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Cinemaholic: The 10 Greatest Sci-Fi Movie Directors of All Time, Ranked

Jun 22, 2013
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So I was re-watching the Movies With Mikey episode on A.I. Artificial Intelligence and it got me wondering: How would Steven Spielberg rank against other directors of prominence in the sci-fi genre, like Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and Christopher Nolan?

Spielberg's made everything from sci-fi for kids (E.T. Extra Terrestrial) to his more mature fare in the first half of the 2000s (Minority Report, A.I. and War of the Worlds). So I did what any bored person does in the middle of the night and went to Google looking for lists of the best sci-fi directors of all time.

And I hit gold Jerry. Gold. Okay, so I don't know who or what Cinemaholic is but it was the only legit seeming link that popped up alongside a bunch of random IMDB top 10 lists, and also the article itself is fairly recent (January of this year), so here we are.

Link: https://www.thecinemaholic.com/greatest-sci-fi-directors-all-time/
Today, we are ranking the greatest directors of sc-fi films of all time. One important point to note here is that we are not ranking the directors on their overall work but rather just the sci-fi films they have made; which makes things interesting because even though Stanley Kubrick is arguably the greatest director of all time, he has only made two science fiction films. How would he compete with someone like James Cameron or Ridley Scott, both of whom have made several great science fiction films? Let's see.

10. Robert Zemeckis
Though he has experimented — and at times been very successful — with other genres, he was able to break into this list for his extraordinary ‘Back to the Future Trilogy' alone.

9. Spike Jonez
Jonze's last film ‘Her' wowed everyone, from audiences to critics. His debut film ‘Being John Malkovich' is still considered a genius work.

8. Shane Carruth
His first film ‘Primer' made science geeks shit in their pants. His second ‘Upstream Color‘ floored everyone — from critics to the geeks. He has the potential to become the next Christopher Nolan, but then, he has expressed his dislike of working with studios and get dictated by them.

7. Terry Gilliam
His work has deteriorated over time, but there is no denying that he has made two absolute masterpieces in the forms of ‘Brazil' and ‘Twelve Monkeys'. His achievements are even more significant when you consider the fact that he didn't have the advantage of technology 25-30 years back when he made those films.

6. Alfonso Cuarón
Someone who's not very familiar with his filmography would be startled to discover that a small but charmingly brilliant Spanish film ‘Y Tu Mamá También' was made by the same guy who directed arguably the grandest science fiction of this generation: ‘Gravity'. Then, he has also directed what many claim as the finest science fiction thriller of this century: ‘Children of Men'.

5. Christopher Nolan
With complex and labyrinthine plot development and rich thematic and philosophical undertones, Nolan has managed to achieve something few other auteurs ever have – to intertwine art with mainstream cinema.

4. Stanley Kubrick
A visionary whose cinematic imagination and ambition inspired a generation of filmmakers and cinephiles, spawning the term ”Kubrickan", no artist in the last century has influenced his craft quite the way Kubrick has. Technically proficient, thematically audacious and emotionally rich, Kubrick has always pushed the envelope, effectively reimagining the perception of cinema as a 20th century art form.

3. James Cameron
But the genius of James Cameron was established years before, with his cult science-fiction action thriller ‘The Terminator'. One of the most sought after and financially successful filmmakers the world has ever seen, James Cameron is an institution by himself. Known for undertaking huge projects with exorbitant budgets, Cameron has carved a niche for himself with visually awe-inspiring and emotionally rich cinema over the years.

2. Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott burst into the cinematic arena with the cult science-fiction horror classic, ‘Alien', which captured the imagination of cine-goers with its stunning visual effects and taut direction. With his 1982 neo noir cult-classic ‘Blade Runner', he redefined the science fiction genre; exquisitely crafting a dystopian future with complex philosophical undertones of faith, humanity, technology and hubris.

1. Steven Spielberg
The most obvious choice for obvious reasons: he has single handedly made science fiction genre popular among the regular movie-going audience . . . Spielberg is unarguably one of the few American filmmakers who have bridged the gap between commercial cinema and art. From the magical ‘E.T: The Extra Terrestrial' to the extraordinary ‘Jurrasic Park', he has explored every sub-genre within the science-fiction genre.

Lock if old
or if BobbyRoberts doesn't post on the first page
and all that.
 

Ragnarok

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Jan 14, 2005
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I think James Cameron belongs at either 1 or 2 behind Spielberg, but still a pretty solid list.
 

spineduke

Unconfirmed Member
Apr 19, 2007
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Spielberg isn't really what I'd call a Scifi director. And number one on top of that?

There's ET, that AI flick...andddd ...yea.

edit: oh ok, minority report and the close encounters. I'd give him that, but still not convinced he should top the list.

Nice pick on Gilliam but goddamn where is Verhoeven?

