Most Successful Directors of All Time: It is commonly said that nobody has more influence on the quality and thus also on the success of a film than the director.
So it is only fair to measure the (commercial) success of a director by the income from his films, whereby one should always bear in mind that films now make more money than they did 20 years ago, which, as you will see, is also in our list of the most successful directors of all time.
1. Steven Spielberg
- INCOME: $ 10.548 BILLION
The unsurprisingly most successful director in film history, Steven Spielberg, grossed a total of USD 10.548 billion with his no less than 36 feature films.
That is on average “only” USD 292.8 million per film, but the sheer amount of blockbusters that Spielberg directed makes a difference in the end.
His most successful film is, of course, the cult classic “Jurassic Park” with revenues of USD 1.029 billion, but it is only number 2 at the US box office after “ET – The Extra-Terrestrial”.
Spielberg was nominated fifteen times for an Oscar and won it twice – once for “Schindler’s List” and then for “Saving Private Ryan”.
Other important films that Spielberg directed include “Minority Report”, “Jaws”, “Lincoln” and the “Indiana Jones” films that he made with his friend George Lucas.
2. Anthony and Joe Russo
- INCOME: $ 6.844 BILLION
The brothers Anthony and Joseph Russo do most of their work together, working as directors, producers, screenwriters and actors.
The Russo brothers are best known for directing four films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), “Avengers: Infinity War.” “(2018) and” Avengers: Endgame “(2019). Among these, Endgame became the most commercially successful film of all time worldwide, at over $ 2.798 billion.
In addition to their work for Marvel, the brothers are also known for their work on the comedy series “Arrested Development”, for which they received an Emmy Award, and “Community”.
The brothers directed 7 feature films and generated $ 6.844 billion at box offices worldwide for their clients. That’s an average of $ 977 million per film.
3. Peter Jackson
- INCOME: $ 6.546 BILLION
With his six Tolkien film adaptations, Peter Jackson comfortably ranks second among the most commercially successful and – some would say – best directors of all time.
The most successful of his films is “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, grossing $ 1.141 billion. But also the other parts of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” took in around one billion USD – the least successful of them was “The Lord of the Rings: The Companions” at 887.2 million USD.
Before New Zealander Jackson rose to become one of the most celebrated directors of all time with “The Lord of the Rings”, he was best known for low-budget horror films with parodic elements such as “Bad Taste” or “Braindead”.
Jackson directed 13 films over the course of his career, grossing $ 6.546 billion. If you convert that to a movie, that would be an average of $ 504.7 million.
Peter Jackosn is also a three-time Oscar winner. He won all three trophies for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in the categories of Best Director, Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Do you miss who? Yes, some directors, who are generally considered to be among the best in their craft, are not as commercially successful as one would expect, despite their great skill. Although George Lucas is responsible for the extremely successful Star Wars series and directed four parts himself, he only makes it to 19th place. Cult director Quentin Tarantino only makes it to 79th place. The already deceased master directors are far behind Stanley Kubrick (388th place) and Alfred Hitchcock (576th place).
4. Michael Bay
- INCOME: $ 6.444 BILLION
When it explodes on screen, Michael Bay directed it. Yes, explosions and generally imposing action films with great material battles are the hallmarks of the third most successful director in cinema history. In contrast, he has less success with the critics and has been awarded the Golden Raspberry twice, to which Michael Bay himself reacted calmly: “I make films for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime. “
Bay directed 15 films for a total of $ 6.444 billion for an average of $ 429 million in revenue per film.
Bay is particularly successful with the Transformers film series, because its five parts are also Bay’s five most successful films. The most successful was “Transformers 3” with worldwide revenues of 1.124 billion US dollars. In addition to directing, Bay has appeared as a producer on countless films.
5. James Cameron
- INCOME: $ 6.222 BILLION
Now we come to the most polarizing personality on our list: James Cameron. For some he is one of the best directors of all time, for others a symbol of the commercialization of film. James Cameron directed the two most financially successful films of all time: “Titanic” (worldwide grossing: $ 2.187 billion) and “Avatar – Departure for Pandora” (worldwide grossing: $ 2.788 billion).
