20 Famous Contemporary Directors and Their Favorite Movies

14. Martin Scorsese

The great Martin Scorsese makes a living out of killing people in his violent masterpieces like “Mean Streets” (1973), “Goodfellas” (1990), “Casino” (1995), “Gangs of New York” (2002), and “The Departed” (2006). When he’s not burying bodies in shallow graves and in deserts, Marty is listing his favorite films – and there are loads of them. The loquacious director is one who is more than eager to sit down and talk film. He shares his Sight & Sound top 12, 39 Essential Foreign Films, and his 85 Films Every Aspiring Filmmaker Needs to See.

First, the top 12: “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “8 ½” (1963), “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958), “Citizen Kane” (1941), “The Leopard” (1968), “Paisan” (1946), “The Red Shoes” (1948), “The River” (1951), “Salvatore Giuliano” (1962), “The Searchers” (1956), “Ugetsu Monogatari” (1953) and “Vertigo” (1958). On “Kane”, Scorsese says, “Orson Welles was a force of nature, who just came in and wiped the slate clean. And ‘Citizen Kane’ is the greatest risk-taking of all time in film. I don’t think anything had even seen anything quite like it.”

The 39 foreign films include the usual top tiered classics “Grand Illusion” (1937), “Children of Paradise” (1945), “Ikiru” (1952), “Tokyo Story” (1953), “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Bicycle Thieves” (1948), among others. Some not readily known are Dino Risi’s “Il Sorpasso” (1962); Nagisa Oshima’s “Death By Hanging” (1968), RW Fassbinder’s “The Merchant of Four Seasons” (1972) and Wim Wenders’ “Kings of the Road” (1976).

The 85 films also feature ubiquitous movies like “The Third Man” (1949), “Touch of Evil” (1958), “The Godfather” (1972), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), and some quaint choices: George Melies “The Infernal Cakewalk” (1902), Byron Haskin’s “I Walk Alone” (1948), John Boulting’s “The Magic Box” (1951), Samuel Fuller’s “Forty Guns” (1957), and Roberto Rossellini’s “The Rise of Louis XIV” (1966).


15. M. Night Shyamalan

You didn’t see this one coming. M. Night Shyamalan is known for his twist endings in movies like “Signs” (2002), “The Village” (2004), “Lady in the Water” (2006), “The Happening” (2008), “The Visit” (2015), “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2017), and of course, the father of all Shyamalan surprise endings, “The Sixth Sense” (1999) (Bruce Willis is a ghost!)

Unfortunately, Shyamalan is also known to not deliver the goods from time to time. “The Happening” and “Lady in the Water” were panned by critics. Add his other failures: “After Earth” (2013) and the whitewashed “The Last Airbender” (2010). Still, the question remains regarding where he came up with his twists.

The answer is not in his choice of favorite movies, which has nothing to do with surprise endings. No need for spoiler alerts here, Shyamalan’s favorite movie is “The Godfather” (1972). Says Shyamalan, “…the best crafted movie of all time is ‘The Godfather’. It was the perfect confluence of the source material being so intimate and true, and having within its DNA, it just so happens, is an incredible plot in the most organic matter.”

The other four movies that make up his top five (as told to Rotten Tomatoes) are: “Jaws” (1975) – “[Spielberg] is in my opinion, the greatest craftsman storyteller the cinema has ever seen and with a vehicle that had literally the perfect balance.”; “The Exorcist” (1973) – “The plot is this incredible kind of twisty thing, and then he ends up sacrificing himself. It’s awesome.”; “Being There” (1979) – “It’s so incredible. This has one of my favorite endings to a movie, just incredible.”; and “Rebecca” (1940) – “It was epic and haunting, and it was just its own perfect little gem that will never be recreated.”


16. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s favorite movie is, hands down, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962). He speaks about the movie every time he has the chance. “‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was the film that, you know, set me on my journey. I look at that picture as a major miracle.” He was just 13 years old the first time he saw the movie in his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz. “I wasn’t able to digest it in one sitting. I actually walked out of the theatre stunned and speechless.” Lean’s influence could be seen in many of Spielberg’s movies, notably in the visual storytelling.

During the restoration of the film in 1988, Spielberg was there to announce it. It was a multi-million dollar undertaking with the subsequent re-release. He became friends with Lean and they nearly worked together in a film version of Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo” in 1991, but had a bit of a falling out involving script changes.

Spielberg withdrew as producer of the film so as to not aggravate their relationship. Eventually, Lean became too sick to direct and the plug was pulled when the movie was close to shooting. Lean died in the same year, and Spielberg never stopped championing the movie and its director.

