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.
Below is a chart of the results using the entire sample of directors:
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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).
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.
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.
These data suggest that directors tend to make their best film at age 44 or 45.
Again, the data suggest that directors are most likely to make their best films at ages 44 or 45.
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.
Below are lists of the top-25 directors at each age group.
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.