Top 10 Film Directors You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Top 10 Films takes a look at ten great filmmakers you’ve probably never heard including Satoshi Kon, Alejandro Jodorsky and Forough Farrokhzad.

Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino are a group of directors everyone’s heard of. Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean are directors who’ve passed on and still hold on as strong names today. And indie, cult, film buff darlings like Adam Wingard, David Lynch and John Carpenter are still well known. But I’m here to give you cinema masters you’ve likely never heard of. Maybe you’ve seen or heard of their work and there’s likely at least one filmmaker whose name rings a bell – but these are mostly the quiet voices of the industry. No Marvel, DC or Star Wars films for these guys…yet. Also, I’m aware there’s countless names that range from known to forgotten but I’m going off filmmakers I think very few people know about.

10. Gasper Noe

Irreversible (Noé, 2002)First let’s start with a somewhat more well-known cult filmmaker: Gasper Noe an Argentinian born filmmaker based in France known for extremes. His films: I’ Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter the Void and Love are extreme, sexual and often violent art films that disturb and shock, but he’s never been much of a financially successful director. Irreversible – his most famous film and the only one to make more than its budget – is famous for the infamous 10 minute shot (not scene, “shot”) where Monica Bellucci is violently raped and beaten…not exactly family friendly cinema. And despite controversies about his films’ uses of sex, violence and in Irreversible’s case, homophobia too, he’s still a masterful filmmaker. If many of you were blown away by Birdman’s apparent continuous take throughout the entire film, Irreversible and Enter the Void do a similar thing…but are way cooler. In Irreversible, not only does the camera seemingly never cut, but it dives and winds around the locations going from crane shots to handheld in seamless editing…but also pulls a “Memento” by playing the story in reverse order, to the point the credits are reversed. And in Enter the Void, we go through the entire film in first person. Granted after the first act, the perspective is of that person’s soul but it’s still amazing: diving around from place to place, time to time and even entering a model city like it’s a real one. Noe’s films are visual overdoses (considering Enter the Void is meant to be a drug trip) but they’re the kind of passionate filmmaking not seen as much and I highly encourage you to check him out.

9. Takashi Miike

Audition, Japanese Horror Film,One of the more infamous Japanese filmmakers (though still often forgotten today) Takashi Miike is a filmmaker of controversial films. His two most famous works – Audition and Ichi the Killer are often criticised and have seen Miike scrutinised as a sick man, but both still have valid points and thematic depth. And even though his small popularity in the early 2000’s isn’t as strong, he still makes awesome films: One Missed Call (the Ringu J-Horror satire that the terrible remake failed to even understand), The Crow Zero films and the live action version of Terra Formars. He’s a lauded director whose credits have not gotten the proper responses despite still being an influence on filmmakers, so go check his work.

8. Satoshi Kon

The current three big anime directors are Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, The Wind Rises), Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, The Garden of Words, The Children Who Chase Lost Voices) and Mamoru Hosoda (The Boy and the Beast, Wolf Children and Summer Wars). But one amazing anime director who unfortunately passed away in 2010 and often doesn’t get the amazing credit he deserves is Satoshi Kon. A Japanese anime director inspired by Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch, and who was an influence and eventual friend to art house name Darren Aronofsky (to the point Aronofsky purchased the rights to Perfect Blue to remake scenes in Requiem for a Dream and eventually fully remake in the form of Black Swan) and was a master of dual storytelling and editing. I don’t want to spoil any of his works and I’ll simply tell you to watch: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika and the sequence he wrote for the anime anthology Memories: Magnetic Rose. Rest in Peace Satoshi Kon.

7. Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling, Drive, Top 10 Films,I feel Refn is probably the most well-known director on this list. The Danish art house visionary behind the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon certainly has enough clout to the point he was offered the director’s chair on the James Bond film Spectre. After having small success, large financial debt and then making Pusher 2 and 3 to get out of it, Refn started making only the kind of films he liked and spoke to him, with Bronson being the start of that. A master in central framing/quadrant direction to rival Stanley Kubrick, immaculate colours and dark stories, he’s earned an enviable reputation. Most well-known for the violent, swearing and sometimes naked Tom Hardy vehicle Bronson and the neo noir Ryan Gosling film Drive, even his most divisive films Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon are inspired work, to the point I’d call Drive and Only God Forgives some of the best films this decade.

6. Tarsem Singh

Possibly the most insane (without being a crazy human in general) is a man who often just goes by the name Tarsem. An Indian director who was most famous for a while as a music video and commercial director (anyone remember the Pepsi ad with female gladiators?) and became one of the wildest and craziest visionary filmmakers. His range of filmmaking varies, going from the worst to the best is: Mirror Mirror, Self-Less, The Cell, Immortals and The Fall. Mirror Mirror was just trying to compete with Snow White and the Huntsman and is forgotten for a reason, but The Cell and Immortals are visual masterpieces hurt by weak narratives and The Fall might be the craziest piece of filmmaking ever. Seriously, The Fall was made over several years in almost 30 countries (sometimes for one second of the film – I’m not kidding) using minimal CGI and being about purest imagination. If you’ve missed his work, give it a try…except Mirror Mirror which is not worth your time.

5. Ivan Sen

Australia has a decent number of famous filmmakers: George Miller (Mad Max, Happy Feet), Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Master and Commander: At the Far Side of the World) and Philip Noyce (Patriot Games, Salt) are well noted but Ivan Sen is an often forgotten filmmaker in Australia whose basically Australia’s version of Robert Rodriquez aka “A One Man Crew”. An Aboriginal filmmaker whose most recent endeavours were the visually amazing neo noir Mystery Road and Goldstone, but even his short form work from the mid 90s is impressive. And yes, he does the directing, writing, editing, cinematography and even music for his work, which often kind of annoys some fellow Aussie filmmakers who are all about collaboration but they can’t deny his impeccable skill. Even if you’re not an Aussie, you gotta see his work.

