York City at the age of seventeen from Akron, Ohio. Graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in English, class of '75. Without any prior film experience, he was accepted into the Tisch School of the Arts, New York.
 
17.
Sam Raimi
Writer, Spider-Man 3
Highly inventive U.S. film director/producer/writer/actor Sam Raimi first came to the attention of film fans with the savage, yet darkly humorous, low-budget horror film, The Evil Dead. From his childhood, Raimi was a fan of the cinema and, before he was ten-years-old, he was out making movies with an 8mm camera...
“ Nobody quite moves a camera like Raimi! His style works both seriously intense (A Simple Plan, The Gift) to comedic horror (Army of Darkness, Drag Me to Hell), which he is one of few, who can balance the horror and comedy, while keeping our interests in the characters. ” - themissingpatient
 
18.
Lars von Trier
Writer, Melancholia
Probably the most ambitious and visually distinctive filmmaker to emerge from Denmark since Carl Theodor Dreyer over 60 years earlier, Lars von Trier studied film at the Danish Film School and attracted international attention with his very first feature, The Element of Crime. A highly distinctive blend of film noir and German Expressionism with stylistic nods to Dreyer...
“ "I am the greatest filmmaker in the world." - Funny enough, if we are talking only about living filmmakers, he is one of them. Dancer in the Dark has to be the most effectively heart-breaking stories ever told. Antichrist, despite it's un-simulated sex, proved to be the most emotionally intelligent written thrillers ever put to screen. ” - themissingpatient
 
19.
Luc Besson
Luc Besson spent the first years of his life following his parents, scuba diving instructors, around the world. His early life was entirely aquatic. He already showed amazing creativity as a youth, writing early drafts of The Big Blue and The Fifth Element, as an adolescent bored in school. He...
 
20.
“ The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, tell stories in such a way, it borderline's on extreme excellence. They are aware of their power over film and yet their films are far from shallow or misleading. ” - themissingpatient
 
21.
“ Never really thought much of Gus Van Sant, I enjoyed his films on a minimal level until I saw his re-make of 'Psycho' which I thought he, and Vince Vaughn, should have been burned alive for their parts in attempting to re-create a Hitchcock classic. Then along came 'Elephant' and 'Paranoid Park' which are the kinds of films I would like to create myself. ” - themissingpatient
 
23.
Richard Linklater
Director, Before Sunset
Self-taught writer-director Richard Stuart Linklater was born in Houston, Texas, to Diane Margaret (Krieger), who taught at a university, and Charles W. Linklater III. Richard was among the first and most successful talents to emerge during the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s. Typically setting each of his movies during one 24-hour period...
 
24.
Quentin Tarantino
Writer, Pulp Fiction
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 1992...
“ The best screenwriter in Hollywood? Dialogue, yes. Tarantino's stories, on the other hand, have proven only worthy of adaption by two directors working today; himself and Robert Rodriquez. His stories take place in world's he creates and no matter how over-the-top they may be or get, Tarantino and Rodriquez know how to make the material fun, no matter how dark things get. There is a wonderful sense of "anything goes" and the films are like rides, never quite sure what might come next! ” - themissingpatient
 
25.
David Fincher
Director, Fight Club
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 and music videos after signing with N...
“ First director to balance out storytelling and music video-like editing. Brought out a unique sense for style, especially in Se7en and Fight Club. ” - themissingpatient
 
26.
Robert Rodriguez
Producer, Grindhouse
Robert Anthony Rodriguez was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, USA, to Rebecca (Villegas), a nurse, and Cecilio G. Rodríguez, a salesman. His family is of Mexican descent. Of all the people to be amazed by the images of John Carpenter's 1981 sci-fi parable, Escape from New York, none were as captivated as the 12-year-old Rodriguez...
“ The guy who makes bad movies good. He bridged the gap between comic worlds and film worlds with Sin City. Then he showed us (who went) how to make going to the movies fun again with Grindhouse. The screenplay for Planet Terror matches the wit and genius only ever achieved in film, comically, by Monty Python. ” - themissingpatient
 
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“ Like Wes Craven, Danny Boyle is a master, able to make almost anything seem as exciting and exhilarating as a rock concert. Literally, his films should be watched with friends and the volume as loud as possible, you just might wanna get up and dance. ” - themissingpatient
 
29.
“ If Sam Raimi and Danny Bolye's directing talents were fused together to create a super-director, it would be Edgar Wright. Not only that but with Scott Pilgrim vs The World, he has proven to be a worthy user of big special effects without it over-shadowing the characters or offending it's audience's intelligence. ” - themissingpatient
 
30.
Noah Baumbach
Writer, Greenberg
Born in Brooklyn in 1969 Noah Baumbach is the son of two film critics, Georgia Brown and Jonathan Baumbach (also a writer). His studies at Vassar College were the subject of his first film (made as he was 26 years old), Kicking and Screaming. His second major picture, made ten years later, The Squid and the Whale was no less autobiographical but went back further in his personal history...
 
