The greatest film directors of all time

These men and women established the art and craft of motion picture directing
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John Ford
Director, The Searchers
John Ford came to Hollywood following one of his brothers, an actor. Asked what brought him to Hollywood, he replied "The train". He became one of the most respected directors in the business, in spite of being known for his westerns, which were not considered "serious" film. He won six Oscars, counting (he always did) the two that he won for his WWII documentary work...
“ When Kurosawa was asked how he composed a shot for his films, he replied, "I just watch a John Ford movie and wonder how he would have shot it." The only man who ever won four Oscars for Best Director. ” - cinemabon
William Wyler
Director, Ben-Hur
William Wyler was an American filmmaker who, at the time of his death in 1981, was considered by his peers as second only to John Ford as a master craftsman of cinema. The winner of three Best Director Academy Awards, second again only to Ford's four, Wyler's reputation has unfairly suffered as...
“ "Make it real, make me believe that you believe." Wyler gave very little direction to his actors. Many-take Willie, they called him. Yet, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has seen to honor his films more times than they have any director in the history of film. When you look at the body of his work, it's easy to see why. ” - cinemabon
David Lean
An important British filmmaker, David Lean was born in Croydon on March 25, 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...
“ Lean started out making small films, versions of Dicken's classics and the like. They are gems to be sure. But when he turned his talent to making epics, he stands alone with three giant films nearly impossible to duplicate in any age - Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago, and Lawrence of Arabia. ” - cinemabon
Alfred Hitchcock
Actor, 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)...
“ When it came to innovation, Alfred Hitchcock was a pioneer. His use of suspense changed the way we look and feel about cinema. One only has to go back to his early work, like "Sabotage" where Hitch puts a little boy with a bomb on a bus. Filmgoers in 1936 London were said to shout at the screen, "Watch out! He's got a bomb!" Now that's involvement. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ Wilder started out as a screenwriter and quickly learned that if he was going to bring his vision to the screen, he'd have to learn directing. Thank god he did. His list of great films is longer over a greater period of time than most contemporary directors are old. ” - cinemabon
Ida Lupino
Ida was born in London to a show business family. In 1933, her mother brought Ida with her to an audition and Ida got the part her mother wanted. The picture was Her First Affaire. Ida, a bleached blonde, came to Hollywood in 1934 and played small and insignificant parts. Peter Ibbetson was one of her...
“ Ida was one of these incredible cases where opportunity arrived at the perfect time. She became the very first woman to direct a Hollywood movie and knocked down that barrier so that every woman who followed would not have to tackle that giant hurdle. While her list of credits is not so great, her accomplishment more than makes up for her inability to obtain jobs in such a male dominated industry. ” - cinemabon
Gordon Parks
Director, Shaft
The pre-eminent American photojournalist of sub-Saharan descent. An acclaimed photographer for Life magazine from the late 40s through late 60s, he turned to directing films, his second of which, the blaxploitation movie Shaft, achieved success at the box office. In 1989 his first film effort...
“ With the advent of 1960's equal rights movement, African Americans stepped up to the director's plate and offered their bill of fare to an audience that had no heros of its own. Parks offered a new vision of American cinema that had a black man as a hero. The first African American director made his mark in B movies, but was first class all the way. ” - cinemabon
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 had a singular mind when it came to directing - how to get it done. He wasn't concerned with excuses. He only knew he had a visual interpretation of the world. Starting as a photographer, Kubrick saw the world through a lens and brought us startling images that will forever live in cinema history - a teen girl in sunglasses, a pilot riding a bomb, a slave crucified for freedom, a violent punk having his way, a soldier wasted in war, a spacecraft waltzing to Strauss. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ Curtiz, while a tryant on the set, could also be kind and understanding, giving and forgiving, stern yet vulnerable. He's been described this way by technicians and by actors. His list of great films cannot be denied. He made a powerful impact on the history of film and deserves all the attention I can give him. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ No director in the later half of the 20th Century made as great a contribution to the art of cinema as did Spielberg. And no film has ever moved me with such emotional power as "Schindler's List." When I saw it in Chicago, there were survivors of the holocaust present and others were relatives of survivors. Even after the credits finished, no one would leave their seats. I have never experienced a film of greater emotion, not since I saw "Citizen Kane" for the first time in college decades earlier. ” - cinemabon
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 nine) he traveled the world with his father. When his father died (he was fifteen) he became the ward of Chicago's Dr. Maurice Bernstein...
“ When you hit a grand slam home run your first time up to bat, it's difficult to follow that level of performance. Welles tried many times but could never duplicate the level of commitment he gave to "Kane." The story is so complex on so many levels that it is impossible to cover in any synopsis. The end is so profound that it is profane to openly mention it to the naive. ” - cinemabon
Robert Zemeckis
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, 1941) and special effect vehicles (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future)...
