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The Most Famous


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This page contains a list of the greatest French Film Directors. The pantheon dataset contains 1,581 Film Directors, 163 of which were born in France. This makes France the birth place of the 2nd most number of Film Directors.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary French Film Directors of all time. This list of famous French 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 French Film Directors.

Photo of Roman Polanski

1. Roman Polanski (1933 - )

With an HPI of 75.89, Roman Polanski is the most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 85 different languages on wikipedia.

Raymond Roman Thierry Polański (né Liebling; born 18 August 1933) is a French and Polish film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. He is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, two British Academy Film Awards, ten César Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, as well as the Golden Bear and a Palme d'Or. In 1977, Polanski was arrested for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor in exchange for a probation-only sentence. The night before his sentencing hearing in 1978, he learned that the judge would likely reject the proffered plea bargain, so he fled the U.S. to Europe, where he continued his career. He remains a fugitive from the U.S. justice system. Further allegations of abuse have been made by other women. Polanski's Polish Jewish parents moved the family from his birthplace in Paris back to Kraków in 1937. Two years later, the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany started World War II, and the family found themselves trapped in the Kraków Ghetto. After his mother and father were taken in raids, Polanski spent his formative years in foster homes, surviving the Holocaust by adopting a false identity and concealing his Jewish heritage.Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), was made in Poland and was nominated for the United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. After living in France for a few years, he moved to the United Kingdom, where he directed his first three English-language feature-length films: Repulsion (1965), Cul-de-sac (1966), and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). In 1968, he moved to the United States and cemented his status in the film industry by directing the horror film Rosemary's Baby (1968). He made Macbeth (1971) in England and Chinatown (1974) back in Hollywood. His other critically acclaimed films include Tess (1979), The Pianist (2002) which won him the Academy Award for Best Director, The Ghost Writer (2010), Venus in Fur (2013), and An Officer and a Spy (2019). Polanski has made 23 feature films to date.In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered with four friends by members of the Manson Family.

Photo of Jean-Luc Godard

2. Jean-Luc Godard (1930 - 2022)

With an HPI of 74.15, Jean-Luc Godard is the 2nd most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 68 different languages.

Jean-Luc Godard (UK: GOD-ar, US: goh-DAR; French: [ʒɑ̃ lyk ɡɔdaʁ]; 3 December 1930 – 13 September 2022) was a French and Swiss film director, screenwriter, and film critic. He rose to prominence as a pioneer of the French New Wave film movement of the 1960s, alongside such filmmakers as François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, Éric Rohmer and Jacques Demy. He was arguably the most influential French filmmaker of the post-war era. According to AllMovie, his work "revolutionized the motion picture form" through its experimentation with narrative, continuity, sound, and camerawork. His most acclaimed films include Breathless (1960), Vivre sa vie (1962), Contempt (1963), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville (1965), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Masculin Féminin (1966), Weekend (1967) and Goodbye to Language (2014).During his early career as a film critic for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard criticised mainstream French cinema's "Tradition of Quality", which de-emphasised innovation and experimentation. In response, he and like-minded critics began to make their own films, challenging the conventions of traditional Hollywood in addition to French cinema. Godard first received global acclaim for his 1960 feature Breathless, helping to establish the New Wave movement. His work makes use of frequent homages and references to film history, and often expressed his political views; he was an avid reader of existentialism and Marxist philosophy, and in 1969 formed the Dziga Vertov Group with other radical filmmakers to promote political works. After the New Wave, his politics were less radical, and his later films came to be about human conflict and artistic representation "from a humanist rather than Marxist perspective."Godard was married three times, to actresses Anna Karina and Anne Wiazemsky, both of whom starred in several of his films, and later to his longtime partner Anne-Marie Miéville. His collaborations with Karina — which included such critically acclaimed films as Vivre sa vie (1962), Bande à part (1964) and Pierrot le Fou (1965) — were called "arguably the most influential body of work in the history of cinema" by Filmmaker magazine. In a 2002 Sight & Sound poll, Godard ranked third in the critics' top ten directors of all time. He is said to have "generated one of the largest bodies of critical analysis of any filmmaker since the mid-twentieth century." His work has been central to narrative theory and has "challenged both commercial narrative cinema norms and film criticism's vocabulary." In 2010, Godard was awarded an Academy Honorary Award.

