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3 March 2014updated 11 Sep 2021 6:12pm

Sponsored post: Top 5 Directors of the 21st Century

Quantifying greatness in the realm of film is a very tough thing to do. What makes you a truly great film director?

By New Statesman

Brought to you by Cineworld.


Quantifying greatness in the realm of film is a very tough thing to do. What makes you a truly great film director? Is it the sheer number of films you’ve produced in your career? Is it the amount of money your films have grossed at the box office? Or is it the number of awards you’ve managed to scoop up?


It would have to be some kind of combination of all these factors, and more. Even success at the Oscars 2014 is not necessarily a guarantee of box office success. Haneke’s films will never make as much money as, say, Michael Bay’s Transformers films, or the Pirates of the Caribbean saga. But they have far more artistic merit. At the same time, all artistic criticism is largely subjective, which makes coming up with a list like this even harder.

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Cineworld have compiled the following list of great 21st century directors, all chosen for their box office clout, artistic merit and overall contributions to film, culture and art.


David Fincher


Regardless of his hits, David Fincher deserves to be on this list just because of his remarkable rebound after the disaster that was his debut feature, Alien 3. The third film in the Alien trilogy had a troubled production, and resulted in one of the most disappointing films of all time, something that would have killed most directors’ hopes of future success.


Despite this, Fincher soldiered on, finding incredible success, directing Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network and more recently, Netflix’s original TV series, House of Cards.


Werner Herzog


Known as one of the last ever living legends, Werner Herzog’s career is too strange for some to fathom. He has influenced pretty much every single successful director today, both through the insane lengths he has gone to make his films, and for the sheer brilliance of his movies. With a filmography boasting around fifty films, he continues to make documentaries and narrative films, even flexing his muscles in Hollywood more recently.


He’s exchanged gunfire with his greatest collaborator (Klaus Kinski) on location while shooting Aguirre, Wrath of God, he’s been shot by a sniper during an interview, he made his actors and crew lug a huge ship across a mountain, and he’s even rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash. Although that last feat had nothing to do with film making.


Michael Haneke


The films of Michael Haneke are not intended for those unwilling to stray from popular Hollywood films. They are polemical narratives that are intended to combat what Hollywood has done to cinema, documenting the isolation that is experienced by individuals in modern society.


The White Ribbon was awarded the coveted Palme d’Or for Best Film in 2009, as well as his 2012 film Amour, making it his second win in just three years. This has now put him in an exclusive ‘club’ of sorts, with just six other directors. If you’ve never seen a Haneke film, try Funny Games first. If you can handle it, you’ll be fine with the rest. If not, maybe you should stick to the stuff you usually watch!


The Coen Brothers


The Coen Brothers have released a whopping 21 films to date, both alternating their directing/producer credits due to guild rules in America. They have each been nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and have won four – two for screen writing (Best Original Screenplay, for Fargo and Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country for Old Men), one for Best Director (No Country for Old Men) and one for Best Picture (also for No Country for Old Men).


In terms of variety, versatility and 100% consistent delivery of thoughtful, intellectual entertainment, you can’t really ask for more when it comes to the Coens. Here’s hoping for another 21 films!


Takashi Miike


Not all of Miike’s films are great. In fact, some of them stink. But he’s on this list purely for the sheer amount of films he’s delivered over the course of his career. On IMDB, he has an unbelievable 92 credits as director! He’s said that if a script has one good scene in it, it’s worth filming. When asked on how he manages to be so prolific, he responded by saying that if you drink and smoke like he does, anything is possible!


His most famous film to date is Audition, a critically acclaimed psychological horror-thriller, that explores the taboos of Japanese female subservience and obsession. Recently, his remake of 13 Assassins won audiences around the world, with a 45-minute action sequence during the latter half of the film that’ll make your eyes bleed.


Just like art, this list might reflect subjective taste. It’s simply too hard to objectively state who the ‘greatest’ director is. Still, if you haven’t seen these directors’ films, you really need to stay in more and get up to speed.