Greatest Film Directors
and Their Best Films


Greatest Film Directors
Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 , Part 6

Greatest Film Directors of All-Time: These honored selections are designed as a tribute to some of the greatest directors of predominantly English-language films, with suggested or recommended Best Films or 'Must-See' Films from their filmographies. Unfortunately, some very talented directors have been pushed aside (50 is a limiting number), but it should be noted that many of these acclaimed film-makers were highly innovative mavericks and renegades who challenged the established 'system' that existed during their time.

50 of the listed "Greatest Film Directors" were selected by Filmsite as the greatest of all time (see below)
indicated by the symbol:

The 50 Greatest Film Directors of All Time
(alphabetical, unranked)

Woody Allen

Robert Altman

Ingmar Bergman

Mel Brooks

Tim Burton

James Cameron

Frank Capra

John Cassavetes

Charlie Chaplin

Coen, Joel and Ethan

Francis Ford Coppola

George Cukor

Michael Curtiz

Cecil B. DeMille

Clint Eastwood

John Ford

D.W. Griffith

Howard Hawks

Alfred Hitchcock

John Huston

Peter Jackson

Elia Kazan

Stanley Kubrick

Akira Kurosawa

Fritz Lang

David Lean

Spike Lee

Sergio Leone

Ernst Lubitsch

George Lucas

David Lynch

Terrence Malick

Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Vincente Minnelli

Mike Nichols

Sam Peckinpah

Arthur Penn

Roman Polanski

Michael Powell

Otto Preminger

Martin Scorsese

Ridley Scott

Steven Spielberg

Oliver Stone

Preston Sturges

Quentin Tarantino

Orson Welles

Billy Wilder

William Wyler

Robert Zemeckis

These choices are meant to encourage discussion and comparison, and to educate filmgoers about some of film history's most legendary and influential forces in film-making.

The premise of honoring these film directors is based upon the debatable auteur theory -- the idea that the director is the primary 'author' or voice of a movie, and through a director's film, we see one person's way of viewing the world -- one that has the potential to change the way we see the world. This theory also holds that the how of a film (mise en scene, literally meaning 'putting in the scene') is something under the director's control. Elements or features of mise en scene include the action, composition, sets, props, lighting, costumes, make-up, cinematographic style and technique, and visual properties - and the theory postulates that these things are more important than the what or subject of the film.

In any regard, the director is probably the most important person responsible for creating 'movie magic' and mixing together all the ingredients of the film-making process.

What were some of the criteria used to select these Greatest Directors?

  • each one has made a significant, indelible, memorable and influential contribution to the development of film and the film industry
  • each one has skillfully directed a consistent body of work with a number of great movies
    (of predominantly English-language films) - three or four unquestionably great films usually mark a top film-maker
  • each one has a compelling vision, strong aesthetic, and groundbreaking style that has helped to define cinema as we know it today
  • each one has a personal stamp that cuts across films, genres, and decades
  • each one is most deserving of an Academy Award nomination (or award) and critical recognition

See also this site's extensive write-up of information about the Best Director Academy Awards. (See the complete list of all Best Director winners here). And for fun, browse this site's information about Afred Hitchcock's Cameos, the Most Famous Film Director Cameos, and Notable Appearances of Directors in Films of Other Directors. A Ranking of the 100 Most Influential People in the History of the Movies from the Film 100 site is also worth a look.

See also this site's multi-part compilation of other deserved film directors (alphabetical) - More Great Film Directors.

Other Lists of Best Directors

Entertainment Weekly -
50 Greatest Directors and Their 100 Best Movies

(April 19, 1996)

Note: Major criticism may be leveled at Entertainment Weekly's list - it included Jonathan Demme and Jerry Lewis, but left off Charlie Chaplin, William Wyler, Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols, and Michael Curtiz, to name a few.