Photo of François Truffaut

3. François Truffaut (1932 - 1984)

With an HPI of 73.66, François Truffaut is the 3rd most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 73 different languages.

François Roland Truffaut (UK: TROO-foh, TRUU-, US: troo-FOH; French: [fʁɑ̃swa ʁɔlɑ̃ tʁyfo]; 6 February 1932 – 21 October 1984) was a French filmmaker, actor, and critic. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of the French New Wave. With a career of more than 25 years, he is an icon of the French film industry. Truffaut's film The 400 Blows (1959) is a defining film of the French New Wave movement, and has four sequels: Antoine et Colette (1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979). Truffaut's 1973 film Day for Night earned him critical acclaim and several awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. His other notable films include Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jules and Jim (1962), The Soft Skin (1964), The Wild Child (1970), Two English Girls (1971), The Last Metro (1980), and The Woman Next Door (1981). He played one of the main roles in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Truffaut wrote the book Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966), based on his interviews with film director Alfred Hitchcock during the 1960s.

Photo of Georges Méliès

4. Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938)

With an HPI of 73.44, Georges Méliès is the 4th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 65 different languages.

Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès (; French: [meljɛs]; 8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938) was a French magician, actor, and film director. He led many technical and narrative developments in the early days of cinema. Méliès was well known for the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour. He was also one of the early filmmakers to use storyboards. His films include A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy.

Photo of Éric Rohmer

5. Éric Rohmer (1920 - 2010)

With an HPI of 68.48, Éric Rohmer is the 5th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.

Jean Marie Maurice Schérer or Maurice Henri Joseph Schérer, known as Éric Rohmer (French: [eʁik ʁomɛʁ]; 21 March 1920 – 11 January 2010), was a French film director, film critic, journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and teacher. Rohmer was the last of the post-World War II French New Wave directors to become established. He edited the influential film journal Cahiers du cinéma from 1957 to 1963, while most of his colleagues—among them Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut—were making the transition from critics to filmmakers and gaining international attention. Rohmer gained international acclaim around 1969 when his film My Night at Maud's was nominated at the Academy Awards. He won the San Sebastián International Film Festival with Claire's Knee in 1971 and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Green Ray in 1986. Rohmer went on to receive the Venice Film Festival's Career Golden Lion in 2001. After Rohmer's death in 2010, his obituary in The Daily Telegraph described him as "the most durable filmmaker of the French New Wave", outlasting his peers and "still making movies the public wanted to see" late in his career.

Photo of Jacques Tati

6. Jacques Tati (1907 - 1982)

With an HPI of 68.31, Jacques Tati is the 6th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Jacques Tati (French: [tati]; born Jacques Tatischeff, pronounced [tatiʃɛf]; 9 October 1907 – 5 November 1982) was a French mime, filmmaker, actor and screenwriter. In an Entertainment Weekly poll of the Greatest Movie Directors, he was voted the 46th greatest of all time (out of 50), although he directed only six feature-length films. Tati is perhaps best known for his character Monsieur Hulot, featured in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967) and Trafic (1971). Playtime ranked 23rd in the 2022 Sight and Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made.As David Bellos puts it, "Tati, from l'Ecole des facteurs to Playtime, is the epitome of what an auteur is (in film theory) supposed to be: the controlling mind behind a vision of the world on film".

Photo of William Wyler

7. William Wyler (1902 - 1981)

With an HPI of 68.09, William Wyler is the 7th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.

