How the best film directors compare

19 Jul How the best film directors compare

Ever since Auguste and Louis Lumière pioneered cinema in the 19th century, a host of talented men and women have sat in the director’s chair and made a name for themselves.

But how old were they when they made their best work? Is there still time for the rest of us to make our breakout film?

The late bloomers of cinema

Hal Ashby's first film was The Landlord

Hal Ashby was 41 when he made his first film, The Landlord, which received an Academy Award nomination and has stood the test of time since its 1970 release with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. He would later go on to make several successful films in the 1970s and was attributed to the development of the ‘New Hollywood’ movement.

One of the most notable Japanese filmmakers to ever get behind the camera, Hayao Miyazaki, was 38 when he made anime feature The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979. His notoriety continued after his debut film as a director before co-founding animation production company Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki is now considered by some to be the ‘Walt Disney of Japan’.

Early starters in film

Sofia Coppola's first film appearance was in The Godfather

The inventor of the ‘Spaghetti Western’ genre, Sergio Leone, first stepped into the world of cinema at just 12-years-old, appearing as an actor in La bocca sulla strada (The Man on the Street). As the son of Italian cinema great, Roberto Roberti (A.K.A. Vincenzo Leone), Leone cut his teeth as a director at a very young age. He was an uncredited assistant director in legendary Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves at just 19-years-old. Leone would later be giving cues to the likes of Clint Eastwood in movies such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the master of the Hollywood blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, started directing from a very young age. As a 13-year-old, he made a western short film called The Last Gun on 8mm film to earn his Boy Scout photography merit badge. Way before ET the Extra-Terrestrial was a hit in the cinema, Spielberg turned a profit for his first sci-fi feature film Firelight at just 17.

As the daughter of successful producer and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola also got behind and in front of the camera at an early age. Before Sofia directed Lost in Translation, she was a child actress in The Godfather as a one-year-old baby.

Other directors who started young

DirectorFirst Film (age)Notable Film (age)
Paul Thomas AndersonThe Dirk Diggler Story (18)Boogie Nights (27)
Tim Burton The Island of Doctor Agor (13)Edward Scissorhands (32)
John CarpenterRevenge of the Colossal Beasts (14) Halloween (30)
Ethan Cohen Zeimers in Zambezi (13)The Big Lebowski (41)
Xavier Dolan Miséricorde (5) I Killed My Mother (20)
Peter JacksonThe Valley (15)The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (40)
Christopher NolanTarantella (19)The Dark Knight (38)
Gus van Sant Fun with a Bloodroot (15)Psycho (46)
Martin ScorseseVesuvius VI (17)Goodfellas (48)
Lars von TrierTuren til Squashland (11)Melancholia (55)
Orson Welles Twelfth Night (18)Citizen Kane (26)

Has this inspired you to make your dream film? We’d love to have a chat about it.

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