Favorite Directors, Ranked

by jaredpahl | created - 12 Sep 2016 | updated - 07 Apr 2020 | Public

A list of the film directors who I like/admire most. My rankings are based on...

1. Filmography - The strength of the films they have directed, or in certain cases, written or produced. Their creative properties.

2. Style - The director's filmmaking technique. The way that they shoot, compose, and manage the multiple facets of their films. The director's personal signature, and my preference for it.

3. Personality - The aura the director gives off. Their work ethic, their specific identities and how much I personally admire them.

4. Output - The amount of movies the director is responsible for, and the diversity of their stories.

1. Steven Spielberg

Producer | Schindler's List

One of the most influential personalities in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg is Hollywood's best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world. He has an extraordinary number of commercially successful and critically acclaimed credits to his name, either as a director, ...

There never has and never will be a director more perfectly attuned to my personal taste than Steven Spielberg. He makes the exact kind of movies I am in to, which is a bit of everything. He is the King of the summer blockbuster, directing most of the very best tentpoles of all-time (Jaws, E.T, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones), and frankly the King of movies themselves. His dramas include some of the greatest movies ever filmed (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich). And that's not to mention his science fiction masterpieces AI: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and War of the Worlds. Spielberg has the deepest cinematic intuition that I've ever seen from a director. He makes movies the way they must be made. There is a palpable richness to every frame of a Spielberg movie. His worst films are more well-crafted than most others' best, and that is not an exaggeration. He's the perfect filmmaker, a man who makes every kind of film, and wrings every ounce of potential from everything he has done. And beyond that, he shares my personal outlook on cinema, and life. His movies are optimistic, uplifting, crowd-pleasing, slick Hollywood productions. That describes perfectly the kind of movies I love, and the kind of spirit I admire. If I made movies for a living, I would want them to be Steven Spielberg movies. He may be the most popular film director who ever lived, and if you ask me, he's also the greatest. But on top of that, I feel a special kinship to Steven Spielberg. He's been a fixture of my childhood and adulthood, an inspiration, and most of all, my cinematic hero.

2. James Cameron

Writer | Avatar

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 before switching to English, and eventually dropping out. He then drove a truck to support his ...

A singular force in American movies, James Cameron is one of the most remarkable filmmakers that ever lived. I appreciate ambition in a director, and James Cameron might be the most ambitious ever. The stories he tells are always huge, and the technology he uses often changes the face of cinema. What is truly astonishing about Cameron though is that he is also one of the most skilled people ever to step behind the camera. He has a brilliant visual and storytelling mind, which he has thankfully devoted to creating some of the very biggest and very best Hollywood movies of the last 30 years. Since his low-budget 1984 hit, The Terminator, James Cameron has only grown as a director. With bigger budgets and better special effects, Aliens and The Abyss proved that a James Cameron movie was something special. Terminator 2 and True Lies are my personal choices for numbers 1 and 2 on the all-time best action movie list. With Titanic and Avatar, Cameron proved that he is only getting better at giving the audience a kind of spectacle they won't get anywhere else. James Cameron not only thinks on the biggest canvas possible, he paints on it. The man is a certifiable genius and he has a real gift for knowing exactly what will thrill, entertain, or move an audience. He is the greatest sci-fi/action director in history and he has his finger on the pulse of what makes audiences cheer. Just like when I watch his movies, I am in awe of James Cameron.

3. George Lucas

Writer | Star Wars

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 Thomas Downey High School and was very much interested in drag racing. He planned to become a professional racecar ...

George Lucas is more than just a filmmaker I admire; He is an inspiration. Not only has he proven himself to be an excellent cinematic craftsman, but he has been one of the few people in Hollywood willing to innovate. He created and crafted the remarkable Star Wars Saga; a group of 6 movies so packed with imagination, fun, and powerful universal themes that it has and will continue to entertain and inspire me as long as I live. He created Indiana Jones, the greatest adventurer in movie history, and leant stories to all 4 movies in my favorite franchise of all time. He's made the thought-provoking science fiction masterpiece THX1138 and he's captured a slice of Americana in American Graffiti. It is a shame that Lucas seems to dislike the directing process, often farming out his own stories to other directors (Willow, Red Tails), but his influence on cinema as a storyteller and technician is huge. From a technical standpoint, Star Wars has been instrumental in shaping the future of special effects, and Lucas' company ILM has been the foremost pioneer in the field. However, for me, George Lucas' biggest innovation has been his willingness to dream. He has one of the most fertile imaginations of any filmmaker in Hollywood, and combined with his optimistic, child-like spirit, George Lucas serves as my ultimate inspiration.

