The 30 Best Contemporary Directors Who Have Made 5 or Fewer Movies
10. Henry Selick
Since most of his directorial efforts are accredited to Tim Burton by the public at large (to be fair, they are often advertised as being “from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas”, who was Selick, not its creator, Burton, as it is widely misconceived), it’s only fair that Selick should get his name mentioned whenever it is fitting.
Given his innovations in stop motion animation feature filmmaking (as evidenced in 1993’s Nightmare, 1996’s James and the Giant Peach, 2001’s underrated but messy Monkeybone, and his true masterpiece, 2009’s Coraline), the fact that Selick is not a household name right alongside Burton is a crime which rivals the fact that he has not made a movie in over seven years.
Selick’s darkly fantastical, but still childlike personal touch is greatly needed, and sorely missed, in Hollywood’s ever-increasing demand for family-friendly productions today.
9. James Gunn
James Gunn is a perfect example of a filmmaker; in the tradition of Sam Rami, Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright and some guy that had a large hand in popularizing vampire slayers; who is able to take their own individual quirks and personal flourishes and make them work within genre spectacles that are produced in the studio system.
Gunn honed his voice and style in his two low-budget genre-benders, 2006’s Slither and 2010’s Super, but didn’t really take his foothold in popular modern filmmaking until, of course, he delivered his take on a (then) obscure Marvel property, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Of all the modern genre masters who have been able to obtain large budgets and still manage to maintain their own unique sensibilities, Galaxy proved that there really isn’t anyone better today than Gunn, except, of course, for…
8. Joss Whedon
Although Joss Whedon’s recent Marvel outings, the first two Avengers films, were financially gratifying to the extreme, longtime fans of the still-reigning genre master were left ever-so-slightly underwhelmed by their results.
This, of course, is not a testament to how bad the Avengers films are (they’re actually very good pieces of Hollywood entertainment), but rather just how great Whedon’s work truly is when he is completely within his element.
The best examples of this are all found in his original works, most notably his feature debut, 2005’s Serenity, his 2008 web series Dr. Horrible, and, of course, all his directorial credits on his television show creations (Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, respectively).
While his Marvel efforts are undoubtedly fantastic for his career, longtime Whedon fans can only hope it is a matter of time before he sinks his teeth into something truly great, and completely of his own creation, yet again.
7. Mary Harron
Given the strength and brilliance of Mary Harron’s first two feature film efforts, 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol and 2000’s instant classic, American Psycho, it’s hard to grasp the reality that Mary Harron still, like many of Hollywood’s most talented filmmakers, has to struggle and wait long periods of time for her to work to get produced.
Her directorial efforts since (2005’s The Notorious Bettie Page, 2011’s genre effort The Moth Diaries, and her 2013 television biopic Anna Nicole) have been solid efforts with overall (though highly varying degrees of) successful results that didn’t quite match the greatness of her freshman and sophomore efforts.
Her next feature that is currently in preproduction, a take on the Charles Manson murders written by her frequent collaborator Guinevere Turner, sounds like it could be the return to true form she’s needed, and deserved, for quite some time now.
6. Mark Romanek
It’s a shame that such a competent and stylish powerhouse behind the camera like Mark Romanek has, to date, only delivered two features: 2002’s One Hour Photo and 2010’s Never Let Me Go.
Best-known as being the Stanley Kubrick of the music video world (with classic videos for Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Beck, amongst many others, to his name), Mark Romanek has yet to truly make his mark (pun intended) in the feature film/narrative filmmaking world.
That’s not to say his only two efforts to date (not including his obscure and unobtainable official debut, the 1985 independent feature Static) weren’t subtle, underappreciated masterworks in their own rights.
It’s just that, as those who have been following Romanek’s work for years already know, the perfectionist and slow-moving filmmaker is just getting started and his best, most accomplished work in feature films is undeniably still ahead of him.
5. Steve McQueen
While he has an entire career’s worth (over twenty-five) of short film credits to his name, Steve McQueen; the expert filmmaker behind 2008’s Hunger, 2011’s Shame, and 2013’s Best Picture Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave; has only made three feature films to date.
They’re all masterpieces that take on such wildly different themes and stories (an Irish prison hunger strike, sexual addiction in modern day New York, slavery in America) that it’s hard to remember they were guided by the same hand.
One doesn’t have to look too closely to see that they are all united, however, by an observant, restrained, and minimalistic style that suggests the maturity and expertise of a seasoned veteran of the business, not a director who’s under fifty years of age and has yet to announce what their fourth feature film will be.
4. Allison Burnett
Allison Burnett’s name is not particularly well-known in popular culture just yet. He has worked as a screenwriter (while moonlighting as a novelist) in Hollywood for years, penning everything from romantic schmaltz like the Richard Gere-starring Autumn in New York to the Amanda Seyfried-starring serial killer thriller, Gone.
