The Most Famous


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This page contains a list of the greatest Film Directors. The pantheon dataset contains 1,581 Film Directors, 20 of which were born in Denmark. This makes Denmark the birth place of the 14th most number of Film Directors behind Czechia and Hungary.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Film Directors of all time. This list of famous Film Directors is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Film Directors.

Photo of Lars von Trier

1. Lars von Trier (1956 - )

With an HPI of 68.59, Lars von Trier is the most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 64 different languages on wikipedia.

Lars von Trier (née Trier; 30 April 1956) is a Danish film director and screenwriter with a prolific and controversial career spanning more than four decades. His work is known for his trilogies (consists “Europa”, "The Kingdom" “Golden Heart”, “America”, and “Depression”) as well as its genre and technical innovation, confrontational examination of existential, social, and political issues, and his treatment of subjects such as mercy, sacrifice, and mental health.Among his more than 100 awards and 200 nominations at film festivals worldwide, von Trier has received: the Palme d'Or (for Dancer in the Dark), the Grand Prix (for Breaking the Waves), the Prix du Jury (for Europa), and the Technical Grand Prize (for The Element of Crime and Europa) at the Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier is the founder and shareholder of the Danish film production company Zentropa Films, which has sold more than 350 million tickets and garnered seven Academy Award nominations.

Photo of Carl Theodor Dreyer

2. Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889 - 1968)

With an HPI of 65.89, Carl Theodor Dreyer is the 2nd most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.

Carl Theodor Dreyer (Danish: [ˈkʰɑˀl ˈtsʰe̝ːotɒ ˈtʁɑjˀɐ]; 3 February 1889 – 20 March 1968), commonly known as Carl Th. Dreyer, was a Danish film director and screenwriter. Widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, his movies are noted for their emotional austerity and slow, stately pacing, frequent themes of social intolerance, the inseparability of fate and death, and the power of evil in earthly life.His 1928 movie The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, renowned for its cinematography and use of close-ups. It frequently appears on Sight & Sound's lists of the greatest films ever made, and in 2012's poll it was voted the 9th best film ever made by film critics and 37th by film directors. His other best known films include Michael (1924), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (The Word) (1955), and Gertrud (1964).

Photo of Bille August

3. Bille August (1948 - )

With an HPI of 61.56, Bille August is the 3rd most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Bille August RD (born 9 November 1948) is a Danish director, screenwriter, and cinematographer of film and television. In a career spanning over four decades, he has been the recipient of numerous accolades, making him one of the most acclaimed contemporary Danish filmmakers. August's 1987 film Pelle the Conqueror won the Palme d'Or, Academy Award and Golden Globe Award. He is one of only nine directors to win the Palme d'Or twice, winning the award again in 1992 for The Best Intentions, based on the autobiographical script by Ingmar Bergman. His filmography includes The House of the Spirits, based on the novel by Isabel Allende; Smilla's Sense of Snow; Les Misérables; Night Train to Lisbon, Silent Heart, The Chinese Widow and A Fortunate Man. He has received five Robert Awards (including Best Film and Best Director) and three Bodil Awards for Best Danish Film. He is also a Knight (Ridder) of the Order of the Dannebrog.

Photo of Gabriel Axel

4. Gabriel Axel (1918 - 2014)

With an HPI of 57.92, Gabriel Axel is the 4th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 30 different languages.

Axel Gabriel Erik Mørch better known as Gabriel Axel (18 April 1918 – 9 February 2014) was a Danish film director, actor, writer and producer, best known for Babette's Feast (1987), which he wrote and directed.

