10 Most Important American Directors


By Jordan

1. Stanley Kubrick

The Killing, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Steven Spielberg himself once said that Stanley Kubrick is not only the greatest director to have lived, but he will forever be regarded as the greatest director of all time. Very true indeed. Never has there been a film maker so intent on perfection, and stoic in demanding the best from his crew and cast.

The three films I have selected are from the 50’s and 60’s, a time in Kubrick’s filmic life where his movies were made in the American mould; The Killing is a pure Crime Noir, Paths of Glory a hard hitting war drama, and Dr. Strangelove an ever relevant and gloriously funny satire on the American Hierarchy.

From the 70’s onwards, Kubrick’s vision would become induced with an English style, and a dominating thesis would take centre stage in his films: All our most humane instincts, our capacity for love, tenderness, and self-denial, can never win out against the ego driven tendencies that mar our species; our push for war, repression and cold technological achievement. While this theory spawned some truly classic slices of cinema history (A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining) it eventually resulted in the great director’s relocation to England, where he lived a solitary life on a secluded estate, surrounded by books and forever planning his next masterpiece.

Passing away in 1999, after Pre-Production on AI: Artificial Intelligence, and sadly, just before the new millennium he pre-envisioned in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick left a legacy unrivalled by any other American director to date. And truly set the benchmark for all others to aspire to.

2. John Ford

3 Godfathers, The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers

No one captured Monument Valley quite like John Ford, and, as evident in his first colour picture ‘3 Godfathers,’ no one utilised VistaVision the same way either.

A Civil War veteran himself, Ford was the premier director of American Westerns and character-driven dramas, influencing everyone from the Italian Maestro Sergio Leonie, through to fellow Americans Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese; watching Taxi Driver now its obvious just how many parallels can be drawn between Robert De Niro’s lonely crusader Travis Bickle and John Wayne’s persevering anti-hero Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.

Ford’s movies overflow with everything that made the Golden Age what it was; grandiose setting, delicate plotting and rousing orchestral scores, and, as he made well over a hundred of them, there are plenty of gems waiting to be discovered.

3. Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas

One half of the defining partnership of the 70’s, Scorsese portrayed life in the underbelly of inner-city New York better than anyone, and with De Niro, crafted a plethora of unforgettable cinema moments.

4. Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now

If Coppola never filmed The Godfather Trilogy, Rumble Fish, The Outsiders or Youth without Youth, he would still be up for consideration on this list… Such is the power of his chilling descent into the heart of darkness: Apocalypse Now.

5. Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho

The only director in history who could advertise his films using himself as the main selling point. He was the focal point in the trailers to (arguably) his two most renowned films, The Birds and Psycho.

6. Terrence Mallick

Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line

The Tree of Life may have split audiences and critics thanks to its non-linear plot and reliance on long gaps in dialogue, but it can never be disputed that when it comes to creating a stunning landscape on screen, Mallick is a master of his craft. From the tree house hide-out Badlands to the battle in Guadalcanal in The Thin Red Line, he moves the camera as if it were floating on air, and leaves us astounded in the process.

7. Clint Eastwood

Unforgiven, Mystic River, Gran Torino

An American stalwart grounded firmly in traditionalist styling’s, Clint Eastwood has made his name as a director creating captivating and personal masterworks, from Play Misty for Me right through to Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

8. Steven Spielberg

Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List

Renowned for making films packed with escapist fun and an energetic flare, Spielberg is perhaps the most well-known auteur on this list. From the manic terror at Amity Island to the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, he has crafted moments of excitement that fill a place in our memory and constantly make us yearn for the 80’s, when originality was paramount, and Spielberg and his many creations were King.

9. Howard Hawks

His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo

The Clint Eastwood of the Hollywood Golden Age. Along with the three iconic movies listed, Hawks is also responsible for: Bringing up Baby, To Have and Have Not, Red River, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hatari! Rio Lobo and Rio Grande, with each of these movies constantly representing the genres they belong to.

10. Joel and Ethan Coen

Fargo, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man

… The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother Where Aren’t Thou? Raising Arizona, True Grit… if the Coen brothers made only one of these movies they would be regarded as cult figures, the fact that they made all of them, and more, with many more to come, is a truly amazing feat.

6 responses to “10 Most Important American Directors

    • Hey Mark. Gee it was a while ago I wrote this! From an outsiders perspective, Americans seem to love Clint and his directing legacy? But yes, Welles seems quite an ommision.

  1. Missing:

    Frank Capra
    Michael Curtiz
    D.W. Griffith
    Buster Keaton
    Spike Lee
    Anthony Mann
    Nicholas Ray
    Preston Sturges
    Robert Aldrich

    (Get rid of Spielberg and put any one in his place.)

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