For Titanic, Cameron won an Oscar in the categories of Best Film, Best Director and Best Editing. Another of Cameron’s intellectual children are the Terminator films. Cameron has directed 14 films over the course of his career for a total of $ 6.222 billion. Converted to a film that is an average of 444.5 million US dollars.
Cameron writes the scripts for many of his films himself.
6. David Yates
- INCOME: $ 5.96 BILLION
David Yates is a name that most people will probably react to with a big question mark, because he is not exactly one of the big star directors everyone is talking about. So what did he direct to be so successful? The answer: Harry Potter. David Yates has directed the last four Harry Potter films. He is also the director of the Harry Potter prequel series, which so far consists of two of five planned films: “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” and “Fantastic Beasts: Grindelwald’s Crimes”. Together with “Legend of Tarzan”, Yates brings it to 7 feature films that have grossed 5.96 billion US dollars.
The most successful of his films was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, at $ 1.342 billion.
7. Christopher Nolan
- INCOME: $ 4.703 BILLION
Christopher Nolan made a name for himself successfully with thrillers such as “Memento” and “Insomnia – Schlaflos” before he rose to the A-list of Hollywood directors with the Dark Knight trilogy, his adaptation of the Batman comic series.
The Dark Knight Rises is also his most commercially successful film, with gross revenues of $ 1.085 billion worldwide. The success he had with his Batman films made other big budget productions such as “Inception” or “Interstellar” possible.
All in all, Nolan grossed $ 4.703 billion from just eleven feature films. On average, that was a whopping $ 427.6 million per film.
Christopher Nolan has been nominated for an Oscar five times, but has never won the award.
8. JJ Abrams
- INCOME: $ 4.638 BILLION
JJ Abrams became known for his work in the action, drama and science fiction genres. Abrams wrote or produced films such as “Armageddon” (1998), “Cloverfield” (2008), “Star Trek” (2009), “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” “(2019).
His work as a director includes “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), “Star Trek” (2009), “Super 8” (2011) and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013). He also performed on the new Star Wars films “The Force Awakens” and “The Rise of Skywalker”.
The film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is (as of 2020) number 4 among the most commercially successful films of all time.
Abrams has also created numerous television series, including “Felicity”, “Alias”, “Lost” and “Fringe”.
He directed a total of six feature films that grossed $ 4.638 billion. That’s an average of $ 773 million per film.
9. Tim Burton
- INCOME: $ 4.412 BILLION
Tim Burton is known for his dark and eccentric horror and fantasy films like “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), “Dark Shadows” (2012) and “Frankenweenie” (2012).
He is also known for blockbuster films such as the adventure comedy “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985), the superhero films “Batman” (1989) and their first sequel “Batman Returns” (1992), the sci- Fi film “Planet of the Apes” (2001), the fantasy drama “Big Fish” (2003), the adventure film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) and the fantasy film “Alice in Wonderland” (2010).
A total of 19 of his films have been shown in cinemas, grossing US $ 4.412 billion worldwide. That’s an average of $ 232 million per film.
10. Jon Favreau
- INCOME: $ 4.333 BILLION
Jonathan Favreau is not only a director but also an actor, producer and screenwriter. Favreau played the leading role in the films “Rudy” (1993), “Swingers” (1996), “The Replacements” (2000), “Daredevil” (2003), “The Break-Up” (2006), “All Inclusive “(2009) and Chef (2014).
He is also directing the films “Elf” (2003) and “Zathura: A Space Adventure” (2005), “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011), “The Jungle Book” (2016) and “The Lion King” (2019) responsible.
Favreau has appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as director, executive producer and starred as Happy Hogan in the films “Iron Man” (2008) and “Iron Man 2” (2010) and as executive producer and / or as Happy Hogan in “The Avengers “(2012),” Iron Man 3 “(2013),” Avengers: Age of Ultron “(2015),” Avengers: Infinity War “(2018),” Avengers: Endgame “(2019) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).
His nine films he has directed have grossed $ 4.333 billion at the box office. That’s an average of 481 million US dollars per film.