A Beginners Guide to Movie Directors, Part One: The Old Masters

A Beginners Guide to Movie Directors, Part One: The Old Masters

Oliver Barnfield, Cool Guy/Entertainment Editor

Behind every great movie is a great director. If a director is inexperienced, the movie will fail. Such is the way of films. Quite a few directors make 1 or 2 memorable films and then become forgotten. But some directors have built up a reputation, a distinctive style, and changed the way movies are seen or made. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a handy guide to the important directors of the early days of cinema.



  • DW Griffith (Made films from 1914-1931) Silent

Controversial silent film director who is credited with creating the look and techniques of modern film making. His most popular film is the ground-breaking but also very racist Birth of A Nation. Griffith reversed his stance afterwards with Tolerance, another ground-breaking movie, this time extolling the virtues of acceptance. I would recommend Birth of A Nation only to people who can look past its uncomfortable, dated, and horrible subject matter to see the revolutionary piece of cinema that it is. Tolerance, his 2nd most famous movie, is much easier to stomach, story wise, but it’s not as influential.

  • Alfred Hitchcock (1925-1976) Suspense                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Hitchcock’s most immortal sequence

Director of powerful suspense films from the golden age of Hollywood. Probably the most influential director of all time. His films still hold up remarkably well. He created many timeless images still burned into the public consciousness. His use of suspense and mystery inspired many horror movies, and he also is the most widely recognized (in terms of appearance) director ever.

Check Out: Psycho (1960) Strangers on A Train (1951) Rear Window (1954) North by Northwest (1959) The Birds (1963)

Skip: Waltzes in Vienna (1934) The Paradine Case (1947) Vertigo (1958)

  • Akira Kurosawa (1943-1993) Drama/Historical

This Japanese Director was more popular in his home country, due to his films not being in English. His movies are still powerful, impactful and influential despite the language gap. His visual composition is striking, and his editing skills inspired several other filmmakers, including a certain director named George Lucas, who you might know for creating FRICKING STAR WARS. So yeah, this guy is pretty important.

Check Out: Seven Samurai (1954) Yojimbo (1961) Rashomon (1950) High and Low (1963)

Skip: Sanshiro Sugato Part Two (1945) The Most Beautiful (1944)

  • Orson Welles (1938-1975) Drama/Documentary

Director, Actor, and Writer, Orson Welles was undoubtedly a true renaissance man. Welles is by far most known for Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film of all time. He had several other movies, that, although more obscure, are definitely worth a watch. His acting skills are top notch, too, and he played the lead in several of his own movies.

The startling opening for Citizen Kane.

Check Out: Citizen Kane (1941) Touch of Evil (1958) Othello (1952) The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) Chimes At Midnight (1964)

Skip: The Immortal Story (1968)

  • Fedirico Fellini (1951-1990)

An Italian director who specialized in surreal but earthy and grounded movies. Very influential and important in the indie film scene.

Check Out: La Dolce Vita (1960) 8½ (1963)

Skip: It depends on your taste and what styles you like.

  • Jean Luc Goddard (1960-)

Goddard broke the rules, creating and revolutionizing several techniques, such as the jump cut. His style is recognizable and still inspires today. His output is huge and varied, and he’s worshiped by film critics and professors around the world.

Check Out:  Band of Outsiders (1964) Alphaville (Not the 80’s pop group) (1965)

Skip: Made in The USA (1966)

  • John Ford (1917-1966) Western

Westerns are a generally overlooked genre when it comes to critical lists like these. There aren’t many famous western directors who have more than one outstanding movie. John Ford is different. Ford’s style isn’t really western, necessarily. It’s Americanna. Although this fact is somewhat glossed over, John’s 1939 classic Stagecoach was watched by Orson Welles 40 times during the making of Citizen Kane. So, in a way, John Ford is responsible for the most critically acclaimed movie of all time.

Check Out: The Searchers (1956) Stagecoach (1939) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Skip: Flashing Spikes (1962) Tobacco Road (1941)