25 Famous Directors That Never Won An Academy Award

Posted by , Updated on May 23, 2024

Did you know that some renowned movie directors have never won an Academy Award? The Oscars, often heralded as the pinnacle of film award shows in Hollywood, offer a stage where the entire film community comes together to celebrate exceptional cinema. This is an event that film industry professionals worldwide eagerly anticipate, hoping to clutch the coveted golden statue. The anticipation is especially high among directors contending for the “Best Director” award. However, regardless of their commercial success or loyal fan base, only a select few obtain this honor. Here is a list of 25 distinguished directors who have never won an Academy Award.


Bryan Singer

Bryan_Singersource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001741/?ref_=nv_sr_1

While Singer became a household name bringing the X-Men comics to film, popularizing superheros rarely garners you any cred with the Academy. However, before X-Men, Singer received significant acclaim for directing The Usual Suspects which won an Oscar for Best Writing and Best Actor. Occasionally, he’ll work on a project that might grab the Academy’s attention, but as of yet he’s never been nominated for Best Director much less taken home the golden statue.


John Carpenter

John_Carpentersource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000118/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Except for The Sixth Sense the horror genre rarely gets much love at the Oscars. Sadly for John Carpenter, his name is almost synonymous with horror. Doing extensive work in the 80s and 90s, releasing classic horror and action films like Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York, he’s not come close to getting a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards.


Frank Darabont

Frank_Darabontsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001104/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Known more recently for his work on The Walking Dead, some may not remember that Darabont originally worked on Shawshank Redemption. A movie some consider one of the best movies of all time, receiving several Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Writing, it apparently wasn’t enough to get Darabont a nomination.


Guy Ritchie

Guy_Ritchiesource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005363/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Made famous for his work on Snatch and more recently Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie’s humorous, eclectic, and bold directing style has yet to pique the interest of the Academy. Since most of his movies are in the gritty action genre, none of his projects fit, but maybe one day he’ll take on something more ambitious.


Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo_del_Torosource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0868219/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Mostly popular within comic book circles for Blade 2 and Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro hit the Academy’s radar with Pan’s Labyrinth. An original and compelling movie that received a nomination for writing, but unfortunately for Del Toro, not Best Director. Despite that, Del Toro has the artistic vision to potentially get a nod. Time will only tell.


John Hughes

John_Hughessource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000455/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Directing the 80s classics The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, John Hughes used several directing techniques that have inspired later filmmakers to mimic his storytelling style. But his popularity, financial success, and talent weren’t enough to help him land a nomination for Best Director.


M. Night Shyamalan

M._Night_Shyamalansource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0796117/?ref_=nv_sr_1

M. Night Shyamalan’s rocky career is well known. Kicking things off with smash hits in the 90s and early 00s, but nose diving to ridicule and obscurity with movies like The Happening and The Last Airbender. He’s recently made a comeback with The Visit and Split, but not many remember that his first blockbuster success The Sixth Sense won him a nomination for Best Director.


Richard Donner

Richard_Donnersource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001149/?ref_=nv_sr_1

There’s no question Richard Donner was a titan of Hollywood, creating smash hits like Superman, The Goonies, and Lethal Weapon. He’s inspired several filmmakers with his vision and storytelling style. The last film he directed was 16 Blocks in 2006.


Sergio Leone

Sergio_Leonesource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001149/?ref_=nv_sr_1

A name synonymous with spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone directed some of the best westerns of all time, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Fistful of Dollars, and Once Upon a Time in the West. He had a long-lasting influence on westerns and film, and we also have him to thank for making Clint Eastwood a major Hollywood star.


Terry Gilliam

Terry_Gilliamsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000416/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Gathering a cult following from his work on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil, and Twelve Monkeys, he only has been nominated for one Oscar for his writing on Brazil. He’s primarily known for his quirky, bizarre, and enigmatic storytelling which seems perfect for the Academy, but as of yet has not found the project to take him all the way.


Brian De Palma

Brian_De_Palmasource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000361/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Much like Martin Scorsese, De Palma has made quite a name directing gangster movies like Scarface, The Untouchables, and Carlito’s Way. However, over the decades he’s directed a large body of work that spans many genres but stayed committed to the same experimental and noir storytelling. De Palma continues to direct today, but little signs point to a potential Oscar in his future.


Jon Favreau

Jon_Favreausource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0269463/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Jon Favreau kicked off his directorial career with Made in 2001 but is more widely known for bringing Iron Man to the big screen. Since then, he’s made a slew of successful movies, but showed his range with the little independent drama Chef. While there hasn’t been much talk about Oscar potential, his filmmaking career is far from over.


