10 Directors Who Have Directed the Most Oscar-Winning Performances


Acting is one of the most admirable professions in the film industry. A performance can often make or break a film, so it’s the actors’ responsibility to bolster a film’s narrative and effectively transmit its themes to viewers. However, good performances don’t come from nowhere. A great director is needed to take an actor and pull their best potential out of them.

Many filmmakers have directed multiple actors toward Oscar nominations and eventual wins. From classic masters of the craft, like Elia Kazan, to more modern examples of great actor directors, like Martin Scorsese (who would add another number to his tally if Lily Gladstone wins Best Actress at the 96th Oscars), these are auteurs who prove that directing actors well is an invaluable skill. But who among these great filmmakers has directed the most Oscar-winning performances? The answer won’t come as a surprise to film lovers.

10 Jonathan Demme

Directed 4 Oscar Winners

Jonathan Demme was one of the finest directors of his generation, capable of making movies that, while full of humanity, were also able to delve into the dark abysses of the human condition. He only won one Oscar for Best Director for his Best Picture-winning The Silence of the Lambs, but exceptional filmmakers like him don’t need numerous statuettes to prove their importance.

Four actors from Jonathan Demme’s films made their way to Oscar gold. First, Mary Steenburgen for Melvin and Howard in 1981; then, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins for the acclaimed TheSilence of the Lambs in 1992; and finally, Tom Hanks for Philadelphia in 1994. Each performance is one of the best of each actor’s career, four powerful tours de force that have remained relevant even decades later.

9 Victor Fleming

Directed 4 Oscar Winners

One of the directors who personified Hollywood’s Golden Age, Victor Fleming was the mind behind some of the most popular movies of the era, a few of which are still as relevant today as they were nearly a century ago. Capable of making epics as massive as Gone With the Wind and more intimate pictures like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he was an exceptional artist whose influence cannot be overstated.

Four Victor Fleming films have Oscar-winning performances. 1937’s The Good Earth (for which Fleming was uncredited) had Luise Rainer, whose use of yellowface remains infamous. The same year, Captains Courageous helped Spencer Tracy win Best Actor. Two years later, Gone With the Wind had Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to be nominated for and win an Oscar. These exceptional performances prove that Fleming had just as great an eye for actors as he did for lush visuals and exciting stories.

8 George Cukor

Directed 5 Oscar Winners

Best known for his profound comedies and elegant adaptations of classic literary works, George Cukor was a particularly versatile director back in the age of Classic Hollywood. From The Philadelphia Story to My Fair Lady, Cukor made a number of iconic classics whose incredible casts have aged like fine wine.

Five performances directed by Cukor made their way to the stage of the Academy Awards. These include Jimmy Stewart in one of his most popular roles, The Philadelphia Story; Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight; Ronald Colman for A Double Life; Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday, controversially winning over Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard; and Rex Harrison‘s divisive win for My Fair Lady. Acting in the director’s movies always strikes a perfect balance between humor and poignancy, which helps the stories’ tones wonderfully.

7 Clint Eastwood

Directed 5 Oscar Winners

Though he’s perhaps best known by general audiences as the star of some of the most famous Western films in history, Clint Eastwood has had just as illustrious and celebrated a career behind the camera. His unique efficiency-focused directing style means that while sometimes he produces some really natural and succinct works of art, sometimes he produces lackluster movies. When they do hit, though, Clint Eastwood films are without equal.

Eastwood is not a fan of wasting anyone’s time on set, so he doesn’t often do more than one take for each shot or scene. Very often, this results in particularly interesting and potent performances, including the five that have won an Oscar: Gene Hackman for Unforgiven, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins for Mystic River, and Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby. All these triumphant performances prove that actors usually do their best when they’re in a Clint Eastwood film.

6 Martin Scorsese

Directed 5 Oscar Winners

Lauded by many as one of the greatest, most multifaceted filmmakers of all time, Martin Scorsese has directed some of the best movies ever made, as well as some of the most powerful and memorable acting performances ever put on the silver screen. From the gangster dramas that he’s best known for to more subdued and spiritual masterpieces like Silence, Scorsese can always be counted on to deliver a great movie.

Quite admirably, but not really surprisingly, Scorsese has led five actors to Oscar gold. These are among the all-time best Oscar winners in their respective winners, especially Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, one of the 80s’ most iconic classics. The others include Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Paul Newman in The Color of Money, Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, and most recently, Cate Blanchett in The Aviator. If Lily Gladstone joins this prestigious group, it’ll be another feather in Scorsese’s cap.

