Greatest Directors In History - Top 30.

Updated: Jan 29

So many directors, yet only a handful of them can truly tell a story they way they envision it. Here are our top 30 directors of all time. These geniuses give storytelling a whole new meaning.


30. Steven Spielberg

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Steven Spielberg has created some of the most enjoyable films with an extensive range in genre and size. Spielberg is a man that is willing to adapt to modern movie techniques to create something that we all can enjoy. Remembering a Speilberg film is like looking into the past and feeling that same nostalgia once more. His movies are so impactful that they leave a time-stamp in most people’s lives. Many people remember watching​ E.T​. as a child or ​Jaws ​as a teen. Spielberg was destined to make this list with great hits such as ​Jurassic Park​ (1993), ​Saving Private​ (1998), ​Catch Me While You Can​ (2002), and the Indiana Jones trilogy.

29. John Ford

When you think of the western genre, who do you think of? If you didn’t say, John Wayne or John Ford, then you must be lying. John Ford, with his acclaimed films such as Stagecoach​ (1939), ​Fort Apache​ (1948), and ​The Searchers​ (1956), has established himself as the king of westerns. With over 140 films under his directing belt, we can safely assume that his directing career was well deserved.

28. Christopher Nolan

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Since Christopher Nolan’s rise to fame in the early 2000s, he has quickly risen as the king of Hollywood. Nolan has been known to even break past 1 trillion dollars in worldwide gross. His films are a perfect blend of all things that make cinema an excellent platform for interpretation. Nolan is a perfect example of a great director willing to follow the structure of storytelling and cinema while actively pushing the envelope to newer heights.

27. James Cameron

Even after almost 25 years, James Cameroon’s ​Titanic​ still holds third place in the worldwide box office. Cameroon’s film ​Avatar​, released in 2009, had the number one title for ten years and was only beaten after the release of ​Avengers: Endgame​. James Cameroon will hold the title of box-office king for some time to come. The techniques that Cameroon has added to the history of film over the years is unmatched. Even if you have only seen a handful of movies in your entire life, there is still a good chance one is a James Cameron film.


26. Ernest Lubitsch

Though it has been said that Ernest Lubitsch was challenging to work with, many filmmakers have noted that he works with elegance and finesse. Lubitsch’s subtle use of cinema has led to the creation of the term “the Lubitsch touch.” This “Lubitsch touch” is widely used today and refers to the complex use of subtlety, charisma, and well..... Lubitsch!

25. Sofia Coppola

Putting Sofia Coppola at the top of this list feels like a disservice to her and her filmmaking abilities. With notable films such as ​The Virgin Suicides​ (1999), ​Lost in Translation (2003), and ​Marie Antoinette​ (2006), Coppola has perfected her craft. Even her earlier shorts are masterfully crafted and represent her inevitable success in filmmaking.

24. Fritz Lang

Born in Austria, Fritz Lang began making feature-length films and eventually moved to Hollywood. His earlier silent films are regarded as his best works: Metropolis, M, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Lang was a key founder in the German Expressionist movement, and his career was groundbreakingly influential to the art cinema. During World War II, Lang was forced to move out of the country and found himself in Hollywood’s Golden Era. Here Lang would make a career for himself until the early 1960s where he would retire. A veteran filmmaker who saw the rise of films to the creation of sync-sound and even color.


23. The Coen Brothers

Joel and Ethan Coen are famed directors that work together as one team. They have been known to alternate between film genres without any difficulties. Take a look at some of their bigger-known films, as you will see what we mean (i.e., ​Fargo​, ​The Big Lebowski,​ ​No Country for Old Men,​ and ​The Ballad of Buster Scruggs​). These two are an unstoppable duo and have received the nickname “The Two-Headed Director”.


22. David Lynch

Any artists/writers who may have trouble finding a way to express their emotions artistically must look into the life of David Lynch. If you have ever listened to an interview with Lynch, you would understand that he loves to dive into the concept of “ideas”. Lynch will go on long spiels about where ideas come from and how he manifests these ideas into something more significant. He talks a great deal about the subconscious, which can be noticeable in his works such as ​Eraserhead​,​ Blue Velvet,​ and his most renowned film ​Mulholland Dr.


21. Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky gave everything to break the rules of cinema. His most notable films were ​Solaris,​ ​Mirror​, ​Stalker​, and ​Andrei Rublev​ Tarkovsky, where he pushed filmmaking and storytelling boundaries. His films force the audience to look inwards at their individuality and humanity. Though his films may seem drawn out and slow, they are meant to allow the audience time to think and ponder the presented concepts. Tarkovsky not only wants the audience to think about what they are viewing, he forces them to.


20. Charlie Chaplin

From his famous Tramp persona’s spontaneous creation to his intricate style of directing, Charlie Chaplin is one of the best actor and director combos to date. Even if you haven’t seen a single film with Chaplin in it, you have at least seen his famous mustache and tramp costume in some form or fashion. In Hollywood, pictures of him range from morals to statues. He is a gem of his area, and many of his films are regarded as the best ever made. It goes to show that you don’t need sync-sound to be funny.


19. Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks is a man of many genres, from ​Scarface​ (1932), a crime/noir film that follows Tony Camonte’s gangster lifestyle, to Rio Bravo, a western starring John Wayne. Though Howard Hawks’s name was forgotten by most of the world after his death in 1977, many cinephiles still refer to his movies as some of the best made. He was a brilliant director with the ability to create any style of film.


17. FW Murnau

Even if you have an innate dislike for silent films, F.W. Murnau’s ​Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans​ will have you screaming for more. Murnau’s skill in representing the characters as three-dimensional humans that will and can make mistakes is done so masterfully that many modern films fail in comparison. His master of the camera and storytelling is unmatched even by today’s standards.


16. Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma’s understanding of the dark underbelly of human nature is directly presented in his films. De Palma is willing to explore concepts, such as taboos, that many Hollywood filmmakers try and avoid. ​Scarface​ (1983), ​Carrie​ (1976), ​The Untouchables​ (1987) are all great examples of films that are still loved today.


15. François Truffaut

Cinema would not be the same if not for François Truffaut. He was one of the primary founders of the French New Wave and created films that many critics regard as expertly crafted. As a young critic, Truffaut was notoriously harsh and unyielding, and he was known for destroying the reputation of many french films. In 1959, Truffaut would prove his criticisms and make his first film, ​The 400 Blows​. Regarded as one of the greatest French films ever created.


14. Sergei Eisenstein

If you have ever taken a film class, then you have seen Sergei Eisenstein’s ​Battleship Potemkin​ (1926) at least once. Eisenstein’s works served as the grounds for many popular modern films. Eisenstein is most famous for his creation and use of the editing technique of montage. Without Eisenstein’s genius, we wouldn’t have those cliche make-over scenes from the 1990s.

14. Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton was born into a vaudeville family. His acting background gave him the ability to switch careers and enter into the making of silent films. Over the years, Keaton would make some of the most entertaining Silent Era comedies and develop “dead-pan” comedy. The easiest way to get someone into the Era of Silent film is to open with a Buster Keaton flick.

13. Jean-Luc Godard

If you want a film that will have you contemplating for the next month, then look no further than any work by Jean-Luc Godard. His movies are jam-packed with underlying themes and premises to the point that you will need to rewatch them repeatedly. Similar to Truffaut, Godard was one of the key founders in the French New Wave movement. Godard has been hailed by some of the top filmmakers of all time, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, D. A. Pennebaker, Robert Altman, Jim Jarmusch, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wong Kar-wai, Wim Wenders.


12. Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is a household name for everyone around the world. His films are regarded as some of the most entertaining by both critics and the average viewer. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction​ (1994), ​Django Unchained​ (2012), and ​Inglourious Basterds​ (2009) are frequently referenced in pop culture. Tarantino’s influence on the cinema movement is unmatchable.


11. Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s films serve as a constant reminder of the problems we have faced since the creation of man. Lee dives into issues of racism, colorism, social inequality, and political prejudice. His films generally center around African American communities and the exploration of race relations in the United States. His 1989 film ​Do the Right Thing​ is regarded as the most influential films in American history and is considered a treasure by most film communities.


10. Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan has been labeled “one of the most honored and prominent directors in Broadway and Hollywood history” by The New York Times in 2003. His involvement in creating some of the best movies out of the Gold Era of Hollywood should suffice enough to convince you that his films are something to be treasured.


9. David Fincher

To thoroughly study a David Fincher film would take at least a month, if not more. His movies are created with such precise detail that it is impossible to notice everything in the first viewing (or the fourth, for that matter). Rewatching a Fincher movie is like going on a rollercoaster over and over again. Even if you know the drop is coming, it is still a fascinating feeling.

8. Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman’s fame came slowly, but by the time he was in his late 30s, he was a household name worldwide. His movies hold meaning and influence over those that watch them. Ingmar Bergman was a Swedish film director who never felt the need to move to Hollywood. His films were all in Swedish and were still loved by all.

7. Akira Kurosawa

If you have ever watched a samurai movie, then you have seen the influence of Akira Kurosawa. His famous works such as ​Seven Samurai​ (1954), ​Yojimbo​ (1961), and ​Rashomon (1950) have all changed the way that the world views action and storytelling. Kurosawa’s films were ambitious while remaining perfectly crafted. Even if you are not into samurai films, you will be interested in his drama ​Ikiru, ​released in 1952; however, we highly recommend watching all his movies!


6. Billy Wilder

The famous writer turned director Billy Wilder is regarded as a significant reason for the rise in Hollywood’s Golden Era. Leaving for Hollywood at only 27, Wilder was destined to create some of the best films Hollywood has ever produced. Wilder is famous for his groundbreaking films such as ​Some Like It Hot​ (1959), ​Double Indemnity​ (1944), and ​Sunset Boulevard​ (1953). His attention to detail is on another leave of perfection, and we must say that all his films are masterfully written.


5. Francis Ford Coppola

If having two out of the top three highest rated movies on IMDB.com is not enough to convince you that Francis Ford Coppola is one of the best directors in film history, then nothing will. Coppola is best known for his works ​The Godfather ​(1972), ​The Godfather Part II​ (1974), and ​Apocalypse Now​ (1979). To watch a Coppola movie is to see art unfolding in front of your eyes.


4. Orson Welles

If you have any concerns about why Orson Welles is so high on this list, then you need to rewatch his 1941 film ​Citizen Kane​. Welles paved the way for cinematography and storytelling. Many of his works are undeniably flawless, and his understanding of cinema was unrivaled at the time. Just watch any of his films, and you will thank us later.


3. Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is a master of the camera. Everything about his films will draw you to the point where you are lost from reality. He understands the world of cinema and can easily create suspense through various techniques. Analyzing Kubrick’s films is something that many attempt, but most seem to fail. He is a true artist.


2. Alfred Hitchcock

The master of the early cinema, Alfred Hitchcock, was born at the rise of film, and he turned it into something unthinkable. He created new techniques that had never before been seen in the world of cinema. Hitchcock was a genius with the camera and formed Hollywood into something extraordinary. Even listening to Hitchcock talk about movies can make a child glow in excitement. To list his masterpieces would take a whole paragraph. That is just how good he is.


1. Martin Scorsese

And, last but not least, is the modern king of the directing world, Martin Scorsese. Even today, Scorsese is making some of the best contemporary films. He understands subtly and grace while being able to draw tension. From horror to comedy, Scorsese can do about anything he puts his mind to and knows the world of film inside and out. Scorsese is unbeatable in the world of cinema, and we look forward to rewatching all of his movies.

Written by Sean Harless for MobCity Productions. _______________________________

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