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The Most Famous

FILM DIRECTORS from United Kingdom

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This page contains a list of the greatest British Film Directors. The pantheon dataset contains 1,581 Film Directors, 149 of which were born in United Kingdom. This makes United Kingdom the birth place of the 3rd most number of Film Directors behind United States and France.

Top 10

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

Photo of Alfred Hitchcock

1. Alfred Hitchcock (1899 - 1980)

With an HPI of 82.72, Alfred Hitchcock is the most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 138 different languages on wikipedia.

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980) was an English filmmaker. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema. In a career spanning six decades, he directed over 50 feature films, many of which are still widely watched and studied today. Known as the "Master of Suspense", he became as well known as any of his actors thanks to his many interviews, his cameo roles in most of his films, and his hosting and producing the television anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–65). His films garnered 46 Academy Award nominations, including six wins, although he never won the award for Best Director despite five nominations. Hitchcock initially trained as a technical clerk and copy writer before entering the film industry in 1919 as a title card designer. His directorial debut was the British-German silent film The Pleasure Garden (1925). His first successful film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), helped to shape the thriller genre, and Blackmail (1929) was the first British "talkie". His thrillers The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are ranked among the greatest British films of the 20th century. By 1939, he had international recognition and producer David O. Selznick persuaded him to move to Hollywood. A string of successful films followed, including Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Notorious (1946). Rebecca won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Hitchcock nominated as Best Director; he was also nominated for Lifeboat (1944) and Spellbound (1945). After a brief commercial lull, he returned to form with Strangers on a Train (1951) and Dial M for Murder (1954); he then went on to direct four films often ranked among the greatest of all time: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), the first and last of these garnering him Best Director nominations. The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) were also financially successful and are highly regarded by film historians. The "Hitchcockian" style includes the use of editing and camera movement to mimic a person's gaze, thereby turning viewers into voyeurs, and framing shots to maximise anxiety and fear. The film critic Robin Wood wrote that the meaning of a Hitchcock film "is there in the method, in the progression from shot to shot. A Hitchcock film is an organism, with the whole implied in every detail and every detail related to the whole." Hitchcock made multiple films with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including four with Cary Grant in the 1940s and 1950s, three with Ingrid Bergman in the second half of the 1940s, four with James Stewart over a decade commencing in 1948, and three consecutive with Grace Kelly in the mid-1950s. Hitchcock became an American citizen in 1955. In 2012, Hitchcock's psychological thriller Vertigo, starring Stewart, displaced Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) as the British Film Institute's greatest film ever made based on its world-wide poll of hundreds of film critics. As of 2021, nine of his films had been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, including his personal favourite, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). He received the BAFTA Fellowship in 1971, the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1979, and was knighted in December that year, four months before his death on 29 April 1980.

Photo of Ridley Scott

2. Ridley Scott (1937 - )

With an HPI of 76.48, Ridley Scott is the 2nd most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 76 different languages.

Sir Ridley Scott (born 30 November 1937) is an English film director and producer. Directing, among others, science fiction films, his work is known for its atmospheric and highly concentrated visual style. Scott has received many accolades throughout his career, including the BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2018. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the British film industry. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. An alumnus of the Royal College of Art in London, Scott began his career in television as a designer and director before moving into advertising, where he honed his filmmaking skills by making mini-films for television commercials. He made his debut as a film director with The Duellists (1977) and gained wider recognition with his next film, Alien (1979). Three years later he would direct Blade Runner, which Scott calls his "most complete and personal film". Though his films range widely in setting and period, they frequently showcase memorable imagery of urban environments, spanning 2nd-century Rome in Gladiator (2000), 12th-century Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Medieval England in Robin Hood (2010), contemporary Mogadishu in Black Hawk Down (2001), or the futuristic cityscapes of Blade Runner and different planets in Alien, Prometheus (2012), The Martian (2015) and Alien: Covenant (2017). Several of his films are also known for their strong female characters, such as Thelma & Louise (1991).Scott has been nominated for three Academy Awards for Directing, which he received for Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. Gladiator won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and he received a nomination in the same category for The Martian. In 1995, both Scott and his brother Tony received a British Academy Film Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema. In a 2004 BBC poll, Scott was ranked 10 on the list of most influential people in British culture.

