20 Famous Contemporary Directors and Their Favorite Movies

7. Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s turning point in her acting career was when she ended it. Her performance in “The Godfather Part III” (1990) gave her the first of many awards—the Golden Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress. Unperturbed, she shifted to directing and writing, and not only surprised Daddy but the whole world. Her first full-length feature, “The Virgin Suicides” (1999), not only broke even at the box office but critics noticed her talent, and years later with “Lost in Translation” (2003), she became only the third woman to ever be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director – and the Razzie was replaced by an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

She revealed some of her favorite films on Rotten Tomatoes. Of course, one of her father’s works is on it—the  Matt Dillon starrer “Rumble Fish” (1983). “I love that it’s an art film about teenagers. I just love the way that it’s shot – I love those old lenses, those Zeiss lenses. They have a softer feel,” Coppola told RT. No ‘Godfather’? Maybe that’s already a given.

Coppola also appeared in a tiny role in “Rumble Fish”, as she did in several movies. In fact, she had been acting since she was an infant. The child that was being baptized in “The Godfather” (1972)? That was her. She also had teeny weenie roles in “The Godfather Part II” (1974), “The Outsiders” (1983) and “The Cotton Club” (1984).

Her other favorite movies include John Hughes’s’ seminal teen movie “Sixteen Candles” (1984). “That was one of my favorite films when I was growing up, and I’ll still watch it every time it’s on.” She also mentions “Breathless” (1960), “Tootsie” (1982), “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972), “The Last Picture Show” (1971), “Let the Right One In” (2008), and lastly, “Lolita” (1962),  “I love Kubrick. I love the way he put that film together, the way it’s filmed. Just some of the shots he did there, like the reverse shot in the car window with the monster.”


8. Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog has made the ambitious, monumental, dubbed “Wagnerian” epics that looked too big for their budgets. Give him enough money and who knows what he’ll make. His reputation for being a crazy director who would go to extremes in making a movie is evident in his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with actor Klaus Kinski and their collaborations in “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” (1972), “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1979) and “Fitzcarraldo” (1982).

The German-born director is also a proficient documentarian, having made more than 30 of them – more than the number of his feature films – and it has led him to unknown, forgotten places on Earth. And in almost all of them, he was the interviewer and narrator. Thus, the opinionated Herzog was more than eager to name his five favorite films, which he divulged to Rotten Tomatoes.

“It’s just formidable, it’s phenomenal. You’ve gotta see it. It would take me an hour to explain,” said Herzog of the movie “Freaks” (1933), the classic horror film by Tod Browning. He is obviously very fond of F.W. Murnau’s silent horror movie “Nosferatu” (1922), and mentioned another silent movie, D.W.Griffith’s “Intolerance”. Rounding up his top five are Abbas Kiarostami’s “Where is the Friend’s Home?” (1987) and Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950).

On “Rashomon”: “It is probably the only film that I’ve ever seen which has something like a perfect balance, which does not occur in filmmaking very often. You sense it sometimes in great music, but I haven’t experienced it in cinema, and it’s mind boggling. I don’t know how Kurosawa did it. It’s still a mystery to me. That’s greatness.”


9. Jim Jarmusch

With his punk rock image, one would automatically surmise that Jim Jarmusch has a very targeted taste when it comes to his favorite movies. His works already speak loudly about him:  “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984), “Mystery Train” (1989), “Night on Earth” (1991), “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2004), and “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013) are clearly the definition of Jarmusch-esque. He helped propel the independent film scene to new artistic heights; he is Andy Warhol meets Billy Idol. Not surprisingly, the man loves classic movies.

In his top 10 movies for the Sight & Sound poll in 2002, Jarmusch listed “L’Atalante” (1934), “Tokyo Story” (1953), “Bob le Flambeur” (1955), “Sunrise” (1927), “The Cameraman” (1928), “Mouchette” (1967), “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Rome, Open City” (1945), “Broken Blossoms” (1919), and “They Live by Night” (1949), whose director Nicholas Ray has an enduring influence on him. Ray’s advice to him? “If you want to make films, don’t just watch films, get your inspiration from everywhere, because filmmaking has everything in it: music and style and timing and rhythm and acting and writing and photography and color and composition.”