50 Directors and 100 Must-See Movies
  1. Alfred Hitchcock - Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954)
  2. Orson Welles - Citizen Kane (1941), Touch of Evil (1958)
  3. John Ford - Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956)
  4. Howard Hawks - Bringing Up Baby (1938), Rio Bravo (1959)
  5. Martin Scorsese - Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980)
  6. Akira Kurosawa - Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954)
  7. Buster Keaton - Sherlock Jr. (1924), The Navigator (1924)
  8. Ingmar Bergman - The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966)
  9. Frank Capra - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
  10. Federico Fellini - La Dolce Vita (1960), Amarcord (1973)
  11. Steven Spielberg - Jaws (1975), E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  12. Jean Renoir - Une Partie Campagne/A Day in the Country (1936), La Règle du Jeu/The Rules of the Game (1939)
  13. John Huston - The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  14. Luis Bunuel - L'Age D'Or (1930), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
  15. D.W. Griffith - The Birth of a Nation (1915), Way Down East (1920)
  16. Ernst Lubitsch - The Shop Around the Corner (1940), To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
  17. Robert Altman - Nashville (1975), The Player (1992)
  18. George Cukor - The Philadelphia Story (1940), A Star is Born (1954)
  19. Woody Allen - Annie Hall (1977), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
  20. Vincente Minnelli - The Clock (1945), An American in Paris (1951)
  21. Francis Ford Coppola - The Godfather Trilogy: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974), The Godfather, Part III (1990), Apocalypse Now (1979)
  22. Michael Powell - I Know Where I'm Going (1945), Peeping Tom (1960)
  23. Stanley Kubrick - Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned... (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  24. Billy Wilder - Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959)
  25. Satyajit Ray - Pather Panchali (1955), The World of Apu (1959)
  1. Roman Polanski - Repulsion (1965), Chinatown (1974)
  2. Francois Truffaut - The 400 Blows (1959), Jules and Jim (1962)
  3. Preston Sturges - The Lady Eve (1941), Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
  4. Sergei Eisenstein - Battleship Potemkin (1925), Alexander Nevsky (1938)
  5. Fritz Lang - M (1931), The Big Heat (1953)
  6. Jean-Luc Godard - Breathless (1959), Band of Outsiders (1964)
  7. Sam Peckinpah - Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch (1969)
  8. F.W. Murnau - Nosferatu, the Vampire (1922), Sunrise (1927)
  9. David Lean - Brief Encounter (1946), Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  10. Werner Herzog - Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) (aka Every Man for Himself and God Against All)
  11. Nicholas Ray - In A Lonely Place (1950), Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
  12. Josef von Sternberg - Shanghai Express (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934)
  13. Douglas Sirk - Magnificent Obsession (1954), Written on the Wind (1956)
  14. Max Ophuls - The Earrings of Madame De... (1953), Lola Montes (1955)
  15. Louis Malle - Atlantic City (1981), Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987)
  16. Sergio Leone - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, It.)
  17. Sidney Lumet - Dog Day Afternoon (1975), The Verdict (1982)
  18. Oliver Stone - Platoon (1986), JFK (1991)
  19. Bernardo Bertolucci - The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972)
  20. Jonathan Demme - Melvin and Howard (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  21. Jacques Tati - Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967)
  22. Otto Preminger - Laura (1944), Advise & Consent (1962)
  23. Spike Lee - Do the Right Thing (1989), Clockers (1995)
  24. Tim Burton - Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  25. Jerry Lewis - The Bellboy (1960), The Nutty Professor (1963)

MovieMaker Magazine - 25 Most Influential Directors of All-Time
1. Alfred Hitchcock 14. John Cassavetes
2. D.W. Griffith 15. Billy Wilder
3. Orson Welles 16. Jean Renoir
4. Jean-Luc Godard 17. Francis Ford Coppola
5. John Ford 18. Howard Hawks
6. Stanley Kubrick 19. Francois Truffaut
7. Sergei Eisenstein 20. Buster Keaton
8. Charlie Chaplin 21. Fritz Lang
9. Federico Fellini 22. John Huston
10. Steven Spielberg 23. Woody Allen
11. Martin Scorsese 24. Luis Bunuel
12. Akira Kurosawa 25. Ernst Lubitsch
13. Ingmar Bergman  

Empire Magazine - Top 40 Directors of All-Time
Note: There were some very glaring and obvious omissions from Empire's list below (i.e., Frank Capra, George Cukor, Michael Curtiz, Cecil B. DeMille, D. W. Griffith, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Buster Keaton, Ernst Lubitsch, Vincente Minnelli, F.W. Murnau, Roman Polanski, Powell and Pressburger, Otto Preminger, Douglas Sirk, George Stevens, Preston Sturges and William Wyler - to name a few), and their ranking was extremely questionable.
  1. Steven Spielberg
  2. Alfred Hitchcock
  3. Martin Scorsese
  4. Stanley Kubrick
  5. Ridley Scott
  6. Akira Kurosawa
  7. Peter Jackson
  8. Quentin Tarantino
  9. Orson Welles
  10. Woody Allen
  11. Clint Eastwood
  12. David Lean
  13. Cohen Brothers
  14. James Cameron
  15. Francis Ford Coppola
  16. Oliver Stone
  17. Sergio Leone
  18. John Ford
  19. Billy Wilder
  20. Sam Peckinpah
  1. Howard Hanks
  2. Robert Zemeckis
  3. Michael Mann
  4. David Lynch
  5. Spike Lee
  6. Francois Truffaut
  7. Brian De Palma
  8. Tony Scott
  9. Fritz Lang
  10. Tim Burton
  11. George Lucas
  12. Anthony Minghella
  13. Ron Howard
  14. Sam Raimi
  15. Charlie Chaplin
  16. Ingmar Bergman
  17. M. Night Shyamalan
  18. Peter Weir
  19. Terry Gilliam
  20. Robert Altman

Total Film Magazine's 100 Greatest Directors Ever
(August-September 2007 issues)
Note: Included their picks for each director's "picture-perfect" film.

Greatest Film Directors
Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 , Part 6

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