The Greatest Directors of All Time

Please read this list in conjunction with my chapter on Auteur Theory.  The list attempts to reconcile a given director’s overall oeuvre, cinematic contributions (to theory and culture), and my personal taste.  In some cases, I considered popularity; there is something to say about a directors ability to garner an audience.  You will see that a good number of usual favorites do not make the cut in this list.  That is because a lot of these, unfortunately, don’t live up to my standard.

When it comes to my favorite directors, it really comes down to the top four. The way I see it, there are four heads on the Mt. Rushmore of cinema and all else fall into place after this virtual tie for first.  These four mean the most to me.  They excite me, they make me think, and they touch me deeply.  One is a notorious exhibitionist with visual flare and a sexy style that was perennially conscious of his own voyeurism.  Another is a profound philosopher who was unafraid to create imagery and dabble in the supernatural in his quest to answer some of life’s deepest questions.   The other is cinema’s purest saint, a minimalist whose films—like prayers—reflect the spiritual conflict within far more than the temporal goings-on without.  The fourth is the most unique of all filmmakers, creating a style unto himself while helping all who watch his films realize just how grateful they are for the lives they have and for what they have been given.  They represent the most important spheres of artistic quandaries: psychological, philosophical, spiritual, and social.  They are a composite of perfection.

  1. Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho)
  2. Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Persona)
  3. Yasujirô Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring)
  4. Robert Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest, Au hasard Balthazar)
  5. Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Ikiru)
  6. John Ford (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance)
  7. Jean Renoir (The Rules of the Game, Grand Illusion)
  8. Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons)
  9. Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, Modern Times)
  10. Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot)
  11. Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2)
  12. Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
  13. Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura, L’eclisse)
  14. Andrei Tarkovsky (Mirror, Stalker)
  15. Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, October: Ten Days that Shook the World)
  16. F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Nosferatu)
  17. D.W. Griffith (Broken Blossoms, Birth of a Nation)
  18. Max Ophüls (The Earrings of Madame de…, Le Plaisir)
  19. Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu, The Life of Oharu)
  20. Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull)
  21. Vittorio de Sica (The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D)
  22. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Days of Heaven)
  23. Carl Theodore Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Day of Wrath)
  24. David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai)
  25. François Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim)
  26. Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Heart of Glass)
  27. Luis Buñuel (Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel)
  28. Woody Allen (Manhattan, Annie Hall)
  29. Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Contempt)
  30. Fritz Lang (M, The Big Heat)
  31. Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now)
  32. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood)
  33. Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial)
  34. Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby)
  35. Jean Cocteau (Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus)
  36. Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City, The Flowers of St. Francis)
  37. Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
  38. Michael Powell (Peeping Tom, The Red Shoes)
  39. Buster Keaton (The General, Sherlock, Jr.)
  40. Jean Vigo (L’Atalante, Zero for Conduct)
  41. Krzysztof Kieslowksi (Dekalog, Three Colors: Red)
  42. Dziga Vertov (Man With a Movie Camera, A Sixth Part of the World)
  43. Robert Altman (MASH, Nashville)
  44. Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali, The Music Room)
  45. Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of the North, The Louisiana Story)
  46. Yimou Zhang (Raise the Red Lantern, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles)
  47. Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind)
  48. Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo)
  49. Ernst Lubitsch (To Be or Not to Be, Ninotchka)
  50. William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur)
  51. Agnès Varda (Clèo from 5 to 7, La Point Courte)
  52. Jacques Tati (Playtime, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday)
  53. Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima mon amour)
  54. Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve)
  55. Victor Sjöström (The Phantom Carriage, The Outlaw and His Wife)
  56. Marcel Carné (Children of Paradise, Le jour se lève)
  57. Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire)
  58. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman or [the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance], The Revenant)
  59. Raoul Walsh (White Heat, The Roaring Twenties)
  60. Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, The Awful Truth)
  61. Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Veronika Voss, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)
  62. Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles)
  63. Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder, Laura)
  64. Chris Marker (La Jetée, Sans Soleil)
  65. Eric Rohmer (La Collectionneuse, My Night at Maud’s)
  66. George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story, My Fair Lady)
  67. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
  68. Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien)
  69. Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West)
  70. Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique, The Wages of Fear)
  71. Jacques Demy (The Young Girls of Rochefort, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg)
  72. Jean-Pierre Melville (Le samouraï, The Army of Shadows)
  73. Laurence Olivier (Hamlet, Richard III)
  74. Masaki Kobayashi (Harakiri, The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer)
  75. Christopher Nolan (The Prestige, Memento)
  76. Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia)
  77. John Huston (The Maltese FalconThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre)
  78. Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas)
  79. Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, The Miracle Worker)
  80. David Fincher (Seven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
  81. Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Midnight)
  82. Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)
  83. Erich von Stroheim (Greed, The Merry Widow)
  84. Vincente Minelli (An American in Paris, Meet Me in St. Louis)
  85. Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network)
  86. Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Repulsion)
  87. Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap)
  88. Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel)
  89. Luchino Visconti (The Leopard, The Earth Trembles)
  90. Cecil B. DeMille (Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments)
  91. Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK)
  92. James Cameron (Titanic, The Terminator)
  93. Anthony Mann (Winchester ’73, The Naked Spur)
  94. Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page)
  95. Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, A Night at the Opera)
  96. Frédéric Back (The Man Who Planted Trees, Crac!)
  97. Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Charade)
  98. Mel Brooks (The Producers, Young Frankenstein)
  99. Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living, Midnight)
  100. Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, High Noon)
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6 thoughts on “The Greatest Directors of All Time

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