Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg

Who doesn’t love a great movie? And behind the making of our favorite films are dedicated crews led by visionary directors, and while we all have our favorites, there are those that definitely stand out from the Hollywood crowd. However, with such a large pool of talent attaining world-wide fame over several generations, deciding which are the best movie directors of all time is quite a task. 

Movie directors are more than the ones who call “action” on set, as the best among them will take part in virtually every artistic, technical, and dramatic decision to bring their dreams to life on screen. So, while some movie promotions need to focus on an action hero, leading lady, or a great villain to get people to the cinema, others can rely solely on a director’s name to see full houses all around. 

And while a 2017 study tells us that movie goers and critics don’t always agree on what’s a good film, it never hurts to check out official movie reviews to see which directors have a new project out. So don’t be shy about sharing which directors are most likely to make you grab your popcorn no matter what they create, as you might inspire someone else to check out their work.

With so many amazing directors from the past and present, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to naming the top few. StudyFinds consulted 10 expert websites to come up with our list of the best movie directors of all time. Tell us who you think deserves an honorable mention in the comments below.

The List: Best Movie Directors of All Time, According to Experts

1. Alfred Hitchcock

This British-born director became the iconic “master of suspense” in Hollywood. He pushed the boundaries of conventional storytelling and he pioneered new cinematic techniques that have influenced directors ever since. “Hitchcock was a master of pure cinema who almost never failed to reconcile aesthetics with the demands of the box-office,” writes IMDb.

Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock (“Alfred Hitchcock” by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

ScreenCraft says there’s “no doubt that Hitchcock is one of the greatest film directors ever and in several different eras of cinema. … Hitchcock virtually was the 1950s in America, as his succession of ‘suspense’ classics, from Rear Window (1954) to Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959), were the finest cinematic expression of the existential fear that gripped humanity in the decade after Hiroshima. And in Psycho (1960), he effectively eschewed suspense and created the horror genre.”

“Hitchcock will forever be one of the greats because of his sheer brilliance in his craft,” adds Parade. “His movies unfold with the utmost confidence, enabling audiences to put their blind trust in him. And his set-pieces … resemble our most haunting nightmares.”

2. Stanley Kubrick

With an ambitious and unique vision for every project he took on, he wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and explore the extremes of the human condition. Among his most famous films, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “The Shining” (1980), and “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) stand out as triumphs.

“Of all famous directors, Kubrick is routinely noted as one of the best directors of all time,” gushes Video Collective. “The American director has worked within a variety of genres from the 1950s to the 1990s. … Kubrick was also famously controversial with his film themes and rigorous work methods. However, his films have continued to find an audience even after his death.”

“If we can agree on the qualities that great directors must have, Kubrick simply checks all of the boxes,” writes Studio Binder. “Kubrick’s fascination with cameras and lenses, along with his background in photography, makes his composition, framing, and lighting second to none. … In 13 films over 46 years, Stanley Kubrick perfected the art of cinema.”

No matter how deeply it cuts, we keep coming back for more,” notes Entertainment Weekly. “With precise, surgical shock, he creates moments that embed themselves in our consciousness. … His films pay chilly witness to the joys, terrors, and consequences of one’s dehumanization.”

3. Martin Scorsese

A master storyteller, he’s one of the best directors of all-time when it comes to gangster films. Some of his most iconic films include “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Goodfellas” (1990), “Casino” (1995), and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). Parade writes, “From his early work of 1973’s Mean Streets and 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore to his most recent 2019 epic The Irishman, Scorsese has continued to stay relevant as he pushes boundaries.”

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese (“Martin Scorsese by David Shankbone” by david_shankbone is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.)

According to The Cinemaholic. “He takes challenging projects and genres and makes it his own … He is the only director working for more than 40 years and yet hasn’t lost the touch with either the audiences or the critics.”

And ScreenCraft states, “Perhaps most impressively of all, Scorsese showed that he could thrive not only in a new decade but in a whole new millennium, as he has experienced a late, great phase in which he has produced works comparable to his very best films of three or four decades earlier.”

