The Ten Best Films Directed by Actor-Directors

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Actors who have also directed have made some truly great films. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of the ten best! 

Despite often being the face of a film, actors are but one cog in a large machine which makes the film possible in the first place. So it is not uncommon for actors to have interests in other parts of making films besides being in front of the camera. As actors gain experience in the industry, it is not surprising to see them branch out into the fields of writing, producing, directing, and even editing. In fact, for many actors, their initial interest in film may not have come from an interest in acting. For many, writing/directing/producing is a way for them to show off their creativity and talents, and make their voice heard in a way that acting cannot. 

While actors becoming writers or producers seems very common, actors becoming directors is less-so. Being a director of a film requires an understanding of many different aspects of production in addition to the actual shooting of film. For this reason, it is very uncommon for younger actors to also be successful directors. It takes time not only for them to gain those skills through their experience of working on films, but it also takes time for studios and production companies to feel comfortable with a person to direct one of their expensive films. 

Sometimes an actor reaches a level of stardom that they command the attention of studios and it is the studio’s best interest to allow them to work on the types of projects which they have interest in – and one way to allow them to do this is to allow them to direct. Sometimes actors want to take a break from being in front of the camera to use their experience to help other actors improve their craft. Still other actors have such skill and insight that they were able to create masterful films as director with their first opportunities in feature film, establishing their careers on a solid foundation. 

This is a list of my picks for the ten best films directed by actor-directors. These films represent their filmmakers in all the phases of their careers I’ve noted above. To be selected for this list, the director has to have been somewhat well known as an actor either before they started making their first film as director, or they were the star of their first film as director (Directors are not required to star in their film). Each actor/director can only appear on this list once, so it reflects what I consider to be their best film. The rankings are based on critical acclaim, but also popularity, and my own opinion of how influential they have been on the industry and pop-culture in general. Let’s begin! 

  1. Rob Reiner – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Rob Reiner made a name for himself in recurring comedic roles on major television programs. In the 80’s he became a very successful movie director. His debut is not only one of the funniest comedies ever made, it is the greatest mocumentary of all time. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, directorial debut

Notable Awards: None

Rotten Tomatoes: 92

Metacritic: 92

IMDB: 7.9

  1. Ida Lupino – The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Ida Lupino was a talented filmmaker who first got into writing, directing, and producing because she got bored on set between takes. She got her first directing experience when the director of one of her films fell ill and she took over. With The Hitch-Hiker, she became the first woman to direct a film noir. The film itself has become better appreciated over time, and stands out today as a unique and important contribution to the legendary genre. Lupino herself was a female filmmaker pioneer, and an important figure in the birth of the independent film movement. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actress, writer, producer, and director

Notable Awards: The Hitch-Hiker

Rotten Tomatoes: 94

Metacritic: N/A

IMDB: 7.0

  1. John Cassavetes – A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Cassavetes was a big television and film star in the 50’s and the 60’s. But his incredible film career didn’t end there. He took the money from his acting jobs and used it to create his own films. He was a big contributor to the independent film movement in the 70’s and 80’s. A Woman Under the Influence represents some of his best work, and earned him a Oscar nomination for Best Director.  

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, writer, producer, and director. 

Notable Awards: Nominated for Oscar for Best Direction, Nominated for Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture

Rotten Tomatoes: 90

Metacritic: 88

IMDB: 8.2

  1. Ben Affleck – Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck was one of the hottest stars of Hollywood when his career began to suffer in the early 2000’s because of some bad film choices. But he didn’t give up. Instead, he honed his talents working behind the camera, and steadily gained notoriety as a filmmaker. His efforts paid off big in 2012 when the film he produced, directed, and starred in won the Oscar for best picture. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, writer, producer, and director. 

Notable Awards: Won Oscar for Best Picture, Won Golden Globe for best Director/Best Motion Picture – Drama

Rotten Tomatoes: 96

Metacritic: 86

IMDB: 7.7

  1. Jordan Peele – Get Out (2017)

I can’t really think of another filmmaker who has come to such critical acclaim in unexpected fashion as much as Jordan Peele has. Peele was a prolific television and movie comedian, actor, and creator. He produced his own television show for a number of years before moving on to film. The satire of Get Out was the perfect opportunity to use his comedic background in a very impactful and meaningful way.  

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, writer, producer, directorial debut

Notable Awards: Won Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Nominated for Best Picture Oscar, Nominated for Golden Globes Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes: 98

Metacritic: 85

IMDB: 7.7

  1. Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood is an icon of the industry. But while he became immensely famous for his starring roles in western and action films through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, I would argue his best work was during the 90’s and 00’s as director. He seemed to move from great film to great film, and this one was his greatest all-around achievement. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, writer, producer, and director. 

Notable Awards: Won Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, Nominated for Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Won Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture

Rotten Tomatoes: 96

Metacritic: 85

IMDB: 8.2

  1. Woody Allen – Annie Hall (1977)

Woody Allen may be a controversial figure these days, but if I am judging the merit of his work by itself, I have to consider his contributions as an actor-director. Annie Hall is regarded as among the best romantic comedies ever made, and is one of several films on this list to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The film’s success owes to the talents of its writer/director/star. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established comedian/actor, writer, and director. 

Notable Awards: Won Oscar for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Nominated for Oscar for Best Actor, Nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor

Rotten Tomatoes: 96

Metacritic: 98

IMDB: 8.0

  1. Charlie Chaplin – City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin had an incredible career as an entertainer and filmmaker. His talent for physical comedy continues to entertain this day. However, City Lights isn’t just about his signature slapstick. This is a film with an emotional and heartfelt story. It remains just as influential today as when it was first released 90 years ago, and is among the best films ever made. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor/comedian, writer, producer, and director. 

Notable Awards: N/A

Rotten Tomatoes: 98

Metacritic: 99

IMDB: 8.5

2. Gene Kelly – Singing In the Rain (1952)

Most of the films on this list are award-winning. This one isn’t, which is a shame. Singing in the Rain is considered one of the best musicals, if not the best, ever made. Gene Kelly added to his talents on screen by becoming a successful director. It is one of those examples of an actor who does something really well and as a director is able to capture that magic because of that knowledge and experience. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established actor, this was his second feature film as director. 

Notable Awards: None! 

Rotten Tomatoes: 100

Metacritic: 99

IMDB: 8.3

  1. Orson Welles – Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is considered to be the best film ever made. I agree with that opinion, but its position at the end of this list isn’t dependent on that fact. Citizen Kane is a groundbreaking and very important film that has stood the test of time. But it’s quality is because of the talent of Orson Wells. He was a formidable entertainer, theater actor, writer, and theater director before he made the jump to Hollywood. His talent was in huge demand in Hollywood, and when he finally decided to make the transition, that potential really paid off. 

Film Career at Time of Release: Established writer, radio and theater actor/director, this was his debut feature film as actor/producer/director. 

Notable Awards: Won Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actor 

Rotten Tomatoes: 100

Metacritic: 100

IMDB: 8.3

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