The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Film Directors of all time. This list of famous American 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 American Film Directors.
With an HPI of 87.57, Steven Spielberg is the most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 130 different languages on wikipedia.
Steven Allan Spielberg (; born December 18, 1946) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He began his career in the New Hollywood era and is currently the most commercially successful director of all time. Spielberg is the recipient of various accolades, including three Academy Awards (with two for Best Director), a Kennedy Center honor, a Cecil B. DeMille Award, and an AFI Life Achievement Award. Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. He later moved to California and studied film in college. After directing several episodes for television including Night Gallery and Columbo, he directed the television film Duel (1971) which gained him acclaim from critics and audiences. He then made his directorial film debut with The Sugarland Express (1974). The following year he became a household name directing 1975's summer blockbuster Jaws. He then directed box office successes Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and the Indiana Jones series. Spielberg later explored drama in The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987). After a brief hiatus, he directed two films back to back with the science fiction action, Jurassic Park, and the Holocaust drama, Schindler's List (both 1993); the former became the highest-grossing film ever at the time, while the latter has been described as one of the greatest films ever made. In 1998, he directed the World War II epic Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg continued in the 2000s with science fiction, including A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Minority Report (2002), and War of the Worlds (2005). He also directed the children's adventure films The Adventures of Tintin (2011), and Ready Player One (2018), as well as the historical dramas Amistad (1997), Munich (2005), War Horse (2011), Lincoln (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015), The Post (2017), and the musical West Side Story (2021). In addition, he co-founded Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks, and has served as a producer for many television series and films. Spielberg is also known for his long time collaboration with composer John Williams, with whom he has worked for all but five of his feature films. Several of Spielberg's works are among the highest-grossing films of all time. Nine of his films have been inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
With an HPI of 86.49, Martin Scorsese is the 2nd most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 85 different languages.
Martin Charles Scorsese (; Italian: [skorˈseːze, -se]; born November 17, 1942) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is the recipient of many accolades, including an Academy Award, three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, four British Academy Film Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and two Directors Guild of America Awards. Scorsese has received various honors including the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1997, the Kennedy Center Honor in 2007, and the BAFTA Fellowship in 2012. Five of his films have been inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". Scorsese received an MA from New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in 1968. His directorial debut, Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967), was accepted into the Chicago Film Festival. In the 1970s and 1980s decades, Scorsese emerged as one of the major figures of the New Hollywood era. Scorsese's films, much influenced by his Italian-American background and upbringing in New York City, center on macho-posturing insecure men and explore crime, machismo, nihilism, and Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption. His trademark styles include extensive use of slow motion and freeze frames, graphic depictions of extreme violence, and liberal use of profanity. His 1973 crime film Mean Streets, dealing with machismo and violence, and exploring Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, was a blueprint for his filmmaking styles. Scorsese won the Palme d'Or at Cannes with his 1976 psychological thriller Taxi Driver, which starred Robert De Niro, who became associated with Scorsese through eight more films including New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980) The King of Comedy (1982), Goodfellas (1990), and Casino (1995). In the 2000s and 2010s decades, Scorsese garnered critical acclaim and box office success with a series of collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio. These films include Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Returning to his familiar territory of crime films, Scorsese collaborated with De Niro again on The Irishman (2019). Scorsese's other film work includes the black comedy After Hours (1985), the romantic drama The Age of Innocence (1993), the children's adventure drama Hugo (2011), and the religious epics The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Kundun (1997) and Silence (2016). In addition to film, Scorsese has directed episodes for some television series including Boardwalk Empire (2011-2015), and Vinyl (2016), and the documentaries Public Speaking (2010), and Pretend It's a City (2021). He is also known for several rock music documentaries including The Last Waltz (1978), No Direction Home (2005), Shine a Light (2008), and George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011). An advocate for film preservation and restoration, he founded three nonprofit organizations: the Film Foundation in 1990, the World Cinema Foundation in 2007, and the African Film Heritage Project in 2017.
With an HPI of 84.93, Stanley Kubrick is the 3rd most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 114 different languages.
