Important Classic and contemporary European Filmmakers

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Only European Directors who born and/or based most of their lives in Europe. Not ranked in any particular order. You may like their films or not but their ouvreurs/films have shaped and defined the history and progress of cinema landscape as we know it.

Not included in this list are legendary directors who moved lately to Hollywood like Hitchcock, Joe May, Ernst Lubitsch, Chaplin, Von Stroheim, Victor Sjöström, Murnau, Sergio Leone, Fritz Lang, Von Sternberg, Mike Nichols, Michael Curtiz, Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone, Elia Kazan, William Wyler, Milos Forman, Fred Zinnemann, Otto Preminger, Jean Renoir, Ivan Passer, Siegmund Lubin...

My other lists:

1. Important Classic and contemporary Asian Filmmakers

2. Important Classic and contemporary Hollywood Filmmakers

3. Important Classic and contemporary South/Middle America Filmmakers

4. Documentaries

5. Animated Short Films

6. Vietnamese Films

1. Lars von Trier 

Probably the most ambitious and visually distinctive filmmaker to emerge from Denmark since the great master Carl Theodor Dreyer over 60 years earlier.

2. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

With only several features, the Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan has become one of the most respected names in the european cinema scene, a contemporary master with an attentive, concentrated, slow-burn style all his own.

3. Jean-Luc Godard

A pioneer of the French new wave, Jean-Luc Godard has had an incalculable effect on modern cinema that refuses to wane. He was and always will be our greatest lyricist on historical trauma, religion, and the legacy of cinema.

4. Michael Haneke

Austrian film director and screenwriter, Michael Haneke is one of Europe’s most prominent and controversial auteurs working today. Common themes in Haneke’s dystopian works include discontentment and estrangement experienced by individuals in modern society – namely the European bourgeoisie, the personal suffering and increased disconnection experienced by humankind and the inherent cruelty and violence lying under the surface of modernity. His films are provocative and complex challenges to his audience and rely heavily on his interest in psychology, philosophy, spectatorship, semiotics and violence in the media.

5. Krzysztof Kieslowski

A Polish filmmaker of unparalleled merit whose simple stories deal with difficult, fundamental and universal questions about complex human feelings and their struggling to reconcile daily life with its cultural myths — be they Communist propaganda, Biblical proverbs, or French revolutionary slogans.

6. Theodoros Angelopoulos

Greek film director with a magisterial, dreamy, atmospheric and enigmatic style, whose films explored the human condition in general and the condition of modern Greece in particular through haunting imagery rooted in myth and epic.

7. Michelangelo Antonioni

Italian filmmaker Antonioni "redefined the concept of narrative cinema" and challenged traditional approaches to storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large. His films are aesthetically complex – critically stimulating though elusive in meaning. With him, Fellini, Bergman, and Resnais, European art-house cinema was brought to a new height.

8. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Despite what the film critics say, Jeunet has been a great infulence to filmmaking in France and around the world with unique style, quirky sense or humor and fantastic cinematography. His films present the perfection - every object, every movement, every facial expression in every scene has a meaning. Emotions are portrayed in a delicate way which makes the audiences sink in, watching the hilarious story unfold.

9. Ingmar Bergman

One of the reasons one immediately recognises a Bergman film is that he is one of those rare filmmakers who has created his own cinematic world. He himself was hailed by many other legendary filmmakers as the greatest film director of the 20th century.

10. Pedro Almodóvar

As Spain's most famous film director, he's also one of cinema's most visionary directors, and his films have shaped the way we see his country. What is it about him that resonates so profoundly with spectators worldwide? His signature, colorful visual style, his keen awareness of and sensitivity to the issues of women, his audacity when portraying a large cross-section of sexuality in new, thrilling ways...

11. Wim Wenders

Wenders will always stay remain as one of my supreme hero of cinematic world, one of the most noted contemporary auteurs, the driving force behind the "Neuer Deutsche Film". His characters are isolated and emotionally stunted - but when they take to the road, change becomes inevitable. Every single frame were superbly photographed, leisurely odysseys reach metaphysical dimensions, and ipso facto, exposing heartbreaking sadness-induced raw emotion.

