50 Great Directors

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Fritz Lang
Director, M
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. From 1910 to 1914...
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)...
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...
Douglas Sirk
Film director Douglas Sirk, whose reputation blossomed in the generation after his 1959 retirement from Hollywood filmmaking, was born Hans Detlef Sierck on April 26, 1897, in Hamburg, Germany, to a journalist. Both of his parents were Danish, and the future director would make movies in German, Danish and English...
Nicholas Ray
Nicholas Ray was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr. in 1911, in small-town Galesville, Wisconsin, to Lena (Toppen) and Raymond Joseph Kienzle, a contractor and builder. He was of German and Norwegian descent. Ray's early experience with film came with some radio broadcasting in high school. He left the University of Chicago after a year...
Samuel Fuller
Sam Fuller had six siblings: three brothers (Ving, Ray and Tom) and three sisters (Evelyn, Tina and Rose). His most famous sibling was his older brother, the nationally syndicated comic strip artist and cartoonist, Ving Fuller. In the 1920s Ving was a staff cartoonist at the New York Evening Graphic...
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...
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...
François Truffaut
François began to assiduously go to the movies at 7. He was also a great reader but not a good pupil. He left school at 14 and started working. In 1947, aged 15, he founded a film club and met André Bazin, a French critic, who becomes his protector. Bazin helped the delinquent Truffaut and also when he was put in jail because he deserted the army...
Max Ophüls
Director Max Ophüls was born Max Oppenheimer in Saarbrücken, Germany. He began his career as a stage actor and director in the golden twenties. He worked in cities such as Stuttgart, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Vienna, Frankfurt, Breslau and Berlin. In 1929 his son Marcel Ophüls was born in Frankfurt, Germany...
Francis Ford Coppola
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 with a degree in drama from Hofstra University...
Edward Dmytryk
Edward Dmytryk grew up in San Francisco, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. After his mother died when he was 6, his strict disciplinarian father beat the boy frequently, and the child began running away while in his early teens. Eventually, juvenile authorities allowed him to live alone at the age of 15 and helped him find part-time work as a film studio messenger...
Orson Welles
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 seven) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr...
Kenji Mizoguchi
Director, Ugetsu
Coming from a lower class family Mizoguchi entered the production company Nikkatsu as an actor specialized in female roles. Later he became an assistant director and made his first film in 1922. Although he filmed almost 90 movies in the silent era, only his last 12 productions are really known outside of Japan because they were especially produced for Venice (e.g...
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...
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 1909, Joseph Leo Mankiewicz first worked for the movies as a translator of intertitles, employed by Paramount in Berlin, the UFA's American distributor at the time (1928). He became a dialoguist, then a screenwriter on numerous Paramount productions in Hollywood...
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...
Ernst Lubitsch
From Ernst Lubitsch's experiences in Sophien Gymnasium (high school) theater, he decided to leave school at the age of 16 and pursue a career on the stage. He had to compromise with his father and keep the account books for the family tailor business while he acted in cabarets and music halls at night...
F.W. Murnau
Director, Nosferatu
Director. First was assistant to Max Reinhardt. Began making movies in Germany in 1919. Went to the USA in 1926.
D.W. Griffith
David Wark Griffith was born in rural Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a former Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero. Young Griffith grew up with his father's romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth-century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history...
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank Keaton, was born in Piqua, Kansas, October 4, 1895 to Joe Keaton and Myra Keaton. Joe and Myra were Vaudevillian comedians with a popular, ever-changing variety act, giving Keaton an eclectic and interesting upbringing. In the earliest days on stage they traveled with a medicine show that included family friend...
Charles Chaplin
Writer, Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin, considered to be one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era, often associated with his popular "Little Tramp" character; the man with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and a funny walk...
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...
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...
John Ford
Director, The Searchers
John Ford is, arguably, The Great American Director. When Orson Welles, who repeatedly screened Ford's Stagecoach as a crash course in filmmaking before helming his first film, Citizen Kane, was asked who his three favorite directors were, he answered, "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." Along with D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille...