Stanley Kubrick (; July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an American film director, producer, screenwriter, and photographer. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest filmmakers in cinematic history. His films, almost all of which are adaptations of novels or short stories, cover a wide range of genres and are noted for their realism, dark humor, unique cinematography, extensive set designs, and evocative use of music. Kubrick was raised in the Bronx, New York City, and attended William Howard Taft High School from 1941 to 1945. He received average grades, but displayed a keen interest in literature, photography, and film from a young age, and taught himself all aspects of film production and directing after graduating from high school. After working as a photographer for Look magazine in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he began making short films on shoestring budgets, and made his first major Hollywood film, The Killing, for United Artists in 1956. This was followed by two collaborations with Kirk Douglas: the war picture Paths of Glory (1957) and the historical epic Spartacus (1960). Creative differences arising from his work with Douglas and the film studios, a dislike of the Hollywood industry, and a growing concern about crime in America prompted Kubrick to move to the United Kingdom in 1961, where he spent most of his remaining life and career. His home at Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire, which he shared with his wife Christiane, became his workplace, where he did his writing, research, editing, and management of production details. This allowed him to have almost complete artistic control over his films, but with the rare advantage of having financial support from major Hollywood studios. His first productions in Britain were two films with Peter Sellers: Lolita (1962), an adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel, and the Cold War black comedy Dr. Strangelove (1964). A demanding perfectionist, Kubrick assumed control over most aspects of the filmmaking process, from direction and writing to editing, and took painstaking care with researching his films and staging scenes, working in close coordination with his actors, crew, and other collaborators. He often asked for several dozen retakes of the same shot in a movie, which resulted in many conflicts with his casts. Despite the resulting notoriety among actors, many of Kubrick's films broke new ground in cinematography. The scientific realism and innovative special effects of the science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were without precedent in the history of cinema, and the film earned him his only personal Oscar, for Best Visual Effects. Steven Spielberg has referred to the film as his generation's "big bang"; it is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. While many of Kubrick's films were controversial and initially received mixed reviews upon release—particularly the brutal A Clockwork Orange (1971), which Kubrick pulled from circulation in the UK following a mass media frenzy—most were nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTA Awards, and underwent critical reevaluations. For the 18th-century period film Barry Lyndon (1975), Kubrick obtained lenses developed by Zeiss for NASA, to film scenes under natural candlelight. With the horror film The Shining (1980), he became one of the first directors to make use of a Steadicam for stabilized and fluid tracking shots, a technology vital to his Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket (1987). His last film, Eyes Wide Shut, was completed shortly before his death in 1999 at the age of 70.
With an HPI of 82.76, Woody Allen is the 4th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 106 different languages.
Heywood "Woody" Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg, November 30, 1935) is an American film director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans more than six decades and multiple Academy Award-winning films. He began his career writing material for television in the 1950s, mainly Your Show of Shows (1950-1954) working alongside Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Neil Simon. He also published several books featuring short stories and wrote humor pieces for The New Yorker. In the early 1960s, he performed as a stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village alongside Lenny Bruce, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Joan Rivers. There he developed a monologue style (rather than traditional jokes) and the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish. He released three comedy albums during the mid to late 1960s, earning a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album nomination for his 1964 comedy album entitled simply, Woody Allen. In 2004, Comedy Central ranked Allen fourth on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, while a UK survey ranked Allen the third-greatest comedian.By the mid-1960s, Allen was writing and directing films, first specializing in slapstick comedies such as Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Sleeper (1973), and Love and Death (1975), before moving into dramatic material influenced by European art cinema during the late 1970s with Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), and Stardust Memories (1980), and alternating between comedies and dramas to the present. Allen is often identified as part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmakers of the mid-1960s to late 1970s such as Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Sidney Lumet. He often stars in his films, typically in the persona he developed as a standup. His film Annie Hall (1977), a romantic comedy featuring Allen and his frequent collaborator Diane Keaton, won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress for Keaton. Critics have called his work from the 1980s his most developed period. Those films include Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Another Woman (1988), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). In the 21st century, many of Allen's films have been set and shot in Europe, including Match Point (2005), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris (2011), and To Rome with Love (2012). Allen returned to America gaining acclaim for Blue Jasmine (2013) and Cafe Society (2016). In 1979, Allen began a professional and personal relationship with actress Mia Farrow, and over a decade-long period they collaborated on 13 films. They separated after Allen began a relationship with Mia's and Andre Previn's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. During the separation, Allen was publicly accused of sexually abusing his daughter, the seven-year-old Dylan. The allegation gained substantial media attention, but Allen was never charged or prosecuted, and he vehemently denied the allegation. Allen married Previn in 1997, and they adopted two children.Allen has received many accolades and honors, including the most nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, with 16. He has won four Academy Awards, one for Best Director, and three for Best Original Screenplay. He also garnered nine British Academy Film Awards. In 1997, Allen was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 2014, he received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement and a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical for Bullets over Broadway. In 2015, the Writers Guild of America named his screenplay for Annie Hall first on its list of the "101 Funniest Screenplays". In 2011, PBS televised the film biography Woody Allen: A Documentary on its series American Masters.
With an HPI of 81.12, Francis Ford Coppola is the 5th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 82 different languages.
