The Most Famous

FILM DIRECTORS from France

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This page contains a list of the greatest French Film Directors. The pantheon dataset contains 1,580 Film Directors, 151 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 83.85, Roman Polanski is the most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 80 different languages on wikipedia.

Raymond Roman Thierry Polánski (né Liebling; 18 August 1933) is a Polish and French film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. During his career Polanski has received five Oscar nominations, winning the Academy Award for Best Director in 2003 for The Pianist. He has also received two Golden Globe Awards, two BAFTAs, a Palme d'Or of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival in France, as well as multiple Césars. His 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 under an adopted identity and survived the Holocaust. 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. In the United Kingdom he directed three films, beginning with Repulsion (1965). In 1968, he moved to the United States and cemented his status by directing the horror film Rosemary's Baby (1968). Polanski's life turned in 1969 when his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and four friends were murdered by members of the Manson Family. He made Macbeth (1971) in England and Chinatown (1974) back in Hollywood. In 1977, Polanski was arrested and charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. As a result of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor. In 1978, upon learning that the judge planned to reject his plea deal and impose a prison term instead of probation, he fled to Paris. As a result, Polanski is a fugitive from the U.S. criminal justice system. In addition to his conviction, multiple other women have accused Polanski of sexually assaulting them as children. After fleeing to Europe, Polanski continued directing. His other critically acclaimed films include Tess (1979), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010), Venus in Fur (2013), and An Officer and a Spy (2019).

Photo of Jean-Luc Godard

2. Jean-Luc Godard (1930 - )

With an HPI of 79.93, Jean-Luc Godard is the 2nd most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 67 different languages.

Jean-Luc Godard (UK: GOD-ar, US: goh-DAR; French: [ʒɑ̃ lyk ɡɔdaʁ]; born 3 December 1930) is a French-Swiss film director, screenwriter, and film critic. He rose to prominence as a pioneer of the 1960s French New Wave film movement, and is 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.During his early career as a film critic for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard criticized mainstream French cinema's "Tradition of Quality", which emphasized established convention over 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 existential and Marxist philosophy. Since the New Wave, his politics have been much less radical and his recent films are about representation and human conflict from a humanist, and a Marxist perspective.In a 2002 Sight & Sound poll, Godard ranked third in the critics' top ten directors of all time (which was put together by assembling the directors of the individual films for which the critics voted). He is said to have "created one of the largest bodies of critical analysis of any filmmaker since the mid-twentieth century." He and his work have been central to narrative theory and have "challenged both commercial narrative cinema norms and film criticism's vocabulary." In 2010, Godard was awarded an Academy Honorary Award, but did not attend the award ceremony. Godard's films have inspired many directors including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, D. A. Pennebaker, Robert Altman, Jim Jarmusch, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wong Kar-wai, Wim Wenders, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.He has been married twice, to actresses Anna Karina and Anne Wiazemsky, both of whom starred in several of his films. 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.

Photo of Georges Méliès

3. Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938)

With an HPI of 79.74, Georges Méliès is the 3rd most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 63 different languages.

Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès (; French: [meljɛs]; 8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938) was a French illusionist, actor, and the first film director. He led many technical and narrative developments in the earliest 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 first 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, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy.

Photo of François Truffaut

4. François Truffaut (1932 - 1984)

With an HPI of 79.22, François Truffaut is the 4th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 71 different languages.

François Roland Truffaut (UK: TROO-foh, TRUUF-oh, US: troo-FOH; French: [fʁɑ̃swa ʁɔlɑ̃ tʁyfo]; 6 February 1932 – 21 October 1984) was a French film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film critic. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of the French New Wave. After a career of more than 25 years, he remains an icon of the French film industry, having worked on over 25 films. Truffaut's film The 400 Blows is a defining film of the French New Wave movement, and has four sequels, Antoine et Colette, Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run, made between 1958 and 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 is also known for his supporting role in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Truffaut also wrote the notable book Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966), which detailed his interviews with the film director Alfred Hitchcock during the 1960s.

Photo of Jacques Tati

5. Jacques Tati (1907 - 1982)

With an HPI of 75.93, Jacques Tati is the 5th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.

Jacques Tati (French: [tati]; born Jacques Tatischeff, pronounced [tatiʃɛf]; 9 October 1907 – 5 November 1982) was a French mime, film-maker, 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's Playtime (1967) ranked 43rd in the 2012 Sight & 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 Éric Rohmer

6. Éric Rohmer (1920 - 2010)

With an HPI of 75.64, Éric Rohmer is the 6th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 44 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 Roger Vadim

7. Roger Vadim (1928 - 2000)

With an HPI of 75.49, Roger Vadim is the 7th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 46 different languages.

