From D.W. Griffith to Ingmar Bergman, these are some of the most influential filmmakers of all time.
A film owes its existence to a filmmaker. He is the creator and the visionary who controls a movie’s storytelling and artistic elements. Cinema may have originated as a sideshow and as a device to document everyday spaces. But when the medium’s narrative capacities and artistic potential were gradually discovered, a filmmaker’s role became the most crucial one. So, what makes a great filmmaker? One who has mastered the craft and in the process never lost his unique artistic voice? Maybe. There are no set parameters for great filmmakers. And it’s very subjective.
The notion behind the list below is not to name the greatest filmmakers, but the most influential. One can wonder what the difference is. The ones I consider the most influential have changed our notion of cinema or expanded its limitations in myriad ways. Those filmmakers may not be masters of the craft, yet they have revolutionized the medium through their idiosyncratic perception. From D.W. Griffith to Abbas Kiarostami, here are the 25 most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema.
1. D.W. Griffith
The complicated legacy of David Wark Griffith is one of the hardest-to-reconcile chapters in film history. Griffith’s crowning achievement in motion-picture history, The Birth of a Nation (1915) is also a disgrace for American cinema. Critics and film scholars consider Griffith ‘the first proper filmmaker’. Some might wrongly attribute to Griffith that he established narrative strategies in cinema. Nevertheless, Griffith’s films played an important role when the newly created artistic medium was exploring its idiosyncrasies as well as its limitations. His greatest achievement is utilizing the already existing film techniques of the era to bring an emotional finesse to his narratives.
We could witness such emotional depth in the key scenes of The Birth of a Nation, unlike any other silent film of the era. At the same time, the film was disgustingly racist. Intolerance (1916) – his best film in my opinion – didn’t have such horrific racial representations. He employed groundbreaking narrative techniques and production design to push humanism as the leitmotif. The commercial failure of Intolerance, however, kept Griffith in debt for the rest of his life. After Intolerance, Griffith made three more memorable feature films. But his career slowly waned, and he died in relative obscurity. Despite being something of a black sheep in cinematic history, Griffith, undoubtedly, shaped the filmmaking vocabulary.
2. Sergei Eisenstein
The term ‘auteur’ denotes the filmmaking artists who control and utilize the key elements of mise-en-scène to establish their subjective vision. The auteur theory was defined in the 1940s by French critics like Andre Bazin. And Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein was considered to be one of the foremost auteurs. The name Eisenstein is naturally associated with the Soviet montage era, the innovative filmmaking experiment that heavily relied on editing. This was the era when the documentarian Dziga Vertov made the Kino-newsreels and Lev Kuleshov was zeroing in on groundbreaking methods of visual storytelling. The Kuleshov effect – an editing technique – showcased how editing is pivotal to depicting an on-screen character’s emotion and thought.
Sergei Eisenstein, a Latvian who joined engineering and later switched to theatre, was a student of Kuleshov. In his first feature-film Strike (1925) he used a rapid style of cutting which imparted a fascinating rhythm to the narrative. Moreover, Eisenstein’s stylistic editing became the perfect tool to convey the thematic and ideological significance. He perfected the technique in his subsequent film Battleship Potemkin (1925). Who can forget the greatly impactful ‘Odessa steps sequence’ in the movie? Eisenstein’s powerful cinema also showed to the world how the art form can be a tool for propaganda.
3. Fritz Lang
Cinema is often linked with spectacle and theatricality. French illusionist Georges Méliès was the pioneer who realized the possibilities of spectacle in the cinematic medium. Though cinema became intellectually fashionable in the late 1910s and early 1920s, filmmakers across the world were involved in creating a new vocabulary for the aesthetics of ‘spectacle’. Fritz Lang, who was hailed during the German Expressionist era, found a middle ground of sorts. His fictional worlds were so expansive that it nicely balanced the artistic and spectacle dimensions of cinema.
The German Expressionist cinema attempted to externalize their subjects’ subterranean emotions or hidden, repressed feelings. This they achieved through surrealistic set designs and unconventional lighting. Lang employed such mood-enhancing set-ups to make bleakly fatalistic fantasies and dystopian sci-fi. The Sci-fi genre owes a lot to Lang’s groundbreaking Metropolis (1927). Though Lang’s adventure epics were riddled with romance and action, they were also potent allegories of socio-political conditions. With the rise of the Third Reich, Lang self-exiled himself to America and enjoyed a successful career there for more than two decades.
