50 Favorite Directors

by underhill-dm | created - 15 Jul 2012 | updated - 3 months ago | Public

I haven't seen every movie known to man, so don't read this as a "50 Best Directors" list. I'm clearly not the one to be judging that. These are my favorites based on the films I've watched.

Most of these people have made a lot of films, and those I've seen I've taken into account. But minutiae is boring so I only listed films I'd score an 8 out of 10 or higher.

1. Joel Coen

Writer | Fargo

Joel Coen was born on November 29, 1954 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA as Joel Daniel Coen. He is a producer and writer, known for Fargo (1996), A Serious Man (2009) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). He has been married to Frances McDormand since April 1, 1984. They have one child.

Why: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis, Hail Caesar!

*Note: Ethan Coen shares directing credits on some of these and is an uncredited co-director of the rest, so this spot belongs to the Brothers Coen.

2. 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 ...

Why: Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut

3. Woody Allen

Writer | Manhattan

Woody Allen was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg on December 1, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, to Nettie (Cherrie), a bookkeeper, and Martin Konigsberg, a waiter and jewellery engraver. His father was of Russian Jewish descent, and his maternal grandparents were Austrian Jewish immigrants. As a young boy...

Why: Annie Hall, Interiors, Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, Another Woman, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets over Broadway, Match Point, Cassandra's Dream, Midnight in Paris

4. 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 ...

Why: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Shutter Island

5. 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 ...

Why: Lifeboat, Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Frenzy

6. 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...

Why: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Grindhouse, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight

7. Steven Spielberg

Producer | Artificial Intelligence: AI

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, ...

Why: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Minority Report

8. David Lynch

Writer | Twin Peaks

Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films, David Lynch spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married Peggy Lynch and then fathered future ...

Why: Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr.

9. Peter Jackson

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

Peter Jackson was born as an only child in a small coast-side town in New Zealand in 1961. When a friend of his parents bought him a super 8 movie camera (because she saw how much he enjoyed taking photos), the then eight-year-old Peter instantly grabbed the thing to start recording his own movies,...

Why: Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, The Lord of the Rings trilogy

10. Wes Anderson

Writer | Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wesley Wales Anderson was born in Houston, Texas. His mother, Texas Ann (Burroughs), is an archaeologist turned real estate agent, and his father, Melver Leonard Anderson, worked in advertising and PR. He has two brothers, Eric and Mel. Anderson's parents divorced when he was a young child, an ...

Why: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel

11. David Fincher

Director | Se7en

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...

Why: Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl

12. Terry Gilliam

Writer | Brazil

Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota near Medicine Lake. When he was 12 his family moved to Los Angeles where he became a fan of Mad magazine. In his early 20's he was often stopped by the police who often suspected him of being a drug addict and Gilliam had to explain that he worked in advertising....

Why: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

13. 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, Milton Cronenberg, was a journalist and editor, and his mother, Esther (Sumberg), was a piano player. After showing an inclination for literature at an early...

Why: Scanners, The Dead Zone, The Fly, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises

14. 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 ...

Why: Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

15. Christopher Nolan

Writer | The Prestige

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.

...

Why: Memento, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar"

16. Billy Wilder

Writer | The Apartment

Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city's largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many ...

Why: Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

17. 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 ...

Why: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

18. 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 ...

Why: Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

19. 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 ...

Why: The Evil Dead trilogy, A Simple Plan, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Drag Me to Hell

20. Paul Thomas Anderson

Director | Punch-Drunk Love

Anderson was born in 1970. He was one of the first of the "video store" generation of film-makers. His father was the first man on his block to own a V.C.R., and from a very early age Anderson had an infinite number of titles available to him. While film-makers like Spielberg cut their teeth making...

Why: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master

21. Ingmar Bergman

Writer | Smultronstället

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July 14, 1918, the son of a priest. The film and T.V. series, The Best Intentions (1992) 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 (1996) is the ...

Why: The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Scenes from a Marriage

22. Richard Linklater

Director | Waking Life

Self-taught writer-director Richard Stuart Linklater was born in Houston, Texas, to Diane Margaret (Krieger), who taught at a university, and Charles W. Linklater III. Richard was among the first and most successful talents to emerge during the American independent film renaissance of the 1990s. ...

Why: Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, Boyhood

23. Roman Polanski

Actor | Chinatown

Roman Polanski is a Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few truly international filmmakers. Roman Polanski was born in Paris in 1933. His parents returned to Poland from France in 1936, three years ...

Why: Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Death and the Maiden, The Pianist

24. Steven Soderbergh

Director | Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Steven Andrew Soderbergh was born on January 14, 1963 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, the second of six children of Mary Ann (Bernard) and Peter Soderbergh. His father was of Swedish and Irish descent, and his mother was of Italian ancestry. While he was still at a very young age, his family moved to ...

Why: King of the Hill, Out of Sight, The Limey, Traffic, Bubble, Haywire

25. John Hughes

Writer | The Breakfast Club

John Hughes was born on February 18, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan, USA as John Wilden Hughes Jr. He was a writer, known for The Breakfast Club (1985), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). He was married to Nancy Ludwig. He died on August 6, 2009 in Manhattan, ...

Why: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

26. Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer | The Neon Demon

Writer, director, and producer Nicolas Winding Refn was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1970, to Anders Refn, a film director and editor, and Vibeke Winding (née Tuxen), a cinematographer. Just before he turned 11, in 1981, he moved to New York with his parents, where he lived out his teenage years...

Why: The Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive

27. Francis Ford Coppola

Producer | The Conversation

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 ...

Why: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Apocalypse Now"

28. 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...

Why: Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Dreams

29. 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. ...