Photo of Ken Loach

3. Ken Loach (1936 - )

With an HPI of 69.54, Ken Loach is the 3rd most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Kenneth Charles Loach (born 17 June 1936) is a British film director and screenwriter. His socially critical directing style and socialist ideals are evident in his film treatment of social issues such as poverty (Poor Cow, 1967), homelessness (Cathy Come Home, 1966), and labour rights (Riff-Raff, 1991, and The Navigators, 2001). Loach's film Kes (1969) was voted the seventh greatest British film of the 20th century in a poll by the British Film Institute. Two of his films, The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) and I, Daniel Blake (2016), received the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, making him one of only nine filmmakers to win the award twice.

Photo of Richard Attenborough

4. Richard Attenborough (1923 - 2014)

With an HPI of 67.12, Richard Attenborough is the 4th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 71 different languages.

Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, (; 29 August 1923 – 24 August 2014) was an English actor, filmmaker, and entrepreneur. He was the president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), as well as the life president of Chelsea FC. He joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and served in the film unit, going on several bombing raids over Europe and filming the action from the rear gunner's position. He was the older brother of broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and motor executive John Attenborough. He was married to actress Sheila Sim from 1945 until his death. As an actor, he is best remembered for his film roles in Brighton Rock (1948), I'm All Right Jack (1959), The Great Escape (1963), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967), 10 Rillington Place (1971), Jurassic Park (1993), and Miracle on 34th Street (1994). In 1952 he appeared on the West End stage, originating the role of Detective Sergeant Trotter in Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap which has since become the world's longest-running play.For his directorial debut, 1969's Oh! What a Lovely War, Attenborough was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Direction, and he was nominated for his films Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far, and Cry Freedom. He won two Academy Awards for Gandhi in 1983: Best Picture and Best Director. The BFI ranked Gandhi the 34th greatest British film of the 20th century. Attenborough also won four BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and the 1983 BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement.

Photo of Alan Parker

5. Alan Parker (1944 - 2020)

With an HPI of 65.97, Alan Parker is the 5th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 54 different languages.

Sir Alan William Parker (14 February 1944 – 31 July 2020) was an English filmmaker. His early career, beginning in his late teens, was spent as a copywriter and director of television advertisements. After about ten years of filming adverts, many of which won awards for creativity, he began screenwriting and directing films. Parker was known for using a wide range of filmmaking styles and working in differing genres. He directed musicals, including Bugsy Malone (1976), Fame (1980), Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982), The Commitments (1991) and Evita (1996); true-story dramas, including Midnight Express (1978), Mississippi Burning (1988), Come See the Paradise (1990) and Angela's Ashes (1999); family dramas, including Shoot the Moon (1982), and horrors and thrillers including Angel Heart (1987) and The Life of David Gale (2003).His films won nineteen BAFTA awards, ten Golden Globes and six Academy Awards. His film Birdy was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the Top Ten Films of 1984, and won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury prize at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. Parker was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to the British film industry and knighted in 2002. He was active in both British cinema and American cinema, along with being a founding member of the Directors Guild of Great Britain and lecturing at various film schools. In 2000 he received the Royal Photographic Society Lumière Award for major achievement in cinematography, video or animation. In 2013 he received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the highest honour the British Film Academy can give a filmmaker. Parker donated his personal archive to the British Film Institute's National Archive in 2015.

Photo of David Lean

6. David Lean (1908 - 1991)

With an HPI of 65.97, David Lean is the 6th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 57 different languages.

Sir David Lean (25 March 1908 – 16 April 1991) was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Widely considered one of the most important figures in British cinema, Lean directed the large-scale epics The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984). He also directed the film adaptations of two Charles Dickens novels, Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), as well as the romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945). Originally a film editor in the early 1930s, Lean made his directorial debut with 1942's In Which We Serve, which was the first of four collaborations with Noël Coward. Beginning with Summertime in 1955, Lean began to make internationally co-produced films financed by the big Hollywood studios; in 1970, however, the critical failure of his film Ryan's Daughter led him to take a fourteen-year break from filmmaking, during which he planned a number of film projects which never came to fruition. In 1984 he had a career revival with A Passage to India, adapted from E. M. Forster's novel; it was an instant hit with critics but proved to be the last film Lean would direct. Lean's affinity for pictorialism and inventive editing techniques has led him to be lauded by directors such as Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Ridley Scott. Lean was voted 9th greatest film director of all time in the British Film Institute Sight & Sound "Directors' Top Directors" poll in 2002. Nominated seven times for the Academy Award for Best Director, which he won twice for The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, he has seven films in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British Films (with three of them being in the top five) and was awarded the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1990.