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...
Howard Hawks
Director, The Big Sleep
What do the classic films Scarface, Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Sergeant York, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo have in common? Aside from their displays of great craftsmanship, the answer is director Howard Hawks...
Sergei M. Eisenstein
The son of an affluent architect, Eisenstein attended the Institute of Civil Engineering in Petrograd as a young man. With the fall of the tsar in 1917, he worked as an engineer for the Red Army. In the following years, Eisenstein joined up with the Moscow Proletkult Theater as a set designer and then director...
Luis Buñuel
The father of cinematic Surrealism and one of the most original directors in the history of the film medium, Luis Buñuel was given a strict Jesuit education (which sowed the seeds of his obsession with both religion and subversive behavior), and subsequently moved to Madrid to study at the university there, where his close friends included Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca...
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...
Jean Renoir
Son of the famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste, he had a happy childhood. Pierre Renoir was his brother, and Claude Renoir was his nephew. After the end of World War I, where he won the Croix de Guerre, he moved from scriptwriting to filmmaking. He married Catherine Hessling, for whom he began to make movies; he wanted to make a star of her...
Billy Wilder
Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city's largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933...
Martin Scorsese
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 provided the inspiration for several of his films...
Federico Fellini
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 devil herself said the priests who ran his school)...
Jean-Luc Godard
Director, My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children in a bourgeois Franco-Swiss family. His father was a doctor who owned a private clinic, and his mother came from a preeminent family of Swiss bankers. During World War II Godard became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and attended school in Nyons (Switzerland)...
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...
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...
Woody Allen
Writer, Annie Hall
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...
Robert Altman
Director, Gosford Park
Robert Altman was born on February 20th, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri, to B.C. (an insurance salesman) and Helen Altman. He entered St. Peters Catholic school at the age six, and spent a short time at a Catholic high school. From there, he went to Rockhurst High School. It was then that he started exploring the art of exploring sound with the cheap tape recorders available at the time...
Frank Capra
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 could ever be," Capra said about his Atlantic passage...
Michael Curtiz
Director, Casablanca
Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-born (as Mihaly Kertesz) American director who turned out some of the best-regarded films ever to come out of Hollywood. He received his diploma from the School for Dramatic Arts in Hungary in 1906. He then went to live in Pécs, then Szeged. He began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912...
Cecil B. DeMille
His parents Henry C. DeMille and Beatrice DeMille were playwrights. His father died when he was 12, and his mother supported the family by opening a school for girls and a theatrical company. Too young to enlist in the Spanish-American War, Cecil followed his brother William C. de Mille to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts...
Brian De Palma
Director, Scarface
Brian De Palma is the son of a surgeon. He studied physics but at the same time felt his dedication for the movies and made some short films. After seven independent productions he had his first success with Sisters and his voyeuristic style. Restlessly he worked on big projects with the script writers Paul Schrader...
Werner Herzog
Director, Grizzly Man
Director. Writer. Producer. Has studied history, literature and theatre, but hasn't finished it. Founded his own production company in 1963. Has staged several operas, besides others in Bayreuth, Germany, and at the Milan Scala in Italy. Herzog has won numerous national and international awards for his films.
Elia Kazan
Elia Kazan, known for his creative stage direction, was born "Elia Kazanjoglous" in Istanbul in 1909 to Greek parents. He directed such Broadway plays as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". He directed the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire and also films written for the screen...
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...
Marcel Carné
Marcel Carné, the son of a cabinet maker, entered the movies as the assistant of Jacques Feyder. At the age of 25 he directed his first movie Jenny. Colaborating with the writer Jacques Prévert, the decorator Alexandre Trauner, the musician and composer Maurice Jaubert and the actor Jean Gabin...
Sam Peckinpah
"If they move", commands stern-eyed William Holden, "kill 'em". So begins The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah's bloody, high-body-count eulogy to the mythologized Old West. "Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle", observed critic Pauline Kael. That exploding bottle...