4. Francis Ford Coppola

He’s often considered a visionary who raised the bar for artistic cinema. While he is perhaps best known for directing “The Godfather” (1972 and 1974, and 1990) trilogy, he also directed “The Outsiders” (1983), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992), and “Apocalypse Now” (1979). “Before he changed the game with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola was making low budget ‘B’ movies. And then he just kept making masterpieces,” writes Studio Binder.

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola (“Francis Ford Coppola” by FICG.mx is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)

“Adjectives accrue to him like thistles on a bear: talented, profligate, hapless, visionary, familial, idealistic, and self-indulgent,” states Entertainment Weekly. “Of the triumphant triumvirate of California film school grads, Coppola is the only one who has followed his artistic impulses.”

And Screen Rant writes, “Along with directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola was partly responsible for the peak of the mobster crime-drama genre. Coppola did so by giving the medium perhaps the greatest pair of mobster movies ever made.”

5. Steven Spielberg

As the most commercially successful director ever, Spielberg has been an icon in the film industry for decades. Some of his most famous films include “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), “Jurassic Park” (1993), and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). As Video Collective notes, “The American film director is responsible for Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.”

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg (“Steven Spielberg” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

“One of the most influential personalities in the history of cinema, Steven Spielberg is Hollywood’s best known director and one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world,” writes IMDb. “He has an extraordinary number of commercially successful and critically acclaimed credits to his name, either as a director, producer or writer since launching the summer blockbuster with Jaws (1975), and he has done more to define popular film-making since the mid-1970s than anyone else.”

“Shunned and disparaged by film experts and intellectuals for being ‘artistically hollow’ and financially successful, Spielberg is unarguably one of the few American filmmakers who have bridged the gap between commercial cinema and art,” states The Cinemaholic. “Spielberg has relentlessly dismantled the conventional notions of commercial blockbusters, while displaying an uncanny command over his craft. In a career spanning five decades, Spielberg has successfully experimented with genres and themes; but it is his 1993 Holocaust movie, ‘Schindler’s List’ that stands out as his crowning achievement.”

You might also be interested in: 

Sources

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Melissa Sherrard

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink

Editor-in-Chief

Chris Melore

Editor

Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor

13 Comments

  1. Kurt says:

    “Hollywood is a place where they give Charlton Heston awards for acting.”

  2. Daryl Michael Hurley says:

    John Ford, Frank Capra, David Lean, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan,John Houston are all deserving of a top 10. Spielberg is mostly boys own adventure movies, mostly with an ending that went a scene too long, and with a warm and happy ending. But it’s all su just an opinion.

    1. John M. Holmes says:

      I would add: John Ford, Woody Allen and Orson Welles.

  3. Kristine says:

    Where is John Ford.and Zeffereli. And George Lucas

  4. Doron says:

    Chaplin!

  5. Chuck C. says:

    REALLY? None of those directors can even remotely be on the same list as the Great John Ford. Kubrick had three hits mixed in with a bunch of crap. The others are/were talented directors, but their body of work isn’t close to Fords…

    1. Terra says:

      Alfred Hitchcock most certainly can. With his impressive body of work. He’s definitely deserving of the top spot IMO

  6. Leo says:

    Akira Kurasawa, Orson Welles and Igmar Bergman

  7. Richard Robinson says:

    John Ford? I guess Micheal Jordan isn’t on your top 5 basketball players😂😂

  8. Chris Ballas says:

    Scorsese and Spielberg are average directors. You don’t judge a great director by commercial success. Why isn’t Krzysztof Kieślowski and David Lynch on this list? What about Angelopoulos? They are in the league of Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick only slightly better. I just can’t say this enough, you don’t judge true art by commercial success.

  9. Daniel Carr De Muzio says:

    Eisenstein, Kurosawa and Bergman. Fellini, Visconti, Godard. Just to mention a few that were better than those five. The title of the study (!??) should be “The five greatest Hollywood directors of all time.”

    1. Paul says:

      Fellini italy
      Bergman sweden
      Kurasawa japan
      Wyler german born
      De sica italy
      The rest below

  10. Dennis Rohrer says:

    William Wyler. More actors have won Oscars under his direction than any other director. Quite an achievement!!