From Alfred Hitchcock to Steven Spielberg, directors have been behind the big screen. They have pulled the strings and pieced together the clever and most bizarre ideas, redefining them into watchable art pieces. And even the most legendary tales would not be as proud as to do without a sense of direction.
A few decades ago, movie directors were simply another cog in the machine. They seemed subordinate yet were very essential to the making of a film. Now, directors have peaked at superstardom, some names becoming household, and the works they create easily identified by their signature styles and art form.
They duly deserve their flowers, we think! So, in no particular order, we explore the filmography of Hollywood's top directors, highlighting their finest pieces.
1. Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)
The godfather of thrillers and why late 20th century folks feared showering alone. Alfred Hitchcock helmed several of the most psychologically intricate and cunningly gripping movies of the 20th century. For six decades, Hitch inspired millions, from film to music—for instance, Eminem's Music To Be Murdered By—and life.
One of The Earliest Examples of Shock Horror
Psycho, one of the earliest examples of shock horror, depicts Hitchcock's denial to conform to cinematic norms, proving he was way ahead of his time. The suspenseful twists and gruesome murder of the lead female early in the movie sets the premise for an exciting plot.
It is now regarded as one of the most iconic movies in Hollywood history, with the shower scene as a template from which other filmmakers drew inspiration.
Based on a real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho follows the story of an embezzler (Marion Crane) and an awkward motel owner (Norman Bates). Despite the low budget for the movie, the musical score, brilliant editing, and audience reception crown Psycho as the best movie of his career.
It earned him four academy award nominations, including one for best director. Psycho marked the start of a fresh wave of horror films.
2. Steven Spielberg, Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981)
From Jurassic Park to Jaws, Steven Spielberg was behind the most noteworthy films in Hollywood history. And from science fiction to thought-provoking pieces on humanism and even, most recently, a musical, Spielberg has laid the groundwork for many directors and actors today.
Action Packed Scenes and Disdain for Nazis
Raiders of the Lost Ark denoted Spielberg's love for high-packed action scenes and his disdain for Nazis. With a fine blend of religion, politics, and Harrison Ford's stellar performance, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a fantastic start to the Indiana Jones franchise. Steven Spielberg created several visual spectacles in a movie considered one of the best in the Golden Age of Classics. He allowed the viewers to witness exotic locations while maintaining a plot-driven, adventure-filled gem.
Spielberg described himself as a “movie brat,” joining the booming industry in the late 60s and becoming the highest-grossing director of all time. While considered an experimentalist in his early days, Spielberg saw himself as a risk taker and, soon, a visionary. He honed his craft, ensuring he never lost the heart of his work in the noise.
3. Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese is one of Hollywood's most prolific directors, revered for his cult classics since 1970. Only a few can match the style, drama, and manner of storytelling he once again flaunted in megahit Goodfellas.
A Rollercoaster of Anger and Excitement
A stunning cast led by Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta narrates the rise and fall of the mob. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his friends must advance to the top of the food chain in violent New York, but Henry falls victim to a few setbacks. Power can intoxicate, and once Henry and his fellow gangsters tasted it, they desperately had to keep it by any means. Including burying some skeletons.
Goodfellas is a spectacular piece that leads viewers through a rollercoaster of anger and excitement, of the mob life and the streets. Its musical score, exceptional dialog, and sweeping takes make it a leading part of Scorsese's career. It won twenty-nine awards, including British Academy Film Awards for Best Film and Director.
The seventy-nine-year-old, constantly criticized for glamorizing violence in his movies, continues to break the norms with his experimental zest. With other riveting titles, such as Wolf of Wallstreet, Gangs of New York, and Shutter Island, Scorsese has worked hard for every bit of recognition he receives.
4. James Cameron, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Starting as an on-set special effects artist, James Cameron dominated the box office, breaking the record for highest-grossing movies twice! Over a dozen of his films have served as the base for several pop culture references and catchphrases today. While average moviegoers may not be familiar with the name, they certainly would be familiar with his works.
From the heartrending Titanic to the epic sci-fi Avatar, the award-winning director has churned out steady masterpieces. His projects have grossed six billion dollars. James Cameron has been called “difficult to work with” because he is a true perfectionist, ensuring his every work turns out exquisite. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was no exception.
The Most Incredible Sequel Ever
Setting the silver screen ablaze in 1991, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles in what we consider the most incredible sequel ever. Cameron infused Terminator 2 with fast-paced action, tear-jerking emotional scenes, terror, and a ton of amazing special effects.
It was one of the most expensive and ambitious movie projects of the time, featuring the first use of a CGI main character. The movie's success resulted in video games, novels, comic books, and other films and TV shows.
5. Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994)
By creating the greatest indie film of all time, Quentin Tarantino proved an eccentric high school dropout could make it in the one place he felt the most at home; movie theatres. He began as a screenplay writer, worked his way into Hollywood, and took on several minor roles until he finally wrote and directed Reservoir Dogs.
