Musings on actors-turned-directors… who are your favorites?

Seems like every other week there’s news that another actor is trying their hand at directing. Just this past month alone, I read that James Franco is supposedly directing a Lindsay Lohan biopic (??) and Philip Seymour Hoffman seems ready to be back in the director’s chair (after Jack Goes Boating) with a Depression-era ghost story Ezekiel Moss. Dustin Hoffman—unrelated to Philip by the way, in case you’re wondering—just completed his first film Quartet, as I talked about in the TCFF lineup post.

This trend is hardly new though, after all as far back as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier, many thespians have done work behind the camera, and some have become quite successful at it. I haven’t done my top ten list yet, I might do another collaborative effort with my pal Ted at some point, but I think Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Ben Affleck would probably make my list. Affleck seems to flourish under his own direction, as he seems better in front of the camera when he’s also behind the camera, case in point: The Town and the upcoming ARGO which is getting rave reviews. In the case of Allen though, I much prefer that he stays behind the camera as I don’t like his neurotic style as an actor.

Why Do So Many Actors Want to Become Directors?

Do they just like the idea of being a multi-hyphenated artist?? I’m sure there’s a certain degree of pride that comes with being a double or triple threat (if they also write their own script) in the industry. But I’d think that for most, it’s about extending one’s creativity in the film-making business. Generally speaking, directors usually have the most creative control in making a film, though of course the studio often has a lot of input that often change the direction of the final piece. Some top actors might have a close connection with the director they’re working with, offering a lot of creative input to the film, but perhaps for some, that’s not enough.

Not every actor-turned-director is created equal obviously, but I’d think that seasoned actors have the filming experience behind them to help get a compelling performance out of fellow actors. They know what it’s like being in front of the lens, what the actors might be feeling, the challenges of getting a certain emotion across, etc. better than those who have never acted before. Perhaps it’s the ‘empathy’ factor is what makes them become successful directors, and some actor have become more well-known as directors than actors (Allen, Howard, Reiner), though people like Eastwood have the talents to juggle both worlds equally.

Well, now I’d like to turn things over to you and ask you to vote your favorite actors-turned-directors. Cast your vote below!


Remember, you can pick up to three. Feel free to share your top five or top 10 in the comments, and tell me which movie(s) of theirs are your favorites.

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84 thoughts on “Musings on actors-turned-directors… who are your favorites?

  1. Going with Eastwood, Allen, and Reiner. I felt really bad to leave Orson Welles off the list, having only seen one of his films, I can’t justify putting him over the three I did ultimately decide on. I also considered Affleck, but I feel it’s too early in his directorial career to say.

  2. I voted Eastwood, but I might have went Mel Gibson… I dunno, maybe, if he was on there. Its hard nowadays with him as “Crazy Mel”.

    Anyways, Im rooting for Affleck to outshine them both. I hope he keeps it up!!

  3. Pingback: Musings on actors-turned-directors… cast your vote on your favorites! « The Cinematic Consensus Group

  4. I voted for Eastwood even though some of the films he directed were pretty bad, The Rookie with Charlie Sheen for example was pretty atrocious. But since he’s directed so many films, he’s gotta be on the top. I would’ve gone with Mel Gibson but he hasn’t directed many films and like Fogs said, he’s a nut job now.

    I’m hoping Affleck can keep making good films, his first two were pretty good. Ron Howard’s career been up and down in my opinion, I didn’t care for his last few films. I’m still worry about his take on The Dark Tower films, I wish he’d drop it and then Nolan will take it over.

    • Oh I didn’t know he directed The Rookie! I still haven’t seen all of the stuff he’s done, esp. Unforgiven which probably stands as one of his best work.

      Again, I think Gibson is talented regardless of his personal life. I’d think he’d still can stage a comeback.

      • You haven’t seen Unforgiven? That’s probably my favorite Eastwood’s film and one of my all time favorite films.

        I’m sure Gibson can make a comeback but he’s burned so many bridges in Hollywood, I think it’s going to be hard for him to get any film green lighted now.

  5. Excellent post Ruth. I think the transition tend to be quite a successful one. I can’t actually think of a film that’s been really poor from an actor turned director. I’m sure they exist but it’s not common for them to fail. One of the most solid apart from Eastwood would be Robert Redford for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a lot of his stuff.

  6. Great post. I love when successful actors are also talented behind the camera. Some of my favorites include Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, Woody Allen, George Clooney and Sarah Polley. Drew Barrymore’s Whip It was pretty good. I haven’t seen Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground but she supposedly does some great work there.