Wes Anderson

Wes_Andersonsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0027572/?ref_=nmawd_awd_nm

Wes Anderson is the kind of famous director you’d think would have won a Best Director Academy Award at some point, but sadly has not. His quirky and highly original style has had a heavy influence on the industry. To date, he’s been nominated three times for his writing work on Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It feels like it’ll be only a matter of time before he takes home the Oscar.


Terrence Malick

Terrence_Malicksource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000517/?ref_=nv_sr_2

Receiving two Best Director nominations for The Thin Red Line, and The Tree of Life, Malick’s serene cinematography and use of imagery to tell the story has set him apart from many other directorial styles. Malick is a director’s director. A man that many directors emulate, look up to and admire. If anything, he’s a director to keep an eye on for winning Best Director eventually.


Werner Herzog

Werner_Herzogsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001348/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Werner Herzog is perhaps more widely known in Germany, where he is from, and among film enthusiasts, but has built a wide reputation on his dark cinematic style. His notable work includes Aguirre: the Wrath of God, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Rescue Dawn. However, his film Encounters at the End of the World garnered him a Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.


J.J. Abrams

J._J._Abramssource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0009190/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Rising to incredible fame for his work on Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams has been a busy director, helping studios rekindle their franchises, but not having much time working on his own projects. Super 8 is the only original film he’s created. However, with the right project, Abrams has the talent and vision to create something special.


David Fincher

David_Finchersource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000399/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Fincher’s wild success with Seven and Fight Club thrust him into massive popularity among critics and audiences. Later, he received two Best Director nominations for The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While his fame has slowed recently, there’s no telling where his next project might take him.


Tim Burton

Tim_Burtonsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000318/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Known primarily for his macabre directorial style, Tim Burton rose to prominence in the 80s with BeetlejuiceBatman, and Edward Scissorhands. He also worked in animation. His influence and style was on full display in The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, it wasn’t until Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride that he received nominations for Best Animated Feature.


Akira Kurosawa

Akira_Kurosawasource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000041/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Considered a legendary filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa directed the classics Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai and inspired directors like Steven Spielberg. However, few know that his rocky film-making career almost ended when several of his movies were not financially successful. In 1986, he was nominated for Best Director but lost to Sydney Pollack.


David O. Russell

David_O._Russellsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0751102/?ref_=nv_sr_1

After releasing The Fighter in 2011, David O. Russell hit a nomination streak at the Academy. Receiving five total Oscar nominations, three for directing and two for writing, David O. Russell’s odds looked solid over the past couple of years, but none of it panned out. As of now, it looks like he’s hopped out of the film business and moved over to television.


David Lynch

David_lynchsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000186/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Best known for his work on the hit television show Twin Peaks. David Lynch made a name for himself creating bizarre, experimental, and deeply troubling films. However, despite the oddity of his movies, he’s gained quite a following and Ridley Scott’s admiration in Hollywood. He’s been nominated three times for Best Director. His last nomination was in 2002 for Mulholland Drive.


Ridley Scott

Ridley_Scottsource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000631/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Ridley Scott is one of those iconic film directors that will go down in film history as a visionary who changed the industry. With movies like Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, there’s no doubt he made a tremendous impact. He’s received three Best Director nominations for Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down.


Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred_Hitchcocksource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000033/?ref_=nv_sr_1

With his larger than life ego and charismatic personality, everyone knows Alfred Hitchcock, who popularized thrillers with Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho. Since 1941, Hitchcock was been nominated five times for Best Director and each and every time he lost to someone else. His last Best Director nomination was in 1961 for Psycho. I’m guessing at that point he gave up hope.


George Lucas

George_Lucassource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000184/?ref_=nv_sr_2

Primarily known as the director of the smash hit and cultural phenomenon Star Wars, George Lucas was nominated for Best Director for both American Graffiti and Star Wars, but never received either, losing to The Sting director George Roy Hill and the Annie Hall director Woody Allen. He was never nominated again.


Christopher Nolan

Christopher_Nolansource: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0634240/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Within a short time, Christopher Nolan has become a household name, revolutionizing the Batman franchise and becoming known for his ambiguous and mysterious storytelling. Yet, despite his strong cult following as a filmmaker and his record-breaking box office success, Nolan has not been nominated for Best Director. Some believe it is only a matter of time before he gets the big win, but if many of his predecessors tried and failed, there’s no telling what the future could bring for Nolan.

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