The 50 Greatest Modern Directors

The fifty greatest directors in modern film history. Works that best typify each artist’s talents are loosely ranked within.  (Must have at least one 21st Century film to be considered “modern.”)

  1.  Martin Scorsese: Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Departed, Mean Streets, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Casino, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, The Last Waltz, The Wolf of Wall Street, Cape Fear, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Aviator, The Age of Innocence, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
  2.  Steven Spielberg: Schindler’s List, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Catch Me if You Can, Munich, Minority Report, Poltergeist, The Color Purple, Bridge of Spies, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Amistad, The Post.
  3.  Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather, The Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, You’re A Big Boy Now.
  4.  Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master, Phantom Thread, Punch-Drunk Love, Hard Eight, Inherent Vice.
  5.  Joel/Ethan Cohen: No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, A Serious Man, Miller’s Crossing, Inside Llewyn Davis, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, True Grit, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blood Simple, The Hudsucker Proxy.
  6.  Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Django Unchained, Kill Bill, The Hateful Eight.
  7.  David Fincher: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, Gone Girl, The Game, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Mindhunter.
  8.  James Cameron: Terminator 2, Titanic, Aliens, The Abyss, Avatar, The Terminator, True Lies
  9.  Ridley Scott: Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, Thelma and Louise, American Gangster, Kingdom of Heaven, The Duelists, Matchstick Men.
  10.  Sidney Lumet: 12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, Murder on the Orient Express
  11.  Robert Altman: MASH, Nashville, The Player, Gosford Park, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Short Cuts
  12.  Mike Nichols: The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Silkwood, Working Girl, Charlie Wilson’s War, Carnal Knowledge, The Birdcage, Closer, Wolf.
  13.  Christopher NolanMemento, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Dunkirk, Inception, Interstellar, Batman Begins, Insomnia.
  14.  David LynchMulholland Drive, The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story.
  15.  Clint Eastwood: Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Mystic River, The Bridges of Madison County.
  16.  Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Ragtime, Man on the Moon.
  17.  Terrence Malick: The Thin Red Line, Badlands, The Tree of Life, Days of Heaven.
  18.  Steven Soderbergh: Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, The Knick, Erin Brockovich, Che, Out of Sight, Contagion, Sex Lies and Videotape, Magic Mike, Logan Lucky.
  19.  Spike Lee: Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Clockers, Inside Man, 25th Hour.
  20.  Brian De Palma: Scarface, Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, Carrie.
  21.  William Friedkin: The Exorcist, The French Connection, The Boys in the Band, Sorcerer, To Live and Die in LA, The Brink’s Job, Blue Chips, Killer Joe.
  22.  Woody Allen: Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Stardust Memories, Midnight in Paris, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Sleeper.
  23.  Oliver Stone: Platoon, Wall Street, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers.
  24.  Roman Polanski: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist, Tess, Pirates.
  25.  Peter Jackson: The Return of the King, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, King Kong, The Lovely Bones.
  26. Richard Linklater: Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Slacker, Before Sunset, Everybody Wants Some!!
  27.  David Cronenberg: A History of Violence, The Fly, Eastern Promises, Dead Ringers, Videodrome.
  28.  Wes Anderson: The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs, Bottle Rocket.
  29.  Alfonso Cuaron: Children of Men, Roma, Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, A Little Princess.
  30.  Werner Herzog: Aguirre the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Rescue Dawn, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Stroszek.
  31.  Terry Gilliam: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Brazil, The Fisher King, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
  32.  Kathryn Bigelow: The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Point Break, Detroit, Strange Days.
  33.  Denis Villenueve: Sicario, Incendies, Prisoners, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Enemy.
  34.  Alejandro González Iñárritu: The Revenant, 21 Grams, Birdman, Amores Perros, Babel.
  35.  Robert Zemeckis: Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Cast Away, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Romancing the Stone, Flight.
  36.  Michael Mann: Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral, Manhunter.
  37.  Gus Van Sant: Good Will Hunting, Milk, Finding Forrester, Drugstore Cowboy, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Elephant.
  38.  George Lucas: Star Wars: A New Hope, American Graffiti, TXH 1138, The Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith.
  39.  Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa, Tootsie, Jeremiah Johnson, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, The Way We Were.
  40.  Ang Lee: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm.
  41.  David O. Russell: American Hustle, The Fighter, Three Kings, Silver Linings Playbook, Flirting With Disaster.
  42.  John Carpenter: Halloween, The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China.
  43.  Barry Levinson: Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, The Natural, Sleepers, Bugsy.
  44.  Ron Howard: A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon, Cocoon, Apollo 13.
  45.  Danny Boyle: Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, Steve Jobs, 127 Hours, 28 Weeks Later.
  46.  Darren Aronofsky: Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan, Pi, Mother!, The Fountain.
  47.  Edward Zwick: Glory, Blood Diamond, Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai, The Siege.
  48.  Peter Weir: Witness, Master and Commander, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society, Green Card.
  49.  Tim Burton: Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, Batman, Big Fish.
  50.  Rob Reiner: A Few Good Men, This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, Misery.

Bubble: Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Barry Jenkins, Joel Schumacher, Curtis Hanson, Ryan Coogler, Luc Besson, Damian Chazelle, Martin McDonagh, Andrew Dominik, Bennett Miller, Jane Campion, Paul Verhoeven, Lars Von Trier, Sam Mendes, Ben Affleck, Chan-Wook Park, Lynne Ramsey, Edgar Wright, Tom McCarthy, Spike Jonze, Norman Jewison, Kevin Smith, John Hughes, Mel Brooks, Pedro Almodovar, Zhang Yimou, The Wachowskis, Michael Haneke, Yorgos Lanthimos, Cary Joji Fukunaga, John Woo, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jim Jarmusch.

*Best Director Academy Award winners in italics

1 Comment

  1. This list should be renamed The Greatest Modern English Language Directors. It completely ignores non-English language directors such as Werner Herzog, Luc Besson and Lars von Trier, Christian Petzold and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and Takashi Miike to name just a few. I’m also confused about the requirement to have made a film in the 20th Century to be considered “modern”. Alejandro González Iñárritu doesn’t qualify as his first film was released in 2000. I believe 21st Century was the intention, and I’d take issue with that as there are a number directors who began their careers post-WWII at the end of the Hollywood Studio System and ended them prior to 2000 (usually with their death). Ingmar Bergman would be one of them as would Jacques Tati. If restricted to just English Language directors, basically Hollywood A-List, it should be pared down to about 30-35. Some of the names on this list have a couple outstanding films, but not enough to be considered among the “Greatest” yet.

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