The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked

Over 8.8K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked
Voting Rules
The best directors currently living.
Latest additions: Martin McDonagh, Nick Searcy, James Woods
Most divisive: J.J. Abrams

List of the best living filmmakers (though not necessarily still actively making films.) When discussing the finest directors of all time, a few names immediately pop to mind. John Ford. John Huston. Frank Capra. But adding in the condition that they must still be living adds a level of difficulty.

Sure, you still have a few luminaries who are with us and clearly are contenders for the title - Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg. These guys are no slouches. But it starts to make the list a bit more challenging to compile, particularly when you consider the vast array of genres and styles in which these directors are working. Can John Lasseter's work in animation be directly compared to Sofia Coppola's atmospheric character studies? Can John Carpenter's '80s horror classics comfortably sit side-by-side with Wes Anderson's twee indie adventures? These are the kinds of tough calls Ranker listers are just going to have to make.

One final element to consider would be consistency. Terrence Malick has made far fewer films than most of the entrants on this list, but most (if not all) have been of a remarkably high level of quality. Does that earn him a spot above, say, Clint Eastwood, who has worked a lot but with a somewhat more spotty record? Tough choices... but isn't that what ranking is all about?

Ranked by
  • Martin Scorsese
    Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull
    3,949 votes
    • Birthplace: Queens, New York, USA
    • Nationality: United States of America

    Renowned for his gritty, visually kinetic films, Scorsese has spent over five decades shaping American cinema with an indelible influence on countless filmmakers. Masterfully weaving themes of identity, redemption, and organized crime, his narratives leave audiences captivated by their raw intensity and stark emotional landscapes. The director's signature fast-paced editing, stellar ensemble casts, and frequent collaborations with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio reaffirm his status as a seminal figure in the world of film.

  • Christopher Nolan
    Interstellar, The Dark Knight, Dunkirk
    3,926 votes
    • Birthplace: England, London
    • Nationality: United States of America, United Kingdom

    Bold, cerebral, and visually stunning, Nolan's films effortlessly push the boundaries of narrative structure and audience expectations. Characterized by complex plots, inventive storytelling techniques, and grandiose visual effects, his work consistently challenges the viewer to question the very nature of reality. Meticulously crafted and deeply philosophical, Nolan's oeuvre leaves a profound impact on moviegoers, ensuring his place as one of the most influential directors of his generation.

  • Quentin Tarantino
    Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds
    3,979 votes
    • Birthplace: Tennessee, USA, Knoxville
    • Nationality: United States of America

    Having redefined contemporary cinema through a unique fusion of pop culture references, non-linear storytelling, and stylized violence, Tarantino remains a permanent fixture in the annals of film history. His groundbreaking narratives and razor-sharp dialogue seamlessly blend homages to classic film genres, carving out a distinctive niche that is undeniably his own. With a penchant for creating instantly iconic characters and a flair for interweaving storylines, Tarantino's oeuvre continues to challenge and inspire both audiences and filmmakers alike.

  • David Fincher
    Fight Club, The Social Network, Se7en
    2,780 votes
    • Birthplace: USA, Denver, Colorado
    • Nationality: United States of America

    Known for his unflinching explorations into the darkest depths of human psychology, Fincher's meticulously crafted thrillers have left an indelible mark on modern cinema. His intricately woven stories are laden with themes of obsession, compulsion, and manipulation, bearing the unmistakable signature of his visual precision and atmospheric tension. With a keen eye for detail and a penchant for subverting expectations, Fincher's films stand as powerful testaments to his mastery of the medium.

  • Francis Ford Coppola
    The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now
    2,915 votes
    • Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, USA
    • Nationality: Italy, United States of America

    Heralded as one of the principal architects of the New Hollywood movement, Coppola's sweeping epics and seminal masterpieces have solidified his place in the annals of film history. His ability to create unforgettable cinematic moments is matched only by his innovative narrative techniques, which often incorporate lush visual symbolism and operatic scores. With a career spanning over five decades, Coppola's enduring influence on filmmaking is unquestionable, thanks in large part to his unwavering commitment to artistic integrity and storytelling prowess.

  • Steven Spielberg
    E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Schindler's List
    3,929 votes
    • Birthplace: USA, Cincinnati, Ohio
    • Nationality: United States of America

    Perhaps the quintessential figure of modern American cinema, Spielberg's unparalleled ability to blend heartwarming emotion and thrilling action remains unmatched. His iconic films have consistently pushed the boundaries of the medium, tackling themes of wonder, adventure, and humanity in ways that resonate with audiences of all ages. With a career spanning nearly half a century and an endless supply of unforgettable moments, Spielberg's influence on the art of filmmaking is nothing short of profound.