Exceptional Filmmakers

This is a list of directors and producers that, I believe, have consistently created unique and captivating films or television programs.

Most are auteurs, either in the literal sense, where they write their own projects, or in the sense that their personal stylistic stamp is present throughout their work. Others are talented craftsmen who have made excellent, but less personal, projects on a regular basis.

Some are art house darlings, others infamous at the grindhouse, and others are kings of the mulitiplex blockbuster.
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1.
Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1940. He graduated from university with a degree in fine arts before starting work as a graphic designer. He then joined the Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he started a film section, and this started his career as a filmmaker at the age of 30...
 
2.
Abel Ferrara
Director, Bad Lieutenant
Born in the Bronx, Ferrara started making amateur films on Super 8 in his teens before making his debut with violent exploitation films such as 'Driller Killer' and 'Ms.45'. Good reviews for the latter helped create his cult reputation, leading to larger budgets, studio funding and 'name' actors (Christopher Walken...
 
4.
Alejandro Jodorowsky
Alejandro Jodorowsky was born in Iquique, Chile on February 7, 1929. In 1942 he moved to Santiago where he attended university, was a circus clown and a puppeteer. In 1955 he went to Paris and studied mime with Marcel Marceau. He worked with Maurice Chevalier there and made a short film, La cravate...
 
5.
Álex de la Iglesia
He was born in Bilbao in 1965. At ten he was drawing comics and he acknowledges Alex Raymond, Stan Lee and Vazquez as his spiritual fathers. Wishing to further widen his horizons, he studied at Deusto University where, according to him, he spent most of the time at the bar and in the film society. Determined to join the world of show business...
 
6.
Alexander Payne
Producer, The Descendants
Director, producer and screenwriter Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents, Peggy (Constantine) and George Payne, ran a Greek restaurant. His father is of Greek and German ancestry, and his mother is of Greek descent; the family name was originally Papadopoulos. He has two older brothers...
 
8.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Alfonso was born and raised in Laredo, Texas on the US/Mexico border. He received his BFA from NYU and his MFA from AFI. He began his career as personal assistant to Martin Scorsese, Nora Ephron, Robert De Niro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He has gone on to direct second unit for Ms. Ephron, Inarritu...
 
9.
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)...
 
10.
Andrea Arnold
Actress, No 73
 
11.
Andrzej Zulawski
Writer, Possession
Born in Lvov, Ukraine; then he moved with his father Miroslaw Zulawski to Czechoslovakia and later to Poland. In the late 1950s, he studied cinema in France. In the 1960s, he was an assistant of the famous Polish film director Andrzej Wajda. His feature debut The Third Part of the Night was an adaptation of his father's novel...
 
13.
Ang Lee
Director, Life of Pi
Born in 1954 in Pingtung, Taiwan, Ang Lee has become one of today's greatest contemporary filmmakers. Ang graduated from the National Taiwan College of Arts in 1975 and then came to the U.S. to receive a B.F.A. Degree in Theatre/Theater Direction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Masters Degree in Film Production at New York University...
 
14.
Asif Kapadia
Director, Senna
Academy award and four time BAFTA award winning Director / Writer / Producer Asif Kapadia is known for his visually striking films exploring characters living in timeless, extreme and unforgiving landscapes. His films have been box office successes around the world as well as being critically lauded and awarded internationally...
 
16.
Ben Affleck
Producer, Argo
American actor and filmmaker Benjamin Géza Affleck-Boldt was born on August 15, 1972 in Berkeley, California, and was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His mother, Chris Anne (née Boldt), is a school teacher, and his father, Timothy Byers Affleck, is a social worker; the two are divorced. Ben has a younger brother...
 
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18.
Bobcat Goldthwait
Robert Francis 'Bobcat' Goldthwait, born May 26, 1962, is an American comedian. He is most widely known for his high pitch voice during his comedy acts. He was born in Syracuse, New York in 1962. He decided on a career as a comedian at an early age and was performing professionally while still in high school at the age of 15...
 
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20.
Brian De Palma
Director, Scarface
Brian De Palma is one of the well-known directors who spear-headed the new movement in Hollywood during the 1970s. He is known for his many films that go from violent pictures, to Hitchcock-like thrillers. Born on the 11th of September in 1940, De Palma was born in New Jersey in an American-Italian family...
 
23.
Bryan Fuller
Writer, Hannibal
Self professed Star Trek geek who watched and loved the Trek series "Deep Space Nine" and set out to write for them. At the time, Star Trek had an open script submission policy and Fuller contributed a spec, leading to a pitching opportunity. When he had sold a couple of stories to Deep Space Nine, Fuller was hired to be a full staff writer for sister Trek series "Voyager" in its fourth season...
 
24.
Cameron Crowe
Certainly idiosyncratic as a writer, Cameron Crowe has created a series of scripts that, while liked by the critics, were considered offbeat and difficult to market. Cameron Bruce Crowe was born in Palm Springs, California, to Alice Marie Crowe (née George), a teacher and activist, and James A. Crowe...
 
27.
Catherine Breillat
Catherine Breillat is a Paris based filmmaker and writer who became famous for her distinctively personal films on sexuality, gender trouble and sibling rivalry. Accused of being a "porno auteuriste", Breillat allowed for an unbiased view of sexuality and extended the language of mainstream movies. She is also a best-selling novelist and wrote her first novel...
 
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29.
Chris Carter
Writer, The X-Files
Born and raised in Bellflower, California, Chris Carter graduated from the California State University at Long Beach with a degree in journalism. Formerly a freelance journalist and editor of "Surfing" magazine, Carter began his career as a screenwriter in 1985 at The Walt Disney Studios. In 1992 Carter began developing projects for Twentieth Century Fox Television...
 
30.
Christophe Gans
Born in 1960 in Antibes (in the South of France), Christophe Gans became crazy about movies at an early stage. As a teenager, he made a lot of samurai and kung fu super-8 films with his friends. At the end of the seventies, he founded the fanzine "Rhesus Zero" about B-movies. In 1980, he studied at the French cinema school Idhec and directed a short movie called "Silver Slime"...
 
31.
Christopher Guest
U.S.-born actor, director, writer, musician, and composer best known for his mockumentaries, poking fun at heavy metal music, small town theatre, dog shows, folk music and film-making itself, Christopher Haden-Guest was born February fifth, 1948, in New York City. His mother, Jean Pauline (Hindes), was a vice president of casting at CBS...
 
33.
Chuck Jones
Animation Department, The Electric Company
Starting as a cel washer, Chuck Jones worked his way up to animator and then director at the animation division of Warner Bros. He is famous for creating such beloved cartoon characters as Wile E. Coyote, Henery Hawk, Pepé Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Ralph Wolf, Road Runner, Sam Sheepdog, Sniffles, and many others...
 
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35.
Clint Eastwood
Perhaps the icon of macho movie stars, and a living legend, Clint Eastwood has become a standard in international cinema. Born May 31, 1930 in San Francisco, the elder of two children in a middle-class family, Eastwood finished high school at the comparatively late age of 19 and worked odd jobs for several years before enrolling at Los Angeles City College...
 
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37.
Dante Tomaselli
Director, Horror
Dante Tomaselli, an Italian-American writer/director/score composer, studied filmmaking at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, then transferred to the New York School of Visual Arts, receiving a B.F.A. degree there. His first film was a 23-minute short called, Desecration, which was screened at a variety of horror and mainstream film festivals and venues...
 
38.
Dario Argento
Dario Argento was born in Rome, Italy on September 7 1940. He is the son of producer Salvatore Argento. He began his career as a movie critic for the Rome daily newspaper "Paese Sera". A professional screenwriter by the tender age of 20, he joined Bernardo Bertolucci to write the screenplay for Sergio Leone's epic western "Once Upon A Time In The West" in 1967...
 
39.
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...
 
40.
David Ayer
Writer, Fury
David Ayer is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. David Ayer was born in Champaign, Illinois and grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, and Bethesda, Maryland, where he was kicked out of his house by his parents as a teenager. Ayer then lived with his cousin in Los Angeles, California...
 
41.
David Cronenberg
Director, The Fly
David Cronenberg, also known as the King of Venereal Horror or the Baron of Blood, was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in 1943. His father was a journalist, and his mother was a piano player. After showing an inclination for literature at an early age (he wrote and published eerie short stories, thus following his father's path) and for music (playing classical guitar until he was 12)...
 
42.
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...
 
43.
David Lean
David Lean was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor, best remembered for big-screen epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). He is also known for the Dickens adaptations of Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), as well as the romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945)...
 
44.
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...
 
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48.
Don Bluth
Producer/director Don Bluth is one of the most prestigious animators in the industry, admired by peers all over the world for his creative talent, as well as his versatility in bringing memorable characters to life. While working on his films, Bluth wears many hats. He designs all the characters, serves as key storyboard artist...
 