He has only directed two little-known independent feature films, 1997’s Red Meat and 2014’s Ask Me Anything, neither of which made much of a splash with critics or audiences.
That would be fairly uneventful if both those films weren’t complete (and completely buried) masterpieces and if Burnett, of all the names on this list, wasn’t the only one on it who was truly (though, admittedly, quietly) batting 1000 as a filmmaker.
Burnett’s work is subtle, mature, and intelligent. It requires patience, isn’t peppered with any memorable set pieces, and needs to be taken in as a whole to be truly appreciated and understood.
When his films are given the time and opportunity to do so, they will amaze you and leave their mark as they come together and reveal themselves for what they are in a completely original and expert fashion.
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait until 2031 before we can experience it again with Another Girl, a sort-of sequel to Ask Me Anything (and it’s source novel, Undiscovered Gyrl) that he is currently adapting from his own novel.
3. Tony Kaye
Tony Kaye’s directorial history is a fascinating and battle-torn study that competes with Peckinpah, Gilliam, Welles, and all the other great filmmakers who have (or had) pissed-off Movie Gods hovering over them throughout their careers.
His debut, 1998’s beloved classic American History X, was not his complete vision, as it was taken from him in the editing stages during a battle with New Line Cinema and star Edward Norton that Kaye made very public at the time of the (in his eyes, butchered) film’s release.
Kaye’s decision to fight probably effected his ease in getting future films made, as he seems to have faced an uphill battle in doing so since.
Kaye’s audacious, ultra-creative, seventies New York filmmaking-influenced, and Oliver Stone-meets-Spike Lee-meets-something-completely-alien style of filmmaking has shone in the masterworks he’s been able to complete since: his 2006 documentary on the abortion debate, Lake of Fire, and 2011’s criminally underrated Adrien Brody-starring education drama, Detachment.
Other independent efforts he was reported to have filmed, Black Water Transit and Lobby Lobster, were either never completed or are still lingering works in progress on the perfectionist filmmaker’s slate.
Currently, Kaye is reportedly at work on his independent and long-in-gestation passion project, Stranger Than the Wheel, which we can expect (and hope) will fully showcase his fiery, impassioned style when he’s finally able to finish it… Whenever that will be.
2. Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine’s career is, like many of his films, an unpredictable and beautiful mess. From his start writing Kids for Larry Clark when he was in his late-teens to his grotesquely bent slice-of-life directorial debut, 1997’s Gummo, Korine has repeatedly proven himself to be the modern-day master of artful trash, experimental exploitation, and groundbreaking weirdness.
1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy, 2007’s Mister Lonely, and 2009’s Trash Humpers were all wildly different (and none too entirely successful) explorations of Korine’s artistic impulses and beautifully grotesque style.
However, it wasn’t until his 2013 effort, Spring Breakers, that Korine was able connect with a project that allowed him to completely grow into himself artistically.
That film, with it’s liquid narrative and candy-colored impressionistic photography, showcased a wild and expert artistry that Korine, with all the schizoid experiments in his (sometimes) head-scratching previous efforts, had been reaching towards his entire youthful career.
His long-in-development The Trap has been listed as his next (and sixth) feature directorial effort for quite some time now, but, with no start date currently in sight, he’ll just have to spend a little more time waiting it out amongst all the other names who haven’t directed more than five films on this list.
1. Gaspar Noe
There are many brilliant filmmakers on this list, not to mention several great ones that didn’t quite make the cut. Of all those filmmakers, however, there is not one more wildly courageous, attention-stealing, stark-raving-mad, or truly one-of-a-kind than Gaspar Noe.
Through and through, and just ever-so-slightly more so than anyone else listed here, Noe is a pure filmmaker, dedicated to pushing the boundaries of his chosen medium as far as they, and his audience, will possibly go.
While his name is credited to over a dozen short films, it is his feature work (beginning with his exceedingly shocking 1998 debut, I Stand Alone, and currently concluding with his artful hardcore sex drama, 2015’s Love) that showcases the director’s most accomplished, grandiose, and groundbreaking efforts.
His sophomore feature effort, 2002’s Irreversible, is a masterpiece of narrative experimentation, unpredictable camerawork, indescribable violence, and extreme emotional turmoil.
It is 2009’s Enter the Void, however, that is probably Noe’s most exemplary and definitive masterwork to date. It is a sensory-overloaded experience that, like Noe’s body of work in general, rivals both Kubrick and Malick at their boldest, most lyrical, and transcendentally visionary best.
Author Bio: Matt Hendricks is an independent filmmaker with several projects currently in development.