“ In addition to Spielberg, Zemekis left his mark on the later half of the Twentieth Century by giving us several entertaining films but one very profound one in "Forrest Gump." Unlike his contemporaries, Zemeckis created one of the most complex movies of his time and crafted it in such a way that it is both simple and profound in the same breath. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ Like Orson Welles, this genius Francis Coppola crafted one of the greatest films of his generation and perhaps two of the greatest movies of all time. The care and the art of cinema is best expressed in "Godfather I & II" more than any films made in any era. This is not a list by numbers (best director) but by achievement and Coppola gave us one of the most monumental achievements in cinema history. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ No director influenced other directors more than Luis did. Hitch would not be Hitch along with Wyler and Wilder and many others if Bunuel had not innovated many camera techniques long before they did. His long list of credits gave credibility to "foreign" films in Hollywood before any other director including Fellini and Bergman. ” - cinemabon
Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges' own life is as unlikely as some of the plots of his best work. He was born into a wealthy family. As a boy he helped out on stage productions for his mother's friend, Isadora Duncan (the scarf that strangled her was made by his mother's company, Maison Desti). He served in the U.S...
“ A man who could do it all, write, produce, direct and edit. Preston Sturges made some of the best movies of his time and unfortunately met an untimely end that robbed us of many other movies he might have created. ” - cinemabon
“ George Cukor was a director who could put on many hats - writer, producer and editor! He had an incredible gift of communicating with actors and brought some of the 20th Century's greatest moments of film to the silver screen. ” - cinemabon
George Stevens
Director, Giant
George Stevens, a filmmaker known as a meticulous craftsman with a brilliant eye for composition and a sensitive touch with actors, is one of the great American filmmakers, ranking with John Ford, William Wyler and Howard Hawks as a creator of classic Hollywood cinema, bringing to the screen mytho-poetic worlds that were also mass entertainment...
“ Stevens began life as an artist and continued to hone that craft as a director. His ability to use emotion and frame his actors is practically second to none. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ The art of Japanese filmmaking was brought to our attention by the innovative style of Kurosawa in his first big international hit, "Rashomon." He went on to direct and made an honorable name that established the Japanese film industry at a time when most Americans wanted to forget Japan. ” - cinemabon
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)...
“ The first time I saw "La Strada" in the theater, I lowered my head and wept. Fellini had incredible vision as a filmmaker and innovator of cinema. His style had a strong influence on cinema students, especially George Lucas and Francis Coppola. Married to Giulietta Masina for life, the couple produced dozens of great movies and died within a few months of each other. ” - cinemabon
Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson was born as an only child in a small coast-side town in New Zealand in 1961. When a friend of his parents bought him a super 8 movie camera (because she saw how much he enjoyed taking photos), the then eight-year-old Peter instantly grabbed the thing to start recording his own movies, which he made with his friends...
“ No comtemporary filmmaker since David Lean has dared to take on such a gargantuan task as Jackson did in making "Lord of the Rings." Perhaps the greatest spectacle ever filmed, this giant epic of cinema certain made its place in the history of film and its director at the heart of that sphere. ” - cinemabon
Ingmar Bergman
Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July 14, 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, as in 'Den Goda Viljan' Pernilla August play his mother...
“ Surrounded by a group of gifted actors, this Swedish film director had tremendous impact on the art of cinema and those studying film arts on college campuses. He directed the only foreign language film every nominated for Best Picture, "Cries and Whispers." ” - cinemabon
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...
“ Nominated a record fifteen times for Best Screenplay, Allen decided early in his career that he had to retain creative control and learned to direct by doing it. His insights into life brought through his onscreen characters (including his own portrayals) are unmatched in cinema history by any other director, including his idol, Bergman. ” - cinemabon
Satyajit Ray
Satyajit Ray was born in Calcutta on May 2, 1921. His father, Late Sukumar Ray was an eminent poet and writer in the history of Bengali literature. In 1940, after receiving his degree in science and economics from Calcutta University, he attended Tagore's Viswa-Bharati University. His first movie Pather Panchali won several International Awards and set Ray as a world-class director...
“ One of the key figures to laying a foundation for Indian cinema, Ray brought a new style of filmmaking to his native country and tried to show a new light on India and its people. ” - cinemabon
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...
“ One of the greatest forces in French cinema and a pioneer in many camera techniques, this film director gave us one of the most fascinating examinations of the human condition in "Grand Illusion." ” - cinemabon
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...
“ Eisenstein pioneered the modern method of editing long before French filmmakers picked up the technique and labeled it montage. One of the most icon moments in cinema history occurrs during the great "steps" sequence from film, "Battleship Potemkin." ” - cinemabon
Michael Powell
Director, The Red Shoes
The son of Thomas William Powell and 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 a hotel). Educated at Kings School, Canterbury and Dulwich College...
“ One cannot mention Michael Powell without mentioning Emeric Pressburger as it was their collaboration that led to so many "art" films after WWII. "Black Narcissus" and "The Red Shoes" are more like moving paintings that anything before or since. ” - cinemabon
Sergio Leone
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 Italy (usually making Biblical and Roman epics...
“ This innovative director has worked on more film projects than you can shake a film can at - everything from "The Bicycle Thieves" to "Ben Hur" as assistant film director. However, when he sat in the command seat, he produced a style of western that forever changed the genre that included, "The Good, the bad and the Ugly" along with "Once Upon a Time in the West" considered by many to be the greatest western ever made. ” - cinemabon