Top 30 Living Directors

  1. James Cameron | Avatar 2 and 3 in development for 2014 and 2015 | Avatar (2009, #1 box-office all time) | Titanic (1997, Best Picture and Director, #2 box-office all time) | True Lies (‘94) | Terminator 2 (‘91) | The Abyss (‘89) | Aliens (‘86) | The Terminator (‘84) | Common trademarks include: strong emotional bonds; verisimilitude; creating an experience; the unreliability of technology; the ocean; strong female characters; visual effects pioneering; blue; no-win scenarios.  Cameron is the director who started it all for me, who ignited my interest in film and filmmaking, and who has consistently inspired me throughout the years.  All but one of his films makes it on to my Top 100, and the one that doesn’t (True Lies) is on my guilty-pleasures list. 
  2. David Fincher | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 2011) | The Social Network (Sorkin, 2010) | The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (’08) | Zodiac (’06) | Panic Room (’02) | Fight Club (’99) | The Game (’97) | Se7en (’95) | Alien3 (’02) | America film director of mostly dark and stylish suspense thrillers.  Supreme visual stylist.  
  3. Christopher Nolan | The Dark Knight Rises (7/20/2012) | Inception (2010) | Nolan’s features deal in moral murk, dual identity and the power of memory, but the ideas never overpower the entertainment. Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight.  
  4. Steven Spielberg | Lincoln in development for 2012 | War Horse  to be released 12/28/11 | The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, a CG motion-captured film,to be released on 12/21/11 | He’s directed way too many movies to even list here.  My two absolute favorites, both in my Top Ten, are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Minority Report.  Other personal favorites include Duel, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Amistad, Lost World, Saving Private Ryan, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Munich and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Very prolific, often having two films come out in the same year. 
  5. Robert Zemeckis | Flight, Yellow Submarine, or Roger Rabbit 2 are next | A Christmas Carol (2009) | Beowulf (’07) | The Polar Express (’04) | What Lies Beneath and Castaway (both ’00) | Contact (’97) | Forrest Gump (’94, Best Picture and Director) | Death Becomes Her (’92) | Back to the Future trilogy (’85, ’89 and ’90) | Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (’88) | Romancing the Stone (’84) | Great sense of mise-en-scene, pacing, tone.  Superb director of actors.  
  6. Cameron Crowe | We Bought a Zoo to be released 12/23/11 | Elizabethtown (’05) | Vanilla Sky(’01) | Almost Famous(’00) | Jerry Maguire(’96)| Singles (’92)| Say Anything(’89)
  7. Martin Scorsese | The Invention of Hugo Cabret (11/23/11) | Shutter Island (2010) | Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours, Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Gangs of New York, Aviator, The Departed.  
  8. Peter Jackson. The Hobbit 1 and 2 for release in 2012 and 2013 | Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Braindead, Heavenly Creatures, Forgotten Silver, The Frighteners, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, The Lovely Bones, 2009.  With The Fellowship of the Rings, Peter Jackson went from being the weird bare-footed director who helmed Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners to the Spielberg of the new century.  He made one of the best trilogies of all time, a trilogy that showed George Lucas what his Prequel Trilogy should have been but wasn’t.  With Return of the King, Jackson made the first fantasy film to win freaking Best Picture!  And he’s continued making great films, including a thoroughly amazing remake of King Kong as well as The Lovely Bones, an atmospheric and emotional thriller. 
  9. Ridley Scott | Robin Hood to be released | Body of Lies (’08) | American Gangster (’07) | A Good Year (’06) | Kingdom of Heaven (’05) | Matchstick Men (’03) | Black Hawk Down and Hannibal (both ’01) | Gladiator (’00) | Thelma & Louise (’91) | Black Rain | Blade Runner (’82) | Alien (’79) 
  10. Danny Boyle. Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours. 
  11. Bryan Singer. Public Access, The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, The Mayor of Castro Street. 
  12. Coen Brothers. Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Lady Killers, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man. 
