By: Skylar Brown, Contributing Writer (‘25)

Many statements pertaining to the film industry are subjective, though one truth remains. A film owes its existence to its director. They are the brains behind the operation, working from the shadows to draw artistic potential and narrative together in the medium, making their role the most pivotal of them all. So, with that said, what makes a “great director” so great? What sets them out from the rest? Simply put, there is no explicit criterion when it comes to weighing directors’ worth. It is, once again, entirely subjective.

Deeming a filmmaker the “greatest” is entirely dependent on the subcategories of the films they produce. One man may be the greatest of his time when dealing in horror movies, but may have no artistic talent whatsoever when it comes to romance; the same could be said the other way around, meaning there is no true answer. Thereby, the notion behind this stated list is not to name the greatest filmmakers of all time, but to bring light to those who have influenced cinema throughout time. They have expanded the limitations of cinematography, and while they may not be the most superlative in the industry, they have revolutionized motion pictures through craftsmanship and aberrant perception. From Charlie Chaplin to Francis Ford Coppola, the following delves into four of the most influential cinematic directors in history.

  1. Charlie Chaplin

From Charlie Chaplin’s first emergence into the spotlight in 1914, the word genius has been applied to his works. Haven wrote and directed all his works— including composing the musical scores— Chaplin was an adroit filmmaker. He ventured to craft comedies with sorrowful endings, a feat that was unheard of in his time. Chaplin’s 1921, The Kid, was not the first film to intertwine comedy and poignancy, though it was deemed the most skillful and significant of all those that had ever been created. He later proceeded to satirize Adolf Hitler, yielding the biggest box office hit of his career, becoming the second highest grossing movie after Jack Conway’s Boom Town.

  1. Alice Guy-Blaché

One of the most inspiring directors in the entirety of cinema, Alice Guy-Blaché was not only the first person to utilize film to create narrative fiction, but the first female director altogether. Starting as a secretary for Léon Gaumont, she was later promoted to be the head of film production at his company. While not entirely agreed upon, Guy-Blaché may very well have invented the music video as well. All in all, The New York Times believes her to have produced around 1,000 films throughout her career.

  1. Stanley Kubrick

With only thirteen feature films up his sleeve after nearly half a century long career, Stanley Kubrick spent years executing his works meticulously. Each of his works, whether they be Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, or The Shining, prioritized quality and elicited a strong reaction from all their viewers. Kubrick’s fascination with cameras and backgrounds made his compositions and overall technique unrivaled. Most of his works were adaptations of books, developing an understanding of literature into visuals. As Steven Spielberg so accurately proclaimed, “[He] was one of the most audacious filmmakers in history […] Every single picture is a different genre, a different period, a different story, a different risk. The only thing that bonded all of his films was the incredible virtuoso that he was with craft.”

  1. Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola, the man behind the Godfather trilogy has irrevocably left his mark on Hollywood, but it is not only his movies themselves that revolutionized the film industry, but something else entirely. Boosting his career to an unimaginable extent, The Godfather reshaped the gangster-genre, as it was the highest grossing movie of 1972 and retained that title for years to follow. It had been the first movie to ever earn $1,000,000 a day, the medium attaining an aggregation of 136.9 Million in box office sales. With the immeasurable win under his belt, Coppola opened the San Franciscan production company, American Zoetrope. Through the company, half a dozen of the biggest hit movies of the 20th century were produced, such as Apocalypse Now and The Outsiders. His works shifted Hollywood’s attention to “event films,” dragging them away from musical productions such as The Sound of Music. It could be claimed that without Coppola’s The Godfather, there would be no Jaws, no Taxi Driver, and no Star Wars.

When taking into consideration the lasting influence of a director on the ensuing generations, one must acknowledge the era at which these filmmakers worked, and the contentions they had to withstand. While there are numerous other directors, equally as worthy of acknowledgment as those stated prior, they have indisputably played their part in shaping Hollywood into how it is today.