12. Werner Herzog

The ultimate man with a life truly stranger than fiction. The German Legacy. He lets nothing get in the way of his passion because in the journey to perfection there is no place for hidden agendas or half-ass mediocrity. Everything has to be burned and fired away. Not only his films are masterpiece, Herzog seems to deliberately make himself hard to pin down, acquiring himself a legendary, almost mythological status in the process.

13. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a rebel whose life, a rampant drug addict; a wild, self-destructive libertinage but his films are so pure and demonstrate his deep sensitivity to social misfits and his hatred of institutionalized violence. One of the most innovative practitioner of New German Cinema, worked in fourteen years and made forty-four films!

14. Alain Resnais

The cinema pioneer and leader of La Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), who directed such great masterpieces like "Hiroshima Mon Amour", “Last Year at Marienbad".... I don't have much to say because his name says it all!

15. Jean-Pierre Dardenne 

So much of modern cinema is built on visual flourishes and technological gimmicks that it’s easy to forget that the most enthralling special effect of all is the sight of characters moving through space, their body language, facial expressions and mundane actions telling you what they believe and feel. The Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne believe this, and they’ve created a distinctive aesthetic around their conviction. The characters hardly speak but rather let their camera says it all.

16. Fatih Akin

The young director Fatih Akin, born in Germany to Turkish parents became one of the most influential European directors at the moment. Akin consistently casts his probing gaze on the competing forces of these two distinct, but intersect- ing worlds (Germany/Turkey), revealing their resistances and collisions as well with a rich body of works, as their affinities.

17. Gaspar Noé 

His films punch you in the face, and they demand a strong stomach. But they are so damn delicious. Like a delicatessen we haven't had before. His three features: I Stand Alone, Irréversible, and Enter The Void are the most prolonged, extravagant experiments we haven't seen in a while, daring us to stay put in the seats. But it worths every single minute of them.

18. Nikita Mikhalkov 

Nikita Mikhalkov, the world’s most famous living Russian director, turns 70 on Oct. 21. He has been nominated for the Oscar three times for Best Foreign Film and in 1995 received the award for the film “Burnt by the Sun,” a drama set in the Stalinist era that is often compared to Victor Fleming's 1939 classic “Gone with the Wind.”

19. Cristian Mungiu

Cristian Mungiu, director of the masterful 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. At 44, Mungiu rides the crest of the Romanian New Wave with a modern root from Czech and New German Cinema Wave. He said, "I aim to tell a story about important values by allowing the story to express itself and not impose my own interpretation. My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people."

20. Roy Andersson

Roy Andersson just might be one of the most interesting oddballs in the world of film. He demands we pay attention; he refuses to manipulate us with close-ups. And his filmic philosophy is also expressed through lighting. "I want to have light without mercy," he says. "There are no shadows to hide in. You are illuminated all the time. It makes you naked, the human beings — naked."

21. Andrei Tarkovsky

I remember watching my first Tarkovsky's film: "Mirror", a beautiful but complex film. French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard on "Our Paradoxical Experience of Time": If our heart were large enough to love life in all its detail, we would see that every instant is at once a giver and a plunderer. No human invention has rendered this paradox more pliant than the cinema. That’s what the master Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky examined in the the raw material of his art.

22. Thomas Vinterberg

In 1995, a group of Danish film directors, including Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier celebrated the 100th anniversary of cinema with something as anachronistic as signing a manifesto, DOGMA 95. With a mixture of solemnity and irony, they pledged to rescue film from the decadence of individualism and illusion by means of ten rules laid down as a Vow of Chastity. Aimed at undressing film, the rules ban any use of unnecessary ornamentation - and as a result, his films are naked and raw and authentic, in both form and content.

23. Giuseppe Tornatore

There is nothing more italian and sicilian than Tornatore's films. His films touch the soul of Sicily, transcending the ordinary, the conventional, the stereotypical - where he was born and raised.