Photo of Christopher Nolan

7. Christopher Nolan (1970 - )

With an HPI of 65.50, Christopher Nolan is the 7th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 85 different languages.

Christopher Edward Nolan (born 30 July 1970) is a British-American filmmaker. Known for his lucrative Hollywood blockbusters with complex storytelling, Nolan is considered a leading filmmaker of the 21st century. His films have grossed more than US$4.7 billion worldwide. He has received many awards and honours, including five nominations each from the Academy Awards, British Academy Film Awards and Golden Globe Awards. In 2015, he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time, and in 2019, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to film. Nolan developed an interest in filmmaking from a young age. After studying English literature at University College London, he made his feature film debut by making Following (1998). Nolan gained international recognition with his second film, Memento (2000), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He transitioned from independent to studio filmmaking with Insomnia (2002), and found further critical and commercial success with The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–2012), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010); the last of these received eight Oscar nominations, including two for Nolan—Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. This was followed by Interstellar (2014), Dunkirk (2017), and Tenet (2020). For Dunkirk, he earned two Academy Award nominations, including his first for Best Director. Nolan's work regularly feature in listings of the best films of the 21st century. They are typically characterised by existentialism and epistemology. Infused with a metaphysical outlook, they explore human ethics, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. His work is permeated with mathematically inspired images and concepts, unconventional narrative structures, practical special effects, experimental soundscapes, large-format film photography, and materialistic perspectives. He has co-written several of his films with his brother Jonathan, and runs the production company Syncopy Inc. with his wife Emma Thomas.

Photo of Tony Scott

8. Tony Scott (1944 - 2012)

With an HPI of 65.19, Tony Scott is the 8th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.

Anthony David Leighton Scott (21 June 1944 – 19 August 2012) was an English film director and producer. He was known for directing highly successful action and thriller films such as Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Days of Thunder (1990), The Last Boy Scout (1991), True Romance (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Enemy of the State (1998), Man on Fire (2004), Déjà Vu (2006), and Unstoppable (2010). Scott was the younger brother of film director Sir Ridley Scott. They both graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, and were among a generation of British film directors who were successful in Hollywood having started their careers making television commercials. In 1995, both Tony and Ridley received the BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema. In 2010, they received the BAFTA Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Filmed Entertainment.

Photo of Peter Brook

9. Peter Brook (1925 - )

With an HPI of 64.83, Peter Brook is the 9th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 40 different languages.

Peter Stephen Paul Brook (21 March 1925 – 2 July 2022) was an English theatre and film director. He worked first in England, from 1945 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, from 1947 at the Royal Opera House, and from 1962 for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). With them, he directed the first English-language production in 1964 of Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss, which was transferred to Broadway in 1965 and won the Tony Award for Best Play, and Brook was named Best Director. He also directed films such as an iconic version of Lord of the Flies in 1963. He was based in France from the early 1970s on, where he founded an international theatre company, playing in developing countries, in an approach of great simplicity. He was often referred to as "our greatest living theatre director". He won multiple Emmy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, and the Prix Italia. In 2021, he was awarded India's Padma Shri.

Photo of Peter Greenaway

10. Peter Greenaway (1942 - )

With an HPI of 63.27, Peter Greenaway is the 10th most famous British Film Director.  His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Peter Greenaway, (born 5 April 1942) is a Welsh film director, screenwriter and artist. His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Flemish painting in particular. Common traits in his films are the scenic composition and illumination and the contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death.

Pantheon has 149 people classified as film directors born between 1864 and 1980. Of these 149, 88 (59.06%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living film directors include Ridley Scott, Ken Loach, and Christopher Nolan. The most famous deceased film directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Attenborough, and Alan Parker. As of April 2022, 21 new film directors have been added to Pantheon including Andrew Birkin, Peter R. Hunt, and Richard Eyre.

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.