The 20 Greatest Acting Performances from Directors in Movies Other than Their Own

11. Harold Ramis in “Ghostbusters” (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

Harold Ramis in “Ghostbusters”

There are, probably, two names that immediately spring to mind when talking about Hollywood comedic directors in the 80’s. Those names are Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis and both of them are involved in the making of one of the most popular movie franchises in the world.

Harold Ramis’s comedies where very influential to the later generations of comedy directors (e.g. Jay Roach or the Farrelly brothers). He is responsible for iconic comedic films such as “Caddyshack”, “Groundhog Day” or “Analyze This”. Harold Ramis wrote “Ghosbusters” with his SNL friend Dan Aykroyd but left the directing duties to Ivan Reitman.

At first, he had no intention of starring in the film but later he felt that Dr. Egon Spengler was very close to his own personality so he took the role. Today, audiences could not imagine “Ghostbusters” – which is best known acting role along with the one in “Stripes” – without him.

“Ghostbusters” is one of the most beloved movie franchises in the world. It spawned a sequel, numerous animated TV series, action figures, novelizations and videogames and it is now getting ready to be reboot with an all-female cast. Even the film’s theme song (sang by Ray Parker Jr.) became a huge hit. Its genre can be described as a supernatural comedy involving three eccentric out of work parapsychologists in New York who start a ghost-catching business.

After initial skepticism, The Ghostbusters business booms. When an uptown high-rise apartment building becomes the focal point of spirit activity linked to the ancient god Gozer, it threatens to overwhelm the team and the entire world. This seems the perfect opportunity for The Ghostbusters to shine and reveal their talents to the world.

The three ghostbusters are played by SNL legends Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray and of course, Harold Ramis, probably the quirkiest character in the movie (awkward, laconic and the most lacking in social abilities of them all…a unique science nerd).


12. Martin Scorsese in “Dreams” (Akira Kurosawa, 1990)

Martin Scorsese in “Dreams”

What can be said about Martin Scorsese that has not already been said? That he was part of New Hollywood wave of filmmaking? That his movies (“Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas” and many more) revolutionized the world of cinema? This can surely be said because all of this is true.

Despite being a legendary and universally respected cineaste Scorsese always took the time to look back and express his admiration for those who came before him. He never hid his undying adulation for Cecil B. DeMille, Stanley Kubrick, the Italian and French masters or Akira Kurosawa. With the later, he had a unique chance of collaboration when he was offered an acting part in Kurosawa’s collection of stories all gathered in a film called “Dreams”

In 1985, Akira Kurosawa directed a film of great epic proportions entitled “Ran”. He was 75 years old. Five years later he wanted to do a more intimate project that has more to do with the one’s inside that outside. So he took some of his recurring dreams and collected them into a film belonging to the magical realism genre, which he entitled simply “Dreams”. The film consists of eight vignettes tackling different subjects but all bound together by the same major theme; man’s relation to space and nature.

All the vignettes are visually stunning and beautifully combine the supernatural with man’s earthly condition. One of the vignette is entitled “Crows” and it’s the most intensely colored segment of the film; it also the only segment of the film in which the characters do not speak Japanese.

It makes heavy use of Chopin’s Prelude No.15 in D-flat major and it tells the story of a young art student who literally immerses himself in the artistic world of Vincent Van Gogh. It is in Van Gogh’s famous fields that he meets the artist himself (played by Martin Scorsese).

Scorsese’s time on the screen spans only a couple of minutes and its viewed as a cameo but the way he plays that particular scene is just unforgettable. He does not over-romanticize Van Gogh (as the art student would have probably wanted) but he does make a bold artistic statement. He says, “A scene that looks like a painting does not make a painting. If you take the time and look closely, all of nature has its own beauty. And when that natural beauty is there, I just lose myself in it”.

The film also offers an interesting explanation to Van Gogh’s ear incident. Scorsese last phrase in the films says that he cut it off because he couldn’t get it right while trying to do a self-portrait.


13. Richard Attenborough in “Jurassic Park” (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Richard Attenborough in “Jurassic Park”

Richard Attenborough was one of those artists who felt equally at home in the directing and acting department. In fact, after he won an Academy Award for best director for “Gandhi” he said, “I never wanted to become a director; I just wanted to do this film”. Because of the great success that “Gandhi” had Attenborough went on to direct a couple of more biopic (“Chaplin”, “Shadowlands” of “In Love and War”) gaining the reputation of a biographical director.

But Attenborough had tackled other genres in his directing career, doing war films (“A Bridge Too Far”), thrillers (“Magic”) and musicals (“A Chorus Line”). His acting career was much more various, ranging from comedic to dramatic roles. Probably, his best known acting role is that of eccentric billionaire John Hammond in Steven Spielberg’s massive hit film “Jurassic Park”.