5 John Ford

Directed 5 Oscar Winners

Having won four of the five that he was up for (ironically, none for the genre that he’s most famous for), John Ford is the director with the most Best Director Oscar wins. Considering that he’s one of the most influential and acclaimed directors of American cinema, it’s hardly a surprise. Whether he was making an all-timer Western or an adaptation of a classic literary work, Ford always delivered something fresh and interesting in his movies.

Like other all-time greats, John Ford directed five directors all the way to Oscar glory: Victor Mclagen for The Informer, Thomas Mitchell for Stagecoach, Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath, Donald Crisp for How Green Was My Valley, and Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts. The way Ford loved to have his actors swallowed up by their backgrounds in medium and long shots often resulted in really impactful performances that allowed artists to show off their acting chops beautifully.

4 Fred Zinnemann

Directed 6 Oscar Winners

Fred Zinnemann isn’t often talked about in the same breath as other members of the pantheon of outstanding directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but there are those who would argue that he absolutely deserves to be. His films are visually elegant, socially aware, and strongly influenced by his background as a documentary filmmaker.

Just like Zinnemann was able to tell stories that came across as genuine and realistic, so too was he a master of getting earnest, believable performances from his actors. In fact, Zinnerman directed some of the most legendary performances in film history, six of which won Oscars. The first was Gary Cooper for High Noon, followed by Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed for From Here to Eternity, Paul Scofield for A Man of All Seasons, and Jason Robards and Vanessa Redgrave for Julia.

3 Woody Allen

Directed 7 Oscar Winners

The controversial and disgraced Woody Allen is best known for being the most nominated and awarded screenwriter in Oscar history, with 16 nominations and 3 wins. However, his work as a director has proved to be just as fruitful, as he has led a whopping seven actors to Academy Award nominations since 1978.

The first actress to win an Oscar for an Allen movie is Diane Keaton for her star-making performance in Annie Hall. From there, it’s Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine for Hannah and Her Sisters, Wiest again for Bullets Over Broadway, Mira Sorvino for Mighty Aphrodite, Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and most recently, Cate Blanchett for possibly her best performance, Blue Jasmine, Allen strikes the perfect balance between making his exquisitely written dialogue shine while also allowing his actors ample room to experiment with their characters.

2 Elia Kazan

Directed 9 Oscar Winners

From one controversial director to another, it’s time to talk about Elia Kazan. Although his reputation has become stained throughout the years, Kazan is undeniably one of the most influential directors who have ever made films in Hollywood. More than anything else, he’s praised for his work with actors, having helped found the Actors Studio that trained multiple generations of thespians of his time. Even Stanley Kubrick himself once said that he was capable of performing miracles with his actors.

An incredible nine actors won Oscars for their performances in Kazan movies, including the iconic Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire and Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront. The other seven are James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter for Streetcar, Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata!, Eva Marie Saint for Waterfront, and Jo Van Fleet for East of Eden. Kazan revolutionized cinema—namely, the importance that filmmakers put on directing performances—and his contributions to the craft can still be seen today.

1 William Wyler

Directed 14 Oscar Winners

Master of epics, pioneer of the camera, and teller of surprisingly grounded stories considering their scope, William Wyler is the filmmaker with the largest number of Best Director nominations at a whopping twelve, of which he won three. What’s even more shocking is that he directed an astounding fourteen actors to Oscar wins. Even if the quality of these performances differs considerably (including what’s probably the weakest Best Supporting Actress winner of the ’40s), the fact remains that Wyler beats the second-place winner of this superlative by no less than five actors.

Wyler is the director who directed the most actors to an Oscar win, with a whopping fourteen. In order, they are as follows: Walter Brennan for Come and Get It, Bette Davis and Fay Bainter for Jezebel, Brennan again for The Westerner, Greer Garson and Teresa Wright for Mrs. Miniver, Frederic March and Harold Russell for The Best Years of Our Lives, Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress, Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday, Burl Ives in The Big Country, Charlton Heston and Hugh Griffith for Ben-Hur, and Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. Cementing Wyler as one of the best and most important artists of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the numerous Academy Award victories of his actors show that a truly exceptional director knows how to get exceptional performances.

NEXT: The 10 Best Oscar Winners for Best Film Editing, Ranked


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *