Go to the home page Go to the master list sorted by rank Go to the master list sorted alphabetically Go to the top films as determined by each taste Go to the master list sorted by director Go to the master list sorted by actor Go to the master list sorted by year of release Go to the master list sorted by genre Go to the master list sorted by nation of origin Go to more lists of films Find alternate titles of master list films Go to lists of top films as determined by normal film fans Go to the FAQ and other essays Go to the links page Go to the site map

Director Productivity by Age

Note: This page uses data from the 2016-2017 edition of the Phi Phenomenon. This will not be updated with future editions.

This study aims to answer a simple question: At what age are directors most likely to make the greatest films? This question is answered using the filmography for the top 501 directors. (Actually 500 of the 501 as I was unable to find a birth year for one of them). For each director on that list, points are assigned to the films that they made using the procedure described in the method section of this site (i.e., the same method used to generate the lists on this site). The points are then sorted based the age of the director(s) at the time the films were released. The age of the director for these purposes is the age on the director's birthday in the year in which the film is released. It does not matter if the director's birth date or the film's release date is January 1 or December 31.

For example, Francis Ford Coppola turned 33 in 1972, so The Godfather is treated as having been directed by a 33 year old director. It does not matter that Coppola did not turn 33 until two weeks after the release of the film.

Total points by age

Below is a chart of the results using the entire sample of directors:

The total number of points for all films by top directors sorted by the age of the director

An initial analysis suggests that productivity starts to increase in a director's mid twenties and peaks when she or he is about 40 years old. Afterward there is a decline until about her or his late sixties.

However, these data are a bit skewed. For example, it shows Christopher Nolan as having made no contribution whatsoever past his mid forties. This is not because he lost his edge or ran out of ideas, but because he has yet to turn 50.

Below is an analysis of a subsample of 207 directors who died in 2011 or before. These are all directors whose careers are finished and whose final films had at least some time to accumulate points.

The total number of points for all films by top directors who died before 2012 sorted by the age of the director

With fewer directors being considered, the data are more jagged. These data suggest that directors tend to peak when they are 43-45 years old with an anomalous peak when they are 50 (driven in part by the fact that Victor Fleming turned 50 in 1939) with most of their total output coming from their early thirties to their late fifties.

Total films by age

This leads to another question: Is this when directors make their best films or is this simply when they make the most films? The chart below shows when the directors being analyzed made the most films that received at least some points:

The total number of films that  top directors made sorted by the age of the director

The data indicate that the number of films that directors make peaks when they are 40 to 47 years old. This suggests in part that the peak in the early 40s might be in part due to more opportunities. This still has the same issue above in that it does not contain the films that living directors have yet to make. The chart below shows the number of films made at each age for the subsample of directors who died in 2011 or before:

The total number of films from top directors who died before 2012 sorted by the age of the director

The data here indicate that the productivity of directors peak at ages 42 to 47. Again, this suggests that the peak during the mid 40s may be in part due to simply making more films. However, one should not be too quick to come to this conclusion as the data do not show when the directors made films that are so completely forgotten that they receive zero points.

Each director's best film

The charts below look at the best film (i.e., film with the highest point total) by each of the 500 directors being analyzed (500 films total).

The total number of points for the best film by each top director sorted by the age of the director

This suggests that directors are most likely to make their best film at 39 or 40 years old with a spike at 45 years old. The chart below looks at the number of best films made at each age.

The total number of top directors' best films sorted by the age of the director

This again suggests that a director is most likely to make her or his best film at age 39-41.

Once again, the charts above miss chases when a living director's best film has yet to be made or was made too recently to score high. The charts below describe the subsample of directors who died in 2011 or before.

The total number of points for the best films of top directors who died before 2012 sorted by the age of the director

These data suggest that directors tend to make their best film at age 44 or 45.

The total number of best films from top directors who died before 2012 sorted by the age of the director

Again, the data suggest that directors are most likely to make their best films at ages 44 or 45.

Conclusion

Overall, it appears that directors tend to make the best films in their early to mid 40s, with this perhaps being in part because they make the most films at that age.

