Just a quick glance at the following selection of the UK’s top 50 directors is enough to make one realise the depth of filmmaking talent that exists in the UK.
It’s a list that contains many of the very best directors in the world. From Christopher Nolan, Hollywood’s director du jour, through to Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears and Mike Leigh, it’s full of household names who have made some of the greatest films ever made – ones that have earned Oscars, Baftas, critical acclaim as well as billions at the box office.
We’ve selected the list with the help and advice of leading film producers, agents and film PR executives. The directors who have made the list are those that have made a film in the last 18 months, or who are shooting now or look set to do so by the end of the year. As such, it is meant to be a list of some of the UK’s top directors working now, rather than the UK’s all time top directors.
We’ve divided the list into three categories, running alphabetically. First up are top flight directors, whose names alone are enough to attract major funding to a project and whose films have generated big returns at the box office and/or multiple awards.
Then comes the rising stars, the directors who have made acclaimed, memorable features and who could be poised to become household names.
In the third category are the specialised directors, often considered some of the UK’s finest film-makers and who make auteur, indie British films that win awards, play at top festivals and enjoy critical acclaim.
Danny Boyle – the Oscar winning director of Slumdog Millionaire is counting down to the London Olympics, for which he is artistic director of the opening ceremony. Also in post production is art heist film movie Trance set for a 2013 release. Credits: 127 Hours, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Shallow Grave
Kenneth Branagh – Branagh’s directing career took a surprising turn with last year’s well received action movie Thor. He’s set to direct Kate Winslet in the adaptation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. He’s also linked to Paramount’s relaunch of action thriller Jack Ryan, based on the Tom Clancy spy novels. Credits: Thor, The Magic Flute, As You Like It, Hamlet, Frankenstein, Peter’s Friends, Henry V.
Stephen Daldry – after winning an Oscar nomination but polarised reviews for his last film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Daldry is now on Olympics duty as creative director of all the Games ceremonies. Credits: Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Stephen Frears – the Oscar nominated director’s latest, Lay the Favourite, starring Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall, played at Sundance in. He’s reportedly readying a remake of his 1984 chase movie The Hit and is linked with John Hodge’s adaptation of Young Stalin. Credits: Tamara Drewe, The Queen, High Fidelity, The Grifters, Dangerous Liasons, My Beautiful Laundrette
Paul Greengrass – the man who reinvented the spy thriller with Bourne is now directing Tom Hanks in Somali pirate drama Captain Phillips, based on the true story of a sailor taken hostage and rescued by Navy Seals off the coast of Somalia. It is set for release in spring 2013. Credits: Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone.
Tom Hooper – the Oscar winning director of The King’s Speech began filming Working Title’s adaptation of musical Les Miserables, starring Russell Crowe, in January. Credits: The King’s Speech, The Damned United, Longford (TV)
Phyllida Lloyd – Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! is the fourth highest grossing film ever at the UK box office. A respected theatre director, Lloyd reunited with Meryl Streep once again for this year’s Oscar winning The Iron Lady. Credits: Mamma Mia, The Iron Lady
Peter Lord – together with Nick Park, Lord has been at the centre of the remarkable success of Bristol’s Aardman Animations for over 30 years. His most recent film The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists opened last month. Credits: The Pirates!, Chicken Run
John Madden – the Shakespeare in Love director’s amiable The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel drew in the neglected older audience in droves earlier this year. He’s now working on a Showtime TV drama pilot, Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen. Credits: Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sam Mendes – the American Beauty director is now shooting the latest Bond film Skyfall, which could make for an odd but intriguing addition to the 007 canon. Credits: Away We Go, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, Road to Perdition, American Beauty.
Kevin Macdonald – alternating between indie and studio films, Macdonald returned to his documentary roots with his recently released Marley. He’s readying Meg Rosoff adaptation How I Live Now. Credits: State of Play, The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void
Roger Michell – the Notting Hlll director’s latest – Hyde Park on Hudson – is set for release this year, starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney and Olivia Williams. Credits: Morning Glory, Enduring Love, The Mother, Changing Lanes, Notting Hill
Mike Newell – the veteran director is the latest to tackle Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, adapted by One Day’s David Nicholls and said to play like a thriller. It’s set for release this year. Next he will take on an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. Credits: Four Weddings and A Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Christopher Nolan – probably the most powerful director in the world at the moment, Nolan brings his acclaimed Batman trilogy to a conclusion this July with The Dark Knight Rises. He’s enjoyed huge critical and box office success for his recent films, including the Oscar nominated Inception. Credits: The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia, Memento.
