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From Stanley Kubrick to Quentin Tarantino: The 80 best-directed films of all time

The Directors Guild of America, founded in 1936, celebrated their 85th anniversary by naming what they believe to be the best-directed films, focusing on how legendary directors managed to elevate the visual art-form with their unique artistic visions.

Since such a list is always highly controversial in nature, the Guild made sure to compile the collection in a democratic fashion by polling their members, urging them to name some of the best-directed works of cinema which have come out since the organisation’s conception in 1936.

The official statement from the Guild was: “As the DGA celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, we decided to poll our members to see what they consider the 80 greatest directorial achievements in feature films since the Guild’s founding in 1936. (Features directed by nonmembers were eligible.) Many organisations and critics groups have compiled similar lists, but this was an opportunity for the people who actually do the job to focus specifically on the work of the director and his or her team. 

“Members participating totalled 2,189 (13.7 percent of all Guild members). As in any poll of this nature, there are bound to be choices you disagree with, and other films you would have included—that’s part of the fun. But we think you’ll find this list thought-provoking and a fitting tribute to the timeless work of our great directors. Top ten favourite movie titles to collectively build our list of the 100 best movies of all time. Now it’s time to see how you compare. Have you seen The Turin Horse, which falls in the top three of Oscar winner Juliette Binoche’s list? Do you agree with Michael C. Hall’s favourites To Kill a Mockingbird or the modern classic Goodfellas? Find out how high you score in the below checklist—and get to watching the movies you’ve been missing out on!”

Having said that, the list is a controversial one and a lot of people are sure to disagree with it (including myself). The Guild has named Coppola’s The Godfather as the best-directed film of all time, above Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane and Stanley Kubrick’s radical revision of the sci-fi genre with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Coppola fans will surely be delighted with the list because three of his works appear in the top 10 while other masters of the craft like Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky are nowhere to be found.

With multiple entries by filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, the list seems like a wasted opportunity where a lot of great visionaries have been excluded. With Jaws in at number 14 and Akira Kurosawa’s vastly influential film Rashomon at 79, it is clear that the DGA’s effort is not a definitive list by any means. It is almost inconceivable to me that such a list is made without any mention of the pioneering works of Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard or Edward Yang among others.

A similar list can be made exclusively based on the filmmakers the DGA has left out, and it would probably be a more comprehensive outline of the achievements of the cinematic art-form. See the complete list below and let us know in the comments whether you agree with the Directors Guild of America’s verdict in the comments.

The 80 best-directed films of all time:

  1. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
  2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
  3. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
  5. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
  6. The Godfather: Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
  7. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
  8. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
  9. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
  10. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
  11. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
  12. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
  13. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
  14. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
  15. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
  16. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
  17. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
  18. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
  19. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977)
  20. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
  21. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
  22. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
  23. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
  24. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
  25. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
  26. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
  27. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
  28. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
  29. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
  30. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
  31. To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
  32. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
  33. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
  34. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
  35. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952)
  36. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
  37. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
  38. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
  39. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
  40. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
  41. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
  42. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
  43. The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965)
  44. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
  45. Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)
  46. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
  47. Amadeus (Miloš Forman, 1984)
  48. Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)
  49. West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) 
  50. Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
  51. Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959)
  52. Fargo (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 1996)
  53. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
  54. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
  55. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
  56. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
  57. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
  58. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014)
  59. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)
  60. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
  61. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
  62. The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973)
  63. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
  64. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
  65. Rocky (John G. Avildsen, 1976)
  66. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
  67. Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982)
  68. The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
  69. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
  70. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
  71. The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
  72. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
  73. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
  74. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
  75. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
  76. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)
  77. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
  78. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
  79. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
  80. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)