How would you rank the best directors of all time?
We've been watching movies for over 100 years, and in that time, some of the best directors ever have created masterpieces. These are movies that shake us to our core. That examines humanity, love, loss, and friendship in new and exciting ways.
But who are the actual best directors ever? The people who have defined filmmaking as a craft and soared above all others?
We took an informal poll in the office and came up with these 67 names. They are people who have changed cinema in one way or another. These auteurs might not all be your favorites, but they represent generations of filmmakers who helped make movies what they are today.
They are in no particular order below.
If you have other ideas of who should be added, let us know in the comments. We're always looking to expand our lists.
Who Are the Best Directors of All Time?
1. Martin Scorsese
Known for his deep characters, dark worlds, and meditations of life and death, this masterful storyteller continues to push boundaries.
Famous works: Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Irishman
2. Steven Spielberg
The ultimate crowd-pleaser, this filmmaker created the blockbuster and influenced most modern filmmakers.
Famous works: Jaws, Schindler's List, E.T. the Extraterrestrial
3. Alfred Hitchcock
The master of suspense earned his name with thrillers you had to see to believe.
Famous works: Psycho, Rear Window, The Birds
4. Stanley Kubrick
An expert with the camera, this meticulous perfectionist made some of the best movies ever.
Famous works: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining
5. Quentin Tarantino
This pastiche master finds originality in challenging what we know about movies.
Famous works: Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
6. Akira Kurosawa
This Japanese filmmaker was the master of the emotional epic, taking on complex ideas like class warfare, honor, and dignity.
Famous works: Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo
7. Christopher Nolan
Known for stunning visuals and grandiose storytelling.
Famous works: The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, Dunkirk
8. Francis Ford Coppola
A visionary thinker who bet on himself numerous times, pushing how films could be made and how we think about them as art.
Famous works: The Godfather trilogy, The Conversation, Apocalpyse Now
9. Spike Lee
The ultimate disruptor, he has no problem dissecting society.
Famous works: The 25th Hour, Do the Right Thing, Inside Man
10. David Fincher
A director known for pushing boundaries and gritty realism.
Famous works: Se7en, Gone Girl, Zodiac
11. Orson Welles
Always in the conversation when it comes to the greatest of all time, he changed the way filmmaking visuals appeared on screen.
Famous works: Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil
12. Billy Wilder
The ultimate genreless director, he challenged himself by working on films about many different things.
Famous works: The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina
13. Ridley Scott
This British auteur started in commercials and then burst onto the scene, scaring people in space. He hasn't looked back since.
Famous works: Gladiator, Alien, The Last Duel
14. Jane Campion
This New Zealand director focuses on deep human emotion and pain. Her stunning visuals make her work stand out.
Famous works: The Piano, In the Cut, The Power of the Dog
15. John Ford
The father of the Western, he's done as much to solidify the genre and camera work used today as anyone on this list.
Famous works: Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Quiet Man
16. James Cameron
The maker of the biggest movies imaginable, this scientific genius uses his brain to tell stories.
Famous works: Avatar, Titanic, The Terminator
17. Ingmar Bergman
This Swedish filmmaker made movies about the soul and our psyche.
Famous works: The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander, Persona
18. Tim Burton
This master of creepy visuals and stunning worldbuilding continues to inspire awe.
Famous works: Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish
19. Charlie Chaplin
A silent film auteur, he changed the way stars are seen. And how directors got power in Hollywood.
Famous works: The Great Dictator, City Lights, Modern Times
20. Federico Fellini
This Italian auteur blended baroque images with fantasy to create new worlds.
Famous works: 8 1/2, LA Dolce Vita, La Strada
21. David Lynch
The master of the weird, Lynch pulls apart society and looks inside.
Famous works: Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive
22. Peter Jackson
Able to switch genres and worlds at the drop of a hat. He brought respect back to fantasy in the modern era.
Famous works: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Meet the Feebles, Heavenly Creatures
23. Oscar Micheaux
Regarded as the first Black film director, he created many essential films and even opened the first Black-owned production company.
Famous works: Swing, Body and Soul, Within Our Gates
24. Roman Polanski
This Polish and French director takes on complex characters and camera movements to tell intricate stories.
Famous works: Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist
25. Ang Lee
This Taiwanese filmmaker has tackled human stories at every level, pulling apart what makes us alive at the seams.
Famous works: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lust, Caution, Brokeback Mountain
26. John Singleton
A firebrand who stormed into Hollywood and demanded attention, he stayed steadfast in his point of view. And made us pay attention.
Famous works: Baby Boy, Boyz n the Hood, Shaft
27. Agnes Varda
This influential French New Wave director was a pioneer of world cinema.
Famous works: Vagabond, Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Bonhuer
28. Sergio Leone
This Italian filmmaker changed American film by introducing the spaghetti western and new ways to shoot.
Famous works: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time In America, Once Upon a Time in the West
29. Jean-Luc Godard
This prolific French director never slowed down. He made movies his entire career that mattered and challenged film form and style.
Famous works: Breathless, Goodbye to Language, Contempt
30. Alfonso Cuaron
A gifted director who can tell an amazing story in any genre. He takes ideas and makes them better and deeper with his sensitive touch.
Famous works: Gravity, Roma, Children of Men
31. Sidney Lumet
A legend who was nominated for the Academy Award five times, he consistently made movies that pushed our understanding of people and tough situations.
Famous works: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men
32. Clint Eastwood
After starting as an actor, Eastwood took his talents behind the camera, creating new stories that touch on his point of view.