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50.
Duncan Jones
Director, Moon
 
52.
Eli Roth
Producer, Grindhouse
Eli Raphael Roth was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Cora (Bialis), a painter, and Sheldon H. Roth, a psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, and clinical professor. His family is Jewish (from Austria, Hungary, Russia, and Poland). He began shooting Super 8 films at the age of eight, after watching Ridley Scott's Alien and vomiting...
 
53.
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...
 
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57.
Frank Henenlotter
Director, Basket Case
Writer/director Frank Henenlotter was born August 29, 1950, in New York City. He gleefully "misspent" his youth watching a large array of blithely cheap'n'cheesy low-budget exploitation flicks in various seedy grindhouse theaters on Mahattan's 42nd St. He began making 8mm films as a teenager. His 16mm black-and-white short Slash of the Knife actually played at a 42nd St...
 
58.
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...
 
59.
George Lucas
George Walton Lucas, Jr. was raised on a walnut ranch in Modesto, California. His father was a stationery store owner and he had three siblings. During his late teen years, he went to Downey High School and was very much interested in drag racing. He planned to become a professional race-car driver...
 
60.
George Miller
George Miller is an Australian film director, screenwriter, producer, and former medical doctor. He is best known for his Mad Max franchise, with The Road Warrior and Fury Road being hailed as amongst the greatest action films of all time. Aside from the Mad Max films, Miller has been involved in a wide range of projects. These include the Academy Award-winning Babe and Happy Feet film series...
 
61.
George A. Romero
George A. Romero never set out to become a Hollywood figure; however, by all indications, he was very successful. The helmer of the groundbreaking "Living Dead" films was born February 4, 1940 in New York City, New York, to a Cuban father and a Lithuanian-American mother. He grew up in NY, until attending the renowned Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...
 
62.
Georges Méliès
Georges Melies, a professional magician by training, first saw the new "moving pictures" in 1895. Little over a year later, Melies was filming and projecting his own creations. By accident, he discovered that he could use stop-motion photography to render trick visual effects. Melies was also the first to use techniques such as the fade-in...
 
63.
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro was born October 9, 1964 in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico. Raised by his Catholic grandmother, del Toro developed an interest in filmmaking in his early teens. Later, he learned about makeup and effects from the legendary Dick Smith (The Exorcist) and worked on making his own short films...
 
64.
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...
 
65.
Hal Hartley
Director, Trust
Hal Hartley is an American filmmaker, writer, director, producer, and composer who has made twelve feature films since 1988. Popularly associated with the American independent filmmaking scene of the early nineties, he went on to write and direct such films as No Such Thing (2001) for United Artists and Fay Grim (2006) for HD Net Films...
 
66.
Hayao Miyazaki
Director, Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan's greatest animation directors. The entertaining plots, compelling characters, and breathtaking animation in his films have earned him international renown from critics as well as public recognition within Japan. The Walt Disney Company's commitment to introduce the films...
 
67.
Henri-Georges Clouzot
Writer, Diabolique
After a decade as a screenwriter, Clouzot made his directorial debut in 1942. His next film, Le Corbeau: The Raven had the distinction of being banned both by the Nazis and the victorious French forces for differing reasons. He shot to international fame with The Wages of Fear and consolidated that success with Diabolique...
 
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69.
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...
 
70.
James Cameron
Writer, Aliens
James Francis Cameron was born on August 16, 1954 in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada. He moved to the United States in 1971. The son of an engineer, he majored in physics at California State University but, after graduating, drove a truck to support his screenwriting ambition. He landed his first professional film job as art director...
 
71.
James Gunn
James Gunn was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri in a large Irish Catholic family. His father and his uncles were all lawyers. He has been writing and performing as long as he can remember. He began making 8mm films at the age of 12. Many of these were comedic splatter films featuring his brothers being disemboweled by zombies...
 
72.
James Wan
Writer, Saw
James Wan (born 27 February 1977) is an Australian film producer, screenwriter and film director of Malaysian Chinese descent. He is widely known for directing the horror film Saw and creating Billy the puppet. Wan has also directed Dead Silence, Death Sentence, Insidious, The Conjuring and Furious 7...
 
73.
Jan Svankmajer
Director, Otesánek
After studying at the Institute of Industrial Arts and the Marionette Faculty of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in the 1950s, Jan Svankmajer started working as a theatre director, chiefly in association with the Theatre of Masks and the Black Theatre. He first experimented with film-making after becoming involved with the mixed-media productions of Prague's Lanterna Magika Theatre...
 