4. Ang Lee

Director | Wo hu cang long

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, ...

A visionary visual mind and a skilled storyteller, Ang Lee is always inventive in both senses. He has always told great stories (The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility, Riding With the Devil), but Ang Lee has also been one of the few directors working today to actually push the envelope. Whether he's telling unique tales, or redefining what special effects and visuals can do, Ang Lee is bold in his ideas and experimental in the best kind of way. Hulk was an experiment of putting a comic book directly on screen, splitscreens and all, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk utilizes an unprecedented 120 frames per second, 3D, 4K format. When the innovative visuals and powerful stories merge, Ang Lee creates masterpieces like Croutching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi. He is a phenomenal director who consistently challenges himself, pushing the entire cinematic landscape forward with every film he makes. Ang Lee is in another class when it comes to talent and inventiveness. I always appreciate filmmakers who are willing to think outside the box, and for that reason, I am always excited to see what Ang Lee does next.

5. Robert Zemeckis

Writer | Back to the Future

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 (1984), 1941 (1979)) and special effect ...

Robert Zemeckis has been one the most innovative filmmakers of the past few decades. Not only is Zemeckis a special effects pioneer, introducing the world to the idea of fully blending live-action and animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, recreating the historical footage of Forrest Gump, or blazing the trail for performance capture and 3D with The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, but he is an innovative storyteller. Zemeckis thinks big. Stories like Back to the Future, Contact or Cast Away are bold, ambitious, and accessible at the same time. There are so few directors working who think completely outside the box, and work to move the medium forward. Robert Zemeckis' movies are always on the cutting edge of technology, but what makes him really special is his visionary willingness to experiment with storytelling. Be it a sprawling, comedic time travel saga, a film noir with hard-boiled detectives and classic cartoon characters, or a simple story of a man and his volleyball friend on a deserted island, Robert Zemeckis is at his best when he defies convention.

6. Sam Raimi

Director | Spider-Man

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 (1981). From his childhood, Raimi was a fan of the cinema and, before he was ten-years-old, he was out making ...

Sam Raimi is a pure directorial talent. His inventive camerawork and sense for delirious excitement makes him the foremost master of high-energy filmmaking. Whether it's the bloody fun of the Evil Dead franchise or the comic-book action of the Spider-Man Trilogy, Sam Raimi's movies always have a distinct hyper-kinetic electricity about them. Movies like the mad scientist superhero origin story, Darkman, The 3D adventure Oz The Great and Powerful, or the new-age western The Quick and the Dead are highly stylized, highly energized and a lot of fun. Raimi has a distinct visual signature that I just adore. He handles the camera with a flair and confidence that only he can boast. He is so strong as a director that his masterful manipulation of camera angles, pans, and zooms can seemingly make any story soar. And it isn't just the visual punch of Raimi's movies that puts him high on the list of my favorite directors. Raimi knows how to command a story, too. The emotional heart he puts into his best films, combined with his world-class showmanship, is what separates Raimi from the pack. The icy thriller A Simple Plan, the inspiring baseball love story For Love of the Game, and his masterpieces, Spider-Man 1 and 2 are perfect examples of genre filmmaking with a real, driving, emotional force. No matter what he does, with Sam Raimi, you can always count on seeing some substance behind all that style.

7. Tim Burton

Producer | Edward Scissorhands

Timothy Walter Burton was born in Burbank, California, to Jean Rae (Erickson), who owned a cat-themed gift shop, and William Reed Burton, who worked for the Burbank Park and Recreation Department. He spent most of his childhood as a recluse, drawing cartoons, and watching old movies (he was ...

Tim Burton, one of the most widely recognizable directors ever, is closer to Picasso than he is to Scorcese. What I mean by that is that Tim Burton, while an excellent technical filmmaker, is first and foremost, an artist. He has a look, feel and personality to all of his movies that nobody else on Earth can boast. Burton is a true auteur, specializing in the weird and quirky, the dark and gothic, and the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy. Burton has brought a unique visual style to every one of his films, from giant, action-packed summer spectacles like Batman and Alice in Wonderland, to potent human dramas like Big Eyes and Ed Wood, to haunting horror-fantasies like Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd. Burton's flair for visual style is unmatched, but his personality is really where he gets my appreciation. Tim Burton is the king of weird, and he consistently shows a confident blend of darkness, humor, and beautiful themes of isolation. Whether delivering inexplicably strange comedies (Beetlejuice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Mars Attacks) or spinning pure movie magic from fairytales like Big Fish and Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton is an artist whose work draws me in every time.

