Famous Film Directors

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 11:14 am

If you’re serious about cinema, this list of famous film directors should serve as a guide the next time you’re ready to stock your Netflix queue. For fans of motion pictures, the men listed below are, at the very least, household names. They’ve won Oscars, influenced future filmmakers, and turned out consistently high-quality products.

Along with each of these famous film directors, I’ve included four films that capture their directorial talent and style. Watch them, study them, love them.

NOTE: No female directors are included on this list. That’s not because I’m a misogynist. It’s just that there are no women directors who’ve become household names or churned out hit after hit for 50 years. I hope that will change, but all I can do in the meantime is document the past. If you do feel that I’ve left out someone important–and this list is admittedly not comprehensive by a long shot–be sure to chime in respectfully on our comments section.

Steven Spielberg – Winner of two Oscars for Best Director, Spielberg is one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. His projects have enjoyed immense success at the box office, and early films such as Jaws helped create the concept of the Hollywood blockbuster.
Four Suggested Works: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan

Alfred Hitchcock – Though he never attended film school, Hitchcock is regarded as the master of the suspense and thriller genres. His films often featured twist endings, hot blondes, and camerawork designed to lend a voyeuristic aspect to the proceedings. “Hitch” made cameo appearances in all his films, and his distinctive voice and appearance made him one of the most famous film directors to have ever lived. Considered the greatest director to come out of England, his career stretched six decades and produced over 50 feature films.
Four Suggested Works: Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, Rear Window, The Lady Vanishes

Akira Kurosawa – Working as a director, editor, screenwriter, and producer, this legendary Japanese filmmaker influenced everyone from Francis Ford Coppola to Steven Spielberg. He insisted on editing his own films, an art that he believed was the most important and rewarding part of the filmmaking process. Fond of using wipes as transitions and weather to emphasize the mood of his characters, Kurosawa directed 30 films in his 57-year career. Easily the most influential Japanese filmmaker, especially on American directors.
Four Suggested Works: Rashoman, Seven Samurai, Red Beard, The Hidden Fortress

Frank Capra – The films of Frank Capra were often uplifting affairs, demonstrating the innate goodness of the common man and the value of hard work. A winner of six Academy Awards during his life, he influenced directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Francois Truffaut, and Robert Altman. Served in World War I and World War II, making propaganda films during the latter.
Four Suggested Works: It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

William Wyler – During the 1930s and 1940s, anything Wyler directed was considered as good as gold. He was especially adept at adapting literary works to the big screen, and he would win a total of three Academy Awards for Best Director during his lifetime. While his film career began by cleaning stages and moving the set, he rose through the ranks to become a director known for his perfectionism (his nickname was “90-Take Wyler”).
Four Suggested Works: Mrs. Miniver, Ben-Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday

Martin Scorsese – A noted film historian as well as director, screenwriter, actor, and producer, Scorsese is best known for violent works featuring recurring themes of redemption, crime, faith, and Italian American identity. Praised by directors ranging from Akira Kurosawa to Werner Herzog, Scorsese has frequently collaborated with actors Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio. He has also been instrumental in the area of film preservation, making sure that classic motion pictures remain in existence for future generations to enjoy.
Four Suggested Works: Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy

Francis Ford Coppola – A screenwriter, producer, and director, Coppola is responsible for some of the greatest motion pictures ever made (namely the Godfather trilogy). Father of director Sophia Coppola and uncle of actor Nicolas Cage, he has been awarded the Best Director Oscar for his work on The Godfather Part II. As a screenwriter, he is responsible for films ranging from Patton to The Conversation. Away from the camera, Coppola is a successful hotelier, vintner, and magazine publisher.
Four Suggested Works: Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II

Woody Allen – With his distinctive narrative and tendency to star in his own projects–as well as his life off-camera–Woody Allen is a filmmaker recognized around the globe. With a high rate of production, his body of work continues to grow each year. His Jewish heritage figures prominently into many of his movies, and relationships between men and women are a common centerpiece. While he’s won one Oscar for Best Director, he’s been nominated as a screenwriter more than any other person in the history of the Academy Awards. Allen is also an author, playwright, comic, and jazz clarinetist.
Four Suggested Works: Broadway Danny Rose, Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo

Cecil B. DeMille – Starting as an actor on Broadway, DeMille rose to become a major force in both silent and sound pictures. Noted for the sheer spectacle of his productions, a DeMille film often included massive set pieces and thousands of extras. Some within the industry–including his own friends–criticized the overall quality of his movies, but anything directed by DeMille was almost guaranteed to be box office gold. A master of giving the moviegoing public what they wanted.
Four Suggested Works: Cleopatra, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments, Unconquered

Spike Lee – Controversial filmmaker whose projects often deal with issues such as poverty, racism, and urban crime. Always outspoken, he has been critical in the past of everyone from Clint Eastwood to Charlton Heston. Away from the cameras and lights, he’s a passionate fan of the New York Knicks.
Four Suggested Works: Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Inside Man, 4 Little Girls

Ingmar Bergman – Considered one of the most influential filmmakers who ever lived, this Swedish director was noted for his cinematic meditations on both hope and despair. With themes such as death, insanity, and illness running though his projects, Bergman’s films often failed to find great commercial success. But he continued to explore the human condition in spite of this, directing over 60 films and 170 plays during his lifetime. A major influence on David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and Ang Lee (among others).
Four Suggested Works: Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal

Quentin Tarantino – With works that often deal with crime or stylized violence, Quentin Tarantino has carved out a place as one of the greatest directors working today. A former video store clerk, he incorporates his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture into his films, often borrowing scenes or lines of dialogue from his favorite works. Tarantino writes the screenplays for his films, and he has also served as a producer, actor, and cinematographer.
Four Suggested Works: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds, Jackie Brown

John Ford – Winner of a record four Best Director Oscars, John Ford was noted for his adaptations of 20th-century novels and Westerns shot in Monument Valley (often starring John Wayne). Economical in his shooting and not afraid to verbally and physically abuse his actors, Ford has been listed as a major influence on such filmmaking legends as Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, and Ingmar Bergman. During World War II, he filmed documentaries for the Navy Department, being present at both the Battle of Midway and Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Four Suggested Works: The Searchers, The Quiet Man, How Green Was My Valley, Stagecoach

Jean-Luc Godard – The most influential filmmaker of the French New Wave movement, Godard has inspired Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese, and many others. His films have been known to have a heavy emphasis of political ideals, film history, and existentialism. Prior to becoming a director, he was a celebrated film critic for the French publication Cahiers du cinema.
Four Suggested Works: Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Contempt, A Woman Is a Woman

Howard Hawks – Influencing directors such as Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter, the films of Howard Hawks ranged over many genres (including sci-fi, noir, comedy, and Westerns) and often included tough-talking female characters who would later be dubbed the “Hawksian woman archetype.” He also served as a screenwriter and producer during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Four Suggested Works: Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, Sergeant York, The Big Sleep

Stanley Kubrick – While he never won a Best Director Academy Award and only made 13 films during his career, Stanley Kubrick is still roundly admired as an artistic genius in his field. During the course of his life, he worked in a number of genres and was known for the meticulous care he put into each project. Often dealing with controversial subject matter, his films have served as an inspiration for everyone from James Cameron to Woody Allen.
Four Suggested Works: The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange

Orson Welles – During his life, Welles gained fame as a movie director, actor, producer, and screenwriter, as well as enjoying success in theatre, radio, and television. Considered by many to be the greatest director who ever lived, Welles pioneered a number of camera and storytelling techniques for the big screen. His film Citizen Kane is frequently regarded as the most important work in the history of cinema.
Four Suggested Works: Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, Othello

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 at 11:14 am and is filed under Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Famous Film Directors”

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September 18, 2010

Tommy Kester

This is great information – thanks for the write-up. I really love your blog and will be certainly coming back.

December 2, 2010


i would like to know where these directors have study

February 4, 2011

ogoo eze

pls direct me to any firm director in new york because i have a good movie but i did not have the money. i wrote them down and i can also act if i am giving the chance


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