Guy Ritchie – Having racked up over $1bn in global box office with two Sherlock movies, Ritchie is one of Warner Bros favourite directors. He’s now set to direct Warner’s version of TV classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and, reportedly, the third outing of Sherlock. Credits: Sherlock Holmes 1 and 2, RocknRolla, Revolver, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Tony Scott – top flight Hollywood-based director whose long career has delivered classic action hits Top Gun through to 2010’s Unstoppable. Credits: The Taking of Pelham 123, Déjà vu, Man on Fire, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide, True Romance, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Top Gun.
Ridley Scott – veteran director releases his hugely anticipated sci-fi epic Prometheus (pictured above) in June and starts production in the UK on Cormac McCarthy screenplay The Counselor in July, starring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz. Credits: Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, Robin Hood
Matthew Vaughn – the producer of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch has emerged as a top director in his own right and is readying a follow up to his blockbuster X-Men: First Class. Credits: Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class
Edgar Wright – having made his name with low budget zombie hit Shaun of the Dead, the prolific Wright has now graduated to the big time. After 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Wright is linked with Disney’s remake of TV series The Night Stalker and has been penning a long planned version of Marvel’s Ant Man. He’s also produced Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block and co-wrote Spielberg’s Tintin. Credits: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Spaced
Joe Wright – there’s huge anticipation for Wright’s film version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina, which stars his regular muse Keira Knightley and is adapted by Tom Stoppard. The Working Title film is released in September and comes after mixed receptions for his last two features, Hanna and The Soloist. Credits: Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist, Hanna.
Rupert Wyatt – smart and considered a real talent, Wyatt became hot property after his low budget hit The Escapist. He’s since more than lived up to expectations with his first studio picture Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a critical and commercial smash. He’s making a sequel for Fox, and is then set to direct Charlize Theron in Agent 13. Credits: The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
David Yates – with the last four instalments of the Harry Potter franchise under his belt, David Yates is likely to tackle something more modest for his next venture – chosing to adapt Your Voice In My Head, a memoir written by Emma Forrest. Emma Watson is expected to star. Credits: Harry Potter, Sex Traffic (TV), State of Play (TV)
Richard Ayoade – best known for his role in the IT Crowd, Ayoade’s debut Submarine was well liked but didn’t break out. Film4 is also backing his follow up The Double, a new comedy ‘inspire by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella. It stars The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg and shoots in the UK this year. Credits: Submarine.
Joe Cornish – one half of the Adam and Joe presenting duo, Cornish’s sci-fi action comedy Attack the Block marked him out as a director of real promise. He also co-wrote Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. Credits: Attack the Block
Eran Creevy – having cut his teeth on music videos, Creevy’s micro-budget Shifty was one of the most impressive UK debut features in recent years. He follows it up this year with the glossy and slick UK action thriller Welcome To The Punch. Credits: Shifty
Duncan Jones – one of the best emerging talents in filmmaking, Jones has two films under his belt – Moon and Source Code – both of them acclaimed. Has great vision and the ability to direct solid action thrills. Credits: Moon, Source Code
Asif Kapadia – another British director on Olympics duty, Kapadia has been commissioned to make short film The Odyssey for the Games. Has made few films since his visually striking debut The Warrior in 2001, but his Bafta winning feature doc Senna put him back on the map. Credits: The Warrior, The Return, Far North, Senna
James Marsh – the Oscar winning director of doc Man on Wire returned to his fiction roots this year with Sundance competitor Shadowdancer, an IRA thriller set for release in September. Credits: Wisconsin Death Trip, The King, Man on Wire, Project Nim, Shadow Dancer
John Michael McDonagh – brother of Martin McDonagh (below), he wrote and directed last year’s surprise hit The Guard and is now following it up with Calvary, a darkly comic drama about a priest that also stars Brendan Gleeson. Credits: The Guard.
Martin McDonagh – four years after his acclaimed debut In Bruges, the Oscar-winning (for short film Six Shooter) McDonagh has written and directed the Film4 backed Seven Psychopaths, which stars Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson. Credits: In Bruges
Rufus Norris – theatre director Rufus Norris’s debut Broken has been handed the opening slot for Cannes’ Critics’ Week. It’s an adaptation of Daniel Clay’s novel, and stars Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth. Credits: Broken
Rupert Sanders – commercials director Rupert Sanders has had the kind of career break that most can only dream of, making his first ever film for Universal. Starring Charlize Theron, his revisionist and effects heavy Snow White and the Huntsman shot in the UK and is released in June. Credits: Snow White and the Huntsman
James Watkins – Watkins is a horror specialist who directed Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black. Just three weeks after opening in February, it became the most successful British horror ever at the UK box office, taking £14m. Credits: The Woman in Black, Eden Lake.
