50 Greatest Directors of the 21st Century

We pay tribute to those who have proved themselves to be the very best working in the industry today.

T.J. Barnard

Editorial Team

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: So goes the very famous opening to a very famous novel. Back in 1859, that now-immortal line served to summarize an age that Charles Dickens saw as prosperous, civilized and advanced – and at once, frightening, medieval and counter-constructive. It’s a sentiment that works endlessly in a historical sense. But it works, too, for a particular age of cinema.

Yes, the 21st century is an age of endlessly bland low-budget horror features, mindless blockbusters, unnecessary sequels, remakes and prequels… but the 21st century has also proved itself to be a most valuable time for dozens of masterful directors working at the top of their game. These filmmakers strive to innovate, craft and produce films that mark the era, challenge audiences, and shock, surprise and stun without the sacrifice of good narrative, technique and character. These are the directors who have proven that blockbusters can be made with intelligence, and that low-budget doesn’t necessarily mean low-quality.

Join us as The 50 Greatest Directors of the 21st Century strives to pay tribute to those great filmmakers who, since 2000, have proved themselves to be the very best working in the industry today. Simply stated, it’s because of these talented individuals that cinema remains as enthralling and exciting as ever.

How this list was complied:

1. Directors can have made films before the year 2000 (most have), but only works made after said year have been used to consider their place on this list.

2. This list is wholly subjective and is nothing more or less than personal opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree with any of the filmmakers listed here: that’s exactly what film lists are for, after all.

3. There are many considerations as to why the directors here were chosen. Mostly, it’s down to quality of the films themselves, but sometimes other things have been taken into account. These include but are not exclusive to: work ethic, cultural influence and impact, zeitgeist.

4. Though every filmmaker on this list should be automatically acknowledged as both talented and important, their 21st century careers have been considered with an intended fairness – this author has not strayed from highlighting the negative attributes or lesser works of the directors chosen here during this period. Nobody’s perfect.

5. Cream of the Crop entries are merely a personal recommendation of a particular director’s best work from the 21st century.

50. George Clooney

21st Century Filmography: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Leatherheads (2008), The Ideas of March (2011)

It isn’t enough that George Clooney is an actor of the highest caliber, he’s a talented director, too, and has established himself as one of Hollywood’s better filmmakers since he first got behind the camera in 2002. Clooney’s style is a lot like the man: handsome, slick, entertaining, confident and politically-minded. Whether or not the former E.R. star has yet proven his worth as a great filmmaker remains open for debate, but the 21st century has definitely appeared to be a promising start for the man who punched David O. Russell in the face on the set of Three Kings for being mean to the extras.

First Feature: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Cream of the CropGood Night, and Good Luck (2005)
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