24. Béla Tarr

When it comes to auteurs who look as if they could be characters in their own movies, the sixty-something-year-old Bela Tarr has to be near the top of the list.  The Hungarian director is considered one of the most important filmmakers of his generation. With Sátántangó and The Turin Horse, he has coined a new concept of cinema thanks to a deeply personal design language.

25. Zoltán Fábri

One of the most important directors of the 20th century, a key figure in the development of Hungarian New Cinema. Many of his films are the finest chamber pieces of Hungarian cinema such as: The Fifth Seal, The Unfinished Sentence, Aunts’ Nest, Balint Fabian Meets God, Hungarians, Professor Hannibal...

26. Aki Kaurismäki

Made over 20 films since 1980 including the most beautiful author films of recent years, the ingenuity of Kaurismäki's work lies in its simplicity and quotes Italian neorealism as well as the early films of the French „Nouvelle Vague“. Between Finnish tangos and punk music from his house band „Leningrad Cowboys“ with their characteristic hairstyles, Kaurismäki invented a cinema between cult and poetic realism.

27. Emir Kusturica

Known for methodical work and long postproduction periods, Kusturica directed only two feature films in two decades 2000s and 2010s. Still,born in Sarajevo in 1955, he is the most important director of the former Yugoslavia who was one of the most-distinguished European filmmakers since the mid-1980s, best known for surreal and naturalistic movies that express deep sympathies for people from the margins.

28. Jacques Audiard

Jacques Audiard has always been an outlier in a French film industry that is starkly bifurcated between high and low. Outside the omnipresent influence of Hollywood, there are commercially successful domestic genre films, often comedies so unsalable abroad it is as if they don’t even exist — and less expensive auteur films that an international fraternity of movie buffs and critics do like. Much of the latter would be economically impossible in the absence of significant state subsidies. But Audiard has managed to find a third way, something similar to what Martin Scorsese or the Coen brothers did — that is, distinctive and thought-provoking, plot-driven pictures that play for large audiences at home and be able to penetrate foreign markets.

29. Federico Fellini

One of the greatest directors in international film history, the Italian Federico Fellini created a unique, unmistakable and imaginative oeuvre that uses the term “fellinesque” for grotesque characters in circus-like environments, big-breasted and voluminous women, rich dream worlds and fantasy-like ones Introduced picture sheets with bizarre-strange situations into the language.

30. Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau is with 20 in the spotlight, next to Apollinaire, Picasso, Eric Satie. He is a poet and painter, musician, choreographer and actor. He writes novels and poems, works on ballets, paints and makes films.
"I'm not making a film," he said, "I'm writing in pictures". A film is created under Cocteau's hands, fine, delicate, always moving & flowing like a poem, a play, an image. Donors interested in art enable him to see the film as art and not as moneymaker.