Francis Ford Coppola (; Italian: [ˈkɔppola]; born April 7, 1939) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the major figures of the New Hollywood filmmaking movement of the 1960s and 1970s and is the recipient of five Academy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Palmes d'Or, and a British Academy Film Award. After directing The Rain People in 1969, Coppola co-wrote Patton (1970), earning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay along with Edmund H. North. Coppola's reputation as a filmmaker was cemented with the release of The Godfather (1972), which revolutionized movie-making in the gangster genre and had a strong commercial and critical reception. The Godfather won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with Mario Puzo). The Godfather Part II, which followed in 1974, became the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Highly regarded by critics, the film brought Coppola three more Academy Awards—Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture—making him the second director (after Billy Wilder) to win these three awards for the same film. The Conversation, which Coppola directed, produced and wrote, was released that same year, winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His next film, Apocalypse Now (1979), which had a notoriously lengthy and strenuous production, was widely acclaimed for vividly depicting the Vietnam War. The film won the Palme d'Or, making Coppola one of only eight filmmakers to have won that award twice. His best-known films released since the start of the 1980s are the 1983 dramas The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, the crime dramas The Cotton Club (1984) and The Godfather Part III (1990), and the 1992 romantic-horror film Bram Stoker's Dracula, based on the novel of the same name. A number of Coppola's relatives and children have become popular actors and filmmakers in their own right: his sister Talia Shire is an actress, his daughter Sofia and granddaughter Gia are directors, his son Roman is a screenwriter, and his nephews Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage are actors. Coppola resides in Napa, California, and since the 2010s has been a vintner, owning a family-branded winery and a winery of his own.
With an HPI of 78.55, David Lynch is the 6th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 70 different languages.
David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946) is an American filmmaker, painter, visual artist, actor, musician, and writer. A recipient of an Academy Honorary Award in 2019, Lynch has received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, and the César Award for Best Foreign Film twice, as well as the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival. In 2007, a panel of critics convened by The Guardian announced that 'after all the discussion, no one could fault the conclusion that David Lynch is the most important film-maker of the current era', while AllMovie called him "the Renaissance man of modern American filmmaking". His work led to him being labeled "the first populist surrealist" by film critic Pauline Kael.Lynch studied painting before he began making short films in the late 1960s. His first feature-length film, the surrealist Eraserhead (1977), became a success on the midnight movie circuit, and he followed that by directing The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), and Blue Velvet (1986). Lynch next created his own television series with Mark Frost, the murder mystery Twin Peaks (1990–91), which ran for two seasons. He also made the film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), the road film Wild at Heart (1990), and the family film The Straight Story (1999) in the same period. Turning further towards surrealist filmmaking, three of his subsequent films operated on dream logic non-linear narrative structures: Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001), and Inland Empire (2006). Lynch and Frost reunited in 2017 for the third season of Twin Peaks, which aired on Showtime. Lynch co-wrote and directed every episode, and reprised his onscreen role as Gordon Cole. Lynch's other artistic endeavors include his work as a musician, encompassing the studio albums BlueBOB (2001), Crazy Clown Time (2011), and The Big Dream (2013), as well as music and sound design for a variety of his films (sometimes alongside collaborators Alan Splet, Dean Hurley, and/or Angelo Badalamenti); painting and photography; writing the books Images (1994), Catching the Big Fish (2006), Room to Dream (2018), and numerous other literary works; and directing several music videos (such as the video for "Shot in the Back of the Head" by Moby, who, in turn, directed a video for Lynch's "The Big Dream") as well as advertisements, including the Dior promotional film Lady Blue Shanghai (2010).An avid practitioner of Transcendental Meditation (TM), in 2005 he founded the David Lynch Foundation, which seeks to fund the teaching of TM in schools and has since widened its scope to other at-risk populations, including the homeless, veterans, and refugees.
With an HPI of 78.46, Quentin Tarantino is the 7th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 99 different languages.