William Wyler (; born Willi Wyler (German: [ˈvɪli ˈvi:lɐ]); July 1, 1902 – July 27, 1981) was a German-born American film director and producer. Known for his work in numerous genres over five decades, he received numerous awards and accolades, including three Academy Awards. He holds the record of twelve nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director. For his oeuvre of work, Wyler was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award, and the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. Wyler immigrated to the to United States in 1921 where he worked first for Universal Studios in New York before moving to Los Angeles. By 1925, he was the youngest director at Universal, and in 1929 he directed Hell's Heroes, Universal's first sound production filmed entirely on location. Wyler went on to win the Academy Award for Best Director three times, those being for Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Ben-Hur (1959), all of which also won for Best Picture. He was Oscar-nominated for Dodsworth (1936), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), The Heiress (1949), Detective Story (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956), and The Collector (1965). Film historian Ian Freer calls Wyler a "bona fide perfectionist", whose penchant for retakes and an attempt to hone every last nuance "became the stuff of legend.": 57  His ability to direct a string of classic literary adaptations into huge box-office and critical successes made him one of "Hollywood's most bankable moviemakers" from the 1930s to the 1960s. Through his talent for staging, editing, and camera movement, he turned dynamic theatrical spaces into cinematic ones. Wyler is also known for his work as an actors director often propelling them to stardom.

Photo of Roger Vadim

8. Roger Vadim (1928 - 2000)

With an HPI of 68.04, Roger Vadim is the 8th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 46 different languages.

Roger Vadim Plemiannikov (French: [ʁɔʒe vadim]; 26 January 1928 – 11 February 2000) was a French screenwriter, film director and producer, as well as an author, artist and occasional actor. His best-known works are visually lavish films with erotic qualities, such as And God Created Woman (1956), Blood and Roses (1960), Barbarella (1968), and Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971).

Photo of Claude Chabrol

9. Claude Chabrol (1930 - 2010)

With an HPI of 67.26, Claude Chabrol is the 9th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 54 different languages.

Claude Henri Jean Chabrol (French: [klod ʃabʁɔl]; 24 June 1930 – 12 September 2010) was a French film director and a member of the French New Wave (nouvelle vague) group of filmmakers who first came to prominence at the end of the 1950s. Like his colleagues and contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, Chabrol was a critic for the influential film magazine Cahiers du cinéma before beginning his career as a film maker. Chabrol's career began with Le Beau Serge (1958), inspired by Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Thrillers became something of a trademark for Chabrol, with an approach characterized by a distanced objectivity. This is especially apparent in Les Biches (1968), La Femme infidèle (1969), and Le Boucher (1970) – all featuring Stéphane Audran, who was his wife at the time. Sometimes characterized as a "mainstream" New Wave director, Chabrol remained prolific and popular throughout his half-century career. In 1978, he cast Isabelle Huppert as the lead in Violette Nozière. On the strength of that effort, the pair went on to others including the successful Madame Bovary (1991) and La Cérémonie (1995). Film critic John Russell Taylor has stated that "there are few directors whose films are more difficult to explain or evoke on paper, if only because so much of the overall effect turns on Chabrol's sheer hedonistic relish for the medium...Some of his films become almost private jokes, made to amuse himself." James Monaco has called Chabrol "the craftsman par excellence of the New Wave, and his variations upon a theme give us an understanding of the explicitness and precision of the language of the film that we don't get from the more varied experiments in genre of Truffaut or Godard."

Photo of Luc Besson

10. Luc Besson (1959 - )

With an HPI of 66.93, Luc Besson is the 10th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.

Luc Paul Maurice Besson (French: [lyk bɛsɔ̃]; born 18 March 1959) is a French filmmaker. He directed or produced the films Subway (1985), The Big Blue (1988), and La Femme Nikita (1990). Associated with the Cinéma du look film movement, he has been nominated for a César Award for Best Director and Best Picture for his films Léon: The Professional (1994) and the English-language The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999). He won Best Director and Best French Director for his sci-fi action film The Fifth Element (1997). He wrote and directed the 2014 sci-fi action film Lucy and the 2017 space opera film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In 1980, near the beginning of his career, he founded his own production company, Les Films du Loup, later renamed Les Films du Dauphin. It was superseded in 2000 when he co-founded EuropaCorp with longtime collaborator Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. As writer, director, or producer, Besson has been involved in the creation of more than 50 films.

Pantheon has 163 people classified as film directors born between 1860 and 1983. Of these 163, 68 (41.72%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living film directors include Roman Polanski, Luc Besson, and Jean-Jacques Annaud. The most famous deceased film directors include Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Georges Méliès. As of April 2022, 12 new film directors have been added to Pantheon including Gérard Pirès, Albert Capellani, and Raymond Depardon.

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 25 most globally memorable Film Directors since 1700.