ByJack Mitchell, writer at
I'm a student at the University of Sussex, studying Drama and Film. I'm a huge cinephile, watching and discussing a wide variety of cinema
Jack Mitchell

The retirement of Daniel Day-Lewis really does hammer home the obsession people have with their favorite male Hollywood stars and their female counterparts, but it's a shame to think that directors might not receive the same level of adoration. These are the great creative minds, after all, who orchestrate your best loved films and allow the performers to flourish. So let's take the time to celebrate those creative visionaries behind the camera.

1. 1900s — Georges Méliès

A Trip to the Moon [Credit: Star Film Company]
A Trip to the Moon [Credit: Star Film Company]

Prominent films:

  • A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  • The Voyage Across the Impossible (1904)

Georges Méliès was one of cinema's first pioneers, experimenting with the possibilities of moving images. While it would take until the 1920s to see a more recognizable style of filmmaking with the arrival of montage, Méliès' primitive films still offer a lot to be loved. Beautiful, visionary images, like the famous shot of a rocket flying into the eye of the moon, the fast pace and inventiveness, and the feeling of history encapsulated in the theatrical form make Méliès' films unforgettable and wholly worthwhile for modern viewers. This significant director showed us what cinema could be.

2. 1910s — D.W. Griffith

The Birth of a Nation [Credit: Mandalay Pictures]
The Birth of a Nation [Credit: Mandalay Pictures]

Prominent films:

  • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  • Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)
  • Broken Blossoms (1919)

D.W. Griffith was not forward thinking with regard to his political views, but he was in terms of his cinematic techniques. He was one of the first directors to experiment with camera angles, as cinema had previously been filmed at a direct angle in a single continuous take. He helped to make the medium a more action-packed and expressive one.

However, his feature film The Birth of a Nation — which was more than three hours long — was seen as the catalyst for the prominence of the Ku Klux Klan due to its heroic representation of the white supremacy group. While his later projects were less contentious, Griffith is now regarded as a controversial legend of early movies and was the first American director to signify just how much of a juggernaut the US film industry would become. Intolerance, his film that followed The Birth of a Nation, was by far the most expensive of the time, costing an estimated $2.5 million to produce, which amounts to around $47 million by today's standards.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Louis Feuillade (The Fantômas serial)
  • Frank Powell (A Fool There Was)
  • George Nichols (A Film Johnnie)

3. 1920s — Sergei M. Eisenstein

Battleship Potemkin [Credit: Mosfilm]
Battleship Potemkin [Credit: Mosfilm]

Prominent films:

  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • Strike (1925)
  • October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)

While he didn't invent the theory, Sergei Eisenstein was the first director to integrate the concept of montage into his works. It's strange to think that something as simple as editing had to be dreamt of, but before the 1920s this was nonexistent. Eisenstein's propagandist style of directing was the first to involve cutting, forever changing the face of cinema. While his films like Battleship Potemkin and Strike aren't particularly accessible for modern audiences, they are a fascinating slice of history and show not just how far we've come but just how much we owe to the forefathers of this medium.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Fritz Lang (Metropolis)
  • Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  • Lotte Reiniger (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)

4. 1930s — Victor Fleming

The Wizard of Oz [Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer]
The Wizard of Oz [Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer]

Prominent films:

  • Red Dust (1932)
  • Captains Courageous (1937)
  • Gone With the Wind (1939)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Victor Fleming, while surprisingly not a household name, has made some of the most iconic films in Hollywood. His mega hits Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz helped to establish Hollywood as the biggest film industry in the world. These financial goldmines were incredible films, too, with their brilliant writing, directing and acting setting them up as uncontested classics. Fleming is a cinematic great who played a huge role in shifting the power of the film industry.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Frank Capra (It Happened One Night)
  • John Ford (Stagecoach)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (The 39 Steps)

5. 1940s — Orson Welles

Citizen Kane [Credit: RKO Pictures]
Citizen Kane [Credit: RKO Pictures]

Prominent films:

  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
  • The Lady From Shanghai (1947)

Orson Welles revolutionized the narrative form. His full-length directorial debut and milestone Citizen Kane laid down the now-golden rule of telling a story visually. Welles also showed that flashbacks could be used in order to escape linearity and expand the scope of the film. Citizen Kane isn't just fantastic due to its innovations — it's a riveting yet heartbreaking tale, with beautiful writing and directing, firmly cementing Welles as one of cinema's pioneering figures.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Michael Powell (The Red Shoes)
  • Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)
  • Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep)
  • Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City)

6. 1950s — Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
Rear Window [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Prominent films:

