Ranking the 10 best directors of all time


Sam Dunham



In any movie, there is one man on set who is king. No actor, screenwriter, or even producer has the power over the story like a director does. How a movie is shown, how the story is told, and whether or not a movie is actually good all falls on the shoulders of the director. Great movies have one thing in common: they all had great directors. These are some of those great directors. While ranking them is incredibly subjective and it’s almost impossible to please everyone, this is, in this writer’s not-so-humble opinion, the best way to rank these film geniuses when it comes to their body of work and how they transformed the culture of cinema.

  1. David Fincher An incredibly underrated director, often evokes the “Oh, he directed THAT?” phrase from the mouths of millennials and adults alike. Has a certain dark and gritty yet smooth style that has made his movies so enjoyable. He doesn’t quite have the expansive arsenal of great films like most of the others on the list, which makes him our number 10. However, he’s only in his fifties and could very well move up on this list in the years to come.

Best Movies: “Se7en”, “Fight Club”, “Zodiac”, “The Social Network”

  1. Christopher Nolan–  Another younger director who could move up on this list in later years. Few directors in history have as much detail and nuanced filmmaking as Nolan. His movies are always frustratingly clever and filled with unexpected twists and turns. From the grand scale of outer space to the minutia of a man’s dreams, Nolan has shown his incredible range and talent with a small sample size of movies. Not to mention “The Dark Knight”, commonly heralded as perhaps the greatest movie of the 21st century.

Best Movies: “The Dark Knight”, “Inception”, “Memento”, “The Prestige”

  1. Orson WellesWhile many consider Welles a one-hit-wonder, the fact of the matter is that his “one hit” is truly fantastic. “Citizen Kane” (1941) is over 75 years old and is still recognized as the greatest movie of all time. The movie was revolutionary and is still seen as the standard for cinema. You know a movie is good when people refer to other good movies as “The Citizen Kane of (insert movie category here)”. In addition, Welles has some other films whose greatness is often overshadowed by “Kane” (i.e. Touch of Evil).

Best Movies: “Citizen Kane”, “Touch of Evil”, “Macbeth”, “The Lady from Shanghai”

  1. Ridley ScottMany may see this name as a surprise at number 7 (largely due to some of his more recent disappointments), but Ridley Scott has been creating great movies for nearly 40 years. From his sci-fi thrillers (“Alien and The Martian”) to dramatic period pieces (“Gladiator” and “American Gangster”), He has proven his diverse skillset as a director. His two greatest movies, “Blade Runner” and “Thelma and Louise”, truly mark him as one of the great directors of all time.

Best Movies: “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Gladiator”

  1. Francis Ford CoppolaCoppola is another director whose work is often overshadowed by his one or two fantastic works. Everyone can quote “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part 2” and both are recognized as two of the greatest movies of all time. However, an underrated movie (and perhaps another all-time great) is “Apocalypse Now”, the greatest depiction of the Vietnam War in Hollywood history.  Coppola’s body of work is truly immense, which puts him ahead of most great directors. From vampires to greasers, he has been creating classics for decades.

Best Movies: “The Godfather”, “The Godfather Part 2”, “Apocalypse Now”, “The Outsiders”

5. Martin ScorseseMartin Scorsese is a director who is unique in the sense that he has an almost perfect track record of movies. The man continues to hit home runs, even in 2016 with “Silence”. Listing all of his classics would be excessive, but some of his bests are: “Taxi Driver”, a character study starring Robert De Niro which is as great as it is quotable (“Are you talkin to me?”); “Goodfellas”, the greatest gangster movie of all time (barring “mobster” movies, big difference), “The Departed”, another amazing gang/mob movie with DiCaprio and Damon at their bests; “The Wolf of Wall Street”, a more recent hit that allowed Scorsese to truly go all out when it comes to directing. No matter the actors (although a lot of the time it seems to be DiCaprio of De Niro) and no matter the genre, Scorsese is the ultimate all-around director.

Best Movies: “Goodfellas”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Departed”, “Raging Bull”

4. Quentin TarantinoThere is no director as stylized and unique as Tarantino. Not only is he basically perfect when it comes to his track record of movies, but his style has become an icon of pop culture. His masterpiece of nonlinear storytelling, “Pulp Fiction”, is referred to as one of the greatest movies of all time. No one quite has the ability to assert their personality on each and every movie like Quentin Tarantino. His excessive gore, incessant language, and straight-up insane scenes leave QT one of most iconic and beloved of all time.

Best Movies: “Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, “Reservoir Dogs”, “Inglorious Bastards”

  1. Stanley KubrickKubrick is one of those select few directors who has absolutely changed the world of cinema with his movies. Only Spielberg has made more iconic and recognizable movies. Although he didn’t direct many films, he made the most of them by creating a diverse arsenal of genres and themes, from the wonders of science fiction with “A Space Odyssey” (not to mention an all-time great score) to the suffocating Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”. There is no doubt that Kubrick has changed the scope of Hollywood with his movies, and will always be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

Best Movies: “The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “Full Metal Jacket”

  1. Alfred HitchcockPutting the Master of Suspense at number two seems like an affront to what he has done for pop culture and film. In the early years of movies, this man revolutionized movies themselves. The metaphorical father of the thriller genre, Hitchcock’s masterpieces such as “Psycho” and “Rear Window” were some of the early trailblazers for crafting true suspense movies. For over 50 years, he was an icon of Hollywood, and undoubtedly asserted his personality and style into every one of his films. What he did for modern culture cannot be quantified in any ranking system or number, but what is important to remember is how he influenced our entertainment for years to come.

1. Steven SpielbergSome people may be surprised to see Spielberg at number one. These people do not know how great Spielberg truly is. What is so special about him is that while his movies are not pretentious or flashy, they quite simply capture the magic of movies. I previously wrote about how directors like Scorsese and Tarantino don’t just have many great movies; Spielberg takes that to the next level. Literally no director has as many great movies as the Cincinnati native. In films like “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park”, he revolutionized visual effects and today, his movies remain the cornerstone of this in an increasingly CGI era. He blew our minds and touched our hearts with his sci-fi movies like “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. He created fun and adventure with movies like “The Goonies”, “Catch Me if You Can”, and the Indiana Jones trilogy. He is also one of the best when it comes to period pieces, with films such as “Saving Private Ryan”, “Schindler’s List”, and “Munich”. Let’s not forget his stint in horror with “Poltergeist”. His great movies go on and on, and span nearly every genre. Time and time again he has changed the very scope of Hollywood. Spielberg’s very name is considered among the greats of entertainment, among Air Jordan, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles. His films may not yet be considered “classics” like Hitchcock’s or Kubrick’s, but what his movies have done for pop culture cannot be equaled by any artist or performer.

Best Movies: “Jurassic Park”, “E.T.”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Indiana Jones” (whole trilogy)