20 Famous Contemporary Directors and Their Favorite Movies

When asked about his favorite movies, Al Pacino momentarily drew a blank. In contrast, when Damien Chazelle was asked the same question, he had a ready answer. Okay, maybe it’s just old age, but the point is, directors are movie junkies from the get-go. Why else would they be directors, right?

Ask Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese and their eyes would light up and tell you what movies they love, or made them want to be a director in the first place. Never trust a director who couldn’t do that. Here, we present 20 directors and their favorite movies—many are bona fide classics, some are curious and obscure (for the avid movie hunter), but all of them are definitely worth checking out.


1. Wes Anderson

His movies are known for their myriad of characters—kooky and quirky, and there seems not to be one legally sane person in Wes Anderson’s world. Then there’s color. Wild and loud palettes, swatches of Pantone swatches in costumes and set decorations. Immaculately beautiful. You’d want to spend your afternoon tea in a Wes Anderson world. His greatest masterstroke, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, is the best picture of 2014… to some.

“Rushmore” (1996), “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004), “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) and “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) are some of Anderson’s finest works. But, do his favorite films influence his métier?

In the movie choices he gave to the Criterion Collection, almost all of them are black and white films: “The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953), “Au hasard Balthazar” (1966), and three Shohei Imamura movies— “Pigs and Battleships” (1961), “The Insect Woman” (1963), and “Intentions of Murder” (1964). Add to the list “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” (1966), “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1965), “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), “Classe tous risques” (“The Big Risk”) (1960), “L’enfance nue” (“Naked Childhood”) (1968), “Mishima” (1985), and “The Exterminating Angel” (1962).

His other favorites as related to Rotten Tomatoes: “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), “Trouble in Paradise” (1932), Toni (1935), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). Anderson on “Rosemary’s Baby”: “One movie that I often find myself going back to is Rosemary’s Baby. This has always been a big influence on me, or a source of ideas; and it’s always been one of my favorites.”


2. Pedro Almodovar

How could he make movies about women so well? Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has built a careful niche of films that reveals the deepest, most unguarded psyche of the female species—his ‘cinema of women’ that broke out with “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988), followed by “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1990) and “Live Flesh” (1997). After “All About My Mother” (1999), Almodovar became a household name. “Talk to Her” (2002), “Volver” (2006) and “The Skin I Live In” (2011) solidified his status, and look, a lot of Spanish actresses now have careers.

Almodovar likes classic movies and it’s quite expected for the following melodramas to be on his list: “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945), “Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1948), “All About Eve” (1950), “Journey to Italy” (1954), “Senso” (1954), and “Splendor in the Grass” (1961).

Some foreign films include: “The Rules of the Game” (1939), “Rashomon” (1950), “Les Doulos” (1962), “8 ½” (1963), “Red Desert” (1964), “Le Cercle Rouge” (1970), and “Amarcord” (1973). Quite the obvious, Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face” (1960) is an inspiration for “The Skin I Live In”. And it wouldn’t be complete without Luis Buñuel, his early inspiration: “El” (1953), “The Criminal Life of Archibaldo Dela Cruz” (1955), and “Viridiana” (1961).

Spicing up this list are Almodovar’s 13 great Spanish films: “Calle Mayor” (1956), “El cebo” (1958), “The Executioner” (1963), “Aunt Tula” (1964), “Strange Voyage” (1964), “Peppermint Frappe” (1967), “Poachers” (1975), “Rapture” (1979), “El sur” (1983), “Jamon, Jamon” (1992), “Thesis” (1996), “Blancanieves” (2012), and “Magical Girl” (2014).

He says of Alejandro Amenábar’s “Thesis”: “Amenábar debuted in style with this skillful thriller about the market for violent images, in this case videos of real murders and torture, or snuff movies. Amenábar concocts an inspired teen horror film, anchored by a solid script, that constantly springs surprises throughout its two hours.”


3. Kathryn Bigelow

In her Oscar acceptance speech, Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win Best Director for “The Hurt Locker” (also 2009’s Best Picture), thanked her fellow nominees whom she said had inspired her. One of them is James Cameron, her former husband of two years, who became famous for the sci-fi action movie “The Terminator” (1984), which happens to be one of Bigelow’s favorite films. “It’s a game changer,” Bigelow said of the movie.

She, herself, is a game-changer when she started making films. Her filmography reads like the resume of an action director: “Near Dark” (1987), “Blue Steel” (1989), “Point Break” (1991), with three exceptional war movies – ”K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002), “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012).

These are movies set in a man’s world in theatres of war. For a woman to direct such films requires more than talent and vision, but also grit and being able to think like a man. It is no wonder that some of Bigelow’s influences come from movies of the type: Sam Peckinpah’s violent “The Wild Bunch” (1969) and Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (1973).

“I saw ‘The Wild Bunch’ on a double bill with ‘Mean Streets’, midnight at the Waverly Place Cinema on Bleecker Street in New York [in the 1970s]. Those two played on a double bill. I was in New York, I had a studio and I was basically a practicing artist, working with various art groups—art and language, kind of conceptual arts, political arts. We were doing environments, we were doing installations, performance pieces… and I stumbled into this incredible double bill. And it was a life-changing experience. I thought they were just extraordinary,” Bigelow told Rotten Tomatoes.

Some of the other movies she cites as influences: “Lawrence of Arabia”, Kurosawa’s “Dersu Uzala”, “Kagemusha” and “Ran”, and all of Hitchcock’s from “The Birds” to “Notorious”, “Psycho” to “Rear Window”.


