The freedom to tell a story as a director only gets easier when you showcase the script yourself. We’ve seen nearly every director write at least one of their films but I’ve noticed that directors are realizing this freedom more often than not in the endless small budget films as well as the bigger names of Hollywood as they successfully leave a following of fans in their wake.
For this list, I am going to give you all my ten best directors who also write their movies. This excludes directors who have written films with mostly other people – sorry Scorsese and Spielberg – and they have to have written at least half of their films in their catalog of directed projects.
11. Spike Lee: One the boldest writer-directors on this list mainly for the sharply tongued dialogue and the nature of his plots are enough to invoke a reaction from most. When it comes to people who have a lot to say you either listen with open ears or you listen to your music of maximum volume, for me, I listen and visualize what Spike has to say. His earlier work has the perspective of a black man in Brooklyn New York and the prejudices and stereotypes stamped onto all different kinds of people and though that is not too many people’s favorite way to be delivered a message, he is a great film maker in his own and right and is a talented writer as well.
10. James Cameron: The man has two of the top five highest grossing films of all-time on a list that has taken a Star Wars film to “maybe” take on those spots. He revolutionizes movies for everyone around him with the technological advancements he actually helps create and invent solely to make his films the way he wants them too. Along the way, the man has written Titanic, Terminator 1&2, Avatar, The Abyss, and second installment of the “Aliens” franchise. The man is diverse and well thought out when it comes to his movies.
9. Wes Anderson: Quirky and unbelievably imaginative with all of his movies, Wes Anderson – no relation to Paul Thomas Anderson – has made a name for himself with his cult favorites that include; Moonrise Kingdom, Life Aquatic, The Royal Tenenbaums and much more. He was given critical praise for his work on the stop-motion telling of The Fantastic Mr. Fox and the award winning (personal favorite) that is the The Grand Budapest Hotel from 2014. He’s niche director and equally outstanding writer for films that can’t be duplicated.
8. Hayao Miyazaki: A list of great writer-directors doesn’t have to be limited to the great live-action directors and storytellers. For a large audience in the world, animation, specifically the realm of anime has changed the landscape of animated storytelling by making family entertainment that does what Miyazaki’s friends at Pixar have taken seriously. He is the first and only foreign director to earn the “prestigious” award for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. He has since helped influence countless directors and writers due to his soft nature while producing captivating original stories since the 70’s.
7. Woody Allen: One of the kings of telling romantic comedies whether he is the one starring in them or having other actors take on the lead roles, Woody Allen – controversy aside – is great. His love for New York and other finely lit cities has shown through his visuals and rapid fire dialogue that has no fear when saying what we’d all be thinking. He has an Oscar or two for his writing, directing, and a nomination for his acting and proves to be one of the many great talents to go back to when discussing great triple threats in the categories of writing/directing/acting.
6. David O. Russell: There’s no denying Russell comes off as a total douche in real life, but like the Kanye’s of the world, they are still damn talented. Russell has always preferred to write his films and they manage to not be as similar as one would think. With his latest film “Joy”(2015) Review, you see his growth as a film maker trying to get out of his comfort zone and it proved to be a respectable effort while his direction though slightly shakier than normal has a high ceiling.
5. Christopher Nolan: He and his brother gave us everyone’s favorite film of the 21st century with The Dark Knight but he and his brother have also been cult favorites for films like Memento and Insomnia, but we often forget that Chris Nolan with the aid of his brother write some of the most intricately woven tales of uncertainty and peril we’ve seen in the modern era of film making. With films that train the mind like Inception, Interstellar, The Prestige, and Following.
4. Paul Thomas Anderson: If you want to talk about a director-writer of the highest caliber, it’s tough to not mark P.T. Anderson in your top five. His films may not be for everyone, but it’s undeniable the skills the man possesses for churning out original stories through multiple genres, but his ability to get great actors like Daniel Day-Lewis to showcase arguably their greatest performances of all time to even an Adam Sandler as the talented dramatic actor we wish he stayed as. He is a cinemaholics perfect blend of style and realism through deep character studies.
3. The Coen Brothers: One of the strongest duos to ever step behind a camera have also been some of the strongest writers arguably in Hollywood history. I like to think of them as the “Golden Boys” pf Hollywood and they’ve respectfully and humbly earned that title. Writing and directing all of their movies as well as giving a stellar script for Steven Spielberg’s latest film Bridge of Spies to great success. They quietly write films that are truly their own unique twist on the world of cinema that will be missed and undervalued for a long time due to their low profiles.
2. Francis Ford Coppola: Part of a time where Hollywood was in extreme transition, Coppola rode the wave on a gangster style surfboard then jumped on all different styles and genres. He too has one of the greatest reputations that speak for themselves when it comes to writing and directing his movies and the outcomes have been films like The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now. His latest films are arthouse style movies that most of us rarely see, but that doesn’t take away his legacy he’s established for himself.
1. Quentin Tarantino: You guys probably think I have a hard on for this guy (maybe I do), but I recognize that though he is a polarizing figure, his dialogue and storytelling is unlike anyone else. He directs films that seem to only be getting better and better and he has two Oscars to show for it. Film schools and screenwriting classes tell you first thing to not bother copying the style of Tarantino simply because it is so unorthodox and against the grain – like all of his movies – but if you look at him through a technical standpoint, he is unlike any other director we’ve seen.
Alfred Hitchcock: The “Master of Suspense” didn’t earn his nickname as a fluke. The man is the reason we have most of the mystery and suspenseful thrillers we have in the present day. He reinvented the way to write plot twists and surprises in films while directing with a tension filled style that feels like a candle slowing dripping wax on your forehead. He is one of the most important people to create films as both a director and writer.
Stanley Kubrick: It seems like some of the most influential directors and writers are sadly passed, but their legacies are living through the hundreds of films that come out every year and no ones impact is as strong as Kubrick. Pushing boundaries as a director and writing scripts around the visions he has for the direction he wanted with his movies show and are remarkable when you think about the time and era he lived in and the subject matter he hit on.
Orson Welles: This man is responsible for making what is considered the number one all time greatest film – subjective of course – and that is Citizen Kane. I mentioned Woody Allen as being a triple threat, but the ultimate triple threat is Welles back in the 40’s until he died in 1985 in Hollywood California. He is the standard for how films are written and directed. Citizen Kane won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in a time was early in the days of film, but even people then knew that Welles had a lot of greatness coming. Did I mention Citizen Kane was his first film? Yeah.