8. Ridley Scott

Producer | The Martian

Described by film producer Michael Deeley as "the very best eye in the business", director Ridley Scott was born on November 30, 1937 in South Shields, Tyne and Wear (then County Durham). His father was an officer in the Royal Engineers and the family followed him as his career posted him ...

As a veteran of the industry, Ridley Scott has had a hand in some of Hollywood's most iconic films. He has a tremendous library of movies, ranging from drama to horror to fantasy. My favorite movies of his are his science fiction films, with their slow building suspense and atmospheric visuals (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, The Martian), and his historical epics, with their sprawling and ambitious storylines (Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Gladiator). The connecting thread with Ridley Scott films is their unique visual artistry. Ridley Scott is a reliable technical craftsman, and every film he makes delivers its own kind of sophisticated and slightly off-kilter beauty. There is an elegance to Scott's filmmaking that is rarely seen. It is even rarer to see it done with such skill behind the camera. Combined with a rock-solid sense for storytelling, Ridley Scott is as dependable an artist as we have in Hollywood, and also one of the best.

9. Quentin Tarantino

Writer | Reservoir Dogs

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...

Quentin Tarantino's ultra-stylish, ultra-cool brand of filmmaking is almost always a joy to behold. Tarantino has created his own sub-genre of punchy, pop-culture action dramas with classics like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs. He's also brought his trademark style to the historical settings of Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds and The Hateful Eight. He is one of the leaders when it comes to writing witty and natural dialogue and as a technician, Tarantino is also among the elite directors. His enthusiasm for filmmaking and classic drive-in cinema is crystal clear in his movies, especially his magnum opus, the two-part epic Kill Bill. Combine his movie geek audio/visual flair with his technical expertise, and you have one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers of this generation.

10. Stanley Kubrick

Director | 2001: A Space Odyssey

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 ...

A brilliant mind, a staunch perfectionist, and a unique artist, Stanley Kubrick is one-of-kind. I'm not the biggest fan of some of his early work, but every Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove has been something really special. Stanley Kubrick is a genius, and he insists on perfection in all of his projects. 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut are all uniquely Kubrick in the way they are bulletproof in terms of details. They are also haunting, unsettling, and often awe-inspiring. Kubrick taps into a part of my mind that I didn't know I had. His films feed that insatiable hunger we have for mystery and the unknown. Kubrick's cold, calculated method of presenting big ideas is something no other filmmaker has ever come close to. I wish he had made more films, but Stanley Kubrick is still a unique presence in the history of Hollywood that I personally appreciate.

11. David Lean

Director | Lawrence of Arabia

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 ...

The definitive epic filmmaker, David Lean was a terrific talent. His biggest and best films worked on a scale, physically and mentally, that no other director before or since has been able to quite match. The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and A Passage to India are enormous, sprawling spectacles, filmed with a wide screen beauty that seemed to come naturally to Lean. The astonishing thing is that David Lean's stories are just as emotionally involving as they are visually breathtaking.

12. Gore Verbinski

Director | Rango

Gore Verbinski, one of American cinema's most inventive directors who was a punk-rock guitarist as a teenager and had to sell his guitar to buy his first camera, is now the director of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) which made the industry record for highest opening weekend of ...

If any director has completely nailed the idea of high energy filmmaking, it's Gore Verbinski (Sam Raimi has too, but I digress). Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy represents the pinnacle of what big-budget adventure films can do. No other franchise has really come close to matching Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of visual richness and sheer, unadulterated fun. Verbinski has an eye for crowd-pleasing excitement. He is one of the most skilled directors of action, and he blends humor with thrills llike none other. Verbinski's high energy, lively spirit behind the camera extends to all the genres he has explored. Be it westerns (The Lone Ranger), horror (The Ring), comedy (Mouse Hunt), or animation (Rango), Gore Verbinski never seems out of his element. He handles the camera as well as anybody, he has a knack for creating colorful characters, and he has a great sense of humor; what more could you want in a director?. I absolutely love Verbinski's rich, energetic, yet refined style. He is an excellent director and a personal favorite.

13. Peter Jackson

Producer | The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Sir Peter Jackson made history with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, becoming the first person to direct three major feature films simultaneously. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were nominated for and collected a slew of awards from around the globe, with The ...

Peter Jackson is simply a personal favorite director for me. He has an uncanny ability to bring an epic, larger-than-life feel to his biggest movies. With his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, he accomplished something that few other directors could; he gave J.R.R. Tolkien's world genuine life on the big screen. With his remake of King Kong, he brought a new dimension to the 1933 classic. Jackson has made smaller movies; The Lovely Bones shows that he can handle human drama quite well, and his early horror/comedies like Dead Alive and the Frighteners show he has a sense for gory fun, but he is at his best when he is in charge epic fantasy action. Peter Jackson is a special effects innovator with an epic style that I personally adore.

