Winning an Oscar isn’t everything for a filmmaker. That being said, it is a tremendous honor. It lets you know your peers admire your work and want to reward you for a particularly strong film that they loved. That being said, not every great director ends up with an Academy Award for their efforts. Sure, maybe they earn a lifetime achievement award, but they never win for Best Director. Some of these filmmakers still have hopes of taking home Best Director. Some of them, unfortunately, will never have the opportunity. Here are some great filmmakers with zero Best Director Oscars to their names.
Welles didn’t win for “Citizen Kane.” Instead, it went to John Ford for “How Green Was My Valley.” That was a truly puzzling decision, but perhaps voters thought Welles had plenty more chances in front of him. Alas, Welles’ career was tumultuous, and the virtuoso never ended up winning a Best Director after all.
Welles not having a Best Director Oscar is odd, but Hitchcock's lack of one may be even stranger. That’s about a mix of quality and quantity. Hitch made several more films than Welles ever did, including “Vertigo,” which some call the best movie ever made. That didn’t win Hitchcock a Best Director, and neither did “Rear Window” or any of his other films.
Lumet was nominated for four Best Director Oscars, spanning quite a bit of time. In 1957 he got a nod for “12 Angry Men,” and then in 1982 he received his nomination for “The Verdict.” In between he made “Dog Day Afternoon” and a little film called “Network” that won a ton of Oscars. None of them went to Lumet, though, and the director passed away in 2011.
Perhaps because he directs his films in a foreign language — Almodovar is from Spain — his Oscar chances have been limited. Or maybe not, because he does have two Oscars, one for Best Foreign Language Film, and one, somewhat surprisingly, for Best Original Screenplay. However, neither of those is for Best Director, and he doesn’t have one yet.
Like Welles, Anderson was a wunderkind thanks to his movie “Boogie Nights.” He also made the masterpiece “There Will Be Blood,” which Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for. It seems like every Anderson movie gets some love from the Academy, so there is still hope for him. He just hasn’t quite secured that statue yet.
There was much consternation when Lee didn’t even get a Best Director nomination for “Do the Right Thing,” and rightfully so, given the lack of racial diversity throughout the history of the category. It doesn’t help that, to this day, “Do the Right Thing” is probably the best film Lee has made. If that movie couldn’t get him an Oscar, what will? Not "BlacKkKlansman" either, which won for Best Adapted Screenplay at the last Academy Awards, but again he didn't get the nod for the Best Director category. Might "Da 5 Bloods" be the one that finally strikes Oscars gold?
Sure, Batman movies weren’t likely to get Nolan an Oscar, though Heath Ledger did get one for playing Joker in “The Dark Knight.” However, that only represents a segment of his career. There’s also stuff like “Memento,” “Inception” and “Dunkirk,” which had real Oscar-bait vibes. Now that he’s done with the Caped Crusader, maybe there’s time. First, "Tenet" needs to actually be released.
We’ve got two (unrelated) Andersons on this list. Wes is a bit of an acquired taste. Some make fun of his fustiness and candy-colored films. Others love him, though, and the Oscars seem to be a fan of his work as well. He has only one Best Director nomination, for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but five of his films have gotten one Oscar nomination or another.
If history was redone, Fincher might have a Best Director statue already. He was nominated for “The Social Network,” a prescient, much-loved film, but he lost to Tom Hooper, who won for the traditional prestige of “The King’s Speech.” "Mank" seemed like it had Oscar hopes, but ultimately it fell from favor and "Nomadland" became the award darling, and that extended to director Chloe Zhao. Fincher's arguably two most-accessible films have not won. Will he give it a shot again?
Some thought Tarantino might win Best Director for "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood," even if it might have been seen as a lifetime achievement award. You know, like how Martin Scorsese finally won for "The Departed." Unfortunately for Quentin, it didn't happen, but his movie did finally get Brad Pitt an Oscar. Tarantino has said he is going to retire after one more film. The clock may be ticking.
Sofia’s dad, Francis Ford Coppola, has an Oscar, and maybe Sofia will follow in his footsteps. In fact, she was already nominated once, for “Lost in Translation,” when she became only the third-ever women to be up for that award. Since then, though Coppola has struggled to live up to that hype, and her best chance of winning may have already past.
