We all have favorite filmmakers, directors whose new movies we’ll see no matter what and whose films usually delight and amaze us. But are all those favorite artists the same ones who rarely make something we don’t love? I love the Coen brothers, Stanley Kubrick, and John Carpenter, but each has made at least one movie that just didn’t land for me.
So when someone asks about directors who never miss in an online discussion forum, it got me thinking about the directors whose work I’ve never not liked. And I came up with these twelve filmmakers whose every film I can confidently vouch for, whether I thought of them or others suggested them.
1. Tomm Moore
Tomm Moore has only made three feature films, The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers; each of which has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The Oscars, of course, aren’t the only markers of quality in cinema, but those nominations speak to his incredible track record. He makes gorgeously animated movies that explore themes of identity and the possibility of magic in the world.
If you only watch one of his films, see Wolfwalkers.
2. David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg is known as the father of the body horror subgenre of horror. His early films, Shivers and Rabid, set a template for films exploring the malleability and porousness of the body and the impacts one body can have on society. Since then, he’s made masterpieces of that genre like The Fly and Videodrome. In the 2000s, he turned towards more grounded films like Eastern Promises and one based on a true story with his Freud and Jung film A Dangerous Method. Not all of Cronenberg’s films are on the same level of greatness, but even his lesser films, like A Dangerous Method, are fascinating and feature amazing performances.
If you only watch one of his films, see Videodrome.
3. Paul Verhoeven
Like Cronenberg, Dutchman Paul Verhoeven has had quite a genre-hopping career. From sci-fi satire classics like Robocop to period pieces like Benedetta and thrillers like Basic Instinct, Verhoeven can do it all. What he can’t do is bore you. Every one of his films, even the ones that some people think are bad, like Hollow Man and Showgirls, delivers something that draws you in. Whether it’s the stickiness of their morality or just the over-the-top hilarity of their comedy, every Verhoeven movie is at least entertaining and at most masterful.
If you only watch one of his films, see Robocop.
4. Celine Sciamma
Celine Sciamma makes the movies you’d expect from a French lesbian. They’re artful, full of emotion, and always centered on the lives of women. Yet, within that framework, she’s made five features that are all different enough from each other to create a perfect oeuvre. She’s clearly interested in themes of longing, repression, anger, and identity but makes each movie distinct. Sure, Girlhood and Portrait of a Lady on Fire are both gorgeously directed and shot and center on the lives of women who struggle to find their place in society. Still, the suburbs of Paris and 18th-century Brittany are very different societies.
If you only watch one of her films, see Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
5. Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn is undoubtedly one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. His recent switch from feature films to streaming has allowed the filmmaker’s now trademark glacial pace to really stretch to almost brutal lengths. But before Refn switched to his glossy and glacial style with Valhalla Rising and Drive, his films like the Pusher trilogy and Bronson delivered a palpable chaos that made them invigorating. He’s one of the few directors included here to have such a significant change in his filmography, but everything he’s made on both sides of that change is fantastic.
If you only watch one of his films, see Drive.
6. Park Chan-wook
I will respect Park Chan-wook’s wishes and consider Joint Security Area his debut film. If that’s the case, the closest thing the filmmaker has to a miss is his only English language film Stoker, and even that is far from a bad film; it’s just not entirely up to the extremely high standard of his Korean work. Park is likely best known for directing the contemporary classic Oldboy, but his entire filmography is full of incredible films exploring perversion, crime, and revenge.
If you only watch one of his films, see The Handmaiden.
7. Yorgos Lanthimos
It speaks to the idiosyncrasy of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’s filmography that his most “normal” movie is the anachronism-heavy lesbian love triangle period piece The Favourite. His characters often speak in awkward, stilted ways and exist in worlds that are like ours but just a little off. Or, sometimes, a lot off, as in The Lobster, where people have to find mates or be turned into animals. He’s a filmmaker who has created a fantastically distinct and recognizable tone and sense of humor that never disappoints.
If you only watch one of his films, see The Lobster.
