The 15 Greatest Actors Turned Directors In Hollywood History

8. Robert Redford

Actor: The Great Gatsby, All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

For the sake of this list’s merit, my goal is to give a little insight into each person and what makes them worthy of a place on the top 15. That being said, Robert Redford is one of those guys that’s so obviously brilliant that I feel almost out of line writing this, because the act of doing so suggests the possibility that maybe he shouldn’t be here. Which is insane. When going down Redford’s IMDB page, about halfway through his acting credits you start to forget that there are other good movies out there not starring him.

Director: Ordinary People, Quiz Show, The Legend of Bagger Vance

In 1980, Robert Redford picked up the camera and directed his first feature film Ordinary People for which, not unlike many others on this list, he took home the Oscar. He has since made eight more feature films, all of which are terrifically made. The fact that he created the Sundance Film Festival alone proves his dedication to filmmaking as an art form. Redford “earns” a spot on this list because his body of work throughout his 34 years in the director’s chair encompasses every emotion that can be recorded, and as a whole bridges the gap between old Hollywood and films of today.


7. Dennis Hopper

Actor: Apocalypse Now, Speed, True Romance

With dreams of stardom, Dennis Hopper landed his first small role at the age of 18 but it took him another seven years and over 30 roles before he landed his first leading part in an atmospheric supernatural thriller involving a mermaid in an amusement park titled Night Tide. Hopper worked steadily as an actor in the background for several more years before he decided to co‐write a film called Easy Rider in which he would star in and direct. This film catapulted his acting career making him a major name in Hollywood and eventually the go‐to guy when casting a villain.

Director: Easy Rider, The Last Movie, Colors

Easy Rider not only jump started Dennis Hopper’s acting career, it also launched his directing career. It has even been discussed that the film was responsible for starting the indie film movement. After the huge success of Easy Rider, Hopper was in a position to direct darker films that didn’t quite fit into the Hollywood model at the time. His next three films developed cult followings, but his fifth film Catchfire was not so lucky: the three hour movie that he turned in was chopped down to a more marketable hour and a half runtime, but it was vastly different than the original piece. He was so outraged by the producers decision to change his film that he refused to put his name down as director and opted to credit the fictitious “Alan Smithee” as director instead.

Hopper later released his own cut of the movie retitled Backtrack. He directed a total of 7 feature films and two short films before his untimely death in 2010. Though Dennis Hopper’s movies weren’t all commercial successes, they challenged the typical filmmaking model. He earns his place on this list because as a director, he blazed a trail for low budget directors for generations to come.


6. Ben Affleck

Actor: Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, Armageddon

Ben Affleck has always been an amazing acting talent. He can cry. He can monologue. He can do it all. His fatal flaw is that he fell into the same trap that so many successful A‐listers have before him: He followed the money. Affleck picked a string of really bad movies such as Daredevil, Paycheck (talk about transparency), Jersey Girl, and Surviving Christmas effectively killing his credibility and his career. He did revive his acting career, however, when he began working with an insightful new director: himself.

Director: Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo

Ben Affleck is still relatively new to the whole directing game but in just eight short years with a total of three movies, he has established himself as a major directing talent. With his lowest rated film scoring an average review of 94%, he has proven that he can go head to head with any seasoned director working today.


5. Terry Gilliam

Actor: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spies Like Us, Life of Brian

Terry Gilliam has been steadily working as an actor since the early 70’s. He has a wide variety of roles under his belt but there’s no need to romance it, as far as acting goes, he’s by far best known for the work he did with Monty Python which pretty
much set the pace for British humor.

Director: Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys

Gilliam’s body of work is as interesting as his approach to filmmaking. The reason his work is so complex and imaginative is because he thinks of his films in trilogies. He exhausts the complexities of a subject, not by cramming everything into one confusing film, but by spreading the idea and sometimes tonality throughout three films. With Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he explored the craziness of society and the idea of using imagination as a means of escape.

Each film is told through the eyes of an older generation, which only adds to the unique perspective. In the 90’s, he honed in on life in America with The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His work is eclectic and, as far as I can see, will stand the test of time.


4. Harold Ramis

Actor: Stripes, Ghostbusters, Orange County

The late Harold Ramis had one of the greatest minds for comedy of his time; he was the straight man and moral compass in some of the most influential and important comedies to come out of the 80’s and 90’s and had a big part in shaping the comedic voice of his generation. He continued to act and make audiences laugh until 2009.

Director: Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Analyze This

Critics didn’t initially embrace Harold Ramis’s first film Caddyshack but they couldn’t dismiss it either. However unpolished Ramis was at the time, it was clear that he had a gift. He went on to direct 10 more features and would become a major presence both behind the camera and in the comedy world.


3. Rob Reiner

Actor: Edtv, The Story of Us, The Wolf of Wall Street

Rob Reiner spent 11 years doing various TV roles before he got his first major role as Michael in “All in the Family”. With his huge frame and warm smile he was easily recognizable to fans and began steadily landing film roles, often being asked to play as himself. He has been a major player in Hollywood for over 50 years now.

Director: Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally…, A Few Good Men

Rob Reiner’s first Directorial effort was the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap which amassed a huge cult following. Also under his belt are movies like Stand by Me, The Princess Bride and a dozen more movies that defined the 80’s and 90’s. Very few directors have made as many movies or as many good movies as Rob Reiner has, and the fact that he’s constantly acting in other films as well is nuts.


2. Ron Howard

Actor: American Graffiti, The Shootist, Happy Days

Most known from his stents on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days”, Ron Howard has over 80 television and film credits to his name. Like most child actors, Ron’s momentum didn’t carry over into solid adult roles and he decided to focus his efforts elsewhere.

Director: Cocoon, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind

After a somewhat slow start, directing mostly short films and TV movies, it was the film Splash that put Howard back on the map. Over the years he has proven himself to be a jack‐of‐all‐trades when it comes to film making – releasing the sci‐fi drama Cocoon one year and the action adventure Willow another. After Howard managed to turn the Grinch into a live action hit in 2000 and follow it up with the multi award winning A Beautiful Mind the very next year, it was clear that his versatility and solid fundamentals define him as a force to be reckoned with. Howard is currently working on two new projects and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.


1. Clint Eastwood

Actor: A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Dirty Harry

Mr. Eastwood has been acting for 60 years and he’s pretty much the face you think of when you think Westerns. He basically owns an entire genre… at the very least he shares it with John Wayne. That being said, he’s no slouch in the director’s seat.

Director: Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino

Over the years Clint Eastwood has racked up an impressive 37 titles as director. Of those titles he has 4 Oscar wins and another 3 nominations and his work keeps getting stronger. After the release of Mystic River, Clint Eastwood really hit his stride and joined the elite status of directors where he has been delivering magnificently filmed, substance packed movies ever since.

Author Bio: Jacob Mello is an okay looking 25 year-old writer and director (and actor depending on how low your standards are) working out of Austin, Texas. He recently finished a crowd funded web series called “Unseasoned” with his comedy troupe Those Sucka Chuckas. Check out Jacob’s web series, short films and skits at