The relationship between a filmmaker and his or her style is a complex one. Many of them, as it can be seen on art in general, tend to have certain specific interests, techniques and genres they learn to feel comfortable with and adopt as their own. On one hand, this can be beneficial since it helps to refine certain ideas through time and experience, on the other hand, it can be dangerous since the filmmaker is always at risk of duplicating his earlier work.
But there are the risk-takers. Those who have ventured into new genres, narratives and forms and succeeded at maintaining their work impeccable. Never mind all the reasons these directors may have had to get out of their comfort zone: contractual obligations, circumstances that make them to branch out or just for the experience to try something new.
What is important is that helps to show a medium that offers so much variety and so many different possibilities as cinema can offer. Here are 16 of the most versatile filmmakers in the history of cinema.
16. Luc Besson
Though his Cinéma du Look has been criticized for relying too heavily on style over substance, nobody can deny that regardless of the quality of some of his productions, Luc Besson has learnt how to leave his mark on cinema worldwide. Producer of over 50 movies, despite being generally grounded on action films, Besson knows how to portray engaging stories in wildly diverse backgrounds.
His earlier breakout movie was The Big Blue, a film about the rivalry between two Mediterranean divers. Besson, who was a diver himself before an accident made him unable to practice it anymore, would also made a documentary about oceans titled Atlantis.
Around the same time, he directed two thrillers set in the criminal underworld that would set his career as an action director, Nikita and León: The Professional, with the science fiction adventure film The Fifth Element and the historical epic The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc making him a household name in the American mainstream cinema. As of late Besson mostly produces films, but his most recent input have been a curious mix between colorful family films and his usual fare of action movies.
15. Takashi Miike
One of Japan’s most controversial filmmakers in the modern era, Takashi Miike has directed over 90 audiovisual productions in less than 25 years of career. Always verging between the mainstream and the underground, Miike is mostly known for his use of highly-graphic violence and twisted sexuality, using direct-to-video releases to avoid censorship and have more creative freedom. Films like Audition, Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer has earned him a cult status among western audiences.
Yet, despite his reputation as the bad boy of Japanese cinema and his successful and high-grossing work with Yakuza films, Miike refuses to limit himself and opts for his more crowd-pleasing productions to finance his more risky projects, branching out between children’s films like The Great Yokai War, a farcical horror comedy musical with The happiness of the Katakuris, the cowboy film Sukiyaki Western Django and even a videogame adaptation with Ace Attorney.
14. Steven Soderbergh
With Sex, Lies and Videotapes Steven Soderbergh won the Palme D’Or with his debut movie at age 26, leading many to rightfully predict a long and successful career. Although some of his endeavors have not been box-office successes, they always manage to offer something new and interesting to the audience.
As many current independent directors, Soderbergh tends to alternate between large, financially-viable Hollywood productions and smaller, unconventional films, dealing with both types with relentless creativity and rigorous professionalism.
Among the well-known mainstream movies Soderbergh has made, one can find drama film Erin Brokovich with Julia Roberts in the title role, the heist film Ocean’s Eleven and its two sequels and the comedy Magic Mike, experimental and more niche productions like Kafka with Jeremy Irons, the wildly off-beat Schizopolis, the drama Bubble and the documentary And Everything Is Going Fine.
Nonetheless, Soderbergh appears to be more comfortable working in a middle point between the two, with movies like the remake of Solaris, the Che films with Benicio Del Toro and Behind The Candelabra serving as a curious limbo between Hollywood and Sundance.
13. Ang Lee
Taiwan-born director Ang Lee have had an overwhelming success in Hollywood in the past few years, winning Oscars for his 1960’s gay drama Brokeback Mountain and the imaginative adventure fantasy film The Life of Pi, but as early as his “Father Knows Best” trilogy, it was clear that, despite different settings and characters, his forte laid in a remarkable ability to present emotions and tribulations that the audience can deeply sympathize with.
This dexterity allowed him to have no problem directing period drama Sense and Sensibility, his first foray outside Taiwan, which receiving seven Academy Awards nominations. Then he made family drama The Ice Storm and war film Ride with the Devil.
But not until Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that Lee garnered international fame and managed to bring the Wuxia genre to the western audiences. Many directors have had problems adapting their style and vision to the mainstream American film industry and, although Lee have had some bumps every now and then (superhero film Hulk and music film Taking Woodstock come to mind), his career is an example that good cinema has no frontiers.
12. Robert Wise
Director of over 40 movies, the philosophy of Wise of letting the concept to define the style of the movie is often seen as a counterpoint to better-regarded auteur directors who put their trademark style on their films. Nonetheless, instead of diminishing his quality, it allowed him to work on several radically different types of projects with the same professionalism.
Starting in the production team of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersens, through his decade-spanning career he directed some of the most iconic films in their respective genre.
In musicals, for example, he directed the film adaptations of West Side Story and The Sound of Music, he also directed the horror classic The Haunting, the war film The Sand Peebles and even took a hand in westerns, film noir and science fiction, making himself a name with the latter with such memorable productions such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
11. Rob Reiner
Along with Steven Spielberg and John Hughes, Rob Reiner is regarded as one of the most popular and emblematic American filmmakers during the 80’s. But unlike Hughes and Spielberg, who at the moment had a reputation making light teenage dramas and family adventure films respectively, from the get go it was hard to pin down what made a Rob Reiner film be his own.
Among the films he directed in this decade were This is Spinal Tap, a fake comedic documentary about the tribulations of a rock band past its prime, the 1950’s coming-of-age Stephen King story Stand by Me, the cult fantasy comedy The Princess Bride and the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.
Though in the 90’s he directed Misery, another Stephen King adaptation, and the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men, the universally panned 1994 children’s film North was a blow to his career as a director, he only made few good movies like The Bucket List and Flipped after that.
10. Steven SpielbergIf mainstream American cinema could be embodied in a single person, that person probably would be Steven Spielberg. Few directors have managed to leave a mark as him in popular consciousness worldwide as he did with films like Jaws, the Indiana Jones saga, Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, Hook and many others, always offering stories full of human interest and warm sentiment, despite sometimes facing some of the worst adversities imaginable.
Although Spielberg is traditionally associated with visually-spectacular family-friendly entertainment, Catch Me If You Can and War of the Worlds just to name a few unmentioned, he has shown to be skillful telling heartfelt and memorable dramas where the best of people always manage to crop.
Starting with The Color Purple, some of his most serious films include Schindler’s List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln. What makes his name enduring is perhaps his artistry on telling optimistic narratives without falling into common trap that would make the audience consider them corny, exaggerated or artificial.
9. Quentin TarantinoOne of the great auteurs of his generation, Tarantino learned about cinema through an obsessive consumption of movies in his youth and managed to refine himself through sheer enthusiasm and practice. His earlier and widely successful films, such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, proved his skills making a fresh and personal style out of known genre, this made him become one of the most prominent independent filmmakers in the 90’s.
Despite always exhibiting very distinctive characteristics in his body of work, such as his manner to portray violence and his very casual dialogue, Tarantino has managed to play out with different genres besides his usual blend of comedy, drama and action. Notably, he has worked with horror (From Dusk Till Dawn, written by him and directed by his friend Robert Rodriguez), martial arts (Kill Bill), war (Inglorious Basterds) and western (Django Unchained). Demonstrating his capacity to adapt his style to different types of cinematic action and execution.