The other movies on Spielberg’s list are: “Citizen Kane” (1941), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “Day for Night” (1973), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), “The Searchers” (1956), “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Captains Courageous” (1937), “A Guy Named Joe” (1943), “Playtime” (1967), “Fantasia” (1940), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), “The French Connection” (1971), “Tootsie” (1982), “The Godfather” (1972), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), and the original “War of the Worlds” (1953).


17. Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t shut up about movies. You’d imagine the overzealous geeky video store clerk recommending movies such as “The Five Fingers of Death” (1973), “Black Sabbath” (1963), “The Return of Ringo” (1965) and “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965).

The director of “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), “Kill Bill Vol. 1” (2003) and “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) is a homage junkie, a genius revisionist, a sensei of cinema art, and a master scribe with two Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in both holsters. We all know a Best Director award is just within range. Include two Best Supporting Actor Oscars for Christoph Waltz for characters he created, and the Austrian actor should be paying his tributes every year.

A lover of noir, French New Wave, classic westerns, and Abbott and Costello, listing all of Tarantino’s favorite and/or recommended films would take forever. Among the familiars: “Rio Bravo” (1959), “His Girl Friday” (1940), “The Great Escape” (1963), “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Carrie” (1976) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966).

He has a special affinity for the action movie “Rolling Thunder” (1977); enjoys Unbreakable (2000)  and “They All Laughed” (1981); he considers as the best “hang-out” movie “Dazed and Confused” (1993); says “Police Story 3: Supercop” (1992) has “the greatest stunts ever filmed in any movie ever.” Add to the list Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” (2000) which he admits: “If there is any movie that has been made since I have been making movies that I wish I had made, is that one.”

Some nitpicking on his love for Blaxploitation: “Coffy” (1973), “Detroit 9000” (1973), “The Mack” (1973); “Sexploitation: The Big Doll House” (1971), “Women in Cages” (1971), “Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41” (1972), “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” (1973), “The Girl from Starship Venus” (1975); Spaghetti Westerns: “Day of Anger” (1967), “The Dirty Outlaws” (1967), “Django, Prepare a Coffin” (1968), “If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death” (1968), “The Five Man Army” (1969); Kung fu / martial arts movies: “Golden Swallow” (1968), “The Chinese Boxer” (1970), “Duel of the Iron Fist” (1971), “Chinese Hercules” (1973), “Master of the Flying Guillotine” (1976), “The Street Fighter” (1972), “Sister Street Fighter” (1974); “Giallo: So Sweet…So Perverse” (1969), “Orgasmo” (1969), “Slaughter Hotel” (1971), “Knife of Ice” (1972), “Torso” (1973) and “The Psychic” (1977).


18. Lars von Trier

No director is more controversial than the Danish arthouse provocateur Lars von Trier. With films like “Breaking the Waves” (1996), “Dancer in the Dark” (2000), “Dogville” (2003), “Antichrist” (2009), and “Melancholia (2011) – all awards competitors – he is as well admired as he is hated for pushing his beliefs past conventional norms.

He has a sordid love affair with Cannes, but they still consider him a “friend,” and he is quite often met with boos whenever he makes an appearance – but that’s personal. His works stand on their own merits, though he did proclaim himself to be “the greatest director in the world.” Half-jokingly, we assume. Or maybe not?

His “Five Obstructions” is a filmmaking challenge that is yet to be fully tested, and he nearly talked Scorsese into remaking “Taxi Driver”, but luckily his favorite films don’t fall under these conditions, or else there would be few to list. Aside from Scorsese, von Trier admires Stanley Kubrick (“Barry Lyndon”, 1975), Andrei Tarkovsky (“The Mirror”, 1974), Pier Paolo Pasolini (“The Canterbury Tales”; 1972, “Arabian Nights”, 1974) and especially Ingmar Bergman (“Smiles of a Summer Night”, 1955; “Wild Strawberries”, 1957; “Through a Glass Darkly”, 1961). Jorgen Leth, the Danish director to which von Trier subjected with the “Five Obstructions”, is also on his list with “The Perfect Human” (1967) and “Good and Evil” (1975).

Though, if there’s one film that’s probably closest to his heart, it would be Liliana Cavani’s “The Night Porter” (1974). He recalls his meeting with the director, once upon a time in Paris, when von Trier heard news that she was staying in a nearby hotel: “I ran to the flower market – in bare feet I remember. I took all the wild lilies I could get and ran to her door. She opened it and was extremely angry and lesbian. I said, ‘Thank you for The Night Porter.’ She took the flowers away from me, slammed the door and said, ‘That commercial crap!’”


