10 Most Important Directors Of The 21st Century (So Far)

Visionaries and money-makers for a movie millennium.

Bad Taste Peter Jackson
Wingnut Pictures

While it’s impossible to fully justify or choose only ten directors who have had a profound and lasting effect on the film industry – there are simply too many names to consider – there are a handful of filmmakers without whom today’s cinematic landscape would look very different.

Pioneers and innovators, workhorses and franchisers, these are film-makers who have primarily released their best, most successful and/or most influential and industry-morphing work since the year 2000, and who have had a major impact on the cinematic medium in a variety of ways.

They may have pushed the boundaries of genre film-making, made a killing with huge blockbuster spectacles, or brought films otherwise associated with a specific nation or culture to a much wider audience than ever before.

Hollywood is the way it is today thanks in no small part to the names you are about to read, who have specifically altered the course of cinema outside of the film brats era of the 1980s or even the golden age of the 1920s to the 1960s.

They might not have made great or even good movies throughout the 21st Century, but they have managed to influence both the art and business of directing for better and/or for worse.

11. Honourable Mentions And Dishonourable Excuses

Bad Taste Peter Jackson

Just as a brief explanation to wave away what you may consider to be glaring omissions, there are some names that don’t qualify to be listed here based on a fairly specific criteria.

For example: you might expect the likes of Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese to appear, but while they have made some breath-taking films over the last seventeen years, their names are inextricably linked with the 1970s and 1980s, where their contributions to the medium are more obvious and significant.

Similarly, this list is predominantly populated by white men, because that’s unfortunately who’s running Hollywood. While I’d love to include the likes of Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, Sophia Coppola and Ava DuVernay here, both for creating wonderful films and pushing social boundaries, their relatively short careers and small filmographies mean it’s hard to rank them alongside some of the other names present.

The same could be said for Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Lars Von Trier, Jason Reitman, Lynne Ramsay, Pedro Almodovar, and a whole host of others too numerous to name, all of whom could be considered ‘better’ directors than those listed, but who haven’t quite left the same hefty cultural footprint in their wake.

As the industry grows and evolves, the aforementioned names will no doubt appear on such lists in four or five years time.


Liam is a writer and cranberry juice drinker from Lincolnshire. When he's not wearing his eyes away in front of a computer, he plays the melodica for a semi wrestling-themed folk-punk band called School Trips.