Top 100 British Directors

Includes 2 Irish directors too. Also, at least 17 foreigners (9 Americans, 3 French, 2 Hungarians, one Brazilian, one German and one Polish) who worked in England and directed important british films.
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2.
Donald Crisp
Donald Crisp was born George William Crisp at the family home in Bow, London. Donald's parents were James Crisp and Elizabeth Crisp, his birth was registered by his mother on 4th September 1882. Donald's sisters were Elizabeth, Ann, Alice (known as Louisa) and Eliza and his brothers were James, John and Mark...
 
3.
Edmund Goulding
London-born Edmund Goulding was an actor/playwright/director on the London stage, and entered the British army when WWI broke out. Mustered out of the service because of wounds suffered in battle, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1921. He obtained assignments as a screenwriter in Hollywood, wrote a novel...
 
4.
Charles Chaplin
Writer, Modern Times
Charles Chaplin was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the silent era. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona "the Tramp" and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years...
 
5.
James Whale
Director, Frankenstein
James Whale, who grew up poor in an English mining town, learned to put on plays in a World War I German POW camp. Postwar theatre work took him to the London stage, then Broadway, then a contract with Paramount, as dialog director for Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels. He began his contribution to the horror film genre with his move to Universal...
 
6.
Alexander Korda
One of a large group of Hungarian refugees who found refuge in England in the 1930s, Sir Alexander Korda was the first British film producer to receive a knighthood. He was a major, if controversial, figure and acted as a guiding force behind the British film industry of the 1930s and continued to influence British films until his death in 1956...
“ A Hungarian director who worked mostly in the United Kingdom and made flims such as The Private Life of Henry VIII., The Private Life of Don Juan, Rembrandt, The Thief of Bagdad and That Hamilton Woman. ” - minalex
 
7.
“ An American director who has worked in United Kingdom and made Man of Aran. ” - minalex
 
8.
William Cameron Menzies
Director, Things to Come
William Cameron Menzies was educated at Yale University, the University of Edinburgh and at the Art Students League in New York. He entered the film industry in 1919, after serving with the U.S. Expeditionary Forces in World War I. His initial assignments were in film design and special effects, as assistant to Anton Grot at Famous Players-Lasky...
“ An American director who has worked in United Kingdom and made Things to Come. ” - minalex
 
9.
“ A French director who has worked in England and made Knight Without Armour. ” - minalex
 
10.
 
11.
Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard Stainer was born in London, to Lilian (Blumberg) and Ferdinand "Frank" Steiner. His father was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, and his English mother was of German Jewish, and mostly English, descent. Leslie went to Dulwich College. After school, he worked as a bank clerk until the outbreak of World War I...
 
12.
A. Edward Sutherland
British-born A. Edward ("Eddie") Sutherland started in vaudeville and acted in films from 1914 at Keystone (he was one of the original Keystone Kops). He became a director in 1925, first with Paramount (1925-31), then at United Artists (1931-32), again with Paramount (1933, 1935-37), then Universal (1940-41) and RKO (1942)...
 
13.
“ A German who has worked in England and was one of the directors of The Thief of Bagdad. ” - minalex
 
14.
“ An American who has worked mostly in England and was one of the directors of The Thief of Bagdad. ” - minalex
 
15.
Michael Powell
Director, The Red Shoes
The son of Thomas William Powell & Mabel (nee Corbett). Michael Powell was always a self confessed movie addict. He was brought up partly in Canterbury ("The Garden of England") and partly in the South of France (where his parents ran an hotel). Educated at Kings School, Canterbury & Dulwich College he first worked at the National Provincial Bank from 1922 - 1925...
 
