Top 10 Up and Coming Directors


In today’s society, it can be difficult for new directors to make a name for themselves.  With film schools pumping thousands of graduates every year, getting recognition as a promising new talent is essential to survive in the film industry.  Here is a list of ten directors who are relatively new to the game but who have garnered widespread recognition as promising new talent.  They are ranked by how many movies they have directed and how well they have been received.  This was a difficult list to compile, as it is hard to decide whether or not a director has truly been accepted into the film industry.  This list includes directors who have made movies that have been either critical or financial successes, but they have yet to be established as household names.  Basically, if you hear about a film coming out by one of these directors, run to go see it.

10. Charlie Kaufman

Best known as the screenwriter for such classic films as Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), he recently broke into the world of directing with Synecdoche, New York (2008).  To date he has only made one film.  So why is he on this list?  Probably because Synecdoche, New York was one of the most critically well received films of 2008.  Roger Ebert even presented Kaufman with a Golden Thumb Award, declaring Synecdoche, New York the best film of the decade.  With such a critically well-received debut, it’s obvious that Kaufman has a long career ahead of him.

9. Pete Docter

Pete Docter is a name that is synonymous with Pixar Studios.  He was a writer on Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), and WALL·E (2008) and he has directed two of the studios biggest hits: Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Up (2008).  Despite only directing two films, he has been nominated for four Oscars, winning one for Best Animated Picture for Up.  Pete Docter is one of the main reasons that animation is seeing such a resurgence nowadays.  Easily one of Pixar’s most important employees, it will be interesting which way his career will take him.

8. Tarsem Singh

Born Tarsem Dhandwar Singh in India, Tarsem began his career by graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.  His first few gigs were directing music videos for such artists as En Vogue, Deep Forest, and R.E.M., directing their seminal video “Losing My Religion.”  He has directed two feature films to date: The Cell (2000) starring Jennifer Lopez and the critical darling The Fall (2006).  His films are characterized by breathtaking visuals and seemingly impossible special effects.  He is currently hard at work on his third film, Immortals.  Look for it to release in November 2011.

7. Martin McDonagh

Most famous as a stunning Tony-nominated Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh entered the world of film in 2005 with his short Six Shooter.  The short film earned McDonagh the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film.  From there he directed In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes.  This film about two hit men hiding out in Bruges received widespread accolades, including a further Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  Armed with a fierce wit and intelligence, his films are darkly hysterical and moving.  His next film project is entitled Seven Psychopaths.

6. Duncan Jones

The son of international rock star David Bowie, Duncan Jones is one of England’s most promising new talents.  His debut film, Moon (2009), was lauded as one of the best hard science fiction films of the decade and earned comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  Although it only made about a two million dollar profit, it was applauded as one of the year’s best films.   He won the BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for special achievement for a British director’s debut film.  Jones has hopes to make Moon the first part of a trilogy.  First, he has to finish work on his new film Source Code starring Vera Farmiga and Jake Gyllenhaal which will be released in 2011.

5. Neill Blomkamp

This South Africa-born director has only made one film so far, the critically acclaimed District 9.  It was a bold science fiction tale that made allusions to South African apartheid.  Combining documentary-style filming with state of the art special effects, it was one of the most widely seen films of 2009.  Time named him as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009.  Not only that, but his debut film received four Academy Award nominations.  Among them was the coveted Best Picture nomination, becoming one of the very few science fiction films to ever be considered for the honor.  He is now working on his second film which will be released in 2011.

4. Joe Wright

This English film director has recently made waves in the world of cinema with two incredible adaptations of two British novels: Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007).  These two films were collectively nominated for ten Academy Awards and a whopping twenty BAFTA nominations.  His most recent film was The Soloist (2009) starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.  The film received lukewarm critical praise and only recovered half of its total budget.  It is uncertain when he will return to making movies, as his next project, Indian Summer, is currently in development hell.  But when he does return, expect it to be triumphant.

3. J.J. Abrams

Known as the creator of such famous television franchises as Felicity, Alias, Lost, and Fringe, Abrams rocketed to the top of Hollywood’s power players with Mission: Impossible III and the phenomenal Star Trek (2009).  His two films have made a combined profit of $483,344,567.  While his films may not be as artistically stimulating as Wright or McDonagh, they have an uncanny ability to appeal to both casual filmgoers and more ardent fans of science fiction.  He is also responsible for 2008’s Cloverfield.  With an almost preternatural ability to create lucrative franchises, expect to see Abrams around for a long time.

