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The Top 25 Best Director Winners So Far

Chloe Zhao

The end of this series draws closer and closer. Until then, we press on. Continuing a tradition I’ve been keen on for years, I’m ranking the new crop of Academy Award winners. For nearly all of the Oscar categories, you’ll see me list the top 25 recipients of that prize. Sometimes, our newest winner will appear. Other times, they’ll be relegated to the Honorable Mention category. Who knows, maybe one or two won’t even make the cut? It’s a list series that I’ll do each and every single year, in the weeks after the ceremony concludes. So, while this is a fun way to think about the Oscars in the aftermath of the latest telecast, it’s also a beginning for another column here on the site. Of course, definitely show us your own lists as well, in the comments section below. We’re definitely keen to know what you think!

Another of the biggest categories hits today…Best Director. The Best Director category has occasionally struggled with being seen as a coattail on the way to Best Picture, but that’s hardly always been the case. One look below will reveal plenty of Director winners that didn’t also take home Picture. For my money, Steven Spielberg has the best win, for Schindler’s List (though his other winner, Saving Private Ryan, isn’t far behind). Other top tier victors include Woody Allen (I know, I know) for Annie Hall, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Bong Joon Ho for Parasite, and Mike Nichols for The Graduate. Where does our most recent winner, Chloe Zhao, fall for her work on Nomadland? Read on below to find out…

Here now are what I consider to be the 25 best winners of the Oscar for Best Director, to date:

Steven Spielberg

25. John G. Avildsen – Rocky
24. William Wyler – Ben-Hur
23. Francis Ford Coppola – The Godfather Part II
22. Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby
21. Oliver Stone – Platoon
20. Robert Zemeckis – Forrest Gump
19. William Friedkin – The French Connection
18. Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
17. Miloš Forman – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
16. Jonathan Demme – The Silence of the Lambs
15. Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
14. John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath
13. Sam Mendes – American Beauty
12. David Lean – Lawrence of Arabia
11. Martin Scorsese – The Departed
10. Billy Wilder – The Apartment
9. Michael Curtiz – Casablanca
8. Elia Kazan – On the Waterfront
7. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
6. Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan
5. Mike Nichols – The Graduate
4. Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
3. Woody Allen – Annie Hall
2. Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
1. Steven Spielberg – Schindler’s List

Honorable Mentions: James Cameron – Titanic, Frank Capra – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water, Victor Fleming – Gone With the Wind, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Winner for Best Director Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” gives her acceptance speech at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 07, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ Gabriel BOUYS

Stay tuned for another category later on this week or early next week!


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Robert Hamer
1 year ago

I’d be really interested to learn why you believe William Wyler’s direction of Ben-Hur was superior to his direction of The Best Years of Our Lives.



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