75.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Director, Amélie
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a self-taught director who was very quickly interested by cinema, with a predilection for a fantastic cinema where form is as important as the subject. Thus he started directing TV commercials and video clips (such as Julien Clerc in 1984). At the same time he met designer/drawer Marc Caro with whom he made two short animation movies: L'évasion and Le manège...
 
76.
Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer, Le Samouraï
The name "Melville" is not immediately associated with film. It conjures up images of white whales and crackbrained captains, of naysaying notaries and soup-spilling sailors. It is the countersign to a realm of men and their deeds, both heroic and villainous. It is the American novel, with its Ishmaels and its Claggarts a challenge to the European canon...
 
77.
Jesús Franco
He was only six years old when he started composing music under the protection of his brother Enrique. After the Spanish Civil War he was able to continue his studies at the Real Conservatorio de Madrid, where he finished piano and harmony. Being a Bachelor of Law and an easy-read novel writer (under the pseudonym David Khume)...
 
78.
Jim Henson
Jim Henson never thought that he would make a name of himself in puppetry; it was merely a way of getting himself on television. The vehicle that achieved it was Sam and Friends, a late-night puppet show that was on after the 11:00 news in Washington DC. It proved to be very popular and inspired Jim to continue using puppets for his work...
 
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80.
Joe Wright
Director, Atonement
 
82.
John Carpenter
Writer, Halloween
John Howard Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York, to mother Milton Jean (Carter) and father Howard Ralph Carpenter. His family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where his father, a professor, was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University. He attended Western Kentucky University and then USC film school in Los Angeles...
 
84.
John Landis
John Landis began his career in the mail room of 20th Century-Fox. A high-school dropout, 18-year-old Landis made his way to Yugoslavia to work as a production assistant on Kelly's Heroes. Remaining in Europe, Landis found work as an actor, extra and stuntman in many of the Spanish/Italian "spaghetti" westerns...
 
85.
John Waters
Actor, Hairspray
Growing up in Baltimore in the 1950s, John Waters was not like other children; he was obsessed by violence and gore, both real and on the screen. With his weird counter-culture friends as his cast, he began making silent 8mm and 16mm films in the mid-'60s; he screened these in rented Baltimore church halls to underground audiences drawn by word of mouth and street leafleting campaigns...
 
86.
John Woo
Director, Face/Off
Born in southern China, John Woo grew up in Hong Kong, where he began his film career as an assistant director in 1969, working for Shaw Brothers Studios. He directed his first feature in 1973 and has been a prolific director ever since, working in a wide variety of genres before A Better Tomorrow established...
 
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José Mojica Marins
José Mojica Marins was born on March 13, 1936 in San Paulo, Brazil, to a family of simple means. José's love of movies began at an early age. He spent a great deal of his time with his family at the local movie house, which his father helped manage. By the time he was eighteen, he had completed over eighty films...
 
93.
Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor is an Academy Award-nominated director, known for such films as Frida and Across the Universe. She was born on December 15, 1952, in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Her father, Melvin Lester Taymor, was a gynecologist. Her mother, Elizabeth Bernstein, was a teacher of political science...
 
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95.
Kar-Wai Wong
Wong Kar-wai (born 17 July 1956) is a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker, internationally renowned as an auteur for his visually unique, highly stylised, emotionally resonant work, including Ah fei zing zyun (1990), Dung che sai duk (1994), Chung Hing sam lam (1994), Do lok tin si (1995), Chun gwong cha sit (1997)...
 
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97.
Kathryn Bigelow
Director, The Hurt Locker
A very talented painter, Kathryn spent two years at the San Francisco Art Institute. At 20, she won a scholarship to the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. She was given a studio in a former Offtrack Betting building, literally in an old bank vault, where she made art and waited to be critiqued by people like Richard Serra...
 
98.
Ken Russell
Director, Tommy
When he was age 8 he was given a 9.5 mm projector for Xmas. He graduated to 35mm together with a box of silents that had been salvaged from the liner Mauretania when she was being broken up. He attended a nautical school where he made his first short film, trained as an Air Force electrician and tried unsuccessfully to break into the world of ballet and the theatre...
 
99.
Kevin Smith
Kevin Patrick Smith was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, to Grace (Schultz) and Donald E. Smith, a postal worker. He is very proud of his native state; this fact can be seen in all of his movies. Kevin is of mostly German, with some Irish and English, ancestry. His first movie, Clerks, was filmed in the convenience store in which Smith worked...
 
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