14. Mel Gibson

Actor | Braveheart

Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson was born January 3, 1956 in Peekskill, New York, USA, as the sixth of eleven children of Hutton Gibson, a railroad brakeman, and Anne Patricia (Reilly) Gibson (who died in December of 1990). His mother was Irish, from County Longford, while his American-born father is ...

Mel Gibson is a talented actor, but surprisingly, he has exhibited unbridled passion behind the camera as well, tackling difficult stories that many other directors wouldn't have the chops for. Who else would've accepted the challenge to tell the definitive story of the crucifixion of Christ (Passion of the Christ), or the story of the fall of Mayan civilization (Apocalypto)? These and Mel Gibson's other sprawling historical epics, the pacifist war film Hacksaw Ridge and the romantic Scottish adventure, Braveheart (Gibson's crowning achievement), do more than just give a history lesson. They have a deep emotional undercurrent with an unflinching look at horrifying violence. Mel Gibson movies, with their grisly and realistic depictions of bloodshed and their fiery melodrama are rarely subtle, but often astounding. Gibson has ambition, no doubt, but he also has the skill to back it up.

15. Damien Chazelle

Writer | La La Land

Damien Sayre Chazelle is an American director and screenwriter. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His mother, Celia Sayre (Martin) Chazelle, is an American-Canadian writer and professor of history at The College of New Jersey. His father, Bernard Chazelle, is a French-American Eugene Higgins...

Damien Chazelle is quickly becoming the most exciting young director in Hollywood. In a landscape starving for old-fashioned, intelligent, and well-crafted stories, Chazelle has carved out a place as the successor to the greats of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Starting with the thrilling story of the quest for jazz greatness, Whiplash, and continuing through the buoyant musical love story, La La Land, to the towering Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man, Damien Chazelle is only growing as a filmmaker. He's getting more ambitious, more assured, and more exciting. He is what Hollywood needs, and his films have made me hopeful for the future.

16. Peter Weir

Director | Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Peter Weir was born on August 21, 1944 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia as Peter Lindsay Weir. He is a director and writer, known for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), The Way Back (2010) and Witness (1985). He has been married to Wendy Stites since 1966. They have two ...

A cinematic artisan, Peter Weir movies have a hand crafted beauty to their every frame. I have been consistently impressed with the way Weir gives every film he has done precisely what the story needs. He has an eye for characters and mood like few others. From the haunting mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock to the uplifting characters of Dead Poets Society, if Peter Weir directed it, you know that the story is living up to its full potential. What makes Weir a top choice for me are his two masterpieces, the authentic action/adventure Master and Commander and idea-driven miracle of a movie called The Truman Show. Those two films are high on my all-time favorites list, but every Peter Weir film is about as close to perfection as possible. Peter Weir is one of the most dependable craftsman ever.

17. Joe Wright

Director | Pride & Prejudice

Joe Wright is an English film director. He is best known for Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Anna Karenina (2012), and Darkest Hour (2017).

Wright always had an interest in the arts, especially painting. He would also make films on his Super 8 camera as well as spend time in the evenings...

I like that a classical, old-fashioned director like Joe Wright is still out there making movies. The British filmmaker seems to specialize in sweeping literary adaptations like Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina, Darkest Hour or Atonement. All grand, sure-handed, and crowd-pleasing. But Wright also leaves room for genre movies outside of the literary realm; movies such as the magical, visionary, Pan or the lean action fairy tale Hanna. He makes movies that the old masters like David Lean used to make, and he's a valuable treasure in today's Hollywood.

18. Akira Kurosawa

Writer | Kakushi-toride no san-akunin

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 (1943). Within a few years, Kurosawa had achieved sufficient stature to allow him greater...

19. Brad Bird

Writer | The Incredibles

Phillip Bradley "Brad" Bird is an American director, screenwriter, animator, producer and occasional voice actor, known for both animated and live-action films. Bird was born in Kalispell, Montana, the youngest of four children of Marjorie A. (née Cross) and Philip Cullen Bird. His father worked in...

