The 10 Best and Most Promising Directors Under 35

Most filmmakers of any notice nowadays are older. It’s somewhat a hazard of the job, since it takes time for most directors to find prominence, especially in a Hollywood still not completely awake for what is happening in the indie scenario. The guys and girls on this list, though, are the honorable exceptions.

They’re young, undeniable talents that have been recognized, amazingly, while still on their early thirties (on one or two cases, even before turning that particular corner). They’re also part of a new, more diverse and extremely more interesting cinema – from different backgrounds and with different fortes, they’re quite the motley crew.

Check it out.


10. Justin Simien

Justin Simien’s terrific debut, Dear White People, won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and set the world on fire with controversy, mostly because it has the guts to face racism in its most unassuming disguises and details in our society, and that bothers a lot of people. The truth is that it is an outstanding effort of narrative, language and cinema, a specially pointed comedy that manages to be touching and poignant too.

Coming from a variety of short films, Simien will next headline the TV adaptation of Dear White People for Netflix, so there’s that to look forward too while he gears up for his next feature – if it creates as much noise or not, only time will tell. But with a talent like that, it’s highly improbable that it doesn’t.


9. Benh Zeitlin

Benh Zeitlin “started” his filmmaker career at the age of 6, when he and a friend made a Batman movie in his backyard. And yes, even though a lot of directors have stories like that, few of them have a debut feature as fantastic as Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). At 30 years old, Zeitlin was nominated for a couple of Oscars (one for directing, one for writing) and saw his film score two more (best picture and best actress for young Quvenzhané Wallis).

Astounding in its endless imagination and limitless passion, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a dystopic sci-fi epic like no other – seen through a child’s lenses, but at the same time tremendously harsh and realistic, it’s a true fantasy classic, one of those that stays in the spectator’s imagination for long after the credits roll. It’s a wonder Zeitlin has yet to make a follow-up, but we have no doubt it will be spectacular when it comes.


8. Rebecca Thomas

She’s been attached to a non-Disney live-action version of The Little Mermaid, to John Green adaptation Looking for Alaska, and with Captain Marvel, the studio’s first go at a female hero standalone film, among other projects. That small list points to Rebecca Thomas as probably the most in demand of the filmmakers in this list, and it’s all because of a small 2012 feature called Elecktrick Children.

A quirky and poignant drama about a Mormon girl who believes she’s been impregnated while listening to music and goes out into the world looking for the “father” of her baby, Elecktrick Children isn’t even one of the best reviewed indie films of the last few years, but it has captured the imagination of the public (and of big studios) for its fluent pop language, and Thomas’ obvious talent as a filmmaker, if not as much as a writer. Whichever of the aforementioned projects she takes on, it will be in good hands (but I’m rooting for Captain Marvel).


7. Jordan Vogt-Roberts

His deliciously weird and unexpectedly beautiful debut feature, The Kings of Summer, lures the spectator in with what seems like a fairly conventional teenager coming-of-age story, and it suddenly injects it with weirdness, plastic beauty, quirky comedy and, ultimately, a lot of heart. It’s a roller coaster experience of a movie, and it’s 100% worth watching – his courage in playing with genres only makes his blockbuster debut in Kong: Skull Island more worthy of looking forward to.

It’s rare that a director that displays that much curiosity with his debut still manages to make the whole of his movie work by connecting the pieces together with great filmmaking. Trained in comedy shorts and stand-up specials, Vogt-Roberts breaks through as an extraordinary talent and an extremely interesting name to follow.


6. Joe SwanbergJoe Swanberg has recently turned 35, just last month (August), but he’s been active for more than a decade now, so I thought it was fair to include him on this list. Ever since 2005’s Kissing on the Mouth, but especially 2007’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, he’s been growing and maturing as a director in front of our eyes, and even though not all of his movies have been stellar, he’s certainly an intriguing talent, with an eye for a variety of genres and a great hand for actors.

See specially Drinking Buddies (2013), Happy Christmas (2014) and Digging for Fire (2015), three very different character studies that production companies don’t know exactly how to sell, but that mostly tell heartfelt and brilliant stories by expanding on his mumblecore background. He’ll be writing and directing a whole Netflix miniseries, titled Easy, this year, so keep an eye out for that too.