  7. I voted for Eastwood – because as much as I enjoy him as an actor I think he is much better director, Coppola – because she is awful actress but a wonderful director and Allen – because he is one of my all time favorites. I like Clooney’s movies but I think he is better actor and I don’t really get the hype for Affleck as a director – The Town was good but I couldn’t stand Gone Baby Gone.

    • Yeah it’s interesting that Clooney + Affleck are reverse as far as their talents as actor vs director. I think Clooney is a better actor than director personally, but then again I’ve only seen 1 of the movies he directed. Oh no, you didn’t like Gone Baby Gone? I like that better than The Town.

  8. Someone who I enjoyed his directing but so far has only done it once is Zach Braff for Garden State.

    Ben Affleck is definitely a better director, and screenwriter, than he is an actor. While were at it, so is M. Night Shyamalan. What? He’s not an actor? Oh, I thought he was because he’s always in his movies. ;P. People are questioning his directing capabilities now too.

    • Ahah, I wouldn’t consider M Night an actor, I mean he only does cameo in his own movies, inspired by Hitchcock I’m sure. I LOVE Unbreakable, still waiting to be blown away by him again, who knows when that’ll happen ;)

  9. My favorites would be:

    1. Welles
    2. Allen
    3. Chaplin
    4. Coppola
    5. Affleck (Eastwood was very close, but I love ALL of Affleck’s work, even though it’s only 2 films.)

    Fun bit of trivia: Though all of these directors have won an Oscar, only one of them – Allen – has won multiple competitive ones, and that same person is the only one to win Best Director. :)

  10. Good day, and hello from the Land of the Morning Calm.
    I’d have to say my number one would be Clint Eastwood and my second would go to Richard Attenborough, favorite movie is the Guns at Batasi as Sgt Major Lauderdale, he had the Sgt Major role down to a T, second movie would be his role as Frenchy in The Sand Pebbles, and as a director for the movie’s, Young Winston, A Bridge to Far, Gandhi, and Chaplin, all these I can watch over and over.

      • Ya I think he did a Jurassic Park, though I don’t know which one, but he is worth a look see. For his work on Gandhi he did garner the 1982 Academy Award for Best Director and Best picture.

        • Ah yes now I do remember he played John Hammond in JP. Wow that is cool that he directed Gandhi!! I still need to watch that one. Didn’t Ben Kingsley also won an Oscar playing the title role?

          • Yep Kingsley did win an oscar for his role, can’t believe I left that out and boy what a role he played, I just watched the movie last summer and it still has a wow factor… I’m slowly losing my mind.. LOL.

    • Hey Dave, I so agree with you about CL and the only film he directed. NOTH is quite disturbing in some ways, but it’s an excellent film, showing good CAN overtake evil ;-D

      P.S. I love the feisty granny with her shotgun!

  11. I almost feel like Sofia shouldn’t even part of this because, let’s be honest, she never should have been acting in the first place. I think even she’d admit it. But even so, she’s still Sofia. Which is to say, she’s my favorite. I do love her movies so.

  12. I’m not sure who would be my favorite, but I was thinking about this question the other day and reflecting on how few actresses successfully make the jump compared to their male counterparts. It definitely seems like one of those places where sexism is involved in some way. Maybe they have a harder time getting fundraising or greenlights from the studios?

    • Hi David, you’re right that there’s barely any actress-turned-directors in Hollywood. That is far more lopsided than the amount of good roles for women in general. As most Hollywood honchos are white men, I’m sure getting the green light for their projects is part of the issue.

  13. This is a great question/topic. I didn’t have any trouble picking my fave, Ben Affleck. Exhibit A: THE TOWN. Exhibit B: The trailer for ARGO. I’ll have to think about the rest. Chaplin, Welles, of course. Sofia Coppola, for sure. Agree with nevertooearlymp above…there’s just fewer female directors, women have less of a chance in general.

    • Hi Paula, have you seen Gone Baby Gone? If you’re a fan of Affleck’s work, that’s a must, he didn’t act in it though, but his brother Casey is excellent.

      Hopefully more and more actresses are venturing to direct, like Vera Farmiga.

      • I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard really good things. Sadly, it’s been on my list for a while. I need like a week to do nothing but watch movies.

        Yep, I hope they will. It’s interesting, I was trying to think of Lena Dunham, but I couldn’t remember her name. She had an indie hit (she wrote directed & starred) & landed in TV with a series. Diablo Cody is a writer, not a director that I know of, but she also landed on TV. Both are on premium cable. I wonder if it’s a money issue, if TV is less of a risk so women have more of a chance. I don’t know.