Why: Destiny, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

30. Bryan Singer

Director | X-Men

Bryan Singer was born on September 17, 1965 in New York City, New York, USA as Bryan Jay Singer. He is a producer and director, known for X-Men (2000), The Usual Suspects (1995) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Why: The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: Days of Future Past

31. John Landis

Director | The Blues Brothers

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 (1970). Remaining in Europe, Landis found work as an actor, extra and stuntman in many of the Spanish/Italian "...

Why: National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Three Amigos, Coming to America

32. Rob Reiner

Actor | All in the Family

Robert Reiner was born in New York City, to Estelle Reiner (née Lebost) and Emmy-Winning actor, comedian, writer, and producer Carl Reiner.

Robert as a child often looked up to his father as his inspiration and role-model. Carl Reiner was on The Dick Van Dyke Show which Carl Reiner created and also ...

Why: This Is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery

33. Danny Boyle

Director | 127 Hours

Danny Boyle was born on October 20, 1956 in Manchester, England as Daniel Boyle. He is a director and producer, known for 127 Hours (2010), 28 Days Later... (2002) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Why: Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Millions, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours

34. Mel Brooks

Actor | Spaceballs

Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky on June 28, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. He served in WWII, and afterwards got a job playing the drums at nightclubs in the Catskills. Brooks eventually started a comedy act and also worked in radio and as Master Entertainer at Grossinger's Resort before going to ...

Why: The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, History of the World: Part 1, Spaceballs

35. Jim Jarmusch

Director | Only Lovers Left Alive

Moved to New York City at the age of seventeen from Akron, Ohio. Graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in English, class of '75. Without any prior film experience, he was accepted into the Tisch School of the Arts, New York.

Why: Stranger than Paradise, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Broken Flowers, Only Lovers Left Alive

36. 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 ...

Why: Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan

37. Sergio Leone

Writer | Once Upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone was virtually born into the cinema - he was the son of Roberto Roberti (A.K.A. Vincenzo Leone), one of Italy's cinema pioneers, and actress Bice Valerian. Leone entered films in his late teens, working as an assistant director to both Italian directors and U.S. directors working in ...

Why: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West

38. Werner Herzog

Director | Fitzcarraldo

Director. Writer. Producer. Has studied history, literature and theatre, but hasn't finished it. Founded his own production company in 1963. Has staged several operas, besides others in Bayreuth, Germany, and at the Milan Scala in Italy. Herzog has won numerous national and international awards for...

Why: Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, Rescue Dawn, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

39. Edgar Wright

Director | Shaun of the Dead

Edgar Howard Wright (born 18 April 1974) is an English director, screenwriter, producer, and actor. He is best known for his comedic Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy consisting of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World's End (2013), made with recurrent collaborators Simon Pegg...

Why: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World's End

40. John Carpenter

Writer | The Fog

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 ...

Why: Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live

41. Oliver Stone

Director | JFK

Oliver Stone has become known as a master of controversial subjects and a legendary film maker. His films are filled with a variety of film angles and styles, he pushes his actors to give Oscar-worthy performances, and despite his failures, has always returned to success.

William Oliver Stone was ...

Why: Platoon, Talk Radio, JFK

42. Frank Oz

Actor | The Muppet Show

Frank Richard Oznowicz was born in Hereford, England to puppeteers Frances and Isidore Oznowicz. His family moved to Montana in 1951, eventually settling in Oakland, California. As a teenager, he worked as an apprentice puppeteer at Children's Fairyland amusement park. He is one of the primary ...

Why: The Dark Crystal, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?

43. 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 ...

Why: The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies

44. Milos Forman

Director | One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Milos Forman was born Jan Tomas Forman in Caslav, Czechoslovakia, to Anna (Svabova), who ran a summer hotel, and Rudolf Forman, a professor. During World War II, his parents were taken away by the Nazis, after being accused of participating in the underground resistance. His father died in ...

Why: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt

45. 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 ...

Why: Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, Gravity

46. Paul Greengrass

Director | United 93

Paul Greengrass started his filmmaking career with a super 8 camera he found in his art room in secondary school. Those short movies were animation horror films he made using old dolls, artist dummies, and the general art room clutter.

After studying in Cambridge University he got into Granada ...

Why: Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum

47. Buster Keaton

Actor | The General

Joseph Frank Keaton was born on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, to Joe Keaton and Myra Keaton. Joe and Myra were Vaudevillian comedians with a popular, ever-changing variety act, giving Keaton an eclectic and interesting upbringing. In the earliest days on stage, they traveled with a medicine ...

Why: Sherlock Jr., The General, Steamboat Bill Jr.

48. Richard Donner

Director | Superman

Richard Donner was born on April 24, 1930 in New York City, New York, USA as Richard D. Schwartzberg. He is a director and producer, known for Superman (1978), Ladyhawke (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987). He has been married to Lauren Shuler Donner since November 27, 1986.

Why: The Omen, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon 2"

49. Spike Lee

Director | Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee was born Shelton Jackson Lee on March 20, 1957, in Atlanta, Georgia. At a very young age, he moved from pre-civil rights Georgia, to Brooklyn, New York. Lee came from artistic, education-grounded background; his father was a jazz musician, and his mother, a schoolteacher. He attended ...

Why: Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour

50. J.J. Abrams

Producer | Lost

Jeffrey Jacob Abrams was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles, the son of TV producer parents. Abrams planned on going to dental school, but decided to study film at Sarah Lawrence College. At 15, he wrote the music for Don Dohler's Nightbeast (1982). In his senior year, he and Jill ...

Why: Star Trek, Star Trek into Darkness, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens