Top Ten Actors Turned Directors


Written by Justin Datu.

With Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut, the romantic comedy Don Jon starring himself and Scarlett Johannson, receiving critical acclaim and box office success, Levitt joins the ranks of many fine actors who have successfully made the transition to a behind the camera role. The transition from actor to director has not always been a smooth one, but there are a handful of thespians who have risen to the challenge by directing some of the greatest films of all time.

Here are the Top Ten Actors Turned Directors.

10. Kevin Costner


To have your directorial debut win both Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards is no small achievement. Having starred in such hits as The Untouchables and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Kevin Costner’s epic western, Dances With Wolves, received massive critical acclaim, box office success and helped revitalise the Western genre. It won a total of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

However, since then, Costner’s directorial efforts have been comparatively lacklustre as he earned the dubious honour of winning a Razzie Award for Worst Director for The Postman. Still, the cultural significance and the mountain of accolades Costner earned for Dances With Wolves have earned him a spot on this list. Open Range, Costner’s last film as both director and star, is also a great film that didn’t quite get the audience it deserved.

9. George Clooney

george clooney

He is one of the most recognizable faces in Western popular culture and is considered to be one of the most desirable men to have ever lived. Women want to be with him and men want to be him.

He first came into prominence for his role on the long running medical drama, ER, before making the move to the silver screen where he became one of the industry’s most prominent leading men with such beloved hits as Ocean’s Eleven and Three Kings, as well as his share of bombs (Batman and Robin, anyone?). As a director, he made his debut with the well received spy biopic, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind before blowing us away with Good Night and Good Luck, which was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Clooney was once again nominated for co-writing his fourth film as director, last year’s The Ides of March. Will his upcoming WWII film The Monuments Men see the same sort of success? It seems like there’s really nothing that Clooney ISN’T good at.

8. Penny Marshall

penny marshall

Best known as Laverne DeFazio from the long running American sitcom Laverne and Shirley, Penny Marshall became a familiar face in American living rooms and earned a trio of Golden Globe nominations for her efforts. But it seems that it is the director’s chair that suits her best.

Big, her fantasy-comedy starring Tom Hanks, was the first female directed movie to gross over $100 million at the box office and received unanimous critical acclaim. She went on to direct several other critically adored films including Awakenings, a drama starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. She would collaborate again with Hanks, as well as Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell, in A League of Their Own. This film is perhaps her most significant work to date, the baseball comedy-drama was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

7. Mel Gibson

mel gibson

He has fallen out of favour with the public and the powers that be after one racist tirade too many, but for a time Mel Gibson was beloved by all for both his acting and directing skills. He rose to prominence as an action hero in the 80s and 90s, starring in such blockbuster hits as The Lethal Weapon and Mad Max series’.

In 1995, he directed, produced and starred in the historical epic, Braveheart. His directorial debut received universal critical acclaim and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning Best Picture and Best Director. Since then, he has directed the controversial and divisive Passion of the Christ as well as the often overlooked but still solid and enjoyable, Apocalypto. Gibson’s name (by his own doing, unfortunately) has been dragged through all sorts of mud as of late, but his achievement with Braveheart has more than proven his talent.

6. Ben Affleck


For a time, the name Ben Affleck was something of a joke in the film industry. Affleck starred in such critically maligned films as Daredevil, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and most embarrassingly, the box office flop that was hailed as one of the worst movies of all time, Gigli.

With his career spiralling downwards, things were looking grim for Ben Affleck. However, after putting on the director’s hat, his luck began to change. Gone Baby Gone and The Town both earned him rave reviews. However, it would be his third film that would cement him as one of the most talented young directors of all time.  Argo, the historical drama-thriller based on a real life CIA operation, earned him a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA, a Directors Guild Award for Best Director, a Producers Guild Award, and the Academy Award for Best Picture. If the consistency and quality of his work so far is anything to go by, he stands as a shining example of someone who has found his true calling behind the camera.

5. Robert Redford

The Conspirator

Robert Redford is an indisputable cinema icon. With films such as The Sting, Out of Africa and All the President’s Men under his belt, he has graced our screens for decades as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and dependable leading men.

He made his directing debut with Ordinary People, which took home the Academy Award for Best Picture and won him the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Director. Though some of his other efforts, such as A River Runs Through It, Quiz Show and The Horse Whisperer, earned him numerous directorial nominations, he has not quite managed to reach that same height again. However, he has earned an Academy Award as proof of his directorial prowess, an accolade few can claim to have. By making the switch to directing, Redford was able to finally claim the Oscar that alluded him for all those years as an actor.

4. Rob Reiner

The Bucket List

Though his is a name most commonly associated with his directorial efforts, Rob Reiner first came into the public eye as Michael “Meathead” Stivic on the long running American sitcom, All in the Family. The role earned him five Emmy nominations, for which he won two, but he truly excelled as a director.

His romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, has become a pop culture staple while his fantasy adventure, The Princess Bride, the psychological horror, Misery, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and of course A Few Good Men, have each become classics in their respective genres. These films remain relevant with lines like, “I’ll have what she’s having –“ and “You can’t handle the truth!” often quoted to this day.  Rob made the jump to directing and has never looked back.

 3. Warren Beatty


The veteran thesp first made a name for himself in Bonnie and Clyde and since then has starred in such hits as Shampoo and The Fortune. Though he will be forever remembered by the public as Clyde, as a director he helmed such critically acclaimed gems as Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy, Bugsy and Bullworth. In fact, Reds earned Beatty the Academy Award for Best Director.

Beatty is one of two individuals who has been nominated for best producer, director, writer and actor in the same film. The other is Orson Welles for his definitive cinema masterpiece, Citizen Kane. However, Beatty has one thing over Welles. He’s done it twice, once for Heaven Can Wait and once for Reds. Beatty’s last directorial effort was over ten years ago but his contributions to the industry on and off the screen have been tremendous.

2. Ron Howard


Who could have predicted that the kid who played Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days would grow up to be one of the most revered and respected directors in Hollywood? He became a beloved and well-known figure in American households through his television acting and received some moderate success in big screen acting, but it was when he left Happy Days to focus on his directing that his career really took off.

He has directed a huge array of films in almost every genre. A Beautiful Mind, which took home Best Picture and earned him the Oscar for Best Director, and cinematic treasures such as Apollo 13, Cinderella Man and Frost/Nixon, all gained critical acclaim and awards. His movies have also made him a box office mainstay with hits such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Da Vinci Code drawing in audiences in droves. He’s certainly come a long way since Happy Days and, if the recent critical and box office success of his racing drama Rush is anything to go by, Howard won’t be slowing down any time soon.

1. Clint Eastwood


Here he is. The Man With No Name. Dirty Harry. He is a living legend, a cultural icon, an enduring symbol of masculinity and hard work throughout the ages. He is Clint Eastwood.

He made a name for himself by defining the Spaghetti Western genre in Sergio Leone’s iconic films in the 60s and then cementing his legend as the gritty detective, Harry Callahan in the 70s and 80s. His face and gruff voice are perhaps the most recognizable in Hollywood, and the phrases popularised in his work have become pop culture staples. “You’ve gotta ask yourself a question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”

But that was never enough for Eastwood. He had to not only prove himself as one of the greatest actors of all time, but one of the greatest directors as well. He has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice, winning for both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (both of which also earned him nominations for Best Actor).

His catalogue of films is massive and his list of accolades is staggering. Gran Torino, Letters to Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, Changeling, Mystic River, Invictus, the list goes on and on and on. All of these films have been loved by critics and audiences to the point where Eastwood has become a constant in the directorial category during awards season. At age 74, he was the oldest recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director and even now at the age of 83, he is still directing with his latest film, the musical biography Jersey Boys, to be released in 2014. No other man, alive or dead, has become as revered as Clint Eastwood both in front of and behind the camera. This is what has earned him the well-deserved number 1 spot.


Are there any actors turned directors who you think deserve a spot? Any on the list that you think should be moved up or down? Or are there any that you think shouldn’t be here at all?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

– J.D.
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