4. Jonathan Glazer

Scarlett Johansson, Under The Skin, Top 10 Films of 2014While mostly a music video director to the point he’s only made three films and only two of them are good, Jonathan Glazer is an amazing director. His best works are the Ben Kingsley-starring offbeat thriller Sexy Beast and the art house slow-burning sci-fi with Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin. And honestly, Under the Skin shows why Glazer is a genius filmmaker. Yes it didn’t make much money but it’s terrifying without being horror, philosophical without being too art house and powerful without being a drama. And most people know the film for Scarlett’s performance, ability to not be recognised by real people and sexy factor without much credit going to the director’s visual, creative and restrained genius. I can’t wait for him to make more, but in the meantime: go watch his stuff.

3. Alejandro Jodorowsky

I’d like to introduce the Chilean filmmaker who almost made the film version of Dune as a 14-hour psychedelic drug trip of a film with an insane cast and described his adaptation process as “I’m going to rape Frank Herbert, rape him rape him rape him – with love of course”. Yeah this guy’s nuts and I love him. He’s a crazy art house filmmaker whose most recognised film is the often cited “blasphemous” The Holy Mountain that’s visually gorgeous and artistically potent. Other greats in his work include El Topo, Dance of Reality, Santa Sangre and Endless Poetry. Also look up the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune to see him describe the process and see what the film might’ve looked like with storyboards come to life. He’s crazy, he’s funny and he’s wonderful: he’s Alejandro Jodorowsky!

2. Ari Folman

Ari Folman is an Israeli filmmaker who has two great films that’s you’ve probably not seen outside of some movie lists: The Congress and Waltz with Bashir. He’s often not credited for how amazing his films are and Waltz with Bashir is probably one of the most forgotten and underrated war films. An animated war film that appears Roto scoped (drawing over live action, like A Scanner Darkly) but was actually done in Adobe Flash (or Adobe Animate as it’s called now). It’s framed as a kind of documentary and dark tragedy and yes there’s one scene of live action but it’s only at the end and it’s heartbreaking. That film and that scene alone make him an amazing director who deserves to get more acknowledgements.

1. Forough Farrokhzad

For the final unknown director: I decided to go to a female director, as unfortunately there’s less female directors making our biggest movies. Sure, Kathryn Bigelow scored big on The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Patty Jenkins recently made a smash with Wonder Woman and Selma director Ava DuVernay making the 100 million dollar A Wrinkle in Time remake and the female directors of Raw and The Babadook get their praise but here’s to a filmmaker that despite not making a feature, living in her country of descent and dying before the 70s, is still important and deserves the recognition.

Forough Farrokhzad was an Iranian poet and documentary filmmaker that was very controversial considering Iran’s anti-feminine mentality. But, during the time were America was slowly being displaced in the country, along with the primarily American influence on film works, Iranians finally made their own: the Iranian New Wave. Unfortunately, most credit The Serpent’s Skin (a male directed film) as the first true film in the Iranian New Wave but that’s not true. The very first truly Iranian film that kickstarted the Iranian New Wave was Forough Farrokhzad’s short documentary, The House is Black. Sure, the film is only 22-minutes long and is considered more of an essay film but so was Orson Welles’ F is for Fake and that’s a classic. Without The House is Black, Iranian New Wave might never have happened and Iranian cinema might’ve ceased to be, and the fact she doesn’t receive the acknowledgement and recognition by larger audiences is disheartening. Despite being in a country that looked down upon her, Farrokhzad created an entire film movement film school nerds and scholars lavish over and was likely a massive inspiration despite being often overlooked. I think she deserves proper recognition for that. Thank you Forough – rest in peace.

So yes, there were MANY directors that aren’t as well known that had to stay off the list. What did you think of these choices and who are some directors you think should be known more. Comment below and keep reading Top 10 Films.

Written and Compiled by Tyrone Bruinsma

Tyrone Bruinsma
About the Author
Born in Australia with a love of storytelling and cinema, Tyrone Bruinsma has gone to earn the skills in both making and critiquing cinema. With a love of visceral, disturbing and horrifying works (both to make and watch), he's aiming to make a strong name for himself in the industry he loves so much. Currently working his way into the larger workforce and gaining a positive reputation so far, his voice, talent and attitudes towards filmmaking are showing his genuine strengths as a creator and critic. You can follow him on Twitter & YouTube

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  1. Callum Reply

    I’ve seen some of the films of and heard of Jonathan Glazer but I have to say a great pick. He’s a director who deserves to be a “name”. There’s plenty for me to check out here. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. CineGirl Reply

    Good selection of filmmakers. Some very good recommendations.

  3. Dan Grant Reply

    You’re right. I haven’t heard of about half of these film makers. More films to add to my list.

    I’d like to say about Refn, his Neon Demon was one of the best films of 2016, imo. It’s not just his use of colour and symbolism to tell a story, in fact, some of the best stuff about Demon was his in your face observations about human nature. I liked his work before Demon and now I’m a huge fan because of it.

    Thanks for making this list. I love to read about areas of film that I know little about.

    If I could add one more, even though he’s a little more mainstream, but Mark Pellington made two of the most incredible films with The Mothman Prophecies and Arlington Road. Both were challenging, skillfully directed and films that allowed for much conversation afterwards. He basically disappeared from Hollywood’s radar after 2002 doing really only one mainstream film. If you haven’t seen either of these, I’d highly recommend doing so.

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