oscars The Greatest Directors in Movie History  

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List Rules Most important, culturally significant filmmakers of all time who deserve award recognition.

List of the greatest directors in movie history, who are most deserving of Academy Awards and critical recognition. The list includes directors who have already won major awards, those who continue to have the potential to win Oscars and filmmakers who were overlooked by the Academy during their lifetimes. The skill set of a high-level director is massive - everything from working with and managing large teams to a strong aesthetic and artistic sensibility to the ability to sell ideas to studio executives and potential collaborators. Though many have mastered the actual work of getting films made, only a rare few have managed to create truly memorable, important motion pictures that will stand the test of time.

Often, the greatest of these filmmakers will go unrecognized by the Motion Picture Academy, particularly during the most active, vital period of their careers. Alfred Hitchcock famously never took home a statue for Best Director, despite being perhaps the MOST iconic of all film directors, and certainly one of the most significant contributors to contemporary film language and genre. Martin Scorsese eventually did take home Best Director for his work on "The Departed," but this film came long after the movies for which Scorsese will likely be best remembered - "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and so on.

This list disregards the quibbles over who has won in the past or will win in the future, and instead focuses purely on the quality of the filmmaking and the importance of the films themselves. Vote for your favorite directors, and if some of your choices haven't yet made the list, make your own version of the list and add them on there!
list ordered by

1
3,027 1,048
Stanley Kubrick is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Stanley Kubrick Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey

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2
2,660 740
Alfred Hitchcock is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Alfred Hitchcock Psycho, The Birds, The Man Who Knew Too Much

3
2,598 771
Martin Scorsese is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo, Goodfellas

4
2,403 1,241
Steven Spielberg is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Steven Spielberg Munich, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, War of the Worlds

5
1,604 787
Francis Ford Coppola is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Francis Ford Coppola The Cotton Club, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Apocalypse Now

6
2,457 1,213
Quentin Tarantino is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained, Reservoir Dogs, Grindhouse

7
1,472 605
Akira Kurosawa is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Akira Kurosawa Rashomon, Hakuchi, The Bad Sleep Well

8
1,383 580
Orson Welles is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Orson Welles Citizen Kane, Don Quixote, Macbeth

9
2,299 1,049
Christopher Nolan is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Christopher Nolan Batman Begins, Memento, The Dark Knight

10
1,362 612
Joel Coen is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Joel & Ethan Coen Burn After Reading, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis

11
1,267 519
Charlie Chaplin is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Charlie Chaplin Modern Times, City Lights, The Great Dictator

12
1,044 470
Ingmar Bergman is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Ingmar Bergman Persona, Cries & Whispers, A Lesson of Love

13
867 405
Billy Wilder is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Billy Wilder Some Like it Hot, Sunset Blvd, The Apartment

14
1,225 655
Ridley Scott is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Ridley Scott The Counselor, American Gangster, Blade Runner

15
1,093 571
Sergio Leone is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Sergio Leone Once Upon A Time In America, Duck, You Sucker

The Most Iconoclastic Directors in Film History The Best Cruise Lines

16
1,228 492
David Fincher is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
David Fincher Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network

17
1,034 495
David Lynch is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
David Lynch Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, The Elephant Man

18
888 356
Federico Fellini is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Federico Fellini 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, Roma

19
1,300 633
Clint Eastwood is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Clint Eastwood Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino

20
818 391
John Ford is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
John Ford The Searchers, The Quiet Man, The Grapes of Wrath

21
671 287
Frank Capra is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Frank Capra It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, It Happened One Night

22
681 317
Fritz Lang is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Fritz Lang Metropolis, Scarlet Street, Clash by Night

23
834 537
Roman Polanski is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Roman Polanski The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby

24
898 753
Woody Allen is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Woody Allen Annie Hall, Anything Else, To Rome With Love

25
608 240
Andrei Tarkovsky is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Andrei Tarkovsky Solaris, Andrei Rublev, The Sacrifice

26
605 307
Sidney Lumet is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Sidney Lumet 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network

27
729 351
Paul Thomas Anderson is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Paul Thomas Anderson There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights

28
596 271
David Lean is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
David Lean Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, A Passage to India

29
538 295
Miloš Forman is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Miloš Forman One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Loves of a Blonde

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30
636 366
Robert Zemeckis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Robert Zemeckis Back To The Future Trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away

31
882 608
James Cameron is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
James Cameron Titanic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Alien Quadrilogy

32
653 408
Wes Anderson is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Wes Anderson The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited

33
748 568
Tim Burton is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Tim Burton Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice

34
447 220
Elia Kazan is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Elia Kazan On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden

35
473 271
François Truffaut is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
François Truffaut The 400 Blows, The Last Metro, Jules and Jim

36
438 253
Howard Hawks is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Howard Hawks The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday, Rio Bravo

37
472 287
John Huston is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
John Huston The Asphalt Jungle, Wise Blood, The Red Badge of Courage

38
755 551
Peter Jackson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Peter Jackson The Hobbit: There and Back Again, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hot Fuzz

39
541 351
Brian De Palma is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Brian De Palma Scarface, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables

40
500 257
Hayao Miyazaki is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Hayao Miyazaki Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoki, The Castle of Cagliostro

41
505 322
Terry Gilliam is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Terry Gilliam Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Monty Python: The Life of Brian, Twelve Monkeys

42
356 108
Coen brothers is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
The Coen Brothers True Grit

43
502 308
Mel Brooks is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Mel Brooks Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Blazing Saddles, Life Stinks

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44
402 243
Buster Keaton is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Buster Keaton The General, Mixed Magic, Excuse My Dust

45
330 203
Luis Buñuel is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Luis Buñuel The Milky Way, Death in the Garden, The River and Death

46
398 237
Werner Herzog is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Werner Herzog Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn, Encounters At The End of The World

47
368 243
Robert Altman is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Robert Altman MASH, The Company, Bonanza

48
417 218
John Carpenter is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
John Carpenter Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing

49
404 283
Terrence Malick is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
Terrence Malick The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven

50
500 364
George Lucas is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Greatest Directors in Movie History
George Lucas Star Wars Trilogy, Indiana Jones Trilogy, American Graffiti