“Jurassic Park” was made in the same year with “Schindler’s List” – an acclaimed war drama also directed by Steven Spielberg. Both films received universal appraisal but “Jurassic Park” spawned an entire franchise around it, consisting of movie sequels, theme parks, action figures, video and arcade games and a whole resurgence in interest for dinosaurs.

Attenborough plays wacky, eccentric billionaire John Hammond, a man living on a remote island who claims to have brought dinosaurs back to life (using frozen dinosaur DNA) to serve his amusement park. For the grand opening, he has invited renowned paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) alongside mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Everyone knows what happens next.

The dinosaurs break loose on the island creating total chaos. Hammond has no remorse over the consequences of his experiments believing in his work all the way. John Hammond is like Attenborough; he has the grandfather figure and look but underneath he is a stubborn old man whose unique idea could destroy the world.


14. Sam Raimi in “Indian Summer” (Mike Binder, 1993)

Sam Raimi in “Indian Summer”

Horror movies fans, Comic book fans and super hero movie fans know Sam Raimi all too well. He is responsible for “The Evil Dead” films – the most popular horror movie franchise. He is also responsible for well-received comic books adaptations such as “Darkman” and the Spiderman franchise starring Tobey Maguire.

One would be tempted to think that Raimi is only at home making Hollywood big-budget, special effects films. But Raimi has made quite a few indie gems such as “A Simple Plan”, “For the Love of the Game” or “The Gift”. His need to explore new territories was most visible when he took on an acting role in the ensemble comedy-drama “Indian Summer” – directed by actor Mike Binder who has been friends with Raimi since childhood.

“Unca” Lou Handler (Alan Arkin), the beloved camp director and owner of Camp Tamakwa, invites eight former campers, all now adults, back to the camp to announce his retirement. Lou claims to have chosen these particular set of people, as they were the group from the camp’s “golden years”, 20 years previously, and they all remained friends over the years.

Once there, the group comes to feel nostalgic memories of their youth and the unresolved feelings for each other begin to surface. For authenticity, the film was shot on location at Camp Tamakwa, a summer camp in Ontario, Canada. Camp Tamakwa is the camp that Binder and Raimi used to attend as kids.

The film features an ensemble cast of well-known acting names of the 90’s such as Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Pollak. Raimi plays Handler’s bumbling assistant Stick Coder. Despite his reputation as a horror director, Raimi puts a lot of humor into his character making him a loveable hapless man, but not forgetting to showcase his love for the camp and its memories.


15. Roman Polanski in “Une Pure Formalite” (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1994)

Roman Polanski in “Une Pure Formalite”

Roman Polanski has had an interesting life and career to say the least. His family was one of the many Jewish families persecuted by the Holocaust in World War II. He survived; many members of his family (including his mother) did not. The haunting memories of the Holocaust (including participating in sadistic games of the German soldiers were they would use him for target practice) reflect throughout his films and ironically helped shape his cinematic style.

He made one film in his native Poland – the highly acclaimed “Knife in the Water” – before moving to France, Switzerland, England, USA and then back to France. Throughout his career he made both commercial (“Rosermary’s Baby” or “The Ghost Writer”) and art house (“Repulsion” or “Tess”) films plus a highly personal film entitled “The Pianist” for which he won an Oscar for best director. In 1968, he moves to Hollywood to do “Rosemary’s Baby” and remained there until 1977.

In 1969, his second wife Sharon Tate was murdered, while pregnant with their child, by members of the Manson family. In 1977, Polanski (then 43 years old) was arrested for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old during a photo shoot. After countless trials and allegations Polanski fled to France in 1978 never to return to the United States again (not even to pick up his Oscar statuette in 2003).

It is sad that all these unfortunate events sometimes overshadow his work in the eyes of some but any true cinephile will always recognize the genius behind Roman Polanski’s work. His genius amazed audiences once more in 1994 when he played the lead role in Giuseppe Tornatore’s crime thriller “A Pure Formality”. The movie was done in the French language, a language that Polanski speaks fluently.

This beautifully executed thriller recounts a couple of mysterious events, involving recluse writer Onoff (Gerard Depardieu), that lead up to an unresolved murder. The police inspector investigating the case, simply called The Inspector, is played by Roman Polanski. The Inspector works in a broken-down police station, but this does not stop him from doing his job at any cost.

The Inspector is suspicious when Onoff is brought into the station one night, disoriented and suffering a kind of amnesia. He tries to establish events through careful interrogation and deduction. His inquiry is tiresome and even painstaking but the Inspector refuses to give up until the mystery is solved.

Depardieu and Polanki have a wonderful chemistry and beautifully play off each other during the interrogation scene. It makes you want to wish that Polanski had done more acting jobs throughout his career.