The most influential movie directors of all time

Films have over the centuries been used by man as an art form of telling stories. But some people have excelled in this art form through their skills and creativity

Solomon Unoke

The movie director is one major man whom we should all know, and appreciate, but might be one of the least known and least respected artists out there. Unlike Actors, and musicians who gain wild fame, the director, the brain behind almost every good movie, is usually not in the limelight. A film director is expected to master fields such as music, pictures, and storytelling.

The beautiful creative minds of many different film directors have created delights in the hearts of many while also influencing the life and career decisions of so many around the world.

Here is a list of the 10 most influential film directors of our time, and their works.

  1. Steven Spielberg: Probably the most popular name in recent times. the master filmmaker is well-noted for his versatility. Spielberg is credited with big hit movies in all the major genres, from Sci-Fi(War of the worlds, E.T., Minority Report) to thriller(Jaws), and down to romance and drama (West side story).

With his works, he has proven that he is a master of the craft. He is the most commercially successful movie director of all time, and one of the most decorated. He has won 3 Academy awards, and 8 nominations for Best Director.

The unique thing about Spielberg is his ability to adapt to different styles of directing. This chameleon style has made it possible for him to make movies in vastly different genres, with a style suitable to each genre, this is the bane of so many directors, but not him.

One would hardly believe that the same director who made the cinema blockbuster, “Ready Player One”, also made the thriller, “Apocalypso”, but Spielberg’s ability to switch style makes it look easy. With a career spanning over 40 years, Steven Spielberg has cemented his place in history and has inspired many with his amazing work of art.


  1. Martin Scorsese: Most of his movies are centred around organized crime and the Mafia. The theme behind Scorsese’s movies was centred around crime, bloody violence, macho posturing, and most importantly, catholic guilt. Scorcese likes to show the role that the Catholic Church truly plays in organized crime in Italy and America.

Goodfellas, which is arguably one of his most famous, and probably most revered movie, was a time capsule that takes the viewer back to the 50s, to witness what it might have been like when he was growing back then. It’s the story of a young Irish boy who fell in love with the lifestyle of the mafia in his neighbourhood in New York. The movie didn’t hesitate to explore the depth of organized crime, even some things they wouldn’t be comfortable to be made public.

Scorsese’s work has inspired many more directors after him, and at the same time brought him fame, fortune and lots of awards.

Martin Scorcese has directed over 42 movies, in his work, he elevated the Freudian need for violence and sex, showing brutal scenes like the boxing scene in Raging Bull, and the end of Taxi Driver. Scorsese will beautify violence, to paint a memory picture that shows the very spirit of the movie. His influence spans beyond the gangster movies he was most noted for, he is a master of cinema. One could say that movie; Taxi Driver was a slideshow of iconic scenes and lighting.


  1. Akira Kurosawa: Lived between 1910 and 1998, Akira is one of those directors whose influences are still being greatly felt, despite being a Japanese movie director. Akira didn’t find the love he deserved in his home country Japan, rather he was accused of ignoring issues in Japan, as he was known to take on worldviews in his movies. His work found a home in the west and influenced many notable film franchises, like George Lucas’s Star Wars, which was inspired by Hidden Fortress.

While some directors have replicated his work, others have chosen to replicate his style.  Quentin Tarantino is one of the currently famous directors who have attributed their style to the lessons they learnt from Akira Kurosawa.

Quentin Tarantino stated that his 2003 hit, Kill Bill was a tribute to his love for Japanese culture and the inspiration that Akira was to him. Several scenes were recreated from the Japanese movie Battle Royal.

Alfred Hitchcock

  1. Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980): Popular regarded as the king of thriller and suspense, Hitchcock was a forerunner, and while he did not invent cinema, he broke ground in both style and storytelling that up to today, there isn’t one director who has been copied as much as Hitchcock.

Hitchcock’s most notable movie Psycho took audiences to the bottom of a disturbed mind. His use of fast-paced shots where designed to induce some anxiety in the viewer, which mimics the experience of the character.

Hitchcock liked to dissolve the idea that movie viewers were detached observers, he uses POV shots to draw viewers into scenes of dilemma, creating the illusion of participation through decision-making.

Today, directors and replicated his methods and style of both writing and directing. Although he was considered a legend in his time, he never won an award for directing any of his 65 films. The only award he got was an honorary one.

Stanley Kubric

  1. Stanley Kubrick: Stanley grew up in New York, where he attended William Howard Taft High school, and while he wasn’t particularly exceptional in school, he showed great interest in photography and movie making.

Kubrick was a different man, and not so easy to deal with, as seen by his need to control almost every aspect of production, from writing to lighting. This caused a lot of creative differences between him and the people he worked with, He finally moved to England where he took advantage of a government program for filmmakers, which allowed him to make use of the government workforce, it was then Kubrick began to make strides with his first successful film, Lolita in 1962. Even then Kubrick dared to approach hot topics like forbidden love in his films. The movie which was about a professor’s obsession with a 13years old girl completely polarized the viewers, some hailing it for its philosophical angles, while others called it vulgar and male-gaze.

So many of Stanley Kubrick’s movies are now considered to be cultural landmarks. 2001, the space Odyssey is today one of the most referenced, and controversial sci-fi movies, and his very last movie, Eyes wide shot, released in 1999, explored the secret life of the elite and the occult. Kubrick did not shy away from the nudity in this psychological mystery drama, based on the 1926 novel (Dream story). Stanley Kubrick received so many awards in his lifetime, and to this day, his influence is real in the works of newer directors.

Rod Sterling

  1. Rod Serling: Rod Serlin is a master of the Meta subgenre (Metawriting is writing about writing. A writing that calls attention to itself as writing). Rod Serling was a master of Metawriting; he had a way of turning the story inwards on itself.