8. Lynne Ramsay
There are some unmissable signs of sexism in the filmmaking world. The fact that Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay has been making movies since the 1990s but has only made four features is perhaps the most glaring of them. Ramsay’s films are one-of-a-kind trips into the psyches of her characters. She draws viewers into her characters’ worlds as no other filmmaker can. Her movies aren’t fun, but they’re essential viewing for anyone interested in what cinema can do.
If you only watch one of her films, see We Need To Talk About Kevin.
9. Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki didn’t become the most famous and beloved anime director overnight. Since beginning to direct features in 1979, Miyazaki has created some of the best films in the medium, and best films period, including Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro. He creates gorgeous worlds full of magical creatures, often in service of environmental messages that are legible for kids but avoids preachiness. Miyazaki has also said that he’s retiring several times but can’t seem to keep away from filmmaking, and every time he returns, he delivers another fantastic film.
If you only watch one of his films, see Spirited Away.
10. Denis Villeneuve
French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve may now be best known as the guy for gorgeous, epic, and thought-provoking science fiction. But the first half of his career is characterized more by intense and often upsettingly realistic dramas and thrillers. Films like Polytechnique and Sicario, which explore the horrors of real-life violence, are challenging but rewarding. In contrast, movies like Blade Runner 2049 and Dune offer literally awesome images and questions about humanity’s future and AI’s sentience. And in the middle of it all, he made a sci-fi film that’s one of the most human life-affirming films of the 21st century with Arrival.
If you only watch one of his films, see Arrival.
11. Karyn Kusama
The reclamation of Jennifer’s Body in recent years should have marked Karyn Kusama’s ascendancy to blank-check filmmaker status. But sadly, the failure of Morbius dashed hopes of her adapting Dracula for Universal. But I’m sure we’ll continue to see great movies from her no matter what she does next based on her track record. She discovered Michelle Rodriguez for her debut feature Girlfight and made not one, but two (very different) modern horror classics with Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation. Even her weakest film, the live-action adaptation of the animated sci-fi show Aeon Flux, delivers beautiful images and exciting action scenes.
If you only watch one of her films, see Jennifer’s Body.
12. Charles Laughton
Including Charles Laughton, who only directed one film, here is undeniably a bit of a cheat. But it’s one that others suggested, and his directorial work always deserves mention, so I’m running with it. Laughton’s only directing credit is for the undeniable masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, which follows Robert Mitchum as a murderous preacher hunting two children who know where the loot from a bank robbery is hidden. The film has an incredible, fairy-tale-like atmosphere that’s never been replicated and tells a story about how faith can be twisted into something monstrous or celebrated as something beautiful. It’s the best movie directed by someone who only directed one film, making it something extraordinary.
13. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is known for his brightly colored movies, his unique framing, and his touching storylines. There was a TikTok trend recently that had people all across the world copying Anderson's filmmaking style. Some of his most popular movies include The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, Moonrise Kingdom, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. All of his movies feel slightly whimsical, even if the content matter is pretty deep. Even some of his earlier and less popular movies have a big fan base as well!
If you only watch one of his films, see Fantastic Mr. Fox.
14. Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang was born in the 19th Century in Vienna, Austria, and spent a lot of his life making some of his best films in the 1920s before he escaped Germany before the outbreak of World War II. He has created some of the most interesting films from this era with Metropolis, Contempt, and Scarlet Street. He was actually asked to be the official head of the German Cinema Insitute under Hitler, but he declined and fled the country. But many fans give credit to him for putting his family first and making some amazing films along the way as well.
If you only watch one of his films, see Metropolis.
15. Jordan Peele
Another one that feels like cheating is Jordan Peele because he only has directed three movies, but all three of his movies are stellar. He is the master of combining horror with comedy with complex issues in society. His first movie, Get Out shocked the world because it was funny and a really smart movie. He followed it up with both Us and Nope, which are movies that film buffs have loved since they came out. We're looking forward to seeing what genius films Jordan Peele comes up with in the upcoming years.
If you only watch one of his films, see Get Out.