4. Charlie Chaplin
Charles Chaplin’s tragicomic everyman character, The Tramp has had a worldwide impact in cinema. Similar to his fellow famous silent slapstick comedians, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, Chaplin created an iconic character of the silent era. But, the master comedian’s screen presence alongside his keen focus on social realism continues to have a profound impact. Chaplin’s journey into cinema commenced with him getting hired at Keystone Studios. The studio was founded by Mack Sennett in 1912, probably the only film company at the time to make short comedies. Tramp’s slow evolution began while Chaplin was working in the studios.
By 1919, he co-founded a production company and wanted to make a feature-length film. The result was The Kid (1921), where Chaplin perfected his art of blending pathos and slapstick. In Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times, he addressed real socio-political issues through profound non-verbal communication. Chaplin’s Tramp might have originated to evoke laughter or as a novelty. Yet the comedic genius of Chaplin combined with his fervent socio-political beliefs, transformed the everyman character into one of the greatest artistic creations.
5. Yasujiro Ozu
Hollywood romanticism led to the creation of grand cinematic worlds. Around the same time, a Japanese filmmaker came up with a very condensed aesthetic to deeply look into the ebb and flow of everyday life. Yasujiro Ozu made films for nearly 35 years, starting with silent comedies. His films are often about families undergoing transition. The signature static, low-angle shots and the unprecedented treatment of middle-class domestic space made Ozu an immaculate and distinct filmmaker.
Films like Late Spring, Tokyo Story, and An Autumn Afternoon are revered for focusing on the complexities of the human condition through simple yet transcendental aesthetics. While Ozu was acclaimed at home and his films were commercial successes, he gained an international following only after his death in 1963. Critics and film scholars like Roger Ebert, David Bordwell, and Paul Schrader delineated the impact of Ozu’s visual innovation on cinema. In fact, the influence of Ozu’s mise-en-scène can be felt in a lot of great filmmakers’ works. From Wim Wenders, Hou Hsiao-hsien to Aki Kaurismaki and Wes Anderson, all works reflect Ozu’s austere, observational style.
6. John Ford
John Ford is the quintessential American filmmaker. He played a huge role in evolving the most American genre of all: the Western. The four-time Oscar-winning filmmaker directed films for more than five decades, starting from the silent era. He made around 140 feature films, but a chunk of his silent films are lost. Ford was one of the very few successful Hollywood studio filmmakers who stayed an uncompromising visionary.
His first Western with sound, Stagecoach (1939) pushed him to the top alongside its actor, John Wayne. Complex blocking and tracking shots have never been used in the way Ford used it in Stagecoach. My Darling Clementine, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance were some of the greatest Westerns made by Ford. At the same time, Ford also made richly detailed poignant stories like Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. Both are powerful studies about a community during hard times, made more memorable by their distinct mise-en-scène.
John Ford is known as the ‘director’s director’. This is because of the way he influenced a wide range of other great filmmakers. From Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa to Steven Spielberg and David Fincher, Ford’s artistic vision and film techniques were a direct influence.
7. Alfred Hitchcock
Dubbed the ‘master of suspense’ and one of the best directors of all time, Hitchcock was a pioneering innovator of cinematic vocabulary. He made films for more than five decades, gradually evolving and mastering his craft. Hitchcock entered into filmmaking when German Expressionism and Soviet Montage influenced cinema. He keenly observed such influential aesthetic styles and incorporated them into his unique visual narratives. The advent of sound cinema, evoking emotional responses from audiences fascinated Hitchcock. The key emotion he wanted to create was fear. And the tools he brilliantly used were suspense and ambiguity.
One of Hitchcock’s greatest contributions to cinema was the use of ‘MacGuffin’. It denotes an ‘object’ or a ‘mysterious thing’ that sets the plot and moves the story forward. Although screenwriter Angus MacPhail coined the term, Hitchcock popularized it. While Hitchcock’s visual innovations in Rear Window, Vertigo, and Psycho are discussed a lot, he is also known for breaking cinematic conventions. For instance, in Psycho’s shower scene, Hitchcock subverted censorship rules as well as cinematic guidelines. In fact, he almost single-handedly transformed genre filmmaking into a great art.