19. Ben Wheatley

Ben Wheatley doesn’t scare easily. The director of cult horror films “Kill List” (2011), “Sightseers” (2012), “A Field in England” (2013) and “High-Rise” (2015) remembers not being initially scared with Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”:=. “…It was built up as being the most terrifying movie ever, and when it’s up against ‘Videodrome’ you kinda just go ‘Ahhhh, well, it’s not as scary.’ But over time I came to terms with it, and watched it again and again. I had to grow up a bit and realize how absolutely brilliant it was…”

Wheatley sat with Rotten Tomatoes and gave his five favorite films (“The Shining” included): “Blade Runner” (1982), “Seven Samurai” (1954), Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990), “Casino” (1995), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2014) (triple tie), and “Come and See” (1985). He said of Elem Klimov’s harrowing war movie: “I’ve only ever seen it once [“Come and See”], and I don’t know if I ever want to see it again, but it is an incredibly, profoundly affecting and terrifying experience. I just thought it was amazing. I saw it maybe two years ago, and it’s just stayed with me so much. It was a film I had and I was scared of watching.”

The director’s other favorite movies are not exclusive to horror. He’s a fan of Godard’s “Breathless” (1960), “Alphaville” (1965), “Weekend” (1967), and “La Chinoise” (1968); Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979), “Thelma & Louise” (1991), and “Black Hawk Down” (2001); and Nicolas Roeg’s “Performance” (1970), “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), and “Bad Timing” (1980).

Other 70’s films include: “The Devils” (1971), “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), “The Phantom of Liberty” (1974), “Straight Time” (1978), and “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” (1978). He is particularly inspired with John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982): “Carpenter’s almost like Melville liquidised into Hawks and Hitchcock. And the thing for me is it’s just a perfectly constructed sci-fi movie, and it’s down to the Rob Bottin special effects, the likes of which will probably never be seen again because he spent so much time doing them. It just wouldn’t be feasible to do.”


20. Edgar Wright

Talk about out-listing everybody else. Edgar Wright, the 43-year old director known for his “Cornetto” trilogy of comedies “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), “Hot Fuzz” (2007) and “The World’s End” (2013) with stalwarts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and of the comic-book movie “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), has achieved the impossible by listing a mammoth 1,000 of his favorite movies (okay, so he wasn’t bloody busy at the time).

Wright is basically (at the moment) a ‘dark’ comedy and comic book director, having also written the screenplay for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” (2015). But, the cinephile that he is, his taste in cinema (there, I used it) just about covers everything. His 1,000 movies list includes all the essential classics from silent to early talkies to the golden age, the 70s and what have you, the A-Z of movies found in your usual “100 greatest movies list” and absolutely across all genres.

Let’s just go over those that aren’t in the usual discussions: James Whale’s “The Old Dark House” (1932), the musicals “Dames” (1934) and “Dance, Girl, Dance” (1940), noir films “Criss Cross” (1949), “The Prowler” (1951), “The Big Combo” (1955) and “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959), the Gene Kelly musical “It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955), alien atomic-age sci-fi “The Quatermass Xperiment” (1955) and “The Monolith Monsters” (1957), Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace” (1964), “Kill, Baby Kill” (1966), “Danger: Diabolik” (1968), “Hatchet for the Afternoon” (1970), and “A Bay of Blood” (1971), British films “Privilege” (1967), “Robbery” (1967) and “The Bed Sitting Room” (1969).

Thriller/Horror movies include “Twisted Nerve” (1968), “Witchfinder General” (1968), “The House That Screamed” (1969), “Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?” (1969), “Daughters of Darkness” (1971), “Wake in Fright” (1971), “The Asphyx” (1972), “Messiah of Evil” (1973) and “Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976).

Wright also lists the Fellini, Malle, and Vadim three-movies-in-one “Spirits of the Dead” (1968), Alan Arkin’s directorial debut “Little Murders” (1971), and other cult movies like the Burt Lancaster vehicle “The Swimmer” (1968), “Wild in the Streets” (1968), “Electra Glide in Blue” (1973), “The Vanishing” (1988), “Dead Alive” (1992), “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995), “Cube” (1997), “Gummo” (1997), “Ghost Dog” (1999) and “Brick” (2005). Some of his favorite films of the 2010s include: “Four Lions” (2010), “The Arbor” (2010), “Bernie” (2011), “Beyond the Black Rainbow” (2011), “Miss Bala” (2011), “Ida” (2013), “A Pigeon Sat On a Branch Reflecting On Existence” (2014), “Cop Car” (2015) and “Raw” (2016).

Author Bio: Geonard Yleana is a writer, illustrator and publishes independent comic books. His taste in cinema expands worldwide and across all genres and timelines.