With solid experience both in front and behind the camera, he offered Hollywood a fresh voice and an elaborate style. After an array of projects, including the likes of Django Unchained, Tarantino produced the legendary Pulp Fiction.
Aesthetic Gore and Violence
Pulp Fiction follows different plots, which intertwine, leading to the movie's climax. Two hit men (Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega) work for crime boss Wallace. The crime boss, Wallace, hunts a boxer who defrauded him of his money while asking Vincent asked to take care of his wife. And before the drama unfolds, Bonnie and Clyde couple, Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), also decide on a diner as their new location.
With its aesthetic representation of gore and violence, non-linear storytelling, and a rich, if not colorful, choice of dialog, Pulp Fiction caught the world by storm. It received several nominations and awards, including the Golden Globe, the Academy, and Saturn Awards. Pulp Fiction is one movie that made Samuel L. Jackson the critically acclaimed star he is today.
6. Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan analyzes Batman's psyche thoroughly, with a sensational performance from Heath Ledger playing the Joker, who was always Batman's nemesis. He left the existential question of “Why so serious?” Christian Bale also did a remarkable job of playing Batman. The plot explored the conflicts, moral dilemmas, and oppositions faced not just in the movie but in everyday life.
The Dark Knight is arguably the best Nolan movie of all time, with his keen dedication to the full-fledged development of characters.
Development of Characters
Nolan is an absolute beast of a director and in his own league entirely. Popularly known for his complex, brilliant movies such as Inception and Tenet, no list of noteworthy directors would be complete without his name.
Nolan worked on character-driven, thought-provoking, and visually provocative projects, starting with small-scale movies. He built stunning puzzles and set pieces, from the trippy visuals of Inception to the multi-faceted Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan creates films that highly indulge one's intellectuals while being entertaining.
He is one of the most sought-after directors and writers of the 21st century, constantly raking in box office success.
7. Spike Lee, Do The Right Thing (1989)
Actor, producer, screenwriter, director—you name it, he's done it. In his illustrious thirty-six-year career, Spike Lee stepped into the scene with his own take on directing, crafting poignant, light-hearted tales with black culture and history at the heart of his work.
He has featured exceptional black talent, from Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne to Samuel L. Jackson and Rosie Perez. Busting into the scene in the early days of Hollywood's indie season, Spike Lee captured the hearts of audiences with She's Gotta Have It.
Now teaching at NYU, Lee has directed over thirty movies, including documentaries, comedies, social commentaries, and concert films. Lee is an expert in his field, dearly loved by the black community for his historically significant films, Do The Right Thing, for example.
Often considered one of the most significant movies of the 80s and 90s, Do The Right Thing is Lee's best work. It followed themes of racism, cultural diversity, and racial inequalities, all of which made it highly controversial but an undeniable pièce de résistance.
The 1989 movie resonates today, with scenes of police brutality mirrored in modern-day America. While not overly forceful in its narrative, Do The Right Thing told a sincere tale, illuminating the bias between cultures to inspire future generations.
8. Guillermo Del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Monsters, Mayhem, grotesque horror, and visual spectacles. Del Toro is skilled at experimenting with genre norms. The award-winning director started out like most of his characters; a misfit. His ability to focus on the misunderstood villain, creating heartfelt and multi-layered characters, leave viewers enamored.
Starting out in Mexico and flirting with the US, Del Toro's first work, Mimic, had critically mixed reviews. The director returned home to Spain, where he made one of his earliest cult classics, The Devil's Backbone. He also worked on stunning superhero flicks like Hellboy and Blade, which some would say paved the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
War Through the Eyes of a Child
In Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro takes the horrors of the world and merges them with the fantasies of a child. The result: an emotionally concise film that portrays the tragedy and heartbreak of war through the eyes of a child. Pan's Labyrinth was his finest work, starting out as nothing but random scribbles in Del Toro's notebooks.
The epic fantasy centers on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), her encounter with a fairy, and the fearsome faun. The young Ofelia faces choices only she must make—especially if she wants to see her birth father again.
9. David Fincher, The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher was fired from his first Hollywood project but remained headstrong, eager to make it in the industry. The characters he creates are a representation of himself. Audacious, dogmatic, and willing to break the rules.
Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg, is on his A-game in The Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg started as a socially awkward Harvard student but became a legend. The Social Network details the rise of the biggest social media platform, Facebook, with Zuckerberg leading the internet revolution.
But in the famous words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, the young tech whiz soon faces different lawsuits, including one by Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), his good friend and co-founder of Facebook.
A Story of Greed
Fincher successfully told a story of one of humanity's most relatable dilemmas; greed. Despite his first movie being a failure, Fincher rose to the limelight with Se7en, a noir slasher flick. With mind-blowing cinematography, keen plots, and intense musical scores, he creates immensely thrilling pieces that have raised the bar in the movie industry.
10. Taika Waititi, Boy (2010)
Taika Waititi‘s best movies delve into childhood, being a child at heart. With Boy, Taika presented a unique coming-of-age story. Filmed in his home country of New Zealand, the movie explores the concepts of family loss, abandonment, and hope while maintaining his persona's witty and comedic tones.