8. Luis Bunuel
Spanish auteur Luis Bunuel’s films are best known for exploring sexual politics and class struggles. But his uniqueness lies in his surrealist experimentation that changed the idea of cinema as a tool for popular entertainment and propaganda. In 1929, Bunuel made the shocking avant-garde short film Un Chien Andalou. The film dealt with dreams and the unconscious, and Bunuel joined forces with fellow Surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
Bunuel was born into a wealthy and devout Catholic family. Later in his career, Bunuel employed surrealist and absurdist undercurrents to satirize both the class and the religion he belonged to. Viridiana, Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, and the Bourgeois trilogy are fine examples of Bunuel’s radical, uncompromising vision. Influential filmmakers have always offered indelible images to the cinematic medium. The championed ‘Bunuelian’ imagery consistently blurred the boundaries of dream and reality. It had a huge impact on filmmakers like David Lynch, Jodorowsky, and Guy Maddin.
9. Jean Renoir
Son of the celebrated French Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir made movies across different genres, and in five different countries. Like many of his influential counterparts, he started in the silent era and made a smooth transition into the sound and color eras. Renoir is also an author, has made a documentary, and acted in films. He was naturally influenced by his father’s paintings alongside the writings of Maupassant and Emile Zola.
Renoir was associated with ‘poetic realism’, socially conscious narratives that revolved around characters occupying the fringes of society. Moreover, Renoir’s works withheld humanism of great depth that was unparalleled for its time. The Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939) are prime examples of Renoir’s brand of humanism. On an aesthetic front, Renoir, like Welles, showed a penchant for shooting actions that simultaneously took place on different planes of the image: foreground, middle-ground, and background. Renoir’s influence can be felt in the works of François Truffaut and Satyajit Ray. Renoir’s works were championed by Andre Bazin and his Cahiers du Cinema critics.
10. Orson Welles
Like the great Hollywood silent comedians – Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd – Orson Welles was an important multi-hyphenate artist of the sound era. The Soviet school of filmmaking relied on the complex juxtaposition of shots to convey symbolism and meaning. Orson Welles’ groundbreaking mise-en-scène, including his deep-focus photography, brought greater depth to a single shot. Of course, Welles was not the first to experiment with lenses and lighting. But in Citizen Kane, the filmmaker and his cinematographer Toland used meticulously detailed foreground and background to bring greater emotional weight to a scene.
Apart from revolutionizing mise-en-scène, Welles was also a pioneer in experimenting with sound. This was due to his experience in radio. In 1938, he did a very realistic radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ story War of the Worlds. So long before he entered into filmmaking, Welles mastered the art of utilizing off-screen sounds to boost his narrative. Though Welles became something like a pariah in Hollywood due to his constant disagreement with studio execs over creative control, he kept on innovating till his final major picture F for Fake (1973).
11. Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa was famous for ‘jidaigeki’ (period drama) genre films that revolve around warring clans and honorable Samurais. Kurosawa was influenced by and embraced the Western style of filmmaking. This was a different approach from the works of his revered seniors Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, and Mikio Naruse. The films of the triumvirates had strict Japanese elements which they explored through a nuanced style. Whereas Kurosawa’s films were more easily accessible, he himself was a great fan of director John Ford.
From Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), Kurosowa’s uncompromising attention to detail and vibrant staging techniques created a huge impact across the globe. In fact, Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress (1958) later became a template for epic, blockbuster cinema. It’s interesting how Kurosawa was influenced by the Western style and later how his own techniques influenced Western filmmakers like George Lucas, Spielberg, and Tarantino. Often remarked as the ‘Shakespeare of Cinema’, Kurosawa has adapted three of Shakespeare’s plays.
12. Roberto Rossellini
There are plenty of great Italian filmmakers in the history of cinema. Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Vittorio de Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pasolini. The list is pretty big. But Roberto Rossellini’s pioneering works that launched Italian Neorealism have had an everlasting impact on cinema. Neorealism was one of the most important cinematic movements which captured the everyday struggles of post-war Italian people. Rossellini brought a very fresh approach to realism in narrative and innovated in employing non-professional actors.
His Rome, Open City (1945) emerged in the immediate aftermath of World War II capturing reality with all its ambiguity and uncertainty. Paisan, Germany Year Zero, Europe ’51, and Journey to Italy are all heartbreaking accounts of post-war Europe’s devastation. Nevertheless, later in his career, he adopted a severely stylized approach. His unconventional narrative structure and atmospheric touches are said to have influenced Antonioni’s works. Cahiers du Cinema magazine hailed Rossellini as the ‘father of modern film’. Overall, Rossellini’s influence on cinema is capturing the stark reality.