His most notable contribution to Metawriting was his famous anthology series; The Twilight Zone.

The twilight zone addressed so many pressing issues in society, back in the 50s, at a time when most of the world was still tense from the aftermath of the Second World War, and artists were stifled. There were episodes where the characters were two-dimensional, and even then, the story would touch on something deep and emotional. The work of Rod Serlin created a whole new sub-genre of tv, and influenced many notable writers and directors today, including Jordan Peele, who recreated the famous anthology in 2019.

Quentin Terrantino
Quentin Terrantino
  1. Quentin Tarantino: He is already regarded as the most influential director of our time, and he still has a lot of miles to go. Tarantino is one of those paradigm-shifting artists who have refused to be boxed up by popular opinion. Tarantino is known for defying social conventions and following truly through with the art creative process. His first clash came with his very first movie Reservoir Dogs. In an interview, Tarantino described how he had to stand his ground against the studio, which required that some of the dialogue in the movie be changed to remove profanities, to make it a movie for all audiences. He refused, “this is the movie I’m making,” he said.

But profanity is the least concern when it comes to Tarantino, he has been heavily criticized for his heavy use of racial slurs in these movies, but that hasn’t stopped him. Some of his most famous movies like “The Hateful Eight”, and “Django Unchained” contain probably the highest use of the N-word by a white writer in recent years; still, those movies are regarded as some of the best movies made in recent years, and despite the use of foul languages.

As a real student of the craft, Tarantino has ever shied away from talking about his inspirations, people like Akira Kurosawa, and Sergio Leone, the director behind the famous western “Once open a time in the west”. His famous style of breaking his movies into chapters, making them looks like a novel has been greatly lauded in the industry. He has won several awards and recognition since he started making, he has won two academy awards, for Django Unchained and Pulp fiction, which 3 more nomination, 2 BAFTA awards and many more.

Books will certainly be written, movies made about him when he’s gone, and a whole new generation will be inspired by his work.

James Cameron
James Cameron
  1. James Cameron: Very few people know James Cameron despite the numerous things that he’s known for, and the tens of skills he possesses. Aside from being a filmmaker, writer, and producer, Cameron is a national geographic deep sea explorer and produced several documentaries on the subject, including Aliens of the deep, and Ghosts of the Abyss. As a deep sea diver, Cameron is the first person to do a solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of our ocean.

James Cameron is also an environmentalist and held the record for making the highest-grossing movie ever (Titanic 1997), which made $2.19Billion, for over 10 years, until he broke his record with Avatar in 2009, topping it with a whopping $2.89Billion. James Cameron is a workaholic and a perfectionist, according to him; he had the idea for Avatar many years before deciding to make it because the available technology at the time won’t do justice to the project.

When it finally came time to make the movie, Cameron created a technology that blends 3D with CGI, this allows him to mix the real-life performance of the actors, with the computer-generated image in real-time, with the help of sensors placed on the actors’ bodies.

James Cameron is the master of grand entrances, it’s probably common knowledge now that James Cameron has a way of drawing attention to this film before release, sometimes by postponing the release a few times, which makes the fans angry and gets people talking about, but he surely puts as much work into selling the movie, as he does making it.

Avatar 2 (The way of water) which has been filmed for years, is finally scheduled to be released on Dec 2022, the actors have been through so much, including a six-month deep diving training, where they learned to hold their breath for up to 6 minutes. James Cameron is a legend with a legendary work portfolio, some of his other highly acclaimed films are; Terminator (1984), and Alien (1986). He has won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing.

David Fincher
  1. David Fincher: David Fincher is another lesser-known, but highly impactful Hollywood director. Most movie directors do not shy away from the use of colours in their movies some directors are accused of its overuse. However, David Fincher has an inverse relationship with colours; he de-saturates the colours as much as possible. Fincher makes sure that every spill of colour represents something very important to the story, like the use of red in “The Red Dress”, the colour red was exclusively reserved for Daisy, which blurred everyone else next to her, and showcases how significant she was in Benjamin’s life.

David Fincher does not only use colours to set scenes or design a character, he uses them to tell the psychological state of a character, like he did with the colour pallet in detective Somerset’s apartment and wardrobe in “The Se7en”, was used to inform his pessimistic point of view. This lack of hope to deal with the problems in his life, in Fight Club, Fincher uses colour to show the difference between the temperament and life views of the two main characters.

David Fincher might not be as well known as Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg, but he has left a legacy worth remembering and is one of the best to do it.

He has won an Emmy Award for Best Director in 2013, won the BAFTA, and many more, and he continues to inspire many more directors out there.

Francis Ford Coppola
  1. Francis Ford Coppola: Son of an editor and composer, he was born with art in his blood. He is one of only 8 filmmakers to win 2 Pandora Awards, he is one of the most decorated directors in history with 5 Oscar Wins and 14 nominations in total. Coppola has made his hits in the Hollywood movie industry with classics like “Apocalypse Now”, and “The Godfather” trilogy, which is considered to be one of the best descriptions of the internal activities of the Mafia. Some o the incidents displayed in the movie were real-life events that only a few knew about.

Coppola says he likes to approach every film like it’s a learning experience, which leaves him open to the thing he could have missed because art is about the details.

He believes every filmmaker needs some measure of courage, a filmmaker should not be afraid to change things, or stand their ground on their art, because one moment of doubt could be the difference between a memorable film, and an ordinary one.

Conclusion: Artists are probably born, but nothing worthwhile was achieved without real hard work. Many made films over the years, but exceptional people help shape the future by daring to venture beyond where most stopped. The directors on this list were men who ignored criticism and possible loss to pursue their dreams and change the world.

For the next part, we shall explore 5 more directors of the 21st century who are still alive today, and the influence they’re garnering across the world of cinema.






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