It can be hard to quantify what makes a filmmaker great. Is it the amount of box office money that his or her movie brings in? Is it the number of positive reviews for their films, or is it the amount of awards that the director has? Is it the legacy they leave after decades of work?
The answer is probably some combination of all four things. While awards may be a sort of symbol to attest to a filmmaker’s greatness, the lack of awards is not necessarily condemning, as some films take a while to be recognized as classics, while others are acclaimed early on, but soon become forgotten. So, with awards season in full swing, this list celebrates the 16 Best Directors Who Never Won an Oscar.
16. Tim Burton
Tim Burton has been delivering quality films to moviegoers for the three decades at this point, and despite a few missteps, this filmmaker does not show any signs of slowing down. Burton is one of those rare directors who has proved himself in both animation and live action. In fact, the filmmakers two Academy Award nominations come from his animated efforts: Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride.
That being sad, Burton’s critical successes are not limited to the animation genre. Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhand, Big Eyes, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street are just a few of Burton’s films that received award consideration from the academy. But even with all of these triumphs in his filmmaking endeavors, Tim Burton has yet to even receive a nomination for Best Director during his decades of filmmaking.
15. Mary Harron
While Mary Harron’s films do not have the commercial success that some of the other directors on this list have, make no mistake that this woman is one talented director. With films such as American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol, and The Notorious Betty Page, it is apparent to viewers that this filmmaker has a style all her own.
Known for her film’s unique premises, Harron has a writing credit for each of her directorial efforts. While she has failed to amass success at the Academy Awards, Harron has won numerous awards for each of her feature films at several festivals around the world for both her writing and directing talents.
14. David O. Russell
David O. Russell has come up just short a number of times at the Oscars, with three nominations in directing, and two in writing. His recent hit films American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Fighter have all gotten him Academy Award nominations for directing, but even still, his trophy shelf remains void of Oscars in any category.
In particular, American Hustle looked to take home truckloads of hardware with the film’s ten nominations, but at the end of the night, no golden statues were awarded. Russell directed Jennifer Lawrence to an Academy Award in the critical success Silver Linings Playbook, but that was the only Oscar awarded to that film. While nothing is guaranteed in Hollywood, David O. Russell is one of the hottest directors working right now, and it would appears as though he will have plenty of opportunities to take home an Oscar yet, perhaps for his latest film, Joy, which is in theaters now.
13. Penny Marshall
Penny Marshall is one of those directors who put a string of quality films together in the late 80s and early 90s. Back to back directorial efforts, Big and Awakenings, lead to Oscar nominations in major categories, but unfortunately for Penny Marshall, she earned not even one nomination for Best Director.
Big is widely regarded as one of the best films from the illustrious career of the great Tom Hanks, and Awakenings collected Academy Award nominations from the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Robert De Niro, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Directly after these two films, Penny Marshall teamed up, once again, with Tom Hanks in the critical and commercial success, A League of Their Own.
12. Guillermo Del Toro
Guillermo Del Toro is known for his stunningly unique visual style as well as his careful attention to storytelling. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth, was nominated for six Academy Awards and actually took home hardware in half of those categories. Unfortunately for Guillermo Del Toro, the category for which he was nominated, Best Original Screenplay, was won by Michael Arndt for his work on Little Miss Sunshine.
Like many other directors on this list, Del Toro presumably has many years of filmmaking left. While Guillermo Del Toro’s greatest strength might be his writing, the filmmaker has a distinct visual style and a tonal niche that he has been able to carve out for himself in the industry.
11. Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley may have a limited sample size at this moment in time, but her work on the film Away From Her has many critics and fans excited about the bright future for this Canadian director. Polley is yet another name on this list that not only has directing chops, but has shown an aptitude for writing as well.
Her debut film, Away From Her, received two Academy Award nominations in 2008, and her most recent documentary, Stories We Tell, has garnered numerous Best Picture awards from film festivals across the world. This actor-turned-director is off to a great start and it’s only a matter of time before she is recognized by the Academy voters for her talents.
10. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors working today that has real name recognition and drawing power from casual audiences (as displayed by the impressive box office performances of his films Inception and Interstellar). Launching his career with the highly regarded, Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has since decided to pursue other, non-superhero related projects.
While Nolan’s nine films have accumulated 27 Academy Award nominations, the writer/director is still without his first win. Nolan is one of those rare filmmakers that has yet to make a bad film – at least in the eyes of the majority of critics and filmgoers. And, at the age of 45, Christopher Nolan still has plenty of years left to make even more inspiring and epic films.
9. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson finally received his first Best Director nomination for the 2014 film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is truly a shame, because Anderson has been making quality films for almost 20 years now. For those unfamiliar with the Wes Anderson’s work, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and Fantastic Mr. Fox are widely regarded as some of his best movies. Any one of these films is more than deserving of an Academy Award nomination.
With his use of quirky characters, distinctive visuals, and unique storytelling, there truly is no filmmaker quite like Wes Anderson out there making films today. No matter which film, Anderson’s viewers are in store for great casts, impeccable acting, mesmerizing sets, and a compelling story.
8. Paul Thomas Anderson
How Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to take home an Academy Award, is bewildering to say the least. There truly is no explanation for it. While casual audiences may find this particular filmmaker hard to follow at times – i.e. Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice – there is no question that Anderson has a mastery of his craft that is unparalleled by most in the industry.
Arguably his finest film, the Daniel Day-Lewis starring There Will Be Blood, is widely considered to be one of the best films made this during this century. Among other great and award worthy titles from Paul Thomas Anderson are: Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and The Master.
7. Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott is certainly is not batting a thousand when it comes to his directed efforts, but when he makes contact, he makes home runs. Sports analogies aside, Ridley Scott has directed some of the greatest science fiction films in the history of the genre. Both Blade Runner and Alien are considered to be two of the finest sci-fi movies ever made.
This filmmaker is not afraid to show his range either. With films like: Gladiator, The Martian, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster, and Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott proves time and time again that there is no genre that he cannot tackle. Will he finally pick up an award for The Martian? We’ll find out in February!
6. Lone Scherfig
Lone Scherfig is not only one of the most talented female directors currently working, she is one of the best directors working, period. Beginning with her critically praised, feature-length debut, Italian for Beginners, Scherfig has gone on to direct other acclaimed films such as: An Education, One Day, and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.
5. David Fincher
David Fincher has come close to winning an Academy Award twice with his Best Director nominations in both The Social Network and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In addition to these two critically and commercially successful films, Fincher has directed acclaimed films such as: Seven, Gone Girl, The Game, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Fight Club.
With a number of David Fincher’s directed films being featured among many critics and writers “Greatest Movies of All Time” lists, it is certainly hard to believe that the Academy has yet to recognize the greatness of this amazingly talented filmmaker.
4. David Lynch
David Lynch is another director that falls into the “close, yet no cigar” category. With four Academy Award nominations to his credit thus far – three for Best Director and one for Best Adapted Screenplay – you would have to think that Lynch is scratching his head asking: “What does a guy have to do around here to win an Oscar?”
A fair question. With overwhelmingly well-received hits like Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and Elephant Man to his credit, it is hard to pin point exactly why this celebrated director does not yet have an Academy Award.
3. Sidney Lumet
The late, great Sidney Lumet is easily one of the biggest names on this list with numerous classic films to his credit. Lumet is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time with 14 of his films having been nominated. In fact, one of his most notable films, Network, received 10 nominations – the second most in cinematic history – and won four awards.
Sidney Lumet has directed some of the all-time great films: 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Wiz, and Murder on the Orient Express. Although he never won an Academy Award for any one of his films, he did most deservingly receive the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
2. Robert Altman
Much like Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman is another all-time great continuously snubbed by the Academy. Being nominated for seven Academy Awards – five for Best Director and two for Best Picture – Altman sure had his opportunities to stake his claim as an Oscar winner.
While M*A*S*H, Nashville, and Gosford Park are among Altman’s best directorial efforts, he has many other well-received and award-worthy films. Although Robert Altman has never won a competitive Oscar, despite his numerous nominations, the Academy awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award back in 2006.
1. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is not only one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, he is also one of the most influential directors of all time. Entire film classes are dedicated to his works while students study his movies for years and still pick up intriguing tidbits with each new viewing. One of his masterpieces, Psycho, is widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest horror film of all time.
Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director for five of his most celebrated films: Psycho, Rear Window, Spellbound, Lifeboat, and Rebecca, and he could have probably been nominated for a few of his other films such as Vertigo and North by Northwest.
Despite never having won an Academy Award, Alfred Hitchcock has won numerous awards from various film societies and critic associations. Not having an Oscar to his credit probably says more about the Academy than it does about Alfred Hitchcock. He will be remembered not for his lack of awards, but his abundance of talent which has inspired generations of great filmmakers.
Do you agree with this list? Who are some directors that you feel should or should not be included? Let us know in the comments below.