As you may have guessed, Jarmusch’s influences don’t stop there. Consider the following in your hunt for the obscure as Jarmusch recommendations: “Screaming Mimi” (1958), which stars Anita Ekberg; “Cocksucker Blues” (1972), a documentary on the Rolling Stones; “Spider Baby” (1968), a cult horror/black comedy; the serial killer movie “White of the Eye” (1987); and the first movie (as a writer) by Nicholas Meyer, sci-fi-ploitation “Invasion of the Bee Girls” (1973).


10. Spike Lee

A couple of years back, the fervent director of “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Malcolm X” (1992), “Inside Man” (2006) and “Chi-Raq” (2015) assembled a huge list of his 87 Essential Films, which he gave to his graduate film students at NYU and published on the Internet.

It was met with some surprise for its omission of such classics as “Citizen Kane”, “Seven Samurai” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”; and for the inclusion of some ‘odd’ choices such as Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” (2006), Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004), Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” (2009) and Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” (1992).  Moreover, the surprise was for the exclusion of female-directed films.

Lee was quick to revise, with the list upped to 95 films with the addition of eight by female directors, four of which by Lina Wertmuller, the most by any director on the list – more than any by male directors – as Kubrick, Huston, Kurosawa, Fellini and Hitchcock each had three. So it’s worth noting which eight movies were added: Euzhan Palcy’s “Sugar Cane Alley” (1983), Jane Campion’s “The Piano” (1993), Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” (1991), Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” (2008), and Wertmuller’s “The Seduction of Mimi” (1972), “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “Swept Away” (1974) and “Seven Beauties” (1975).

The rest of the list feature your token AFI-inspired American classics, but he sneaked in a few not-your-usual suspects: the Humphrey Bogart gangster movie “Dead End” (1937), Mark Robson’s war movie “Home of the Brave” (1949), John Frankenheimer’s “The Train” (1964), and John Huston’s “Fat City” (1972).

Two foreign language films, “I Am Cuba” (1964) and “Is Paris Burning?” (1966), also made the list. Lee also gave brotherly love with “Boyz in the Hood” (1991) and “Killer of Sheep” (1977), and having both “Mad Max” (1979) and “The Road Warrior” (1981) among his choices shows that Lee is either a fan of Mad Max or of Mel Gibson.


11. David Lynch

When you make a movie like “Eraserhead” (1977), the word ‘legend’ will follow you for the rest of your life. Lynch is not exactly the most active filmmaker (only 10 full-length features in 40 years), which is why that whenever a film of his is completed, spotlights are turned on, trumpets are sounded, and brains are readied to be astonished.

His works have proven to be worthy of the complex mind – “Blue Velvet” (1986), “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” (1992), “Lost Highway” (1997), “Mulholland Dr.” (2001) and “Inland Empire” (2006) make you want to schedule a meeting with a psychologist. Sit back as Lynch talks about his favorite films and why he thinks they’re great.

Fellini’s “8 ½” (1963): “Fellini manages to accomplish with film what mostly abstract painters do – namely, to communicate an emotion without ever saying or showing anything in a direct manner, without ever explaining anything, just by a sort of sheer magic.”

Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950): “He [Wilder] manages to accomplish pretty much the same abstract atmosphere, less by magic than through all sorts of stylistic and technical tricks. The Hollywood he describes in the film probably never existed, but he makes us believe it did, and he immerses us in it, like a dream.”

Tati’s M. Hulot’s “Holiday” (1953): “…for the amazing point of view that Jacques Tati casts at society through it. When you watch his films, you realize how much he knows about, and loved, human nature, and it can only be an inspiration to do the same.”

Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954): “…the brilliant way in which Alfred Hitchcock manages to create, or rather, re-create a whole world within confined parameters. James Stewart never leaves his wheelchair during the film, and yet, through his point of view, we follow a very complex murder scheme. In the film, Hitchcock manages to take something huge and condense it into something really small. And he achieves that through a complete control of filmmaking technique.”


12. Christopher Nolan

His films “Memento” (2000), “The Prestige” (2006) and “Inception” (2010) gained cult status for being brain twisters. Then there’s the Dark Knight trilogy, which separates itself from other Batman movies, considered superior by critics (except for maybe “The Lego Batman Movie”?) Nolan’s themes of reality and identity as paradoxes have given him the reputation of a filmmaker of high intellect – someone who would be begged to join Mensa. They’d probably imagine him in a secret study plotting his next movie with a Tesla coil off to the side. Given these impressions, Nolan’s choices in cinema prove he’s a man of taste.

His top five films that influenced him are as follows: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Blade Runner” (1982), “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), “The Thin Red Line” (1998) and “Superman” (1978). On “The Thin Red Line”, he said to Entertainment Weekly: “I also see a lot of attempts to do what I saw Terrence Malick doing, in terms of the portrayal of mental states and memory. If you watch ‘The Thin Red Line’, that was a revelation to me. He’s cutting to memories and flashbacks with simple cuts; there are no wavy lines or dissolves. There are moments [in “Memento”] where Guy’s character is remembering his wife that were taken very much from that film.”

Some other Nolan favorites: “Greed” (1924), “Woman on the Moon” (1929), “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933), “Mr. Arkadin” (1955), “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), “Solaris” (1972), “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1972), “Badlands” (1973), “Chinatown” (1974), “Star Wars” (1977), “Days of Heaven” (1978), “Alien” (1979), “Bad Timing” (1980), “The Shining” (1980), “Koyaanisqatsi” (1982), “Street of Crocodiles” (1986), “The Hitcher” (1986), “Akira” (1988), “The Comb” (1991), “The Usual Suspects” (1995), “Frequency” (2000), “In Absentia” (2000), “Voices of a Distant Star” (2003), “Paprika” (2006), “The Tree of Life” (2011) and “Whiplash” (2014).


13. Park Chan-Wook

One word: “Oldboy” (2003). Park Chan-Wook’s ultra-violent thriller with a twist has put South Korean cinema on the map. It is hard to remember South Korean cinema before “Oldboy”, the second of his ‘Vengeance’ trilogy that includes “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002) and “Lady Vengeance” (2005).

Since “Oldboy”, there was a deluge of quality South Korean movies from the likes Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-won and Lee C-dong, but with Park’s recent output – the absolutely stunning “The Handmaiden” (2016) – reminds everyone that he’s still the king, or at least cinema auteur supreme. Now, Park has already made his big Hollywood debut with the well-received thriller “Stoker” (2013) and the now sci-fi cult film “Snowpiercer” (2013), the latter of which he produced.

As for “The Handmaiden”, Park cites five films that influenced the movie: Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958), Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” (1973), Polanski’s “Tess” (1979), Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45” (1981), and Atom Egoyan’s “Remember” (2015). He says of “Don’t Look Now”: “The best for me is Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’, especially for the sequence where there is a fragmented sex scene between a man and his wife [Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie], interweaved with an intricate series of flash-forwards.” Among the five, Park says it was “Vertigo” that made him want to make movies.

Other than Hitchcock, Park, in particular, admires two Japanese directors. The first: Yasuzo Masumura, with “Blind Beast” (1969), “Giants and Toys” (1958), “Red Angel” (1966), “Manji” (1964), and “Kisses” (1957). The second: Mikio Naruse, with “Every Night Dreams” (1933), “Wife! Be Like a Rose!” (1935), “Late Chrysanthemums” (1954), “Floating Clouds” (1955), “Sudden Rain” (1956), “Flowing” (1956) and “When a Woman Ascends the Stairs” (1960).