  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
  • Rear Window (1954)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • North by Northwest (1959)

is to many the greatest director that's ever lived. He mastered the use of visual exposition, notably in Rear Window. He crafted mysterious, intriguing films with some of the sharpest dialogue ever. He was a legend who made an inexhaustible list of brilliant films. While his two most popular, Psycho and The Birds, were made in the 1960s, it was in the '50s that Hitchcock became an untouchable force. While his art has dated to some degree, he was to me the pinnacle of classic Hollywood.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali)
  • Vittorio De Sica (Umberto D.)
  • Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai)
  • Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men)
  • Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle)

7. 1960s — Stanley Kubrick

2001: A Space Odyssey [Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer]
2001: A Space Odyssey [Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer]

Prominent films:

  • Lolita (1962)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most important figures in cinematic history who signified the end of the classic Hollywood era. His dark, gritty films infected the mainstream and saw moviemaking shift away from the melodramatic rut it was stuck in. Kubrick was one of the rare directors who would turn any project he touched to gold, innovating throughout his career.

Although working since the '50s, his arrival onto the scene in the 1960s made it viable for future filmmakers to take risks with their films and still be successful. The '60s also demonstrated 's versatility, catapulting between crime and drama, political satire and sci-fi. He was never content to do just one thing like his predecessors had been. He was an artist, always pushing the boundaries. Lolita features pedophilia, Dr. Strangelove the destruction of the world. He refused to be held back by societal restraints, and because of this the Kubrickian style is still as dazzling today as it was decades ago.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho)
  • Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
  • Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless)

8. 1970s — Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
The Godfather [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Prominent films:

  • The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974)
  • The Conversation (1974)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola represented a continuation of the mark Kubrick made in the 1960s, with his dark, gritty, complex films taking the world by storm. The Godfather and its sequel are two of the greatest films ever made, as is his 1979 film Apocalypse Now, proving that, again like Kubrick, he was not confined to one genre. He was a radical, too, politicizing his cinema, with his poignant cameo in Apocalypse Now showing the obsession mainstream media had with the Vietnam War. This was Coppola's decade as he successfully bridged the gap between art and the mainstream and immortalized himself in history.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God)
  • Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver)
  • Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
  • Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris)

9. 1980s — David Lynch

Blue Velvet [Credit: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group]
Blue Velvet [Credit: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group]

Prominent films:

  • The Elephant Man (1980)
  • Blue Velvet (1986)

After bursting onto the scene with his surreal Eraserhead in 1977, David Lynch fully established himself in the 1980s. Though many would argue that his masterpiece was 2001's Mulholland Drive, Lynch changed the game in the '80s and showed that surrealism could find an audience. Never before had such a bold and ambiguous style been deployed, with such enigmatic images implemented. The Elephant Man showed that Lynch could make accessible cinema while simultaneously staying true to his roots, while Blue Velvet was a more suitably surreal film. Whether or not he was prolific is another question, but Lynch left a huge mark on the 1980s.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

10. 1990s — Quentin Tarantino

Pulp Fiction [Credit: Miramax]
Pulp Fiction [Credit: Miramax]

Prominent films:

  • Reservoir Dogs (1992)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)

Quentin Tarantino's gruesome, rule-breaking, explicit filmmaking has shown that the barriers of acceptability in Hollywood are well and truly broken. This masterful director is also the ultimate cinema lover, constantly paying homage to the films he adores, and has clearly used his intelligence and wisdom to good effect. He gained mass attention for his hit film Pulp Fiction, which set us up for the type of movie we have come to expect from this auteur. is a breath of fresh air in an often overly sanitized industry.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List)
  • Spike Lee (Crooklyn)
  • Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski)

11. 2000s — Paul Thomas Anderson

Prominent films:

  • Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
  • There Will Be Blood (2007)
  • The Master (2012)

While not the most prolific director, Paul Thomas Anderson is a masterful director and easily one of the most unique and haunting voices in modern moviemaking. He found fame in the 1990s with his intriguing, dark drama Boogie Nights and continues to craft innovative, bold cinema. Punch-Drunk Love is an understated modern classic, made all the more impressive by the fact that Thomas Anderson somehow mustered up a breathtaking, subtle performance from Adam Sandler.

And if you needed more evidence of his directorial genius, Thomas Anderson then crafted one of the greatest films of the 21st century, There Will Be Blood, an epic tale of greed and corruption. This ambitious director has shown his brilliance and there is still so much more to come.

Other notable directors of the decade and their films:

  • Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation)
  • Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her)
  • Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
  • Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville)

Which Director Will Define The 2010s?

We have been given such a diverse range of brilliant cinema this decade. Whether it's Charlie Kaufman, Michael Haneke, Lee Daniels or Alejandro González Iñárritu, there are numerous bold visionaries spearheading unique projects that delight audiences. While it may be too early, and we may not have the hindsight to declare an outright best director, the 2010s have not disappointed.

Who are your favorite directors of all time? Let us know in the comments.


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