Roger Vadim Plemiannikov (French: [ʁɔ.ʒe va.dim]; 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 William Wyler

8. William Wyler (1902 - 1981)

With an HPI of 75.17, William Wyler is the 8th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 61 different languages.

William Wyler (; born Willi Wyler (German: [ˈvɪli ˈvi:lɐ]); July 1, 1902 – July 27, 1981) was a Swiss-German-American film director and producer who won 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. In total, he holds a record twelve nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director. Born in Alsace, then in Germany, but later part of France, Wyler was a troublemaker in the schools of his youth. He emigrated to United States in 1921, working 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. In 1936, he earned his first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director for Dodsworth, starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor, "sparking a 20-year run of almost unbroken greatness.": 24 He helped propel a number of actors to stardom, including finding and directing Audrey Hepburn in her debut film, Roman Holiday (1953), and directing Barbra Streisand in her debut film, Funny Girl (1968), both winning Academy Awards. Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis both won their second Oscar in Wyler films, de Havilland for The Heiress (1949) and Davis for Jezebel. Davis said Wyler made her a "far, far better actress" than she had ever been, while Laurence Olivier, who received his first Oscar nomination for Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939), credited Wyler with teaching him how to act for the screen. Wyler's three Best Picture-winning films each featured a Best Actress or Actor Oscar winner - Greer Garson in Mrs Miniver, Frederic March in The Best Years of Our Lives, and Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur. Other popular Wyler films include: The Westerner (1940) with Gary Cooper, The Letter (1940) again with Davis, Detective Story (1951) with Kirk Douglas, Friendly Persuasion (1956) with Cooper, The Big Country (1958) with Gregory Peck and Heston, The Children's Hour (1961) with Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner, and How to Steal a Million (1966) with Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. 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 1960s. Through his talent for staging, editing, and camera movement, he turned dynamic theatrical spaces into cinematic ones. For his work Wyler was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for career achievement, the Director's Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award and the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award.

Photo of Claude Chabrol

9. Claude Chabrol (1930 - 2010)

With an HPI of 75.16, Claude Chabrol is the 9th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 53 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 Alain Resnais

10. Alain Resnais (1922 - 2014)

With an HPI of 74.49, Alain Resnais is the 10th most famous French Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 52 different languages.

Alain Resnais (French: [alɛ̃ ʁɛnɛ]; 3 June 1922 – 1 March 2014) was a French film director and screenwriter whose career extended over more than six decades. After training as a film editor in the mid-1940s, he went on to direct a number of short films which included Night and Fog (1956), an influential documentary about the Nazi concentration camps.Resnais began making feature films in the late 1950s and consolidated his early reputation with Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Last Year at Marienbad (1961), and Muriel (1963), all of which adopted unconventional narrative techniques to deal with themes of troubled memory and the imagined past. These films were contemporary with, and associated with, the French New Wave (la nouvelle vague), though Resnais did not regard himself as being fully part of that movement. He had closer links to the "Left Bank" group of authors and filmmakers who shared a commitment to modernism and an interest in left-wing politics. He also established a regular practice of working on his films in collaboration with writers previously unconnected with the cinema such as Jean Cayrol, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jorge Semprún and Jacques Sternberg.In later films, Resnais moved away from the overtly political topics of some previous works and developed his interests in an interaction between cinema and other cultural forms, including theatre, music, and comic books. This led to imaginative adaptations of plays by Alan Ayckbourn, Henri Bernstein and Jean Anouilh, as well as films featuring various kinds of popular song. His films frequently explore the relationship between consciousness, memory, and the imagination, and he was noted for devising innovative formal structures for his narratives. Throughout his career, he won many awards from international film festivals and academies.

Pantheon has 151 people classified as film directors born between 1860 and 1981. Of these 151, 68 (45.03%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living film directors include Roman Polanski, Jean-Luc Godard, and Luc Besson. The most famous deceased film directors include Georges Méliès, François Truffaut, and Jacques Tati. As of October 2020, 21 new film directors have been added to Pantheon including Just Jaeckin, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, and Jean Rollin.

Living Film Directors

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Deceased Film Directors

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Newly Added Film Directors (2020)

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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.