May 9, 2016

The 80 Best-Directed Films According to the Directors Guild of America

To celebrate their 80th anniversary, the DGA decided to come up with a list of the 80 "greatest directorial achievements" in film — and boy is it good — and kind of bad.

They did this by polling their members, asking them which they thought were the 80 best-directed films to be released since the DGA was founded in 1936. And like with any "top whatever" or "best of" list, there are bound to be a handful that you completely and violently disagree with — I saw two right off the bat. 

At any rate, here it is, the DGA's list of the 80 Best-Directed Films:

  1. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
  2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
  3. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
  5. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
  6. The Godfather: Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
  7. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
  8. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
  9. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
  10. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  11. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
  12. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
  13. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
  14. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
  15. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
  16. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
  17. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
  18. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
    'The Graduate' (1967)
  19. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977)
  20. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
  21. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
  22. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
  23. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
  24. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
  25. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
  26. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
  27. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
  28. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
  29. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
  30. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
  31. To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
  32. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
  33. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
    'The Searchers' (1956)
  34. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
  35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952)
  36. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
  37. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
  38. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
  39. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
  40. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
  41. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
  42. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
  43. The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965)
  44. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
  45. Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)
  46. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
  47. Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984)
    'Amadeus' (1984)
  48. Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)
  49. West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) 
  50. Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
  51. Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959)
  52. Fargo (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 1996)
  53. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
  54. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
  55. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
  56. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
  57. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
  58. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014)
  59. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)
  60. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
  61. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
  62. The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)
    'The Sting' (1973)
  63. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
  64. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
  65. Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
  66. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
  67. Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982)
  68. The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
  69. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
  70. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
  71. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
  72. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
  73. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
  74. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
  75. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
  76. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
  77. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
  78. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
  79. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
  80. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
    'Rashomon' (1950)

There's a lot to take away from this list, some good things, some not so good. I know I was at first excited, but then quickly disappointed to see only one film directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker — and to have that film put directly beneath Avatar was kind of an ironic salt rubbing, since, you know, The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar for Best Picture and Best Director in 2010.

But we have to remember that the list isn't necessarily ranked from best to worst — I mean, does anyone want to live in a world where Rashomon is at the bottom of a list like this? Rankings aside, one issue I saw was the fact that these films are very American. Maybe that's expected since "America" is in the title of the DGA, but it would've been nice, and more representative of what are considered to be the "greatest directorial achievements" in film, to see more works from non-American directors.

What do you think of the DGA's list? Which films would you have liked to see represented here? Let us know in the comments!      

Your Comment

35 Comments

I love all these films.

May 9, 2016 at 5:57PM

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Can someone please explain to me why Avatar is such a good movie?

May 9, 2016 at 5:58PM, Edited May 9, 5:58PM

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Aaa Dee
76

Nope.

May 11, 2016 at 12:14PM

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Chris Foster
Writer/ Director
157

Eh... nope. I dont get the hurt locker either. The Avatar was a terrible movie but on the other hand it brought us many breakthroughs in the ways of digital cinema

May 15, 2016 at 8:43AM

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Star Wars ep. IV?! What were they smoking to put that on the list? That movie is terrible in terms of directing. It's not even the best Star Wars movie, I would even risk to say it has the worst directing from all episodes.

Also lack of Bergman is simply mind-blowing.

May 9, 2016 at 7:41PM, Edited May 9, 7:48PM

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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1212

Star Wars is a brilliantly directed film and changed the way movies were made forever. What you have an issue with is the director's work (or lack there of) with the actors. The acting is the weakest link in an otherwise strong chain.

May 9, 2016 at 8:34PM

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So you say that Star Wars has great directing, but it has poor acting? For me directing is 50% working with actors...I also don't think that framing, camera movement is better than average, not to mention being one of the best. I don't see anything better than average in terms of directing. It's just standard stuff with terrible acting. Story is a strong point & design, but it's not director's job...

May 10, 2016 at 3:36PM

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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1212

Story and design not director's job? You've just shown how great knowledge in directing you have!

May 15, 2016 at 8:52PM

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Claudinho Andres Gomez
Director/Producer
79

Birdman? Over anything Fincher has done? It's as unbelievable as the WGA saying Bridesmaids was funnier than Duck Soup.

May 9, 2016 at 8:09PM, Edited May 9, 8:09PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
632

Agreed. Birdman was so gimmicky with its "1 take" aesthetic and did nothing to elevate the story.

May 10, 2016 at 3:12AM, Edited May 10, 3:15AM

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K W
172

Birdman was not gimmicky with the "1 take" aesthetic in any way. I believe that it did push the story to be better too. The narrative centered around a Broadway play where you only have one chance to get something right, just like one takes. Everything has to fall right in place. There's isn't a cut or redo on stage. Riggan was striving for perfection and that's what Inarritu managed to pull off with Birdman, a seemingly flawless film.

May 10, 2016 at 4:23PM

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*Deleted a second posting*

May 10, 2016 at 4:23PM, Edited May 10, 4:25PM

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For me Birdman has one of the best directing I've ever seen (my favorite movie in terms of directing) & yes it's better than any Fincher movie. I personally think Inarritu is the best director in the world right now. He is a technical genius. After I watched "Birdman" I couldn't believe it was directed by human, it had such amazing precision & everything was simply perfect.

May 10, 2016 at 3:40PM, Edited May 10, 3:41PM

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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1212

05 Kubricks!

May 9, 2016 at 8:16PM, Edited May 9, 8:16PM

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Thales Banzai
Director; Screenwriter
262

Noticed that myself. But Barry Linden? zzzzzz even if he did use his 'magic lens'.

October 27, 2016 at 5:09PM

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Avatar? Seriously, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

May 9, 2016 at 11:12PM

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Avatar was definitely a better 'directed film'. while hurt locker was a better film overall, still it relied heavily on other people's work mostly than the director. no offense she is also a very good director, but james cameron took it onto another level in directing. Shooting something good available is another thing, but making everything out of nothing in a precise way an auteur wants is a work of great director. so again it is not a list of best films but best directed films. i completely agree to the list and very happy that the most deserving director coppola holds the top spot. and yes blade runner should be at least 60 ahead of star wars.

May 9, 2016 at 11:42PM

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I've seen all of them except for The Conformist and Gandhi. Its a pretty solid list.

For anyone bitching about why certain movies are not or are included, or why they are ranked in a certain order, well that's what happens when you get a bunch of people to vote on a list of movies. Depending on how the votes are weighted and tabulated, the outcome really doesn't reflect an infallible ranking. If you haven't realized the flaws in the democratic system of voting, you haven't been paying attention.

Instead of being incensed and seeking validation for your opinions of what you think is your personal best directed movie, look at it as a list of movies that you should consider watching to gain a well rounded knowledge of cinema.

May 10, 2016 at 8:50AM

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To not have a Bergman film (my favs being "The Seventh Seal" & "Wild Strawberries") is absolutely ludicrous. Also, "No Country for Old Men" is the Coens best directed picture and should definitely be on here. What would I dump to accommodate these? "Avatar" and "The Sting".

May 10, 2016 at 9:01AM

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To me, it doesn't make any sense to put 5 foreign films scattered among all the American movies. Too many foreign great directors left out. 4 italian and 2 japanese movies don't make a good overview of international cinema history, and are a really poor representation of Europe and Asia. I think they should've stick to Hollywood produced films, and then this list would have been almost (just almost) flawless.

May 10, 2016 at 10:40AM

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The lack of foreign films is laughable, but I'm not surprised (it is Hollywood after all). Strange that there isn't a single Robert Altman film. Surely Nashville and MASH are popular/classic enough to make the cut.

The shortage of woman directed films isn't so much a problem with the rankings, it's just a reflection of the fact that not many female directors have been given a chance to make films. So "great" films made by women are in even shorter supply (I don't even consider The Hurt Locker to be great).

May 10, 2016 at 1:17PM, Edited May 10, 1:42PM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
385

Saving Private Ryan, Gone With the Wind and It’s a Wonderful Life rated above Vertigo. Films like Titanic on the list. No classics like M by Fritz Lang and Nosferatu. No films by Murnau, Herzog, D.W Griffith or Bergman.

May 10, 2016 at 4:00PM

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d shay
351

Guys, do as Frankie says, and remember is just a list... is like arguing about what tastes better, strawberry or chocolat, or what fruit is better, apple or mamey... that you don't know whats mamey? Just proving a point, a lot of lack of knowledge about foreign fruits. Because mamey is the best, because We say so...

May 11, 2016 at 1:41AM, Edited May 11, 1:41AM

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Carlos Luis Pujol
Director of Photography
199

Very high.
Hard to comment.

May 11, 2016 at 4:18AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
698

That's not a ranking from the best to the worst, it's just a list of 80 best-Directed movies in history.
Anyway, anyone of us have different opinions about Movies and the Arts in general. So don't be mad about a ranking, try to make your own, personal.

May 11, 2016 at 8:51AM

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Luigi Sicolo
Director
81

Plus, these are voted on and tabulated. Basically, they got a bunch of people together, voted and here are the results. Don't draw any "definitive" or "objective" results other than that.

May 11, 2016 at 9:45AM

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American Beauty? Inglorious Basterds? In the mood for love? Se7en? No country for Old man? Mad Max?
Nice list tho! Just think they forgot some really good (directed) movies.

May 11, 2016 at 10:04AM

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Kelvin Nhantumbo
Director, Screenwriter
137

Great list. My only arguments are the inclusion of Avatar, Star Wars IV (V yes), Once Upon a Time in America (of Leone's films, I feel that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was a much better-directed film, and just better in general), and the exclusion of David Fincher (Se7en or Fight Club).

May 12, 2016 at 9:33PM

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Doug Conant
Director
74

A list without Tarkovsky is a shame! May be, majority of the American Directors are not very familiar with World Cinema :-) . But the list gives us a fair share of good films. I prefer to believe that the list was focussing on American films and films released in USA.

May 13, 2016 at 8:14AM

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Sunny Joseph
Cinematographer, Director, Editor
79

Avatar has no business being on this list. Replace it with a modern classic like Killing Them Softly and I can sleep easy.

May 13, 2016 at 10:05AM

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Tyler Piper
Writer/Actor/Director
81

Lists. All they do is cause people like me to say WTF. Anyway, some glaring omissions. David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Luc Besson's Leon, George Miller's The Road Warrior, David Fincher's Se7en, Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams, James Cameron's Aliens, Alan Parker's Angel Heart, Christopher Nolan's Inception...and on and on and on.

May 13, 2016 at 11:16AM

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Best Drector is the most misunderstood of all the categories during the Oscars. The thought is that if the film is great, so is the directing (and vis-versa). You CAN have a great film with adequate directing. To me, great directing has more to do with how you stage scenes through blocking, pacing, lighting and even cutting. You can have a great actor in a lousy film or a lousy actor in a great film but, it's how he director uses that actor to convey a compelling story.

May 14, 2016 at 6:54PM

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David C Jones
Filmmaker
81

Directorial mastery comes in many forms; as a result, there are masterpieces according to visionary genius, actor/director collaborations of the highest order, and titanic technical ingenuity - or a combination of all in many cases. See list below :-

May 15, 2016 at 3:37AM, Edited May 15, 4:30AM

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Well, this is how I think the list should be ranked. This is not strictly in preferential order - personal favourites are in a slightly different order to ranking.