Possibly the most exciting director currently working, Brad Bird has a chance to become the next leading blockbuster filmmaker after Steven Spielberg. Bird's animated movies are classics, some of the best of the medium (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille). They are uniquely a product of his energetic, child-like imagination, but they also carry his sure-handed gift for characters and action. His recent live action endeavors remarkably carry that same personality. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland operate on an entirely different level than most action blockbusters today. They have ideas, special effects, stunt work, and style that nobody else is even dreaming of, much less filming. Bird has the drive that not many do, to think completely originally. When Hollywood blockbusters are so derivative, it's good to know that Brad Bird will always bring something new, and do it well. I am thrilled to see what Brad Bird does next, because so far he has brought a new and refreshing brand of big-budget filmmaking to Hollywood.

20. Martin Scorsese

Director | Taxi Driver

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 ...

Martin Scorsese may be the premiere movie director of the modern era. He is extremely versatile, working in several different genres, from pulpy thrillers (Cape Fear, Shutter Island) to arty prestige pictures (The Last Temptation of Christ, Silence), and specializing in the crime drama (Goodfellas, The Departed). The connecting thread is his joyous sense for technique. Scorsese is a master at bringing the camera to life, and you can always expect his films to be vibrantly alive, no matter the subject. Like a great singer of the classic standards, Martin Scorsese brings a uniquely exquisite eye for cinematic energy to well worn genres.

21. Stephen Sommers

Producer | G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Stephen Sommers was born on March 20, 1962 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Raised in St. Cloud, Minnesota, he attended St. John's University and the University of Seville in Spain. Afterward, Sommers spent the next four years performing as an actor in theater groups and managing rock bands throughout ...

Adventure movies are possibly my favorite genre in all of film, and Stephen Sommers is the master of fun, summer, popcorn adventure blockbusters. His Mummy movies are often more fun than some of Indiana Jones' exploits in my opinion, and his adaptation of The Jungle Book is one of the defining films of my childhood. Sommers is completely unpretentious, and he knows how to infuse his films with an innocent, wonderfully juvenile energy. Even his less praised works like GI Joe: Rise of Cobra or Van Helsing are still great looking and action packed. Some see his goofy energy as a negative, but I absolutely love it.

22. Danny Boyle

Director | 127 Hours

Daniel Francis Boyle is a British filmmaker, producer and writer from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester. He is known for directing 28 Days Later, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, T2 Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, Shallow Grave, The Beach, Yesterday and Steve Jobs. He won many awards for Slumdog...

Versatile and Vibrant, Danny Boyle is one of the biggest talents in the industry. He has not limited himself to any one genre, instead Boyle has tried his hand at everything from drama (Trainspotting) to comedy (Shallow Grave) to horror (28 Days Later) to science fiction (Sunshine). The remarkable thing is that he hasn't just experimented with different genres, he's mastered them. 28 Days Later is one of the most effective horror movies ever, Sunshine transcends the typical sci-fi cliches, and Millions has a maturity and beauty rarely seen in family films. No matter the genre, Danny Boyle's style always shines through. Aesthetic beauty and kinetic energy give Danny Boyle's best movies a spirit that is unique to him. Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Steve Jobs are uplifting, emotional, and exciting in a way few directors can match.

23. Alfonso Cuarón

Writer | Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón Orozco was born on November 28th in Mexico City, Mexico. From an early age, he yearned to be either a film director or an astronaut. However, he did not want to enter the army, so he settled for directing. He didn't receive his first camera until his twelfth birthday, and then ...

One of a handful of directors today that specializes in pushing the medium to its limits, Alfonso Cuaron is something of a genius. With a varied skillset and an expert cinematic eye, he's made some of the greatest examples of pure cinema I've ever seen. Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and especially Gravity are some of the most thrilling films of the last twenty years, and for different reasons. Add to that the beautiful, heart-stirring dramas A Little Princess and Roma, and you have a major cinematic talent for the modern age.

24. Tom Hooper

Director | Cats

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 (1992), which ...

25. Darren Aronofsky

Director | Pi

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 ...

26. Christopher Nolan

Writer | Inception

Best known for his cerebral, often nonlinear, storytelling, acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan was born on July 30, 1970, in London, England. Over the course of 15 years of filmmaking, Nolan has gone from low-budget independent films to working on some of the biggest blockbusters ever made.


He is pretentious, and some of his films have an glaring lack of visual imagination, but I just cannot deny Christopher Nolan's enormous talent as a filmmaker. He is known for his Kubrick-esque style: cold emotions, labyrinth-like plots, and philosophical undertones. Beginning with smaller thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, Nolan has has now created his own niche of giant, prestige blockbusters. His Dark Knight Trilogy rocked the superhero world, Interstellar was one of the greatest science fiction films of the decade, and Dunkirk was a war movie unlike any other. Nolan is one of the last great auteurs working today. Despite his shortcomings, I am grateful he is making the kinds of old-fashioned, skillfully crafted, substantial blockbusters he is.