13. Ingmar Bergman
The prolific and legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman is the most humane artist in the history of the medium. He made intensely visceral and surprisingly modern films for nearly six decades, between 1946 and 2003. The key decades in Bergman’s career are between the early 1950s and early 1980, i.e., from Summer with Monika (1953) to Fanny and Alexander (1982). The predominant themes in Bergman’s works are death, faith, mortality, relationship, insanity, and isolation. Though Bergman’s movies convey the bleakest visions, there’s a sensuality and emotional honesty that’s unprecedented in cinematic narratives.
It’s hard to categorize Bergman’s austere yet profound cinema within genre format. While one could say that ‘all writing is autobiographical’, Bergman was one of the few filmmakers to artfully incorporate elements from his life into fiction. His brand of understated philosophical cinema has had a mighty impact on generations of filmmakers. Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, and Noah Baumbach are some of the prominent filmmakers who immediately come to mind.
14. Robert Bresson
Bresson saw ‘cinematography’ as the most pivotal element of film which distinguishes it from other art forms. The next unique tool of filmmaking for Bresson was sound. He went on to develop a meticulous strategy and told stories through these two core elements of the cinematic art form. Bresson’s mise-en-scène could best be marked by its absences, silences, and controlled movements. In fact, by cutting all the unnecessary components of mise-en-scène, his film language became sharper and more expressive. Besides, he employed non-professional actors and used music in a restrained manner.
Though Bresson made his first short film in 1934, it was from his 1951 film Diary of a Country Priest that he began this penetrating approach to film language. He made only 13 films in a career span of four decades. Yet the compact but profound body of work reshaped the notion of film vocabulary in myriad ways. Jacques Rivette, Aki Kaurismaki, and Chantal Akerman are some of the great filmmakers influenced by the Bressonian style.
15. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick is a true filmmaking genius whose bold filmmaking techniques often explored the dark side of the human condition. A master creator of moods, Kubrick’s aesthetic richness was a result of his never-ending quest for perfectionism. Another interesting aspect about Kubrick is that he worked across genres, and in the process managed to set benchmarks for genre filmmaking. For instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the sci-fi genre and The Shining (1980) in the horror genre.
Kubrick was interested in still photography at a young age. By the time he was 25, he had directed three short documentaries and an independent feature-length film. His big break came with the film noir thriller The Killing (1956). After the epic drama Spartacus (1960), Kubrick exercised supreme creative control over his works like no other filmmaker of his time. This led to him making some of the most breathtakingly immersive narratives including 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon. Kubrick, like Orson Welles, shared a predilection for deep space composition and staging. His meticulously calculated camera movements only expanded the visual grammar employed by Welles.
Kubrick’s influence on contemporary filmmakers, from Paul Thomas Anderson to Nicolas Winding Refn to Christopher Nolan, has been remarkable.
16. Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard is one of the most significant and path-breaking filmmakers to emerge from the French New Wave. Though inspired by Hollywood auteurs like Nicholas Ray and Howard Hawks, Godard rewrote the conventions of plotting and mise-en-scène. Right from Breathless or My Life to Live, Godard rejected the strict discipline that comes with screenplay writing. He rather focused on an energetic visual style and deconstructed existing storytelling techniques.
Born in 1930, Godard was known for his work as a critic at Cahiers du Cinema magazine in the early 1950s. At the Parisian film clubs, he met fellow film enthusiasts and future filmmakers like Jacques Rivette, Truffaut, and Chabrol. Godard’s disruptive editing techniques and unconventional cinematography in his 60s cinema had a great impact on emerging American filmmakers. But Godard’s works after the 60s are rarely discussed. He is a filmmaker who has constantly reinvented himself in a career that has been stretched to five decades.
17. Agnès Varda
Visual stylist and merrymaker Agnès Varda was the key originator of the French New Wave cinema. At the same time, Varda’s achievement as an artist is beyond the confines of the French New Wave. Varda, who is also a pioneer of self-portrait filmmaking, had a keen observational sense of space and time like no other filmmaker. She made her first feature La Pointe Courte in 1955 with no prior filmmaking experience. In her idiosyncratic French New Wave works Cleo From 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur, Varda came up with a unique female gaze and deftly confronted the usually objectified portrayal of women in cinema.