16.
Emeric Pressburger
Educated at the Universities of Prague and Stuttgart, Emeric Pressburger worked as a journalist in Hungary and Germany and an author and scriptwriter in Berlin and Paris. He was a Hungarian Jew, chased around Europe (he worked on films for UFA in Berlin and Paris) before World War II, finally finding sanctuary in London--but as a scriptwriter who didn't speak English...
“ A Hungarian who worked mostly in the United Kingdom and along with Michael Powell directed One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. ” - minalex
 
17.
Laurence Olivier
Actor, Rebecca
Laurence Olivier could speak William Shakespeare's lines as naturally as if he were "actually thinking them", said English playwright Charles Bennett, who met Olivier in 1927. Laurence Kerr Olivier was born in Dorking, Surrey, England, to Agnes Louise (Crookenden) and Gerard Kerr Olivier, a High Anglican priest. His surname came from a great-great-grandfather who was of French Huguenot origin...
 
18.
Anthony Asquith
Director, Pygmalion
British film director Anthony Asquith was born on November 9, 1902, to H.H. Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his second wife. A former home secretary and the future leader of the Liberal Party, H.H. Asquith served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1908-1916 and was subsequently elevated to the hereditary peerage...
 
19.
Alberto Cavalcanti
Director, Dead of Night
Born in Brazil in 1897, Alberto Cavalcanti began his film career in France in 1920, working as writer, art director and director. He directed the avant-garde documentary Nothing But Time ("Nothing but Time"), a portrait of the lives of Parisian workers in a single day. He moved to England in 1933 to join the GPO Film Unit under John Grierson...
“ A Brazilian genius who started his career in Europe and was one of the directors of Dead of Night. ” - minalex
 
20.
Basil Dearden
Director, Dead of Night
A former stage director, Basil Dearden entered films as an assistant to director Basil Dean (he changed his name from Dear to avoid being confused with Dean). Dearden worked his way up the ladder and directed (with Will Hay) his first film in 1941; two years later he directed his first film on his own...
 
21.
Julien Duvivier
Director, Pépé le Moko
Revered by such legendary fellow directors as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier is one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and of world cinema in general. He is perhaps the most neglected of the "Big Five" of classic French cinema (the other four being Jean Renoir, Rene Clair...
“ A French director who has worked in England and made Anna Karenina. ” - minalex
 
22.
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. There were no social scars here; Reed grew up in a well-mannered...
 
23.
Robert Hamer
Robert James Hamer was born in 1911 along with his twin sister Barbara, the son of Owen Dyke Hamer, a bank clerk, and his wife, Annie Grace Brickell. He was educated at Cambridge University where he wrote some poetry and was published in a collection 'Contemporaries and Their Maker', along with the spy Donald Maclean...
 
24.
Jules Dassin
Director, Rififi
Jules Dassin was an Academy Award-nominated director, screenwriter and actor best known for his films Rififi, Never on Sunday, and Topkapi. He was born Julius Samuel Dassin on 18 December 1911, in Middletown, Connecticut, USA. He was one of eight children of Russian-Jewish immigrants...
“ An exiled American director who worked in England and made Night and the City. ” - minalex
 
25.
John Huston
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 included English...
“ An American director who made two Bitish films, including Moulin Rouge. ” - minalex
 
26.
Lewis Allen
Director, Suddenly
Born in England on Christmas Day, 1905, Lewis Allen first came on the show-biz scene when he was appointed executive in charge of West End and Broadway stage productions for famed impresario Gilbert Miller. Allen also co-directed some of the productions (including the celebrated "Victoria Regina" with...
 
27.
Charles Laughton
Actor, Spartacus
Charles Laughton was born on July 1, 1899 in Yorkshire, England. He was the son of Robert Laughton, a Yorkshire hotel keeper. His mother was a devout Roman Catholic of Irish ancestry. Laughton briefly attended Scarborough College, a local boys' school in his area before attending Stonyhurst College, an English Jesult school...
 
28.
 
29.
Alexander Mackendrick
One of the most distinguished (if frequently overlooked) directors ever to emerge from the British film industry, Alexander Mackendrick, was in fact born in the US (to Scottish parents), but grew up in his native Scotland, where he studied at the Glasgow School of Art. He started out as a commercial illustrator...
 