31. Roman Polanski

32. Sergei M. Eisenstein

33. Bernardo Bertolucci

34. David Lean

35. Luis Buñuel

36. Tom Tykwer

37. Luc Besson

38. Lina Wertmüller

39. Jean Renoir

40. Jean-Pierre Melville

41. Mike Leigh

42. François Truffaut

43. Dario Argento

44. Roberto Rossellini

45. Vittorio De Sica

46. Terry Gilliam

47. Carl Theodor Dreyer

48. Richard Attenborough

49. Jan Svankmajer

50. Andrzej Wajda

51. Guy Ritchie

52. Leni Riefenstahl

53. Jacques Rivette

54. Robert Wiene

55. Volker Schlöndorff

56. Margarethe von Trotta

57. Peter Greenaway

58. Edgar Reitz

59. Terry Jones

60. Luchino Visconti

61. Sergei Parajanov

62. François Girard

63. Andrey Zvyagintsev

64. Jacques Demy

65. Jean Vigo

66. Albert Lamorisse

67. Lasse Hallström

68. Carol Reed

69. Claude Sautet

70. Éric Rohmer

71. Chris Marker

72. Claude Chabrol

73. Henri-Georges Clouzot

74. René Clément

75. Marcel Carné

76. Georges Méliès

77. Claude Berri

78. István Szabó

79. Gillo Pontecorvo

80. Pier Paolo Pasolini

81. Paolo Taviani

82. Dino Risi

83. Otto Preminger

84. Patrice Leconte

85. Radu Mihaileanu

86. Dziga Vertov

87. Alain Corneau

88. Christophe Barratier 

89. Bertrand Tavernier

90. Helmut Käutner

91. Douglas Sirk

92. Mikhail Kalatozov

93. Jacques Becker

94. Marcel Camus

95. Sergey Bondarchuk

96. Lindsay Anderson

97. Anthony Harvey

98. Costa-Gavras

99. Francesco Rosi

100. Víctor Erice

101. Carlos Saura

102. Alan Parker

103. Uli Edel

104. Luc Dardenne

105. Danis Tanovic

106. Jean-Jacques Annaud

107. Stephen Frears

108. John Boorman

109. Frank Beyer

110. Agnès Varda

111. Milcho Manchevski

112. Pawel Pawlikowski

113. Miklós Jancsó

114. Max Ophüls

115. Georg Wilhelm Pabst

116. Ladislao Vajda

117. Michel Gondry

118. Michael Powell

119. Emeric Pressburger

120. Louis Malle

121. Mario Monicelli

122. Julien Duvivier

123. Jacques Feyder

124. Claude Autant-Lara

125. Anthony Asquith

126. Ronald Neame

127. Danny Boyle

128. Aleksandr Sokurov

129. Duncan Jones

130. William K.L. Dickson

131. Alice Guy

132. Jacques Tati

133. Germaine Dulac

134. Marcel L'Herbier

135. Robert Enrico

136. Vsevolod Pudovkin

137. Abel Gance

138. Walter Ruttmann

139. Vera Chytilová

140. Friðrik Þór Friðriksson

141. Konrad Wolf

142. Robert Bresson

143. J. Lee Thompson

144. Erik Balling

145. Susanne Bier

146. Mikko Niskanen

147. Hasse Ekman

148. Bille August

149. Lukas Moodysson

150. Per Fly

151. Louis Lumière

152. Auguste Lumière

153. Jacques Feyder

154. Raoul Ruiz

155. Jean-Jacques Beineix

156. Leos Carax

157. Jaco Van Dormael

158. Peter Watkins

159. Olivier Dahan

160. William Dieterle

161. Oliver Hirschbiegel

162. Dinos Dimopoulos

163. Thodoros Maragos

164. Vittorio Taviani

165. Roberto Benigni

166. Valerio Zurlini

167. Yevgeny Bauer

168. Cecil M. Hepworth

169. Lev Kuleshov

170. Anatole Litvak

171. Sergey Gerasimov

172. Grigoriy Chukhray

173. Artavazd Peleshian

174. Alexander Korda

175. Aleksandar Petrovic

176. Walerian Borowczyk

177. Dusan Makavejev

178. Basil Wright

179. James Whale

180. Nicolas Roeg

181. Anthony Minghella

182. Sam Mendes

183. Paul Greengrass

184. John Schlesinger

185. Louis Feuillade

186. Anatole Litvak

187. Raymond Bernard

188. Benjamin Christensen

189. Robert Siodmak

190. Wladyslaw Starewicz

191. Carl Froelich

192. Boris Barnet

193. Sacha Guitry

194. Alf Sjöberg

195. Jacques Tourneur

196. Laurence Olivier

197. Georges Franju

198. Charles Frend

199. Luis García Berlanga

200. Juan Antonio Bardem

201. Michael Cacoyannis

202. Vadim Abdrashitov

203. Michael Powell

204. Douglas Sirk

205. Martin McDonagh