Her protagonists or central subjects are often marginalized and ostracized people. Agnès Varda never faded into obscurity like most of the great filmmakers. In her 65-year filmmaking career, she kept reinventing himself by adopting new forms of creative expression. The last two self-portrait documentaries she made at the age of 89 and 91 respectively are a testament to that.
18. John Cassavetes
Actor, filmmaker John Cassavetes pioneered independent filmmaking in America. In the latter half of the 1960s, the French New Wave and other European films impacted American cinema and brought changes to the Hollywood studio system. Though Cassavetes employed some of the nouvelle vague techniques, his films possessed unflinching emotional rawness and honesty that lacked in European as well as Hollywood cinema.
Cassavetes was primarily an actor. He did small television roles in the early 1950s and later played important parts in Hollywood films like Dirty Dozen and Rosemary’s Baby. It was with his fourth directorial feature Shadows (1968) that Cassavetes perfected his capricious filmmaking style, full of grainy starkness, probing close-ups, and jumpy editing. In fact, the technique isn’t the most important aspect of Cassavetes’s oeuvre. He rather revolutionized screen performances and utilized his incisive camera to get to the truths in fiction.
Cassavetes worked with a close group of collaborators, including his wife Gene Rowlands, and friend Ben Gazzara. Films like A Woman Under the Influence, Killing of Chinese Bookie, and Gloria withhold extraordinary intimacy though they lack refined cinematic techniques. Nevertheless, Cassavetes and his DIY filmmaking greatly inspired a generation of indie filmmakers.
19. Andrei Tarkovsky
Only few have enhanced the artistic possibilities of cinema like the Soviet auteur Andrei. One of the greatest directors of all time, Tarkovsky called cinema ‘sculpting in time.’ A perfect way to sum up his distinctive spiritual filmmaking style. Born to a poet father in 1932, Tarkovsky was interested in literature from a young age. Nevertheless, he discovered his passion for films when he attended the Russian State University of Cinematography. Since his debut feature Ivan’s Childhood in 1962, Tarkovsky only made seven films in his 24-year directorial career. But each of his ambitious metaphysical movies thrives with visual poetry, pensive atmosphere, and profound emotions.
Tarkovsky greatly admired the works of Bresson and Bergman. But he invented his own style whose influence on modern arthouse is very evident. In fact, Bergman himself considered Tarkovsky as “a great director, who invented a new language, true to the nature of film”. Alexander Sokurov, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Terrence Malick, Bela Tarr, and Lars Von Trier are some of the prominent filmmakers heavily inspired by Tarkovsky’s brand of contemplative cinema.
20. Ousmane Sembene
Cinema isn’t always about craft and technique. Though cinema is a tool for expression and storytelling, the question of who uses it and controls it is an important one. Since all art is political, there’s always a great danger in monopolizing stories. Ousmane Sembene, one of the few filmmakers to emerge out of post-colonial Africa, told authentic African stories for the Black African people.
The Senegalese autodidact was a rebellious man from a young age. He worked in the docks and factories in Marseille and Paris. Sembene later joined the French Communist Party and penned novels. In his late 30s, Sembene felt that the best way to reach his people was not writing but cinema. He went to study cinema in the Soviet Union and made his first short film in 1963 at the age of 40. Sembene went on to make 10 feature films in a directorial career spanning four decades. Despite financial and political struggles, Sembene created a new cinematic vocabulary for African cinema. His lasting impact on post-colonial cinema needs more understanding and recognition.
21. Martin Scorsese
A lot of things changed in Hollywood in the mid-1960s. The industry was gradually moving away from the Hays Code – a strict code of censorship. French New Wave and the freshly sprouted film schools changed the traditional Hollywood notions about cinema. In this changing atmosphere, a filmmaker from the Italian-American community emerged and revolutionized American cinema.