Best Directors by Decade

Below are lists of the top-25 directors at each age group.

Top Directors in Their Twenties

  1. Orson Welles
  2. Steven Spielberg
  3. Franšois Truffaut
  4. Paul Thomas Anderson
  5. Stanley Kubrick
  6. Sergei M. Eisenstein
  7. Stanley Donen
  8. Quentin Tarantino
  9. Jean Vigo
  10. George A. Romero
  11. Sam Raimi
  12. Buster Keaton
  13. Richard Kelly
  14. Kevin Smith
  15. George Lucas
  16. M. Night Shyamalan
  17. Wes Anderson
  18. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  19. Luis Bu˝uel
  20. John Landis
  21. John Waters
  22. Steven Soderbergh
  23. Chantal Akerman
  24. Amy Heckerling
  25. Robert Rodriguez

Top Directors in Their Thirties

  1. Francis Ford Coppola
  2. Steven Spielberg
  3. Martin Scorsese
  4. Jean-Luc Godard
  5. James Cameron
  6. Sergio Leone
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. F.W. Murnau
  9. John Carpenter
  10. Christopher Nolan
  11. David Fincher
  12. Robert Zemeckis
  13. Quentin Tarantino
  14. Fritz Lang
  15. George Lucas
  16. Ingmar Bergman
  17. Mike Nichols
  18. William Friedkin
  19. Tim Burton
  20. Billy Wilder
  21. Satyajit Ray
  22. Leo McCarey
  23. Rob Reiner
  24. Roman Polanski
  25. Alain Resnais

Top Directors in Their Forties

  1. Stanley Kubrick
  2. Peter Jackson
  3. Akira Kurosawa
  4. Ridley Scott
  5. Woody Allen
  6. Frank Capra
  7. Howard Hawks
  8. Steven Spielberg
  9. Martin Scorsese
  10. Jean Renoir
  11. Elia Kazan
  12. Joel Coen
  13. Billy Wilder
  14. Alfred Hitchcock
  15. John Ford
  16. Federico Fellini
  17. Preston Sturges
  18. James Whale
  19. Charles Chaplin
  20. Francis Ford Coppola
  21. Rob Reiner
  22. John Huston
  23. Sam Peckinpah
  24. Jonathan Demme
  25. Roman Polanski

Top Directors in Their Fifties

  1. Alfred Hitchcock
  2. Victor Fleming
  3. Billy Wilder
  4. Michael Curtiz
  5. David Lean
  6. Steven Spielberg
  7. Stanley Kubrick
  8. Yasujir˘ Ozu
  9. Howard Hawks
  10. Krzysztof Kieslowski
  11. Sidney Lumet
  12. William Wyler
  13. John Ford
  14. Kenji Mizoguchi
  15. Irvin Kershner
  16. Woody Allen
  17. Charles Laughton
  18. Robert Bresson
  19. David Lynch
  20. Michael Mann
  21. Robert Altman
  22. George Cukor
  23. Sam Wood
  24. Pedro Almodˇvar
  25. John Sturges

Top Directors in Their Sixties and beyond

  1. Alfred Hitchcock
  2. Clint Eastwood
  3. Luis Bu˝uel
  4. John Ford
  5. Hayao Miyazaki
  6. Ridley Scott
  7. Martin Scorsese
  8. Akira Kurosawa
  9. John Huston
  10. Robert Altman
  11. Robert Bresson
  12. Ingmar Bergman
  13. Howard Hawks
  14. Fritz Lang
  15. Michael Haneke
  16. Carl Theodor Dreyer
  17. George Cukor
  18. Raoul Walsh
  19. Jacques Tati
  20. Claude Lanzmann
  21. Cecil B. DeMille
  22. Roman Polanski
  23. Luchino Visconti
  24. James Ivory
  25. Douglas Sirk

One random bit of trivia: Luis Bu˝uel appears on the list top directors in their twenties and the list of top directors in their sixties and beyond, but not on any of the other lists.

This page was last modified on July 27, 2018