Ben Wheatley – Sightseers, Wheatley’s Film4 backed follow-up to 2011’s acclaimed Kill List, plays in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes this month. It’s billed as a dark comedy about a caravan trip in the North of England that goes badly wrong. Credits: Kill List, Sightseers
Susanna White – White directed kids’ (and parents’) favourite Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, and has forged an impressive TV directing career on both sides of the Atlantic. She’s behind Tom Stoppard’s upcoming adaptation of Parade’s End for BBC2. Credits: Boardwalk Empire (TV), Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Generation Kill (TV), Bleak House (TV)
Mat Whitecross – moving between docs and films, Whitecross’s Ian Dury biopic Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll was well received. He has just finished Ashes, a thriller starring Ray Winstone. Credits: Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, The Road to Guantanamo, Moving to Mars
Andrea Arnold – one of most distinctive directors to come out of the UK, former TV presenter Arnold first came to attention with her Oscar winning short Wasp in 2003. She followed this up with two Cannes prize winning films, Fish Tank and Red Road, and last year released Wuthering Heights to somewhat mixed reviews. Credits: Wuthering Heights, Fish Tank, Red Road
Gurinder Chadha – the director of Bend it Like Beckham is reportedly moving away from romantic comedies for her next project, and is writing an historical epic based on the partition of India in 1947. Credits: It’s A Wonderful Afterlife, Bride and Prejudice, Bend it Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach
Paddy Considine – the actor made his award winning directorial debut last year with Tyrannosaur and is developing another film with Film4, the adaptation The Year of the Locust, the true story of a journeyman boxer and shady promoter in the US. Credits: Tyrannosaur.
Terence Davies – Sunset Song, Terence Davies’ long-awaited project based on the dark Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel, is finally set to go into production later this year after a decade of trying. Credits: The Deep Blue Sea, Of Time and the City, The House of Mirth
Ralph Fiennes – Fiennes is following up his directorial debut Coriolanus with The Invisible Woman, an adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s book about the relationship between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan, an actress nearly half his age. Credits: Coriolanus
Terry George – the Hotel Rwanda director won an Oscar this year for his short film The Shore. Credits: Hotel Rwanda, Reservation Road, Whole Lotta Sole
Jonathan Glazer – the Sexy Beast director’s latest is the long gestating Under the Skin, which stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form who travels through Scotland to snare human prey. Backed by Film4, it is released this year. Credits: Sexy Beast, Birth
Mike Leigh – having built his career in theatre and television, the curmudgeonly Leigh ranks as one of the UK’s most feted film directors who is known for evolving his scripts while improvising with his actors. Credits: Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake, Topsy Turvy, Secrets and Lies, Naked, Life is Sweet
Ken Loach – Loach’s latest The Angels’ Share plays in competition at this month’s Cannes Film Festival. Loach has competed for the Palme d’Or on 11 previous occasions, winning in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Credits: Kes, Raining Stones, Land and Freedom, My Names Is Joe, Sweet Sixteen, Looking for Eric
Steve McQueen – following the success of Shame, artist turned director McQueen has cast Chiwetel Ejiofor in his next project 12 Years a Slave, the true-life story of a New Yorker kidnapped as a slave in C19th Louisiana. It shoots in June. Credits: Shame, Hunger
Shane Meadows – Meadows has successfully mined the experiences of his teenage years for a series of acclaimed films, and enjoys a strong reputation for working with and bringing out the best in actors. His last two projects – follow ups to This Is England – were for television. Credits: Somers Town, This Is England, Dead Man’s Shoes, A Room for Romeo Brass, Twenty Four Seven
Peter Mullan – actor and director Mullan has enjoyed strong reviews for his third feature Neds, which returned him to the Glasgow of his youth. Credits: Orphans, The Magdalene Sisters, Neds.
Lynne Ramsay – after a nine year hiatus following 2002’s Morvern Callar, NFTS graduate Lynne Ramsay returned last year with Cannes competitor We Need to Talk about Kevin. Credits: Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michael Winterbottom – one of the UK’s most versatile and prolific directors, he’s now filming The King of Soho about London porn baron Paul Raymond. Credits: 24 Hour Party People, In This World, The Trip (TV)
This article was taken from Televisual’s May 2012 film issue