  13. Quentin Tarantino | Inglorious Basterds | Death Proof | Kill Bill | Jackie Brown | Pulp Fiction | Reservoir Dogs
  14. Kevin Smith | Cop Out | Zack and Miri Make a Porno | Clerks II | Jersey Girl | Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back | Dogma | Chasing Amy | Mallrats | Clerks.  He has a singularly unique writing style.  
  15. Steven Soderberg. Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, King of the Hill, Underneath, Gray’s Anatomy, Schizopolis, Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Trilogy, Full Frontal, Solaris, Bubble, The Good German, Life Interrupted.  In the works: Guerilla, The Argentine, The Informant. 
  16. Wolfgang Petersen. Das Boot, The NeverEnding Story, Enemy Mine, Shattered, In the Line of Fire, Outbreak, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm, Troy, Poseidon. 
  17. Sam Raimi. Evil Dead, Crimewave, Evil Dead II, Darkman, Army of Darkness, The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan, For Love of the Game, The Gift, Spider-Man Trilogy, Drag Me to Hell. 
  18. Clint Eastwood
  19. Tim Burton | Alice in Wonderland | Sweeney Todd | Corpse Bride | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Big Fish | Planet of the Apes | Sleepy Hollow | Mars Attacks | Nightmare Before Christmas | Ed Wood | Batman Returns | Edward Scissorhands | Batman | Beetlejuice | Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
  20. Jason Reitman | Up In the Air | Juno | Thank You for Smoking
  21. Alexander Payne | The Descendants | Sideways | About Schmidt | Election | Citizen Ruth
  22. John McTiernan | Basic | Rollerball | The Thomas Crowne Affair | The Thirteenth Warrior | Die Hard with a Vengeance | Last Action Hero | Medicine Man | The Hunt for Red October | Die Hard | Nomads | Two films, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, earned him a place on this list as a director of smart and iconic action thrillers.  He always encased the larger-than-life characters and plotlines within a well-grounded and realistic universe – unless he intentionally rejected such realism, as in The Last Action Hero.  He had pacing, he knew how to tell a story, and, as evidenced in his remake of The Thomas Crowne Affair, he had style.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a very productive decade in the 2000s, directing only Basic and Rollerball, two underwhelming films.  Other notable films include Predator, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and The Thirteenth Warrior
  23. Michael Mann | Public Enemies | Miami Vice | Collateral | Ali | The Insider | Heat | The Last of the Mohicans | Manhunter | Thief 
  24. Robert Rodriguez | Machete | Shorts | Planet Terror | Sharkboy and Lava Girl | Sin City | Once Upon a Time in Mexico | Spy Kids Trilogy | The Faculty | From Dusk Till Dawn | Desperado | El Mariachi | He is the epitome of guerilla filmmaking.  Sure, his films aren’t always great, but the dude keeps working.  He’s incredibly prolific, considering that Tarantino’s made less than half as many films in as much time.  He has embraced the “Skywalker Ranch” methodology of filmmaking by staying as far away from Hollywood as he can and building a virtual film studio in his own garage.  
  25. Ron Howard. Grand Theft Auto, Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Gung Ho, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Far and Away, The Paper, Apollo 13, Ransom, EDtv, The Grinch, A Beautiful Mind, The Missing, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels & Demons. 
  26. Luc Besson. The Last Battle, Subway, The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, Leon/The Professional, The Fifth Element, The Messenger, Angel-A, Arthur and the Invisibles. 
  27. Paul Greengrass | The Green Zone | The Bourne Ultimatum | Unite 93 | The Bourne Supremacy | Bloody Sunday
  28. Doug Liman | Fair Game | Jumper | Mr. and Mrs. Smith | Bourne Identity | Go | Swingers 
  29. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, Alien: Resurrection, Amelie, A Very Long Engagement. 
  30. Guy Ritchie. Sherlock Holmes, Revolver, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.