This too.
 

kyser73

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Sep 29, 2013
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Spielberg isn't really what I'd call a Scifi director. And number one on top of that?

There's ET, that AI flick...andddd ...yea.

That one about the Dinosaurs?

Plus the Martians coming to visit and Tim Cruise's report about minorities.

Which are all in the OP.

But yeah, where's Verhoeven? Could probably lose Cuaron or Jonze from that list TBH.
 

Ragnarok

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Jan 14, 2005
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Spielberg isn't really what I'd call a Scifi director. And number one on top of that?

There's ET, that AI flick...andddd ...yea.



This too.

Jurassic Park, Close Encounters, Minority Report and War of the Worlds don't count?
 

TaterTots

Banned
Jun 14, 2015
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Spielberg isn't really what I'd call a Scifi director. And number one on top of that?

There's ET, that AI flick...andddd ...yea.

edit: oh ok, minority report and the close encounters. I'd give him that, but still not convinced he should top the list.



This too.

What?
 

duckroll

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Jun 7, 2004
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A bit odd see Jonez represented but no Aronofsky. I would put him above Zemeckis too. Otherwise pretty solid list. Nolan a bit too high, but hard to argue that he has done a lot to make scifi films more mainstream, opening opportunities for other filmmakers in the studio system too.
 

Moppeh

Banned
Sep 12, 2013
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Bad list.

No primarily foreign language directors?

Kubrick only at 4?

Though, conceptually, it's a poor idea anyway. Comparing directors by genre doesn't really work the same way as it would for music artists or something.
 
Jun 22, 2013
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You could almost make a case for Minority Report, but A.I? Come on son.

But yeah Paul Verhoeven needs to be on there.

Robocop
Total Recall
Starship Troopers

Easily deserves a place on this list.

Have you watched A.I. recently? I even link to a really good video essay in the OP if you need a quick primer.
 

hiredhand

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Apr 12, 2008
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The top 4 is fine. The rest not so much.

Where is Carpenter, Cronenberg, Tarkovsky, Verhoeven, Wise or Lang? I would definitely rank all of them above Nolan, Carruth, Cuaron and Jonze.
 

DrSlek

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Mar 8, 2011
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Can Close Encounters be called sci-fi when the sci-fi elements are kind of limited? There's very little sci for a sci-fi movie.
 

spineduke

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Apr 19, 2007
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Can Close Encounters be called sci-fi when the sci-fi elements are kind of limited? There's very little sci for a sci-fi movie.

That was my thinking for Jurassic Park, but it seems the consensus is, they used science to make the dinos, hence its scifi.
 

MattKeil

BIGTIME TV MOGUL #2
Aug 4, 2004
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Ridley Scott has made exactly two great sci-fi movies, both of them over 30 years ago. Should be way lower on the list and Cameron should be #2.

Can Close Encounters be called sci-fi when the sci-fi elements are kind of limited? There's very little sci for a sci-fi movie.

An examination of first contact is science fiction by definition.

For now...:X-Files theme:
 

Nielm

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Nov 23, 2015
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I think James Cameron belongs at either 1 or 2 behind Spielberg, but still a pretty solid list.

I agree, I think James Cameron should be 1, and Ridley Scott should be 2. Terminator 1 & 2, Blade Runner, Aliens and Alien are better Sci-Fi movies than any one by Spielberg, in my opinion.


Verhoeven should be on that list too, above Nolan at least.
 

Psychoward

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Aug 17, 2011
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As someone who generally likes Nolan outside of TDKR and Interstellar, that description of him is straight up lauaghable.
 

MattKeil

BIGTIME TV MOGUL #2
Aug 4, 2004
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J.J. Abrams is definitely top 20 right?... Guys?

 

Robot Pants

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Jun 8, 2011
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No Fincher but Nolan and Jonez?
Get the Fuck outta here



Oh god sorry I totally missed the word Sci-Fi.
Nolan still doesn't belong on that list. At ALL.
 

Temp_User

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Jan 7, 2017
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Paul Verhoeven is indeed missing in this best sci-fi directors list. Dude has Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Hollow Man, and Robocop under his belt.

Maybe the list creators don't want to mix sci-fi and satire ?
 

Zen Aku

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Aug 24, 2016
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I'm not 100% sure how Spike Jonze made it to the top 10. Being John Malkovich and Her are fantastic and all.

But I feel like other directors did way more recently and are much more recognizable.
 

Nielm

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Nov 23, 2015
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As someone else in this thread said, he's made 2 good sci-fi movies and the last was over 30 years ago. The Martian was OK too I suppose but nothing special and also a book adaptation.

Still deserves to be at least #2. Alien and Blade Runner are Sci-Fi classics, and he has made a Sci-Fi film more recently than Spielberg.