The 10 Most Underrated American Directors Working Today

We know that, especially in the American film industry, this might be the biggest blockbuster era of all time where studios have the control of large budget productions and never-ending franchises. The rise of the superhero genre allied with fantasy and sci-fi franchises representing a big and profitable deal in the film industry might make some independent films go even more under the radar than it would in other times.

This is not nearly an article that focuses on criticizing blockbusters, but it is important to make sure that diversity exists in the industry – or outside of the industry – so many different creative voices with a diverse variety of approaches are able to bring different themes and stories to the silver screen.

In America today, we have acclaimed auteurs that have all the recognition they deserve. Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher are definitely as acclaimed as they should be, but some brilliant ones do not have the appreciation they should, and 10 of those are the focus of this article.

If you think other American underrated directors should be in this article, please leave their names and some recommendations of their films in the comments section below.

So, here are 10 amazing underrated American directors working today for us to see that there’s way more to American cinema than superheroes in the 21st century.


10. Dan Gilroy

Born on June 24, 1959 in Santa Monica, California, Dan Gilroy is a screenwriter and director mostly known for writing and directing the acclaimed film “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and which was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 87th Academy Awards in 2015.

Before his director debut with “Nightcrawler”, Gilroy had already written movies like “Two for the Money” (directed by D.J. Caruso and starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey) and “The Bourne Legacy” (co-written with his brother Tony Gilroy and also directed by him), but it was with this amazing drama that explores sensationalism in media that Gilroy was brought definitively to the spotlight.

Delivering one of the best dramas of 2014 with “Nightcrawler”, Gilroy really deserves more recognition by major audiences, especially being a co-writer of one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, “Kong: Skull Island”, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Up next, his legal drama starring Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell called “Roman Israel, Esq.” is set to premiere on November 2017. Written and directed by Gilroy, the story follows Roman J. Israel (Washington), an idealistic attorney living a crisis that will turn into a situation full of action.

Movie you should watch:

– Nightcrawler (2014)


9. Harmony Korine

Born in Bolinas, California on January 4, 1973, Harmony Korine was around 20 years old when he met photographer Larry Clark and wrote him the screenplay for the film “Kids”, released in 1995. Praised in part of the critics, the movie follows about 24 hours of the lives of Manhattan teenagers during the AIDS crisis.

From that moment on, Korine directed short films, videoclips, documentaries and a few feature films until his last feature to date, “Spring Breakers” (2012), was released. Although not being a hit with audiences, “Spring Breakers” is considered by the BBC the 74th best movie of the 21st century in their list released in 2016.

Approaching themes like youth and dreams with an acid humor, Korine is definitely an underrated director whose work should be followed closely for his great – and sometimes strange – framings that capture the atmosphere of scenes and characters in a very unique way.

Movies you should watch:

– Gummo (1997)
– Mister Lonely (2007)
– Spring Breakers (2012)


8. Spike Jonze

Born in Rockville, Maryland on October 22, 1969, Spike Jonze started his career in feature films with the acclaimed “Being John Malkovich”, a surreal movie starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and – you guessed it – John Malkovich. This film earned Jonze an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

With a great approach on fantasy and the surreal, Jonze provides a dreamy and surreal environment in films like “Being John Malkovich”, explores the possibilities of narratives in the brilliant “Adaptation.”, and makes a great social comment in a movie like “Her”, always with his characteristic visuals and humour.

Being able to explore deep and dramatic situations and crisis with a humorous touch and always intriguing visuals, Jonze is an amazing director who definitely deserved more recognition from major audiences.

Movies you should watch:

– Being John Malkovich (1999)
– Adaptation (2002)
– Her (2013)


7. Mike Mills

Mike Mills is a film director and screenwriter born on March 20, 1966 in Berkeley, California. Nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay of “20th Century Women”, Mills has an exceptional way of viewing everyday situations and finding the poetry and the bigger questions that hide behind it.

Writing and directing two great dramatic comedies in this decade, Mills has a very particular manner of making ordinary dialogue sound extraordinary, allied with the great acting and mise en scène he has in his films.

Uniting the atmosphere of his films with the great development of his characters is probably the best achievement in Mills’s career. He is a fine writer and director whose work should receive more and more recognition, and whose career you should definitely follow.

Movies you should watch:

– Beginners (2010)
– 20th Century Women (2016)


6. Tom Ford

Tom Ford is a film director, screenwriter, producer and fashion designer born in Austin, Texas on August 27, 1961. Starting his career in fashion, Ford was the creative director of acclaimed brands like Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent before starting his film career.

His directorial debut came in 2009 with the beautiful film “A Single Man”, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, an acclaimed film about mourning and sadness with an amazing performance by Firth that earned him the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival.

In 2016, Ford released his second feature film, “Nocturnal Animals”, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, a powerful drama that explores storylines when an art gallery owner receives the new novel written by her ex-husband.

Deeply exploring the characters in his stories, Ford shows in his films a great imagistic and narrative control, especially when he explores different timelines, which happens in both of his films. Bringing together a great use of sound and the great visual control of his narratives makes him definitely a filmmaker whose career any cinephile should follow.

Movies you should watch:

– A Single Man (2009)
– Nocturnal Animals (2016)