206. Xavier Koller

207. Wojciech Smarzowski

208. Roland Joffé

209. Roy William Neill

210. Jonathan Lynn

211. Robert Siodmak

212. Alexander Mackendrick

213. Nikola Tanhofer

214. Terence Fisher

215. Roy Ward Baker

216. Jerzy Kawalerowicz

217. Valerio Zurlini

218. Karel Reisz

219. Pietro Germi

220. Ermanno Olmi

221. Tony Richardson

222. Peter Ustinov

223. Bryan Forbes

224. Agnès Varda

225. Francesco Rosi

226. Henri Verneuil

227. Grigoriy Kozintsev

228. Marco Bellocchio

229. Miklós Jancsó

230. Claude Lelouch

231. Volker Schlöndorff

232. Larisa Shepitko

233. Frantisek Vlácilb

234. Claude Berri

235. Sergio Corbucci

236. Maurice Pialat

237. Franco Zeffirelli

238. Juraj Herz

239. Ken Loach

240. Lev Kulidzhanov

241. Karel Kachyna

242. Yilmaz Güney

243. Serif Gören

244. Vladimir Motyl

245. Károly Makk

246. Elio Petri

247. Zoltán Huszárik

248. John Boorman

249. Elisabeta Bostan

250. Jean Eustache

251. Chantal Akerman

252. Ivo Caprino

253. Paul Grimault

254. Bertrand Tavernier

255. Claude Miller

256. René Laloux

256. René Laloux

258. Dusan Kovacevic

259. Michael Radford

260. Elem Klimov

261. Mario Camus

262. Fons Rademakers

263. Jirí Barta

264. Ryszard Bugajski

265. Agnieszka Holland

266. Gianni Amelio

267. Goran Markovic

268. Aleksey Balabanov

269. Pedro Costa

270. Srdjan Dragojevic

271. Shane Meadows

272. Anders Thomas Jensen

273. Michel Ocelot

274. Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

275. Isabel Coixet

276. Oliver Hirschbiegel

277. Max Ophüls

278. Jean Rouch

279. Claude Lanzmann

280. Pavel Lungin

281. Jan Troell

282. Götz Spielmann

283. Carl Boese

284. Paul Wegener

285. Vsevolod Pudovkin

286. Alessandro Blasetti

287. John Boulting

288. Mario Camerini

289. André Cayatte

290. Christian-Jaque

291. Louis Daquin

292. Louis Delluc

293. Giuseppe De Santis

294. Thorold Dickinson

295. Mark Donskoy

296. Aleksandr Dovzhenko

297. Germaine Dulac

298. Jean Epstein

299. Fridrikh Ermler

300. Sidney Gilliat

301. Aleksander Ford

302. Jean Grémillon

303. Iosif Kheifits

304. Rex Ingram

305. Humphrey Jennings

306. Joris Ivens

307. Helmut Käutner

Considered to be one of the most important German directors of the post WWII era.

308. Frank Launder

309. Alberto Lattuada

310. Roger Leenhardt

311. Marcel L'Herbier

312. Manoel de Oliveira

313. Jean Negulesco

314. Marcel Pagnol

315. Yakov Protazanov

316. Yuli Raizman

317. Hans Richter

318. Paul Rotha

319. Georges Rouquier

320. Wolfgang Staudte

321. Mario Soldati

322. Mauritz Stiller

323. Arne Sucksdorff

324. Bert Haanstra

325. Georges Lautner

326. Liviu Ciulei

327. Eldar Ryazanov

328. Péter Bacsó

329. Stanislawa Bareja

330. Gabriele Salvatores

331. Álex de la Iglesia

332. Yavuz Turgul

333. Rezo Chkheidze

334. Zaza Urushadze

335. Tengiz Abuladze

336. Giorgi Shengelaia

337. Eldar Shengelaia

338. João César Monteiro

339. Lina Wertmüller

340. Henri Verneuil

341. Robert Enrico

342. Lone Scherfig

343. Yorgos Lanthimos

344. György Pálfi

345. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

346. Paolo Sorrentino

347. Andrea Arnold

348. Lynne Ramsay

349. Claire Denis

350. René Clair

351. Alain Robbe-Grillet

352. Catherine Breillat

353. Olivier Assayas

354. Isabel Coixet

355. Alejandro Amenábar

356. Alice Rohrwacher

357. Matteo Garrone

358. Joe Wright

359. Terry George

360. Wolfgang Becker

361. Marco Tullio Giordana

362. Caroline Link

363. Paul Verhoeven

364. Abdellatif Kechiche

365. Steve McQueen

366. Laurent Cantet

367. David Mackenzie

368. Maren Ade

369. Laszlo Nemes


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