2. Darren Aronofsky

To lovers of cult films, Aronofsky is a familiar name but the regular public may not have heard of this great director.  He has a knack for working in diverse genres, directing the thriller ? (1998), the independent darling Requiem for a Dream (2000), and the cerebral sci-fi drama The Fountain (2006).  But his best work is 2008’s The Wrestler, the story of professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson.  The film won the 2008 Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion award, making him the third ever American director to achieve the honor.  It was named the best reviewed drama of 2008 by Rotten Tomatoes.  Expect to see him make his big Hollywood break when the new RoboCop film hits theaters, as he has been named as its director.

1. Ramin Bahrani

It truly is a shame that more people don’t know about this director.  He is easily one of the best directors working in not only America, but the entire world.  He has only made three full length films, but he is already considered to be one of the world’s great modern day filmmakers.  Working with a style heavily influenced by Italian Neo-Realism and documentary film making, Bahrani focuses on the everyday struggles of members of the working class.

Chop Shop


His 2007 Chop Shop was named by Roger Ebert as one of the best films of the decade and has been added to his list of Great Films.  His latest film, Goodbye Solo (2008) won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Venice Film Festival, which basically means that it was named one of the world’s best films of 2008.  His chances of becoming popularly known are slim, as he works outside the Hollywood system and seems to have no desire to do so.  If you care about great cinema, check him out.  Judging by the reception of his first three films, he has a long, distinguished, and incredible career ahead of him as one of the world’s foremost cinematic auteurs.

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  1. Pedro Urrutia on

    Aronofsky, JJ Abrahams? I thought you said NEW talents, those are STABLISHED directors, specially JJ, he’s quite commercial and blockbuster maker. Agree with Blomkamp and Duncan Jones, love their movies.

      • Pedro Urrutia on

        Still, both Aronofsky and Abrahams were stablished directors in 2010. Aronofsky started in 1999 and Abrahams was working on TV since 1998 and first movie 2006.

  2. Independent film Press International on

    Up and coming brilliant Filmmaker Antonio Racciano (2013) has been making an impressive showing throughout the Indy circuit. We had the good fortune to meet at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012 when he was making his film debut as an actor in Ben Affleck’s Argo, playing a small cameo role as “The Waiter”, in the scene at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. I had the good fortune to sit down with Antonio for an impromptu interview.
    Click here for entire interview:
    Antonio Racciano’s IMDb page:
    Antonio Racciano’s Movie links:

  3. Two Words: Steve Mcqueen- Hunger. Twelve years a slave will triumph Django Unchained and I believe Steve Mcqueen will be the most prolific Director of our era.

  4. Wow! I can’t believe you put Pete Doctor on the list. I love him. He’s one of my inspirations, since I’m more interested in directing animated films, rather than live action. My only regret is that there aren’t ANY female directors on this list. Not ONE! Hopefully, I’ll change all that. ;P

  5. Keith Watabayashi on

    Yeah this list is ridiculous. I only agree with Blomkamp and Jones, the rest are great directors to be sure, but I think they are no longer "up and coming" or can rank with the latest wave of directors, especially Aronofsky, McDonagh, and Kaufman. How can you list Bahrani at number one if he has a slim chance of being popular? If you're message doesn't reach the masses, no matter how intelligent the work is, you cannot be considered great because to be great is to leave the world better off than when you entered it, if no one knows your work, then you didn't do that. And where are the Asian directors? How about Chan-Wook Park, or the Oscar-winning Yojiro Takita? Might as well list Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, if you're going to include J.J. Abrams. What about Joss Whedon? Sure he's made a career of television, but with "Serenity" and the upcoming "Avengers", what's to stop him from being the next big director in Hollywood? I see you also left off any Latin or Spanish filmmakers, AND YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO WOMEN ON THIS LIST!!! I'm pretty sure Sarah Polley or Christine Jeffs could qualify for this topic. And what about African-Americans? Where the hell is Lee Daniels, director of "Precious"?

    I'm glad someone else cares about directors the way other people care about actors, but please do some research, please look at the bigger picture, just because…because I said so, I guess…for all that's worth. 😉