Photo of Thomas Vinterberg

5. Thomas Vinterberg (1969 - )

With an HPI of 57.16, Thomas Vinterberg is the 5th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Thomas Vinterberg (Danish: [ˈtsʰʌmæs ˈve̝nˀtɐˌpɛɐ̯ˀ]; born 19 May 1969) is a Danish film director who, along with Lars von Trier, co-founded the Dogme 95 movement in filmmaking, which established rules for simplifying movie production. He is best known for the films The Celebration (1998), Submarino (2010), The Hunt (2012), Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), and Another Round (2020). For Another Round, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Photo of Susanne Bier

6. Susanne Bier (1960 - )

With an HPI of 54.12, Susanne Bier is the 6th most famous Film Director.  Her biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Susanne Bier (Danish: [suˈsænə ˈpiɐ̯ˀ]; born 15 April 1960) is a Danish filmmaker. She is best known for her feature films Brothers (2004), After the Wedding (2006), In a Better World (2010), and Bird Box (2018), and the TV miniseries The Night Manager (2016) on AMC, The Undoing (2020) on HBO, and The First Lady (2022) on Showtime. Bier is the first female director to win a Golden Globe Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a European Film Award, collectively.

Photo of Henning Carlsen

7. Henning Carlsen (1927 - 2014)

With an HPI of 50.95, Henning Carlsen is the 7th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.

Henning Carlsen (4 June 1927 – 30 May 2014) was a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer most noted for his documentaries and his contributions to the style of cinéma vérité. Carlsen's 1966 social-realistic drama Hunger (Sult) was nominated for the Palme D'Or and won the Bodil Award for Best Danish Film. Carlsen also won the Bodil Award the following year for the comedy People Meet and Sweet Music Fills the Heart. Acting as his own producer since 1960, Carlsen has directed more than 25 films, 19 for which he wrote the screenplay. In 2006, he received the Golden Swan Lifetime Achievement Award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.

Photo of Nicolas Winding Refn

8. Nicolas Winding Refn (1970 - )

With an HPI of 50.40, Nicolas Winding Refn is the 8th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 28 different languages.

Nicolas Winding Refn (Danish: [ˈne̝kolɑs ˈve̝nte̝ŋ ˈʁæfn̩]; born 29 September 1970) also known as Jang, is a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is known for his collaborations with Mads Mikkelsen, Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling. He gained great success early in his career directing the Pusher trilogy (1996–2005), the crime drama Bronson (2008), and the adventure film Valhalla Rising (2009). In 2011 he gained newfound stardom directing the action drama film Drive (2011) for which he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director. He was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. Refn next films were the stylistically driven action film Only God Forgives (2013), and the psychological horror film The Neon Demon (2016). In 2019, he directed his first television series Too Old to Die Young (2019) which premiered on Amazon Prime.In 2008, Refn co-founded the Copenhagen-based production company Space Rocket Nation.

Photo of Benjamin Christensen

9. Benjamin Christensen (1879 - 1959)

With an HPI of 50.17, Benjamin Christensen is the 9th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Benjamin Christensen (28 September 1879 – 2 April 1959) was a Danish film director, screenwriter and an actor, both in film and on the stage. As a director he is most well known for the 1922 film Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages) and as an actor, he is best known for his performance in the film Michael (1924), in which he played Claude Zoret, the male lover of the film's title character in a landmark gay film.

Photo of Erik Balling

10. Erik Balling (1924 - 2005)

With an HPI of 50.09, Erik Balling is the 10th most famous Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Erik Balling (29 November 1924 – 19 November 2005) was a Danish TV and film director. He created two of Denmark's most popular TV-series, Matador and Huset på Christianshavn. His feature film Qivitoq (1956) was nominated for a Golden Palm at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, and for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film. His 1962 film Den kære familie was entered into the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival.Together with Henning Bahs, he also created the hugely popular series of Olsen Gang feature films.

Pantheon has 21 people classified as film directors born between 1869 and 1977. Of these 21, 13 (61.90%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living film directors include Lars von Trier, Bille August, and Thomas Vinterberg. The most famous deceased film directors include Carl Theodor Dreyer, Gabriel Axel, and Henning Carlsen. As of April 2022, 1 new film directors have been added to Pantheon including Ole Bornedal.

Living Film Directors

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Deceased Film Directors

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Newly Added Film Directors (2022)

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Which Film Directors were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 8 most globally memorable Film Directors since 1700.