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Top 10 Famous and Best American Movie Directors

America’s most influential living directors have very different visions: saluting and/or gently mocking suburban rituals, exploring the dark sides of modern cities, celebrating the beauty and cruelty of youth.

10 Famous and Best American Movie Directors


These 10 filmmakers have established turf that’s decidedly their own. Each uses his own, persuasively personal filter to view a wide range of subjects.

1. Steven Spielberg


Steven Spielberg: Top 10 Famous and Best American Movie Directors

Born: December 18, 1946
Occupation: Film producer, film director, screenwriter
Years active: 1959–present
Net worth: US$3.6 billion (2020)
Recent movieReady Player One (2018)

Steven Allan Spielberg is an American filmmaker. He is considered one of the founding pioneers of the New Hollywood era and one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. Spielberg started in Hollywood directing television and several minor theatrical releases. Spielberg is one of the American film industry's most critically successful filmmakers, with praise for his directing talent and versatility, and he has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice. Some of his movies are also among the highest-grossing films, while his total work makes him the highest-grossing film director in history.

2. Martin Scorsese


Martin Scorsese

Born: November 17, 1942
Occupation: Filmmaker and actor
Years active: 1963–present
Latest movieThe Irishman (2019)

Martin Charles Scorsese is an Italian-American film director, screenwriter, producer, and actor, whose career spans more than 50 years. One of the major figures of the New Hollywood era, he is widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential directors in film history. Scorsese's body of work explores themes such as Italian-American identity, Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, faith, machismo, crime and tribalism. Many of his films are known for their depiction of violence, and the liberal use of profanity and rock music. In 1990, he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation and in 2017, he introduced the African Film Heritage Project.

3. Quentin Tarantino


Quentin Tarantino

Born: March 27, 1963
Occupation: Filmmaker, actor
Years active: 1987–present
Latest movieOnce Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Tarantino's films have garnered both critical and commercial success as well as a dedicated 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". In December 2015, Tarantino received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry.

4. Francis Ford Coppola


Francis Ford Coppola

Born: April 7, 1939
Occupation: Film director, screen, writer, film producer, film composer
Years active: 1962–present
Latest movieTwixt (2011)

His best-known films released since the start of the 1980s are the dramas The Outsiders and Rumble Fish (both 1983), the crime dramas The Cotton Club (1984) and The Godfather Part III (1990), and the horror film Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). A number of Coppola's relatives and children have become famous actors and filmmakers in their own right: his sister is the actress Talia Shire; his daughter Sofia Coppola and granddaughter Gia Coppola are directors, and the actors Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage are his nephews. Coppola resides in Napa, California.

5. Spike Lee


Spike Lee

Born: March 20, 1957
Occupation: Filmmaker, professor
Years active: 1977–present
Latest movieBlacKkKlansman (2018)

Lee's work has continually explored race relations, colorism in the black community, the role of media in contemporary life, urban crime and poverty, and other political issues. He has won numerous accolades for his work, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a Student Academy Award, a BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and the Cannes Grand Prix. He has also received an Academy Honorary Award, an Honorary BAFTA Award, an Honorary César, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

Lee's films Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 4 Little Girls and She's Gotta Have It were each selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

6. Woody Allen


Woody Allen

Born: December 1, 1935
Occupation: Director,writer, actor, comedian
Years active: 1950–present
Latest movieBlue Jasmine (2013)

Allen's best-known films include Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Match Point (2005) and Midnight in Paris (2011). In 2007 he said Stardust Memories (1980), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Match Point (2005) were his best films. Critic Roger Ebert described Allen as "a treasure of the cinema". Allen has received many accolades and honors. He has received 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. 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.

7. Christopher Nolan


Christopher Nolan

Born: 30 July 1970
Citizenship: United Kingdom - United States
Occupation: Filmmaker
Years active: 1989–present
Latest movieTenet (2020)

Nolan's films are typically rooted in epistemological and metaphysical themes, exploring human morality, the construction of time, and the malleable nature of memory and personal identity. His work is permeated by 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.

Nolan has received many awards and honours. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2015, and in 2019, he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to film.

8. Terrence Malick


Terrence Malick

Born: November 30, 1943
Occupation: Film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active: 1969–present
Latest movieA Hidden Life (2019)

Malick's films have explored themes such as transcendence, nature, and conflicts between reason and instinct. They are typically marked by broad philosophical and spiritual overtones, as well as the use of meditative voice-overs from individual characters. The stylistic elements of the director's work have inspired divided opinions among film scholars and audiences; some praised his films for their cinematography and aesthetics, while others found them lacking in plot and character development. His first five films have nonetheless ranked highly in retrospective decade-end and all-time polls.

9. Kathryn Bigelow


Kathryn Bigelow

Born: November 27, 1951
Occupation: Director, producer, writer
Years active: 1978–present
Latest movieDetroit (2017)

With The Hurt Locker, Bigelow became the first and, as of 2020, only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing, the BAFTA Award for Best Direction, and the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Director. She also became the first woman to win the Saturn Award for Best Director in 1995 for Strange Days.

Bigelow was included on the 2010 Time 100 list of most influential people of the year.

10. Paul Thomas Anderson


Paul Thomas Anderson

Born: June 26, 1970
Occupation: Filmmaker
Years active: 1988–present
Latest movie: Phantom Thread (2017)

Anderson's films are often characterized by their depiction of flawed and desperate characters, explorations of themes such as dysfunctional families, alienation and loneliness, a bold visual style that uses moving camera and long takes, and memorable music. He is noted for his frequent collaborations with actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Daniel Day-Lewis, cinematographer Robert Elswit, costume designer Mark Bridges, and composers Jon Brion and Jonny Greenwood. His films have consistently garnered critical acclaim. Anderson has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, one Golden Globe Award and five BAFTA Awards, and has won a Best Director Award at Cannes, a Silver Bear at Berlin and a Silver Lion at Venice.

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