        • “I need like a week to do nothing but watch movies.” Ahah, don’t we all? I just heard about Lena Dunham but that show she has on HBO, Girls I think it’s called, well it doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy. My friend Sati just had a post on it the other day, let’s just say she’s not a fan either.

  14. Hey there Flixy, good grief, Charley Brown! I don’t know what took me so long to comment, but your mention and the pix of Olivier and Chaplin in their roles as directors is stellar! ;-P I know Chaplin directed some of his own films, but finding out that Olivier also directed is news to me. Thanks for the great post, very enlightening!

  15. Hmmm. I’m going to avoid the obvious ones like Eastwood and Welles just for fun. In no particular order:

    1. Christopher Guest
    2. John Cassavetes
    3. Todd Field (In The Bedroom, Little Children)
    4. Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win, Win)
    5. Tim Robbins (Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking, Cradle Will Rock)
    6. Charles Laughton (Night Of The Hunter)
    7. Takeshi Kitano (Violent Cop, Sonatine, Zatoichi)
    8. Albert Brooks (Real Life, Lost In America, Defending Your Life)
    9. Vincent Gallo (Just for Buffalo ’66… The Brown Bunny was rubbish though)
    10. Clark Johnson (Particularly for his TV work on Homicide: Life on the Street, Sleeper Cell, The Shield, The Wire, and Homeland).

    I would like to see more from Affleck and Sarah Polley.

    • Hi Dave! Wow, I love your unconventional choices, man. Oh my, Sarah Polley!!! Here I am complaining about the lack of female actress-turned-director and am forgetting her, shame on me. She’s definitely one of the best!

      • Jeez I forgot to mention one of my favorites. I was just watching an episode of AMC’s The Killing and his name popped up. Keith Gordon of Steven King’s Christinefame. He directed The Choclate War, A Midnight Clear and Waking the Dead. I recommend any of those films.

        Here’s a clip from Waking the Dead. The chemistry between Connelly and Crudup is something to watch:

  16. Hi, Ruth and company:

    I went with Welles, who basically learned by playing around, exploring and doing. A master of cinematic sleight of hand in the realms of models, lighting, camera angles and shadow. The man who got the most from the biggest and best toy train set anyone can imagine.

    Also Eastwood, who learned from the best in front of and behind the camera before trying it out, himself.

    Woody Allen’s best work was long ago and far away with ‘Take the Money and Run’, ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’. Most everything afterwards look and feel like vanity projects to me.

    • Hi Jack, I just so happens to be reading more about Welles as I’m hoping to see Citizen Kane in the next couple of weeks. Sounds like he is a very talented director indeed. It’s interesting to learn about Randolph Hearts’ campaign against the movie, wow!

      I actually haven’t seen Allen’s earlier films, the only ones I like from him are Purple Rose of Cairo and Midnight in Paris which are quite similar in theme.

    • Hi Jack…I so agree that Welles was super-talented and created some amazing stuff, and I think he was really lucky in getting to work with Gregg Toland as his cinematographer. Genius and being so willing to experiment that you build your own lenses is a dynamite combination :)

  17. I think actors accept challenges very well, and being behind the camera presents even more challenges, so for some actors-turned-directors, the switch seems inevitable. Personally, I’d go with Orson Welles, Clint Eastwood, and Ben Affleck as my favorites from that list, but I think they have all been successful in the transition from acting to directing!

  18. I’ve just heard that Barbra Streisand is also directing, didn’t know she was into that business too! I think this is a thing mostly with US actors because their industry tends to reject them after they pass a certain age and plus they don’t get quality projects to star in. In Britain it’s different, their actors are deeply respected and can act forever in quality projects.

    • Oh yeah, I think The Prince of Tides was even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Haven’t seen that movie though. I do think British actors in general are just I don’t know, better?? At least that’s what I think anyway as I always gravitate towards them.

  19. Eastwood, easily. No other actor-turned-director has put out such a solid body of work that meets both commercial and critical success.

    And Ron Howard made those Dan Brown films, so nobody better argue the point for HIM.

  20. Ben Affleck has definitely shown signs he’s got talent behind the camera. The Town was terrific. I do love many of Rob Reiner’s films but I think Clint Eastwood is “the man” when it comes to actors-turned-directors in the modern age.

  21. I thought I have commented in this post…I know I have read it. That’s odd

    I quite like how he Affleck directed The Town even though I think the movie is not that memorable. Funny thing is, I am the kind of person who pay attention more to the actors than directors…there are only 2 directors that can make me see (almost) all their movies. So, this post is tough to vote ;)

  22. That is a great list of directors. Chaplin must be up there as the greatest. Love Affleck’s work so far and LOVE Into the Wild by Penn. Too difficult, all of these actor/directors are great.

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