Quentin Jerome Tarantino (; born March 27, 1963) is an American filmmaker, actor, film critic and author. His films are characterized by frequent references to popular culture and film history, nonlinear storylines, dark humor, stylized violence, extended dialogue, pervasive use of profanity, cameos and ensemble casts. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Tarantino grew up in Los Angeles. He began his career as an independent filmmaker with the release of Reservoir Dogs in 1992, a crime thriller in part funded by the sale of his screenplay True Romance (1993); Empire hailed Reservoir Dogs as the "Greatest Independent Film of All Time". His second film, Pulp Fiction (1994), a crime comedy, was a major success among critics and audiences and won numerous awards, including the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He wrote the screenplay for From Dusk till Dawn (1996), in which he also starred, while Tarantino's third film, Jackie Brown (1997), paid homage to blaxploitation films. In 2003, Tarantino delivered Kill Bill: Volume 1, stylized in cinematic traditions of kung fu films and Japanese martial arts; Volume 2 followed in 2004. Tarantino then directed the exploitation slasher Death Proof (2007), part of a double feature with Robert Rodriguez released in the custom of 1970s grindhouse, under the collective title Grindhouse. His long-postponed Inglourious Basterds (2009) told an alternate history and explored subgenres of war films; it was followed by Django Unchained (2012), a Spaghetti Western, which won him his second Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Tarantino's eighth film, The Hateful Eight (2015), was a long-form revisionist Western thriller with a roadshow release, while his most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), was a comedy drama which explored the transition of Old Hollywood to New Hollywood. He published his debut novel, a novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in 2021. Tarantino's films have garnered critical and commercial success, as well as a cult following. He has received many industry awards, including two Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and the Palme d'Or, and has been nominated for an Emmy and five Grammys. In 2005, he was included on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. Filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich has called him "the single most influential director of his generation"; Tarantino has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry.Tarantino's works have been subject to controversy, including his depictions of violence and frequent inclusion of racial slurs, and alleged negligence in his handling of stunt scenes in Kill Bill: Volume 2.
With an HPI of 78.37, George Lucas is the 8th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 101 different languages.
George Walton Lucas Jr. (born May 14, 1944) is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, and entrepreneur. Lucas is best known for creating the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises and founding Lucasfilm, LucasArts, and Industrial Light & Magic. He served as chairman of Lucasfilm before selling it to The Walt Disney Company in 2012.After graduating from the University of Southern California in 1967, Lucas co-founded American Zoetrope with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Lucas wrote and directed THX 1138 (1971), based on his student short Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which was a critical success but a financial failure. His next work as a writer-director was the film American Graffiti (1973), inspired by his youth in the early 1960s Modesto, California, and produced through the newly founded Lucasfilm. The film was critically and commercially successful and received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. Lucas's next film, the epic space opera Star Wars (1977), had a troubled production but was a surprise hit, becoming the highest-grossing film at the time, winning six Academy Awards and sparking a cultural phenomenon. Lucas produced and co-wrote the sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). With director Steven Spielberg, he created, produced, and co-wrote the Indiana Jones films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Temple of Doom (1984), The Last Crusade (1989) and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Lucas is also known for his collaboration with composer John Williams, who was recommended to him by Spielberg, and with whom he has worked for all the films in both of these franchises. He also produced and wrote a variety of films and television series through Lucasfilm between the 1970s and the 2010s. In 1997, Lucas re-released the Star Wars Trilogy as part of a special edition featuring several alterations; home media versions with further changes were released in 2004 and 2011. He returned to directing with a Star Wars prequel trilogy comprising Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). He last collaborated on the CGI-animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–2014, 2020), the war film Red Tails (2012), and the CGI film Strange Magic (2015). Lucas is one of history's most financially successful filmmakers and has been nominated for four Academy Awards. His films are among the 100 highest-grossing movies at the North American box office, adjusted for ticket-price inflation. Lucas is considered one of the most significant figures of the 20th-century New Hollywood movement, and a pioneer of the modern blockbuster.
With an HPI of 76.75, Brian De Palma is the 9th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 56 different languages.
Brian Russell De Palma (born September 11, 1940) is an American film director and screenwriter. With a career spanning over 50 years, he is best known for his work in the suspense, crime and psychological thriller genres. His films include mainstream box office hits such as Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission: Impossible (1996), as well as cult favorites such as Sisters (1972), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), Casualties of War (1989), Carlito's Way (1993), Femme Fatale (2002), and Passion (2012).De Palma was a leading member of the New Hollywood generation of film directors. His direction often makes use of quotations from other films or cinematic styles, and bears the influence of filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard. His films have been criticized for their violence and sexual content but have also been championed by American critics such as Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.
With an HPI of 76.55, John Ford is the 10th most famous American Film Director. His biography has been translated into 68 different languages.
John Martin Feeney (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973), known professionally as John Ford, was an American film director and naval officer. He is renowned both for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and adaptations of classic 20th century American novels such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940). He was the recipient of six Academy Awards including a record four wins for Best Director. In a career of more than 50 years, Ford directed more than 140 films (although most of his silent films are now lost) and he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of his generation. Ford's work was held in high regard by his colleagues, with Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman among those who named him one of the greatest directors of all time. Ford made frequent use of location shooting and wide shots, in which his characters were framed against a vast, harsh, and rugged natural terrain.
Pantheon has 509 people classified as film directors born between 1870 and 2000. Of these 509, 334 (65.62%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living film directors include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. The most famous deceased film directors include Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, and Sydney Pollack. As of October 2020, 86 new film directors have been added to Pantheon including Gene Deitch, Emile Ardolino, and Allen Daviau.
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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.