Special Report

The 50 Highest Grossing Film Directors of All Time

Men and women become directors in various ways. Some learn movie-making as screenwriters, cinematographers, or film editors. Some apprentice to well-established directors of an earlier time. Some get their start with music videos or TV episodes.

Along the way, they develop their own vision for their art. But they also learn what it takes to manage budgets, moody actors, accidents and other unpredictable events on the set, and meddling studio heads. Just as with actors, directors who can reliably navigate the process and reliably bring in a profit are termed “bankable” — and thus are most likely to be able to get financing for films they want to make. (See who won the Oscar for Best Director every year since the Oscars began.)

To determine the 50 most bankable directors working in English-language cinema, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on box office and production budget from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Directors were ranked based on the average return-on-investment ratio of worldwide box office to production budget for their body of work. (These are the 100 top-grossing movies of all time.)

Only directors with at least three films with available ROI data and who have directed a film in 2018 or later were included. Average user ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, are weighted according to the number of reviews and are current as of November 2021.  

Click here to see the 50 most bankable directors

The directors on our list can all boast a track record of success. For some, it has come through earning a reputation for memorable movies in a particular genre. Eli Roth and William Brent Bell have made their mark in horror films, and James Wan is credited with inventing the torture porn genre with his “Saw” film series. Directors Spike Lee and Steve McQueen have built their careers on movies that demand moviegoers understand the plight of minorities in America.

Other directors have made bankable films in multiple genres, like Steven Spielberg, whose triumphs have ranged from action films like the Indiana Jones franchise to historically based movies like “Lincoln” and “Schindler’s List” to the sci-fi classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  

At their core the most bankable directors are those who know how to tell a story.

To determine the 50 most bankable directors, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on box office and production budget from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Directors were ranked based on the average return-on-investment ratio of worldwide box office to production budget for their body of work. Only directors with at least three films with available ROI data and who have directed a film in 2018 or later were included. Average user ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, are weighted according to the number of reviews and are current as of November 2021.  

Sponsored: Tips for Investing

A financial advisor can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of investment properties. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Investing in real estate can diversify your portfolio. But expanding your horizons may add additional costs. If you’re an investor looking to minimize expenses, consider checking out online brokerages. They often offer low investment fees, helping you maximize your profit.