Who Are the 66 Best Directors of All Time?

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Spielberg on the 'BFG' setCredit: Disney
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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Hitchcock on the set of 'Psycho'Credit: Universal Pictures

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Akira Kurosawa on location for his masterpiece 'Ran' (1985) Credit: BFI

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
David FincherCredit: Netflix

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
'Power of the Dog' director, Jane CampionCredit: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Charlie Chaplin with his camera Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Peter Jackson with a camera Credit: Red Cameras

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Agnes Varda looks through the camera Credit: Criterion

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Clint Eastwood on the set of 'American Sniper'Credit: Universal Pictures

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

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
PTA on the set of 'Phantom Thread'Credit: Focus Features

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Brian De Palma on the srt of 'Mission: Impossible'Credit: Paramount Pictures

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Penny Marshall on set of 'A League of Their Own'Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Guillermo Del Toro on set for 'Shape of Water'Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Pedro Almodovar on set of 'Julieta'Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Francois Truffaut on set Credit: Alamy

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 

Who Are the 67 Best Directors of All Time?
Ava Duvernay on the set of 'Selma'Credit: ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/PARAMOUNT

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.     

Your Comment

9 Comments

Ron Howard, Denis Villeneuve, Antonioni, Wim Wenders, and especially Wong Kar Wai feel like glaring omissions to me

December 19, 2022 at 10:01AM, Edited December 19, 10:09AM

18
Reply

Andrea Arnold, Celine Sciamma, Kelly Reichardt, Antonioni, Wong Kar Wai, Bong Joon Ho, Fassbender, Wim Wenders, Powell and Presburger, Barry Jenkins, Ozu, Hamaguchi, Miyasaki, Rohmer, Warwick Thornton, Peter Weir, Wong Kar Wai, John Woo, Johnnie To, Asghar Farhadi, Bahman Ghobadi, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrey Zyvagintsev, Danny Boyle, Charlie Chaplin, Guy Ritchie, Ken Loach, Terry Gilliam, Steve Mcqueen, Martin MacDonagh, Mike Leigh to name more omissions.

Haven't even broached the documentarians.

December 19, 2022 at 9:30PM

12
Reply
David Tran
Director/Director of Photography
81

Luis Buñuel.Big omission!

December 20, 2022 at 2:15AM

0
Reply
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Javier Diez
Film
580

WHERE'S LUBITSCH?

December 21, 2022 at 12:25AM

0
Reply
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Álex Montoya
Writer/Director
741

Darren Aronofsky.
Also, if Peele can be on this list, then Ari Aster should as well.
Wes Anderson
Frank Darabont
Denis Villeneuve

December 24, 2022 at 12:45AM

16
Reply

Vincent Minelli, Robert Wise, Herbert Ross, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, Terry Gilliam, Alan Parker, Irvin Kershner, Joss Whedon, Richard Donner, Joe and Anthony Russo

December 24, 2022 at 7:58AM

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Reply
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Alan Sanborn
Writer/Director
74

Why bother ranking them?

January 5, 2023 at 1:20PM

10
Reply
Tom Brown
Photographer
338

What about Paul Verhoeven? Robocop, Starship Troopers, Black Box, Elle.

Also maybe a bit early in his career but what about Taika Waititi?

January 11, 2023 at 4:46PM

6
Reply

Oh, and how did I manage to not mention Total Recall?

January 12, 2023 at 12:08AM

0
Reply

I think you should watch Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Rithwik Ghatak, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Ketan Mehta, Adur Gopalakrishnan, Maniratnam, SS Rajamauli, Anurag Kashyap, Deepa Mehta, and include them in your list. They're renowned directors around the world.

January 16, 2023 at 2:24AM