Directorial mastery comes in many forms; as a result, there are masterpieces according to visionary genius, actor/director collaborations of the highest order, and titanic technical ingenuity - or a combination of all in many cases.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Stanley Kubrick) (1968)

ANDREI RUBLEV (Andrei Tarkovsky) (1966)

PERSONA (Ingmar Bergman) (1966)

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Stanley Kubrick) (1971)

SOLARIS (SOLYARIS) (Andrei Tarkovsky) (1972)

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (Werner Herzog) (1973)

CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski) (1974)

COME AND SEE (Elem Klimov) (1985)

TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese) (1976)

DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (Stanley Kubrick) (1964)

RASHOMON (Akira Kurosawa) (1950)

CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles) (1941)

THE WAGES OF FEAR (Henri-Georges Clouzot) (1953)

THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick) (1980)

APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola) (1979)

TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles) (1958)

FIVE EASY PIECES (Bob Rafelson) (1970)

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (John Huston) (1948)

THE SEVEN SAMURAÏ (Akira Kurosawa) (1954)

THE RED CIRCLE (LE CERCLE ROUGE) (Jean-Pierre Melville) (1970)

VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock) (1958)

ROSEMARY’S BABY (Roman Polanski) (1968)

YÔJIMBO (Akira Kurosawa) (1961)

BLADE RUNNER (Ridley Scott) (final cut) (1982)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone) (1968)

OTTO E MEZZO (8½) (Federico Fellini) (1963)

THE WILD BUNCH (Sam Peckinpah) (1969)

NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Charles Laughton) (1955)

FAIL-SAFE (Sidney Lumet) (1964)

LOLITA (Stanley Kubrick) (1962)

WAR & PEACE (Voyna i mir) (Sergei Bondachuk) (1968)

REPULSION (Roman Polanski) (1965)

BONNIE AND CLYDE (Arthur Penn) (1967)

MARKÉTA LAZAROVÁ (František Vlácil) (1967)

ERASERHEAD (David Lynch) (1977)

BLOW-UP (Michelangelo Antonioni) (1966)

SORCERER (William Friedkin) (1977)

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (Luis Buñuel) (1962)

THE FACE (Ingmar Bergman) (1958)

NETWORK (Sidney Lumet) (1976)

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (William Friedkin) (1971)

THE MIRROR (Andrei Tarkovsky) (1975)

THE SEVENTH SEAL (Ingmar Bergman) (1957)

RAGING BULL (Martin Scorsese) (1980)

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Orson Welles) (1942)

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (Alfred Hitchcock) (1943)

PATHS OF GLORY (Stanley Kubrick) (1957)

THE SACRIFICE (Andrei Tarkovsky) (1986)

THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed) (1949)

BARRY LYNDON (Stanley Kubrick) (1975)

THE SILENCE (Ingmar Bergman) (1963)

THE SHADOW ARMY (Jean-Pierre Melville) (1969)

THE GODFATHER (Francis Ford Coppola) (1972)

BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam) (1985)

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOO'S NEST (Miloš Forman) (1975)

HOUR OF THE WOLF (Ingmar Bergman) (1968)

STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky) (1979)

SÁTANTANGÓ (Béla Tarr, 1994)

FACES (John Cassavetes) (1968)

PSYCHO (Alfred Hitchcock) (1960)

A MAN ESCAPED (Robert Bresson) (1956)

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen) (2007)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson) (2007)

THE GODFATHER: PART II (Francis Ford Coppola) (1974)

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (Sergio Leone) (1966)

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (John Frankenheimer) (1962)

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (John Frankenheimer) (1964)

ALIEN (Ridley Scott) (1979)

REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock) (1954)

THE GRADUATE (Mike Nichols) (1967)

SANJURO (Akira Kurosawa) (1962)

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Alfred Hitchcock) (1959)

GOODFELLAS (Martin Scorsese) (1990)

THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (John Cassavetes) (1977)

WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (Béla Tarr) (2000)

LA DOLCE VITA (Federico Fellini) (1960)

ASCENSEUR POUR L'ECHAFAUD (Louis Malle) (1958)

LA JOVEN (THE YOUNG ONE) (Luis Buñuel) (1960)

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (David Lynch) (2001)

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (Mike Nichols) (1966)

May 15, 2016 at 4:23AM, Edited May 15, 5:15AM

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Kubrick, Kubrick, Kubrick.....

October 27, 2016 at 5:06PM

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