Kubrick’s filmography is almost unimpeachable. Maybe “The Shining” was never going to win since it’s a horror film, and “Dr. Strangelove” is a comedy so that may have been tricky to convince people of anyway. That being said, the Academy couldn’t have given Kubrick an award for “2001: A Space Odyssey?”
DuVernay hasn’t been nominated yet, but that’s unfortunately not a surprise. As a black woman, she represents two groups of people largely overlooked by the Academy in the past. In fact, when “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture, it was the first time a movie directed by a black woman was up for that award. She’s been doing some documentary work recently, but a move back to scripted film could get her a win potentially.
Campion got an Oscar nomination for “The Piano,” making her the second-ever woman to be nominated. This was in 1993, mind you, which is not ideal. That film got a couple of Oscar wins for acting, but nothing for Campion, who has spent more time making miniseries these days than films.
Cold, contemplative Swedish films may not be box office boffo, but you would think that Bergman could have gotten some love from the Oscars for the likes of “Persona” and “The Seventh Seal.” The academy clearly loved him. He got a Lifetime Achievement award, and three of his movies won Best Foreign Language Film. Many people consider him one of the best filmmakers to ever live. And yet, zero Best Director Oscars.
Some of Lynch’s films were certainly too weird for the Oscars. “Eraserhead” was never going to get any love, for example. Then again, he’s been nominated for Best Director three times, including for the strange and dark “Blue Velvet.” It seems like the ship may have sailed on Lynch, as he’s 74 now and spent the better part of the last few years on “Twin Peaks: The Return.”
Altman was an actor’s director. He would have sprawling casts and let them do their thing. On five separate occasions Altman got a Best Director nomination, but none of them came to fruition. He did get an honor Oscar but somehow not any hardware.
Fellini, like a lot of foreign directors, sort of seemed to fall into the pool of “Hey, we gave you Best Foreign Language Film! That should be enough, right?” Indeed, the Italian master saw his films win Best Foreign Language Film four times, which is a record. Not even “8½” could win him a Best Director Oscar, and like many people on this list he had to settle for an honorary award.
Like so many early directors, Hawks was a prolific filmmaker who worked in all sorts of genres. That was what you had to do in early Hollywood. Weirdly, movies like “His Girl Friday” and “The Big Sleep” didn’t get him any nominations, as he only ended up getting a nod for Best Director once, for “Sergeant York.” So many winners of the award have cited Hawks as an influence, so he’ll have to settle for that.
Kramer liked to make the kind of social message movies you would think the Oscars would love to reward. Couldn’t you see Kramer winning for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” or “Judgment and Nuremberg?” That never happened, though, and one time he was nominated and lost to “West Side Story."
Scott was nominated for back-to-back Best Director awards for “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down.” While the former won Best Picture, Scott was blanked. Then, when “The Martian” got a Best Picture nomination, Scott was not nominated. Hey, the man made “Alien” and “Blade Runner.” He’s a sci-fi legend forever.
Right now, Jenkins is awash in the world of comic book movies. That’s what happens when you make a movie like “Wonder Woman,” and she has been busy working on the sequel, which is (hopefully) coming out soon. After that, maybe she will return to critically acclaimed movies. After all, Charlize Theron won Best Actress for “Monster,” a movie Jenkins directed.
We have to shout out to Lupino as one of the very few women who got to direct movies during the era of the Hollywood studio system. She didn’t just direct “feminine” fare either. In fact, Lupino has multiple film noir movies to her name. Maybe the movies she directed weren’t always Oscar bait, but Lupino still deserves recognition for what she did at a time when few people like her were given any opportunity.
Penn helped change the face of Hollywood by escorting out the old studio system and moving into a new world of independent filmmaking. We speak, of course, of his movie “Bonnie and Clyde.” That was not his first Best Director nomination, though. He previously had one for “The Miracle Worker,” though neither got him a win.
Leone was never even nominated for an Oscar, which is a surprise. In fact, he got only one BAFTA nomination and one Golden Globe nomination, both for “Once Upon a Time in America.” Let’s not forget the important impact he had on cinema, though. After all, this is the man who made the trilogy of “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and, of course, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”