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All 9 Best Director Oscar Winners From The 1990s Ranked From Worst To Best

17 October 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Rob Williams

It was a decade of differences in that there are only nine entries due one of our chaps winning twice and America doesn’t quite have a stranglehold on producing great directors with only six of the nine being born in the USA. Also this decade has three of the six men best known as actors who went on to win the Best Director Oscar… Didn’t I say that about the 80s? Well, blow me down, it’s happened again.

Despite that the 90s were an eventful time for film. Dogme 95 became an important European artistic movement. The first full-length CGI movie, Pixar’s Toy Story, was released, revolutionising animated films. Titanic became the highest-grossing film of all time, grossing over $1.8 billion worldwide and would hold that record for over a decade until James Cameron had another hit with Avatar. Walt Disney had a renaissance when they returned to making traditionally animated musical family classics such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

So, rather than the films that made the headlines and all the money, here are the ones that won the Best Director Oscar. Having said that, in this decade, four of our films are in the top 25 highest grossing films of the decade. Hope you enjoy the list and remember, this is just an opinion… play nicely!


9. James Cameron – Titanic – 1997

His original college career would lead you to think that this was a chap who’s future was in a science lab rather than an editing suite. Maybe influenced by his engineer father, he started out reading physics at California State University before switching to English, and eventually dropping out.

A series of part time jobs followed until he gave up true driving to enter the cinema industry where, again, he had a series of part time jobs including director, writer, producer, production designer, production assistant, miniature model, and art director.

Cameron had a good run in the 80s & 90s if you discount his two weeks on the 1981 feature film ‘Piranha II: The Spawning’ before getting fired. Ignoring that his run up to ‘Titanic’ would have been ‘The Terminator, ‘Aliens’, ‘The Abyss’, ’Terminator 2’, and ‘True Lies’. So, all in all, some good pop corn fodder there.

Which leads us up to ‘Titanic’. As well as being a badder bursting three and a quarter hours long this film is superlative in so many other ways… but this isn’t the time for that. Cameron had another big hit with ‘Avatar’, but I have a feeling that Avatars 2, 3, 4, & 5 may tell us more about him than about the quality of the film.


8. Anthony Minghella – The English Patient – 1996

Born and raised on the popular holiday island, the Isle of Wight, his parents were Italian immigrants who set up a business making ice cream and a cafe to sell it in. His early education was on the island but he went up to Hull university. He had some success as a keyboard player with a couple of bands to the extent of making an album.

After graduation he stayed on at Hull as a lecturer and was also pursuing a PhD. However he never became Doctor Minghella as he went to work for the BBC. He worked on the scripts for ‘Maybury’, ‘Inspector Morse’, and ‘Grange Hill’. From there he moved to live theatre and won the the London Theatre Critics’ award for best play for ‘Made In Bangkok’.

His feature film debut was the absolutely magnificent ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ in 1990; it came out within six months of ‘Ghost’. Due to the fact that the storylines are, essentially, the same (recovering from the distress of a lover having died) and being so close together it was lost in the wake of the bigger budget effort. Despite that Roger Ebert called it “a ‘Ghost’ for grownups”.

As well as ‘The English Patient’ he also picked up a dozen Oscar nominations for ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ and ‘Cold Mountain’ before being called to the great director’s chair in the sky following a post-operative haemorrhage.


7. Jonathan Demme – Silence Of The Lambs – 1991

Jonathan Demme

Well here’s a new one on me. I’ve seen actors as directors, writers as directors, producers as directors but this is the first film critic as director! He was educated at the University of Florida, where he became a film critic on the college newspaper and came to the attention of the producer Joseph E Levine, who was so impressed that he hired him as a publicity writer.

His directing career started with a mixed bag of TV shows, exploitation films, and music videos. So ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ being so good was a bit of a shocker; notwithstanding the excellent Talking Heads documentary ‘Stop Making Sense’. A couple of years later he was picking up awards nominations for ‘Philadelphia’ and going back to music videos.

He died from the complications of oesophageal cancer in April 2017.


6. Mel Gibson – Braveheart – 1995

Mel Gibson

Mel Colmcille Gerard Gibson, well known Australian… born in the U.S.A. Only moved to Oz when he was twelve years old. So, primary school in New York, secondary and college in Australia.

He studied at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and performed at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts alongside Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush. After college, he had a few stints on stage and starred in a few TV shows. Eventually, he was chosen to star in a low ($350,000) budget action/adventure/sci-fi film called ‘Mad Max’ and that put his face on the map.

Fun Fact… ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky is named after nineteenth century pathologist Carl von Rokitansky, originator of the Rokitansky procedure, the most common method for removal of the internal organs in a post mortem.

As well as the ‘Mad Max’ franchise, Gibson also had another good run with the ‘Lethal Weapon’ series of films. Throw in a few standalones and he found himself quite high up on the ‘A’ list and, almost inevitably, decided to have a go at directing.

His first effort, ‘The Man Without A Face’, had a luke warm reception but his second got him the big prize. His next two were controversial to say the least; both ‘The Passion Of The Christ’ and ‘Apocalypto’ were deemed to be excessively and distractingly violent.

A series of very drunk and very public rants led to him dropping off the red carpet but he has started to be rehabilitated and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ has seen him getting nominations again.



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  • Luke Parker

    love this list! Clint #2!!! Great job

  • giorgio palmas

    I’m with Elaine Benis about The English Patient.

  • AmazingAmy

    Jonathan demme should be top 3…

  • I saw Titanic once in high school with a girlfriend and didn’t care for it, but it belongs higher on the list. The story may be trite, but goddamn that’s some fantastic film making.

    • Ricardo Correia

      What a stupid comment

    • Mortimer

      Jack ! Rose !….Jack ! Rose !….Jack !! Rose !!…Jack !! Rose !!…Jack !!! Rose !!!…Jack !!! Rose !!!

  • Ricardo Correia

    Only Eastwood made a really good film (and from Eastwood that is unsual)
    The rest, apart from American Beauty is mediocre at best

    • Mortimer

      I wouldn’t call The Silence of the Lambs “mediocre at best”.

      • Ricardo Correia

        I would, not a bad film, but one with too many imperfections

        • Dolev Amitai

          I wouldn’t call Schindler mediocre either

          • Ricardo Correia

            I would, a sentimental, badly acted film with no concern about the “whys” and nothing to say about the Holocaust

  • José Manuel Osorio

    Clearly you haven’t seen any of Demme’s movies. Otherwise, you wouldn’t say Silence of the Lambs “being so good was a bit of a shocker”. He was making good movies since the early 80s.

  • Wasteland Wanderer

    Jonathan Demme worse than Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner? What kind of movie buff are you?

  • Zbigniew Klima

    Cameron Was barter Than Minelli

  • jonas

    I’m not going to quibble on the order because i respect everyone has their own opinions. But i got lost in the facts. Jonathan Demme was the first film critic turned director? Wouldn’t the entire French New Wave not existed without film critics turning into directors?

  • Er, Jonathan Demme as the first film critic as director? What about the majority of the French New Wave directors who were critics for Cahiers du cinéma?!