4. Tim Burton

Underground places, creepy houses, misfits, spooks, shadows, nightmares – the world of Tim Burton is, in cinema, like a secret door with a secret password. In all of his movies, like “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), the director’s signature is all over the place. Gothic, impressionist, quaint, whimsical, magical – it’s a crazy combination and boy, where does he get his inspirations?

Mostly, he gets them from children’s books with dark themes, haunting tales, and urban legends. In movies, when asked about his favorites, Burton’s top of mind are the Japanese monster movie “War of the Gargantuas” (1970) and the Charlton Heston post-apocalyptic movie “The Omega Man” (1971). “The thing I liked about this is that the vampire characters were played by real people,” he said. “They had a really cool look to them – black robes, dark glasses. Not Charlton Heston with his shirt off. I was kind of obsessed by him, because he’s like the greatest bad actor of all time.”

His other favorites are horror films like “Dracula A.D. 1972” and “Horror of Dracula” (1958) with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the original “Wicker Man” (1973) also with Lee; sci-fi like “The Thing from Another World” (1951) and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1959), and films by legendary stop-motion artist Ray Harryhausen like “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (1973) which inspired his own stop-motion animated films.

Amazingly, just out of character, Burton’s go-to movie when he’s having a bad day is the war movie “Where Eagles Dare” (1968). “It’s got Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, which is an odd combination. It’s the snow, the setting, the Nazis…”


5. Damien ChazelleHe’s only 32, he’s an Oscar winner, and he already made two movies that are now being included in every millennial’s ‘favorite films’ list. “Whiplash” (2014) and “La La Land” (2016) are both about music, the latter being a straight-out musical and won the Oscar Best Picture… for just a couple of minutes. Chazelle, the boy wonder with a soft heart for musicals, came out of nowhere into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as part of a new wave of young filmmakers. Okay, so he’s in La La Land.

Let’s slide on to Chazelle’s favorite Los Angeles movies, and mind you, not all of them are musicals: “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “A Star is Born” (1954), “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “The Long Goodbye” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974), “Killer of Sheep” (1977), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Heat” (1995), and “Boogie Nights” (1997). “Pulp Fiction”, in particular, is an inspiration for “La La Land”. Says Chazelle, “…one of the greatest movies ever for how it uses unglamorous L.A. locations and yet somehow completely creates its own unique world.”

“La La Land” was inspired by several movies other than “Pulp Fiction”. For example, the idea of the ending – the big what-if – came from the 1927 movie “7th Heaven”. Overall, “La La Land” is Chazelle’s version, a dream finally coming true, of his favorite movie of all time: Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964). He told CBS: “If I had to send a movie to aliens to kind of, like, describe what cinema is, what this thing called cinema is, I think that’s the movie that doesn’t even make sense on paper in a way because it’s opera but not opera, it’s real but completely fake, it’s happy but heartbreaking. Just doesn’t make sense until you see it as a movie. It’s the most shattering, transporting work of art I’ve seen in any medium.”

His other favorite musicals: “Love Me Tonight” (1932), “The Band Wagon” (1953), “Touki Bouki” (1973), and “Beau Travail” (1999), which Chazelle describes as: “… not really a ‘musical,’ per se, but this movie by Claire Denis contains one of the single greatest dance scenes in the history of cinema.” Count in “Summer Stock” (1950) as well: “This Gene Kelly – Judy Garland two-hander is all kinds of dazzling, but the scene that gets me the most here is the movie’s quietest. Kelly is alone on a stage, and he notices that one of the floorboards creaks. There’s also a stray newspaper that has fallen. The creaky board and the newspaper – that’s all Kelly needs to concoct an absolutely magical movie moment.”


6. Joel and Ethan Coen

They say that the Coen brothers have yet to make a movie that sucks. Consider their films: “Blood Simple” (1984), “Raising Arizona” (1987), “Miller’s Crossing” (1990), “Barton Fink” (1991), “The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994), “Fargo” (1996), “The Big Lebowski” (1998), “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001), “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003), “The Ladykillers” (2004), “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “Burn After Reading” (2008), “A Serious Man” (2009), “True Grit” (2010), “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), and “Hail, Caesar!” (2016) Really, where does ‘suck’ apply here? Okay, you got me at “Hudsucker”. But, hey, it’s got Paul Newman. Maybe, “Hudsucker” and “The Ladykillers”, but, they’d still fall along the area of ‘mixed’ reviews.

The Coens’ favorite movies surely don’t suck. They balance between the classics of old Hollywood and the golden ‘70s: “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), “The Palm Beach Story” (1942), “Detour” (1945), “The Third Man” (1949), “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), “Separate Tables” (1958), “Pillow Talk” (1959), “Psycho” (1960), “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “Repulsion” (1965), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Salesman” (1968), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), “The Long Goodbye” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974), “The Tenant” (1976), and “The Shining” (1980). Some war movies and Westerns are also included: “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), “Hell in the Pacific” (1968), “Where Eagles Dare” (1968), “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968), “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972), and “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976), as well as foreign classics: “Il Bidone” (1955), “Knife in the Water” (1962) and “High and Low” (1963).

They’re also influenced by some not easily recognized or not as popular films: George Cukor’s “The Chapman Report” (1962), the Bob Hope vehicle “A Global Affair” (1964), Robert Downey Sr.’s “Greaser’s Palace” (1972) and “Boeing Boeing” (1965), a screwball comedy with Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis. Whether they suck or not is entirely up to you.