30.
Jacques Tourneur
Director, Out of the Past
Born in Paris in 1904, Tourneur went to Hollywood with his father, director Maurice Tourneur around 1913. He started out as a script clerk and editor for his father, then graduated to such jobs as directing shorts (often with the pseudonym Jack Turner), both in France and America. He was hired to run the second unit for David O. Selznick's A Tale of Two Cities...
“ The great French director has made 3 british films including Night of the Demon. ” - minalex
 
31.
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)...
 
32.
Roy Ward Baker
Roy Ward Baker's first job in films was as a teaboy at the Gainsborough Studios in London, England, but within three years he was working as an assistant director. During World War II, he worked in the Army Kinematograph Unit under Eric Ambler, a writer and film producer, who, after the war, gave Baker his first opportunity to direct a film...
 
33.
Terence Fisher
Terence Fisher was born in Maida Vale, England, in 1904. Raised by his grandmother in a strict Christian Scientist environment, Fisher left school while still in his teens to join the Merchant Marine. By his own account he soon discovered that a life at sea was not for him, so he left the service and tried his hand at a succession of jobs ashore...
 
34.
Jack Arnold
Jack Arnold reigns supreme as one of the great directors of 1950s science-fiction features. His films are distinguished by moody black and white cinematography, solid acting, smart, thoughtful scripts, snappy pacing, a genuine heartfelt enthusiasm for the genre and plenty of eerie atmosphere. Arnold was born on October 14...
“ An American director who made two Bitish films, including The Mouse That Roared. ” - minalex
 
35.
 
36.
David Lean
An important British filmmaker, David Lean was born in Croydon in 1908 and brought up in a strict Quaker family (ironically, as a child he wasn't allowed to go to the movies). During the 1920s he briefly considered the possibility of becoming an accountant like his father before finding a job at Gaumont British Studios in 1927...
 
38.
 
39.
Terence Young
Director, Dr. No
Born in Shanghai and Cambridge-educated, Terence Young began in the industry as a scriptwriter. In the 1940s he worked on a variety of subjects, including the hugely popular wartime romance Suicide Squadron, set to Richard Addinsell's rousing "Warsaw Concerto". His original story was devised while listening to a concert in an army training camp...
 
41.
Richard Lester
Director, Superman II
Richard Lester was one of the most influential directors of the 1960s, and continued his career into the 1970s and early '80s. He is best remembered for the two films he helmed starring The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), the frenetic cutting style of which was seen by many as the predecessor of the music video a generation later...
“ An American director who worked in England in the 60s and made A Hard Day's Night and How I Won the War. ” - minalex
 
42.
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...
“ A French-Polish director who worked in England in the mid 60s and made Repulsion and Cul-de-sac. ” - minalex
 
43.
John Boorman
Producer, Excalibur
John Boorman attended Catholic school (Salesian Order) although his family was not, in fact, Roman Catholic. His first job was for a dry-cleaner. Later, he worked as a critic for a women's journal and for a radio station until he entered the television business, working for the BBC in Bristol. There...
 
44.
Peter Brook
Born in London, Peter was educated at Westminster, and Magdalen College Oxford. He has staged numerous productions for Birmingham Rep, Stratford Upon Avon and Broadway. In 1962 he was appointed Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a position he held for 2 decades. His most famous stage productions have been Marat/Sade...
 
45.
John Schlesinger
Director, Midnight Cowboy
Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger, who was born in London, on February 16, 1926, was the eldest child in a solidly middle-class Jewish family. Berbard Schlesinger, his father, was a pediatrician, and his mother, Winifred, was a musician. He served in the Army in the Far East during World War II...
 
46.
Joseph Losey
Director, The Servant
Belonging to an important family clan in Wisconsin, Joseph Losey studied philosophy but was always interested in theater and thus worked together with Bertolt Brecht. After directing some shorts for MGM, he made his first important film, The Boy with Green Hair, for RKO. While he was filming The Prowler in Italy he was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee...
 