27. Joel Coen

Producer | The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Joel Daniel Coen is an American filmmaker who regularly collaborates with his younger brother Ethan. They made Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar and other projects. Joel ...

Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel)

They aren't blockbuster filmmakers, but Joel and Ethan Coen are masters of their own niche of cinema. No Country For Old Men, True Grit, Fargo, and O Brother Where Art Thou are some of my all-time favorite movies. Nearly every Coen brother film could be called a masterpiece in some sense, whether as goofy comedy or serious drama. What other director (or pair of directors) can so seamlessly combine elements of drama, comedy, and mystery into most of their movies? There is no gimmick when it comes to the Coen brothers. You get everything with this director team. The Coen brothers know how to tell a story richly, with colorful characters, beautiful imagery, and white-knuckle suspense.

28. Ron Howard

Actor | Arrested Development

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard is one of this generation's most popular directors. From the critically acclaimed dramas A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Apollo 13 (1995) to the hit comedies Parenthood (1989) and Splash (1984), he has created some of Hollywood's most memorable films.

Howard ...

Ron Howard makes movies that make you feel good. With a massive and diverse filmography, it is hard to categorize Howard's style. He does have an affinity for telling real-life historical dramas. Apollo 13, Rush, Frost/Nixon are meticulously detailed recountings of stories ingrained in the culture. The thing is, Ron Howard does more than just tell the stories. He gives his movies an emotional potency, creating characters that we root for and taking the audience on a journey with them. From family fare like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Willow, Splash and Cocoon, to mature films like A Beautiful Mind, Parenthood, Cinderella Man and Ransom, Ron Howard consistently creates movies that work as solid character pieces, among other things. His films have great energy and attention to detail, but at the end of the day, the best thing about Ron Howard is how he can create rousing emotions and make an audience stand up and cheer.

29. Clint Eastwood

Actor | Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood was born May 31, 1930 in San Francisco, the son of Clinton Eastwood Sr., a bond salesman and later manufacturing executive for Georgia-Pacific Corporation, and Ruth Wood, a housewife turned IBM operator. He had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in nearby Piedmont. At school ...

What I appreciate most about Clint Eastwood as a director is his unfailing devotion to storytelling. There are no tricks or gimmicks or artistic indulgences with Eastwood. Every film of his is made with storytelling as the first and only priority. This no-nonsense attitude has led to some of my favorite movies ever (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River). Eastwood has been on a decades-long roll, releasing tons of engaging human stories from his early westerns (High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales) to his war films (Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, American Sniper) to his bio-pics (J. Edgar, Bird, Sully). I don't think there is another director who can bring the kind of raw, emotional power Clint Eastwood gives to his best films. The man tells great stories, and sometimes that is all you need in a director.

30. Adam McKay

Producer | Don't Look Up

Adam McKay (born April 17, 1968) is an American screenwriter, director, comedian, and actor. McKay has a comedy partnership with Will Ferrell, with whom he co-wrote the films Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys. Ferrell and McKay also founded their comedy website Funny or Die through ...

Simply put, the funniest director working today. If there is such thing as a comedic masterpiece, Adam McKay has been responsible for a few of them. His team-ups with Will Ferrell are all laugh riots; each one among my favorite comedies ever (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys). If that weren't enough, he's also proven to be a similarly excellent dramatic director with the Oscar nominated, The Big Short. Adam Mckay is the living representation of my sense of humor and he has proven that he is more than just a funny guy; He is a great director, period.

31. John Woo

Director | Ying hung boon sik

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 ...

John Woo is a fabulous action director. He started his career perfecting his frenetic Hong Kong action style with movies like Hard Boiled before coming to Hollywood and giving us classic 90s action blockbusters like Broken Arrow and Face/Off. I even enjoy his post-Mission Impossible II movies, the WWII drama Windtalkers and the sci-fi actioner Paycheck. John Woo can film action better than almost anybody, but he has proved he can be more than a one trick pony with the massive historical epic Red Cliff. With high flying stuntwork, fast cars, shootouts, and plenty of signature doves, John Woo is simply awesome.

32. George Miller

Producer | Mad Max: Fury Road

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 (1981) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) being hailed as amongst the greatest action films of all time. Aside from the Mad Max films, Miller...