The movie's protagonist, Boy (James Rolleston), grew up with his grandmother and brother in downtown New Zealand. But he lives with the fantasy of his father being a hero—just like Michael Jackson, whom he idolizes.
He faces the truth when his father returns, but not for him or the family he left behind. Instead, Boy learns about his father's criminal life and the only thing he cares about: finding the money he buried years ago.
A Unique Coming-of-Age Story
The witty New Zealand movie director, who, according to Times, is one of the most influential people in the world, stands tall among the names on this list. In a career that kicked off in the early 2000s, the Grammy and Academy award winner has gone from actor to director to screenwriter, making him one of the most multi-talented stars of the 21st century.
The comedic celebrity is now a highly rated director with an incredible range. From the blockbuster Thor: Love and Thunder and over two decades of career-defining work, Waititi is a true guru.
11. Anthony and Joe Russo, Avengers: Endgame (2019)
After Spielberg, the Russo brothers are the second highest-grossing directors. The Russo brothers have garnered critical acclaim for their ingenuity in the movie industry.
The directorial duo recently reclaimed the spotlight with their recent Netflix Movie, The Gray Man. Other than Cameron, the Russo brothers are the only other directors to direct a superhero film that grossed over two billion dollars—and they did it twice.
Assemble To Restore Balance to The World
Avengers: Endgame delivers on every front. After the Avengers: Infinity War, where the Mad Titan Thanos destroyed half the universe, the Avengers must assemble to restore balance to the world.
Despite the comedy, the cost of being a hero weighs heavily throughout the film. The cinematography and impeccable performance of the A-lister cast are genuinely memorable.
12. George Lucas, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
George Lucas revolutionized the movie industry. The Star Wars franchise, estimated at seventy billion dollars, is among the highest-grossing franchises of all time.
After the maleficent Darth Vader takes Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who lives an everyday life, sees the chance for an adventure. He has a mission with Captain Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and two droids to rescue her. Asides from rescuing the princess, they also must save the galaxy from the tyrannical Galactic Empire and restore freedom by destroying the Death Star.
Rescue a Princess and Save The Galaxy
The single movie captured the entire essence of the Star Wars franchise. And while he's mostly recognized for his hand in Star Wars, the director has worked on a few other projects, such as Indiana Jones and American Graffiti. His work inspired a generation of filmmakers and producers, some attempting to recreate his magic.
His debut project, THX 1138, foreshadowed the brilliance the cinematic world was prepared for.
13. M. Night Shyamalan, Sixth Sense (1999)
When an eleven-year-old boy visits his office, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) sees a chance to redeem himself from a past tragedy. This past tragedy involved a client who faced a similar ailment of seeing dead people. Crowe has a hard time believing him at first, but after spending time with the boy, he soon realizes that he may be right about the dead people wandering Earth. He just doesn't know what to do about it.
Dead People Wandering Earth
Night's career took off after the release of 1999's The Sixth Sense. King of plot twists M. Night Shyamalan‘s movies are primarily thrillers but delve into the philosophies of man, faith, and internal conflict.
Sixth Sense is his best film. Unlike traditional horror or thriller films, M. Night takes a great deal of effort to harp on the emotional side of the tale, with death, loss, faith, and abandonment at the core of the piece.
14. Tyler Perry, I Can Do Bad All by Myself (2009)
Tyler Perry is one of the most diligent men in Hollywood. As proof, he wrote, directed, and co-produced the sterling film I Can Do Bad All By Myself.
Considering the success of the Madea movies, it is only natural that Tyler's best work features the grey-haired histrionic gran, albeit fleetingly. I Can Do Bad All by Myself stars Taraji P. Henson in a theme-laden, inspirational comedy drama.
An Inspirational Comedy Drama
April (Taraji P. Henson), an alcoholic and club singer, can't take care of herself, much less three children. But when Pastor Brian (Marvin Winans) sends an immigrant named Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) to live with her, she sees a silver lining. Later, Pastor Brian returns to deliver the tragic news of her mother's death.
April is broken and has no one to talk to but her abusive boyfriend, Randy (Brian J. White), who is always emotionally unavailable. Sandigo becomes a shoulder for her to cry on, and it marks the start of a lovely friendship between them. A friendship with the potential to blossom into something more, only if Randy was not threatening to kill him if he didn't stay away from her.
Tyler Perry has worked on several hit series and shows, including BET and the Oprah Winfrey Network, while directing, producing, and featuring in his own movie projects. According to Forbes, he is the highest-paid man in entertainment.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Boloere Seibidor, fondly called B.S. is a Nigerian based writer and poet. Her favorite topics to cover include music, especially Hip-Hop, film, lifestyle, and fashion. She's been published by Feral Journal, Fantasy Magazine, The Temz Review, and most notably, Wealth of Geeks. She enjoys romantic dinners, movie nights, and touring new sites. When she's not writing, she's delving back in time to the underground world of Hip-Hop, watching TikTok, or visiting the cinema.