47.
 
48.
Guy Hamilton
Director, Goldfinger
Typically British stiff-upper-lip war dramas and action adventure laced with moments of sophisticated comedy were Guy Hamilton's trademark. The son of a British diplomat, he spent most of his youth with his family in France, seemingly destined to be groomed for a career in the diplomatic service. Growing up...
 
49.
 
50.
Michael Winner
Director, Death Wish
Winner was an only child, born in Hampstead, London, England, to Helen (née Zlota) and George Joseph Winner (1910-1975), a company director. His family was Jewish; his mother was Polish and his father of Russian extraction. Following his father's death, Winner's mother gambled recklessly and sold art and furniture worth around £10m at the time...
 
51.
Peter Watkins
Director, The War Game
Peter Watkins began his career in advertising as an assistant producer and turned to amateur filmmaking in the late 1950s. In the mid-'60s he was commissioned by BBC-TV to make two feature-length docudramas incorporating a quasi-newsreel style and nonprofessional actors. The second of these, The War Game...
 
53.
Richard Attenborough
Lord Richard Attenborough was born in Cambridge, England, the son of Mary (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a don at Emmanuel College and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Attenborough...
 
54.
John Badham
Director, WarGames
English-born "Army brat" John Badham is the son of English actress Mary Hewitt and the stepson of an American Army general. Raised in Alabama and schooled at Yale, he cut his teeth producing and directing for TV before making his feature debut with The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. Badham's breakthrough credit was the box office smash Saturday Night Fever...
 
55.
 
56.
Ridley Scott
Producer, Blade Runner
Ridley Scott was born in South Shields, Tyne and Wear (then County Durham) on 30 November 1937. His father was an officer in the Royal Engineers and the family followed him as his career posted him throughout the UK and Europe before they eventually returned to Teesside. Scott wanted to join Army (his...
 
57.
Terry Jones
Terry Jones was born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. His father was a bank clerk, mother - mistress of the house. He has an older brother, Nigel Jones (1940-). He studied at St. Edmund Hall College, Oxford University. In 1965, with his friend Michael Palin, he made The Late Show for television, which was his first success...
 
58.
Nicolas Roeg
Director, Walkabout
When he made his directorial debut in 1970, Nicolas Roeg was already a 23-year veteran of the British film industry, starting out in 1947 as an editing apprentice and working his way up to cinematographer twelve years later. He first came to attention as part of the second unit on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia...
 
59.
John Mackenzie
A solid and reliable filmmaker with frequent flairs of brilliance, Mackenzie gave up a career in acting because of a desire to control what he was doing. He assisted Ken Loach on his classic early TV plays such as Cathy Come Home, which inspired him and gave him the best training a TV director could dream of...
 
62.
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 American director who worked in England and made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, The Meaning of Life and Brazil. ” - minalex
 
63.
Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway trained as a painter and began working as a film editor for the Central Office of Information in 1965. Shortly afterwards he started to make his own films. He has produced a wealth of short and feature-length films, but also paintings, novels and other books. He has held several one-man shows and curated exhibitions at museums world-wide.
 
64.
Mike Newell
Attended Cambridge University. Three year training course at Granada Television, with intention of going into theatre. Graduated to directing TV plays, building strong reputation for work with David Hare, David Edgar, Hohn, John Osborne, Jack Rosenthal.
 
65.
Jon Amiel
Director, Entrapment
After studies in English literature, Jon Amiel graduated from Cambridge University and ran the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, which often toured the USA. He became the Hampstead Theatre Company's literary manager and began directing there, relocating to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Amiel joined the BBC as a story editor...
 
67.
James Ivory
The main part of his few movies were filmed in the quarter of a century in which he worked closely together with the Indian producer Ismail Merchant and the German writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. His first films are all set in India and are very much influenced by the style of Satyajit Ray and Jean Renoir...
“ An American director who worked mostly in the United Kingdom and made flims such as Heat and Dust, A Room with a View and Maurice. ” - minalex
 
68.
 