George Miller's varied career has given us three distinctly different franchises that capture everything I love about the Australian director. Mad Max, Babe, and Happy Feet. I'm a fan of all three, but more importantly, I appreciate Miller as a craftsman. He is one of the most imaginative directors in the business, and his big movies all have a real visual richness to them. From the grisly action of Mad Max to the quiet whimsy of Babe to the electric energy of Happy Feet, Miller is a chameleon when it comes to style and he excels in all three of those arenas. Even his more grounded movies (Lorenzo's Oil, Witches of Eastwick) are infused with a lavish style. He's a great action director and a great family fable storyteller. That is no easy feat for any filmmaker.

33. Guillermo del Toro

Writer | El laberinto del fauno

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 (1973)) and worked on making his ...

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative people working in the movies. His gothic, twisted style, seen in movies such as Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, or the magical The Shape of Water is what he is most famous for. Whether its creepy fantasies or big-budget action spectaculars (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, Blade II), one thing remains the same; Creativity. Del Toro has an incredibly fertile imagination, and he never does what is expected. On top of that, Del Toro is an elite cinematic craftsman. He has a unique mind, and the skill to bring his ideas to life.

34. Francis Ford Coppola

Producer | Apocalypse Now

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 ...

Francis Ford Coppola is class personaified. A professional in every sense of the word, Coppola is one of the most trustworthy names in the business. The sprawling gangster saga of the Godfather Trilogy, the dark dreamworld of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the evocative visuals of war in Apocalypse Now prove that Coppola can take any type of material and spin gold from it. He knows how to properly tell a story, but he is simultaneously an ingenious artist in an atmospheric sense, giving nearly every film of his its own unique feel, but staying true to his style. Coppola is an expert at his craft.

35. Michael Bay

Producer | Armageddon

A graduate of Wesleyan University, Michael Bay spent his 20s working on advertisements and music videos. His first projects after film school were in the music video business. He created music videos for Tina Turner, Meat Loaf, Lionel Richie, Wilson Phillips, Donny Osmond and Divinyls. His work won...

Say what you will about the man and his role in Hollywood, but Michael Bay is talented at what he does. All his films are stuffed with dazzling action and overindulgent American machismo. At his worst, he gives us bland, special effects spectacles (Transformers 2, Pearl Harbor). However, at his best, he delivers distinctive action thrillers with a good dose of humor (The Rock, Bad Boys, 13 Hours, Armageddon). There are plenty of directors who do disposable special effects b-pictures poorly, Michael Bay does them spectacularly well. I appreciate the style, energy, and fun of his best blockbusters.

36. M. Night Shyamalan

Producer | Lady in the Water

Born in Puducherry, India, and raised in the posh suburban Penn Valley area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, M. Night Shyamalan is a film director, screenwriter, producer, and occasional actor, known for making movies with contemporary supernatural plots.

He is the son of Jayalakshmi, a Tamil ...

As a writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan is, at the very least, always original. He's made a couple of duds when he has ventured outside of his familiar territory (Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, After Earth). However, when M. Night Shyamalan sticks to his strengths combining an interesting story, quiet and creepy direction, nuanced characters, and a trademark twist, he is one of the best horror directors in the business. He has the talent to create some of the most chilling movies I've seen (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Visit).

37. Kevin Costner

Actor | The Postman

Kevin Michael Costner was born on January 18, 1955 in Lynwood, California, the third child of Bill Costner, a ditch digger and ultimately an electric line servicer for Southern California Edison, and Sharon Costner (née Tedrick), a welfare worker. His older brother, Dan, was born in 1950. A middle ...

With only three films under his belt, Kevin Costner doesn't have a terrific output rate at all, but the films he has made are done with a strong sense of storytelling, letting the story and characters do the heavy lifting while he indulges on some gorgeous photography. His films are quiet epics powered by great acting and engrossing stories. Two of his movies are masterpieces, but my appreciation of Costner comes more from his personality. Kevin Costner has a tranquil, unpretentious spirit to him, as evidenced by his iconic roles in Field of Dreams, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Man of Steel. Dances With Wolves and Open Range are on a short list of my very favorite movies, and I even think The Postman is an extremely well-directed and uplifting post-apocalyptic epic. More importantly though, Kevin Costner, as an actor, director, and person, exudes a kind of quiet American spirit that I connect with on a personal level.

38. Brian De Palma

Director | Dressed to Kill

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 September 11, 1940, De Palma was born in Newark, New Jersey in an Italian-American ...

Like his friend Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma is a director in love with the camera. No matter what material he is working with, be it the horror of Carrie, the mystery of Snake Eyes, or the action of Mission Impossible, De Palma makes sure to give the audience a show. His camera moves with tremendous energy, highlighting his films' surplus of technical craft. Even when the stories aren't as interesting, De Palma's enthusiasm shines through.