31.
Wes Anderson
Wesley Wales Anderson was born in Houston, Texas. His mother, Texas Ann (Burroughs), is an archaeologist turned real estate agent, and his father, Melver Leonard Anderson, worked in advertising and PR. He has two brothers, Eric and Mel. Anderson's parents divorced when he was a young child, an event that he described as the most crucial event of his brothers and his growing up...
“ Dry, dramatic comedies had never been successful outside of showings at festivals. Then along came Rushmore. Wes Anderson forces dramatic themes into the world of intriguingly bizarre, broken and unforgettable characters. The wit from his characters is unmatched. ” - themissingpatient
 
32.
Paul Thomas Anderson
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 8 mm films, Anderson cut his teeth shooting films on video and editing them from V.C.R. to V.C.R...
 
33.
Thomas Vinterberg
Director, The Hunt
With Last Round (Last Round), his graduation short from The National Film School of Denmark, he got an early taste of critical success. He received the Jury's and Producers' Awards at the International Student Film Fest in Munich and won the 1st Prize at the Tel Aviv Film Fest. Popular success followed with his breakthrough short fiction film...
 
34.
Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky was born February 12, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up, Darren was always artistic: he loved classic movies and, as a teenager, he even spent time doing graffiti art. After high school, Darren went to Harvard University to study film (both live-action and animation). He won several film awards after completing his senior thesis film...
 
35.
Christopher Nolan
Best known for his cerebral, often nonlinear story-telling, acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan was born on July 30, 1970 in London, England. Over the course of 15 years of film-making, Nolan has gone from low-budget independent films to working on some of the biggest blockbusters ever made...
“ Memento will always be one of my top 10 favorite films. Unfortunately, as his films become more elaborate and fast-paced, the heart of the film, what makes the audience care for the characters, is getting lost. In 'Memento' and 'Insomnia' he really makes us care for the antagonist, even if they are guilty of something. While in 'The Prestige' and 'Inception' did we really care who lived or died? No, we were too busy trying not to get lost in the elaborate plot. ” - themissingpatient
 
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38.
Spike Jonze
Producer, Her
Spike Jonze made up one-third (along with Andy Jenkins and Mark Lewman) of the triumvirate of genius minds behind Dirt Magazine, the brother publication of the much lamented ground-breaking Sassy Magazine. These three uncommon characters were all editors for Grand Royal Magazine as well, under...
“ Brings out the inner-child of his audience, especially with Where The Wild Things Are. A great sense of humor and fun, no matter how dark the story may turn. ” - themissingpatient
 
39.
Sam Mendes
Samuel Alexander Mendes was born on August 1, 1965 in Reading, England, UK to parents James Peter Mendes, a retired university lecturer, and Valerie Helene Mendes, an author who writes children's books. Their marriage didn't last long, James divorced Sam's mother in 1970 when Sam was just 5-years-old...
 
40.
“ Alexandre Aja was the first director since Wes Craven to successfully push the limits of horror films. Unfortunately it helped bring to life a new sub-genre referred to as "torture porn." Aja has risen above this with his psychological thriller, Mirrors, and his laugh-out-loud comical gore-fest, Piranha. ” - themissingpatient
 
41.
Sofia Coppola
Writer, Somewhere
Sofia Coppola was born on May 14, 1971 in New York City, New York, USA as Sofia Carmina Coppola. She is a director, known for Somewhere, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. She has been married to Thomas Mars since August 27, 2011. They have two children. She was previously married to Spike Jonze.
 
42.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Producer, The Revenant
His six feature films-Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006) (comprising the "Death Trilogy"), Biutiful (2010), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), and The Revenant (2015)-have garnered critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including Academy Award nominations and wins...
“ Powerful. His films are like his canvas, his characters; his brushes and he paints not with colors, but with raw human emotion. Alejandro González Iñárritu's films are enlightening to say the least. ” - themissingpatient
 
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45.
Michel Gondry
He grew up in Versailles with a family who was very influenced by pop music. When he was young, Gondry wanted to be a painter or an inventor. In the 80s he entered in an art school in Paris where he could develop his graphic skills and where he also met friends with whom he created a pop-rock band called Oui-Oui...
“ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is still ahead of it's time. The Science of Sleep is wonderfully unique, Gondry weaves child-like love stories that can be both fun to watch and heart-breaking. There are very few directors who are able to translate dream logic to film. Gondry is one of them. ” - themissingpatient