69.
Jim Sheridan
Jim Sheridan is a master story-teller, and an acclaimed film director of few films, but good films nevertheless. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1949, Sheridan moved to America in 1982, meeting a man who invited him to run the Irish Arts Center. He found a place to live in Hell's Kitchen, New York City...
 
70.
Adrian Lyne
Director, Unfaithful
Adrian Lyne (Director/Writer/Producer) is the creative force behind some of the most talked-about movies of our time, among them, "Fatal Attraction", "9 1/2 Weeks", "Flashdance", "Indecent Proposal", "Jacob's Ladder" and "Unfaithful". Born in Peterborough, England and raised in London, Lyne attended the Highgate school...
 
73.
Bernard Rose
Director, Candyman
Born on 4th August 1960, in London, England, Bernard Rose began his career by making super 8 films at the age of 9. The BBC had a amateur movie competition which he won in 1975, causing his 3 minute film to air on the BBC. He later worked for Jim Henson on the last season of The Muppet Show, as a gofer...
 
76.
Anthony Minghella
Anthony Minghella was the son of immigrants from Italy, who own an ice-cream factory on the Isle of Wight, where Anthony was born on January 6, 1954. He and his two siblings, Edana Minghella and Dominic Minghella, grew up there, a popular British holiday spot. After graduating from the University of Hull...
 
79.
 
80.
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...
 
82.
Guy Ritchie
Director, Snatch
Guy Ritchie was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK on September 10, 1968. After watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 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 unwatchable. At 15 years old, he dropped out of school and in 1995...
 
83.
Stephen Daldry
Director, The Reader
In 1989, Stephen Daldry worked as a freelance reader of unsolicited manuscripts for Literary Manager Nicholas Wright in the Scripts Department at the Royal National Theatre. In July of that year, he directed a Dadaist/expressionist production of "Judgement Day," a play by Odon von Horvath, at the Old Red Lion in London.
 
84.
Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass started his filmmaking career with a super 8 camera he found in his art room in secondary school. Those short movies were animation horror films he made using old dolls, artist dummies, and the general art room clutter. After studying in Cambridge University he got into Granada Television...
 
86.
Tony Scott
Director, Top Gun
Tony Scott was a British-born film director and producer. He was the youngest of three brothers, one of whom is fellow film director Ridley Scott. He was born in North Shields, Northumberland, England to parents Jean and Colonel Francis Percy Scott. As a result of his father's career in the British military...
 
90.
Ken Loach
Unlike virtually all his contemporaries, Ken Loach has never succumbed to the siren call of Hollywood, and it's virtually impossible to imagine his particular brand of British socialist realism translating well to that context. After studying law at St. Peter's College, Oxford, he branched out into the theater...
 
92.
Andrea Arnold
Actress, No 73
 
93.
Christopher Nolan
Born in London in 1970, Christopher Nolan began making films at the age of seven years using his father's Super-8 camera and an assortment of male action figures. He graduated to making films involving real people, and his Super-8 surrealistic short 'Tarantella' was shown on P.B.S.' 'image union' in 1989...
 
94.
Matthew Vaughn
Producer, Kick-Ass
Matthew Vaughn is an English film producer and director. He is known for producing such films as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch and for directing the crime thriller, Layer Cake, the fantasy epic, Stardust, the superhero comedy, Kick-Ass, and the superhero film, X-Men: First Class...
 
96.
Duncan Jones
Director, Moon
 
98.
Joe Wright
Director, Atonement
 
99.
Tom Hooper
Tom Hooper was educated at one of England's most prestigious schools, Westminster. His first film, Runaway Dog, was made when he was 13 years old and shot on a Clockwork 16mm Bolex camera, using 100 feet of film. At age 18, he wrote, directed and produced the short film Painted Faces, which premiered at the London Film Festival; it was released theatrically and later shown on Channel 4...
 
100.
Yann Demange
Director, '71