39. Chris Columbus

Producer | Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Ohio, Chris Columbus was first inspired to make movies after seeing "The Godfather" at age 15. After enrolling at NYU film school, he sold his first screenplay (never produced) while a sophomore there. After graduation Columbus tried to sell his fourth script, "...

I see Chris Columbus as the best family filmmaker ever. There is a reason that many of the films that shaped my childhood are Chris Columbus films. He's shown the ability to make family comedies that don't just skate by on slapstick alone. There is a real emotional core to movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone (one of my favorite movies ever). His adventure movies are similarly warm and fuzzy, without going overboard. The first two Harry Potter movies (Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) are, in my opinion, the best Harry Potter movies because there is a child-like magic in them that the other movies don't have. Chris Columbus is the only family filmmaker that I find truly special.

40. Joe Johnston

Director | Captain America: The First Avenger

Joe Johnston was born on May 13, 1950 in Austin, Texas, USA as Joseph Eggleston Johnston II. He is known for his work on Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and The Rocketeer (1991).

He may not be the greatest director in a technical sense, but Joe Johnston brings a delightful, unpretentious sense of fun to all his movies. I see him as a sort of Steven Spielberg Lite. From lighter family fare like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, and Jumanji, to more adult pictures like The Wolfman, Jurassic Park 3, and Captain America: The First Avenger, there is always a warm, nostalgic feeling to a Joe Johnston movie. Old school adventure combined with new age thrills is what you get in the best of Joe Johnston's work.

41. Baz Luhrmann

Writer | Moulin Rouge!

Baz Luhrmann is an Australian writer, director, and producer with projects spanning film, television, opera, theatre, music, and recording industries. He is regarded by many as a contemporary example of an auteur for his distinctly recognizable style and deep involvement in the writing, directing, ...

When in comes to art-house filmmaking, Baz Luhrmann is one of the most successful and unique voices. His films have a certain kind of artistic vision, like modern art on film. I don't think Luhrmann is capable of creating a world that completely resembles our own. Every film from Strictly Ballroom onward exude a heightened reality. The riffs on classic literature (Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby) are fascinating examples of old and new blending seamlessly. Moulin Rouge, Australia, and all the other Luhrmann movies serve as excellent examples of accessible cinematic art.

42. Alex Proyas

Director | Dark City

Alex Proyas has moved effortlessly between helming TV commercials and music videos to feature films. Born to Greek parents in Egypt, Proyas relocated to Australia with his family when he was three years old. He began making films at age ten and went on to attend the Australian Film Television and ...

Alex Proyas gets my appreciation in two ways. He is consistently great as a visual artist, especially in movies like The Crow and Gods of Egypt. He is also a commendable sci-fi storyteller as seen in a highly original, idea driven science fiction movie like Knowing. When he combines the visuals with the ideas, we get truly great science fiction films like Dark City and I, Robot. High concept, original blockbusters are hard to come by, and Alex Proyas is one of the few directors who specializes in that area.

43. Zack Snyder

Director | 300

Zachary Edward "Zack" Snyder (born March 1, 1966) is an American film director, film producer, and screenwriter, best known for action and science fiction films. Snyder made his feature film debut with the 2004 remake Dawn of the Dead and has gone on to be known for his comic book movies and ...

Zack Snyder is rightfully revered as a unique visual presence in Hollywood. A Snyder film is noticeable from frame one for its rich, comic book style visuals and highly stylized slow-motion action. Some might be turned off by his distinct visual signature, but I find Snyder's visuals to be a perfect fit with the stories he's told. The comic book adaptations work especially well with his style. 300, Watchmen, and Batman v. Superman all feel like paintings or drawings in motion. His remake of Dawn of the Dead is one of the great zombie movies ever made, and his animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a rousing family adventure, and I hope he challenges himself more, but Snyder's style has found a home with superhero cinema.

44. Paul Verhoeven

Director | Zwartboek

Paul Verhoeven graduated from the University of Leiden, with a degree in math and physics. He entered the Royal Netherlands Navy, where he began his film career by making documentaries for the Navy and later for TV. In 1969, he directed the popular Dutch TV series, Floris (1969), about a medieval ...

The main reason for Paul Verhoeven's inclusion on my favorite directors list is the Dutch director's string of action classics, starting with the satirical yet emotional, badass yet heartwarming, Robocop, and continuing through the psychological action trip Total Recall, the comedic sci-fi romp Starship Troopers, and the invisible slasher flick Hollow Man. Yes, Verhoeven has done admirable work besides these blockbusters, but his knack for highly entertaining action, whether it is smart and emotional or just big and dumb, is something that I admire.

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