Inspired by Godard and Cassavetes, Scorsese made his first great film Mean Streets in 1973. The film put Robert De Niro in the spotlight, subsequently leading to one of the greatest actor-director collaborations in movie history. Scorsese’s films are often machismo tales that focus on urban decay and the excesses in the world of organized crime. He cites the works of Fellini, Satyajit Ray, and Michael Powell as his other influential sources. Apart from being a master creator, Scorsese appreciates cinema at a deeper level. His World Cinema Foundation preserved and restored under-appreciated cinema from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
22. Steven Spielberg
From Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Baghdad (1924) cinema realized its potential to produce tales of spectacle. While many entertaining filmmakers have emerged in Hollywood in the subsequent decades, Spielberg can be emphatically declared as the master of modern spectacle cinema. He might not have a singular style like Scorsese or Kubrick. But Spielberg is a master Hollywood craftsman like John Ford and Nicholas Ray. Spielberg’s greatest strength is his storytelling abilities. With the right dose of emotions and seamless use of technique, he can draw us into his implausible scenarios. Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) signaled a new era in blockbuster cinema, whereas Jurassic Park (1993) initiated the CGI era.
Spielberg was a filmmaking prodigy of sorts. He used a Super 8 camera to make short films as a teenager. At the age of 17, he made a sci-fi movie titled Firelight with a budget of $500. He made this indie feature with his friends and family, and most of the footage is lost. Thirteen years later in Close Encounters of Third Kind (1977) which was made on a budget of $20 million, Spielberg used ideas from Firelight.
Though revered as the king of blockbuster cinema, Spielberg couldn’t be pigeonholed as a commercial filmmaker. The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, and Munich prove that he is more than just an entertainer.
23. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The ingenious and prolific German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder was only 37 years old when he passed away. But in a 13-year filmmaking career, he made 44 feature films which were socially conscious and highly provocative for their time. Fassbinder studied at an acting school and got his start in theatre. He later got interested in films and self-educated himself since his attempt to secure admission at the Berlin Film School failed. Fassbinder learned every aspect of filmmaking with unbelievable intensity. And he upgraded himself into a multi-hyphenate artist who edited and composed music for his films as well.
Fassbinder’s chief inspiration was the German expat filmmaker Douglas Sirk. He wielded the emotional power of melodrama to look into the social and political environment of divided Germany. Perhaps Fassbinder’s bisexuality and fractured relationships often overshadow the assessment of his films. Nevertheless, his scathing social critiques and visual allegories were a huge influence on the subsequent generations of global filmmakers. Todd Haynes, Pedro Almodóvar, and François Ozon are a few important filmmakers who are heavily influenced by Fassbinder’s emotional universe.
24. Chantal Akerman
Belgian director and screenwriter Chantal Akerman transformed the feminist discourse in not only cinema but the entire arts. Akerman emerged in the wake of second-wave feminism and made the most singular film in the history of cinema at the age of 25. The 200-minute Jeanne Dielman (1975) is an extreme and exacting character study of a single mother. The narrative captures her mundane existence with minimalistic details. Gradually, Akerman’s depiction of the constrained space strongly conveys the sustained monotony of domestic life without any drama or added emotional layers.
Akerman claims she was profoundly influenced by Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965), and made her first short film at the age of 18. Though Akerman didn’t enjoy considerable commercial success, she carved a unique body of work in her 4-decade directorial career. Akerman has never used traditional narrative plots, and her films are in fact a sharp commentary on the artificiality of conventional plotting. Kelly Reichardt, Catherine Breillat, Gus Van Sant, and Sofia Coppola cite Akerman as a great influence on their works.
25. Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami was part of a powerful film movement: the Iranian New Wave. Yet his brand of self-reflexive cinema and its impact on the medium goes beyond the framework of the Iranian New Wave. Kiarostami began his career by making educational films for children at the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. He made his first short film The Bread and Alley in 1970, and his first feature film The Report in 1977. But it was the political situation in Post-Revolution Iran and the draconian censorship laws that pushed Kiarostami to tell unique stories in a perpetually innovative manner.
Kiarostami’s 1987 film Where Is the Friend’s Home? brought him international attention. His vision got bolder and the style more complex in the 1990s. Close-Up, a hybrid of documentary and fiction, offers a profound discourse on the redeeming power of art. The Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry (1997) was a brilliant meditation on life, loss, and death. Kiarostami’s magnificent French films Certified Copy and Like Someone In Love towards the end of his career turned him into a filmmaker without borders.
There we are! These are some of the most influential and best directors of all time. In order to understand a filmmaker’s lasting influence on the subsequent generations, one must also comprehend the era these film artists were working and the constraints they had to contend with. Some of the filmmakers in the list may not be immediately recognizable, but their distinctive style celebrates the diversity of cinema. Which filmmakers, according to you, have altered or redefined the course of cinema? Let’s talk in the comments below.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’