Famous works: Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino
33. Jordan Peele
Coming out of the gate with three movies that bend genres and challenge viewers, Peele is one of the most exciting voices working today.
Famous works: Get Out, Us, Nope
34. Chantal Akerman
This Belgian director's deeply personal work is a storyteller's dream.
Famous works: Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, I You He She, The Captive
35. Paul Thomas Anderson
Once the wunderkind who ruled Hollywood, now a mature filmmaker who tackles deeply personal stories.
Famous works: Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master
36. Andrei Tarkovsky
A Russian director whose work explores metaphysical and spiritual themes.
Famous works: Solaris, Stalker, The Sacrifice
37. John Huston
One of the pillars of old Hollywood, he was nominated for 15 Academy Awards, winning two.
Famous works: The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen
38. David Lean
An inspirational visionary known for his sweeping topics, this British director influenced much of modern auteurs.
Famous works: Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge of the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago
39. Werner Herzog
German documentarian and feature film director, his unusual way of looking at life is highlighted in all of his work.
Famous works: Grizzly Man, Aguirre: Wrath of God, Cave of Forgotten Dreams
40. Nora Ephron
The woman who defined romance and relationships, Ephron changed the way we think of comedies by adding real-life drama.
Famous works: Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie and Julia
41. Brian De Palma
The king of homages, sex, and sweeping shots, De Palma's gaze created some masterpieces.
Famous works: Body Double, Carrie, The Untouchables
42. Frank Capra
Once called "The American Dream Personified," this populist director made movies full of hope.
Famous works: It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It Happened One Night
43. William Wyler
A three-time best director winner at the Academy Awards, Wyler was always in command of the stories he told.
Famous works: The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday, Ben Hur
44. Penny Marshall
Beloved sitcom actress turned amazing director, she told stories that made us laugh and had big emotions.
Famous works: A League of Their Own, Big, Awakenings
45. Joel Coen
Working with his brother Ethan, they produced so many classic dark comedies and zany characters.
Famous works: Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Blood Simple
46. Alejandro González Iñárritu
This Mexican-born director mixes realism, fantasy, and sweeping camera shots to challenge audiences.
Famous works: The Revenant, Birdman, Babel
47. Miloš Forman
His work transcended generations, adapting classics, taking on true stories, and always delivering personal stories that made us think.
Famous works: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Man on the Moon, The People Versus Larry Flynt
48. Chloé Zhao
This Chinese-born director can work at the large-scale studio level and also do a deeply personal story about human erasure in between.
Famous works: Nomadland, The Rider, Eternals
49. Robert Altman
Overlapping dialogue, wonderous shots, and the ability to make you think about who is good and bad in the story. Altman changed the game.
Famous works: The Player, Nashville, Gosford Park
50. Guillermo del Toro
A worldbuilder unlike any other, he can make things creepy, wondrous, and inspiring.
Famous works: Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Crimson Peak
51. Melvin Van Peebles
A pioneer of Blaxploitation, this filmmaker could do it all—write, compose, act, and direct.
Famous works: Sweet, Sweetback's Badass Song, Watermelon Man, Gang in Blue
52. D. W. Griffith
Though complicated by movie themes, all of modern cinema was born through his storytelling.
Famous works: Intolerance, Birth of a Nation
53. Howard Hawks
Leonard Maltin once called him "the greatest American director who is not a household name." He made classics over many decades.
Famous works: Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, Gentleman Prefer Blondes
54. Mira Nair
This Indian filmmaker tells stories that transcend culture and bring people in with open arms.
Famous works: The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, Queen of Katwe
55. Pedro Almodóvar
This Spanish auteur has never ever met a taboo he cannot subvert and converse about. Sex, motherhood, and kinks all populate his films.
Famous works: Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, Volver, Parallel Mothers
56. Fritz Lang
One of Germany's expressionist filmmakers, his movies tend to deal with waste and futurism.
Famous works: Metropolis, M, The Woman in the Window
57. Hayao Miyazaki
Japanese animator and visionary, he creates worlds and characters that have influenced generations.
Famous works: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo
58. F. W. Murnau
A philosophical German director who helped formulate world cinema in the early days, defining genres as he went.
Famous works: Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh
59. François Truffaut
This French director had movies that transcended language and played all over the world, inspiring a generation of people with his French New Wave tendencies.
Famous works: Jules and Jim, The 400 Blows, Day for Night
60. George Lucas
He changed cinema with Star Wars, opening us up to new galaxies and creating the tentpole film. Continuously betting on himself and pushing the envelope.
Famous works: Star Wars, THX-1138
61. Robert Zemeckis
A visionary who has pushed the graphics and what can be done on film, his beloved movies have become cultural phenomenons.
Famous works: Forrest Gump, Back to the Future trilogy, The Polar Express
62. Oliver Stone
The brash director who takes on countries, politics, and social movements shows no signs of stopping.
Famous works: JFK, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July
63. Ava DuVernay
Her work as an indie filmmaker who takes on stories that talk about race, society, and feminism is almost as important as her work to showcase new and diverse voices in Hollywood.
Famous works: Selma, The 13th, When They See Us
64. Elia Kazan
The man who could direct actors to their finest moments, Kazan feels like he created many tenements of modern drama.
Famous works: On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire
65. Jean Renoir
A French pioneer who helped filmmaking become popular in the country and left them with some of the greatest movies of all time.
Famous works: The Rules of the Game, The Gran Illusion, The French Cancan
66. M. Night Shyamalan
The king of twist endings and surprises, Shyamalan feels like the modern equivalent of Hitchcock, formulating ideas that shock and awe us at every budget level.
Famous works: The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable
Who did we leave out? Let us know in the comments.