Age and Achievement: Best Directors

At what age Hollywood directors tend to be recognized by their peers via Oscar nomination and/or Oscar Award?

Who is the oldest winning Oscar director?


Roman Polanski, winner for The Pianist, in 2002

In 2006, when Martin Scorsese finally won the Best Director Oscar, at his sixth nomination (for “The Departed”), he became one of the five oldest filmmakers to be recognized by the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

When Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director three years later, for “The Hurt Locker, she became the only fourth female to be ever nominated by the Academy. But in terms of age, Bigelow, 58, was one of the vet winners.

 Right now, the oldest winners are Roman Polanski, 69, who won the Oscar at his third nomination for “The Pianist,” in 2002, and George Cukor , who was 65, when he won the Oscar for “My Fair Lady,” at his fifth nomination.

 

Young Directors

The youngest winners in the Academy annals are Norman Taurog, 32, for “Skippy,” and Damien Chazelle, also 32, for “La La Land.”

Lewis Milestone, 33, who won the Best Comedy Director in the first year of the Oscars, for “Two Arabian Nights,” follows them.

Joining him that year was Frank Borzage, who was 35, recognized for “Seventh Heaven.” Other young achievers include Sam Mendes, 34, for “American Beauty” in 1999.

 

Oscar-winning Directors:

20 were in their 30s

31 in their 40s

14 in their 50s

 5 in their 60s.

Hence, if you want to predict the most prevalent age at winning the Best Director Oscar, stick close to the 45-49 category:  Half of the winning directors were in their 40s.

Oldest Winners

The oldest winners are atypical in many ways: Roman Polanski began his career in Poland and foreign-born director tend to get recognition from their peers at a later age than their American counterparts.

Ditto for British-born Carol Reed, who was nominated twice, back-to-back, in 1949 for “The Fallen Idol,” and in 1950 for “The Third Man.”  Reed finally won the award for an uncharacteristic movie genre, a musical, “Oliver!” At his third nomination.

George Cukor was one of most nominated directors in the Academy’s history, having been nominated five times, the first in 1933, at age 34, for “Little Women,” starring Katharine Hepburn. His other nominations are for “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), also starring Hepburn, “A Double Life (1947), and “Born Yesterday,” in 1950.

For Clint Eastwood, who’s 76, directing is sort of a second career, having begun his work in the industry as a screen and TV (“Rawhide”) actor.  Eastwood made his debut in 1973, at the age of 43 with “Play Misty for Me.”

Oscar-winning Directors by Age

30 to 34: (4)

Lewis Milestone

Norman Taurog

Sam Mendes

Damien Chazelle

 

35 to 39: Fifteen (15) 

Frank Borzage

Frank Capra

Leo McCarey

Billy Wilder

Elia Kazan

Delbert Mann

Tony Richardson

Mike Nichols

William Friedkin

Francis Ford Coppola

Michael Cimino

Kevin Costner

Mel Gibson

Steven Soderbergh

Tom Hooper

 

40 to 44: Eighteen (18)

Frank Lloyd

John Ford

William Wyler

John Huston

Joseph Mankiewicz

Jerome Robbins (co-winner with Robert Wise)

John Schlesinger

John Avildsen

Woody Allen

Robert Redford

Warren Beatty

James Brooks

Oliver Stone

Robert Zemeckis

Anthony Minghella

James Cameron

Peter Jackson

Michel Hazanavicius

 

45 to 49: Thirteen (13)

George Stevens

Fred Zinnemann

David Lean

Robert Wise

Bob Fosse

Milos Forman

Robert Benton

Bernardo Bertolucci

Barry Levinson

Jonathan Demme

Steven Spielberg

Ron Howard

Ethan Coen

 

50 to 59: Fourteen (14)

Victor Fleming

Michael Curtiz

Vincente Minnelli

Franklin Schaffner

George Roy Hill

Richard Attenborough

Sydney Pollack

Ang Lee

Joel Coen

Ethan Coen

Danny Boyle

Kathryn Bigelow 

Alfonso Cuaron

Alejandro Inarritu

 

Older than 60: 5

George Cukor (won at fifth nomination)

Carol Reed (British director won at third nomination)

Clint Eastwood (began as actor, won at first nomination)

Roman Polanski (Polish director, won at third nomination)

Martin Scorsese (won at sixth nomination)

 

Notes

Many directors, such as John Ford or Fred Zinnemann or Elia Kazan or Clint Eastwood, have won multiple Oscars.  Our study measures the age at which they were when first winning.

Clint Eastwood

Eastwood was 62 when he first won the Best Director in 1992 for the Western Unforgiven. He was 74 when he received his second Oscar, for Million Dollar Baby.

In 89 years, there have been only two Oscar-winning movies that were credited to two helmers:

The first was “West Side Story,” co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who choreographed and staged the theatrical production.  Robbins was fired in the process, and by Oscar time, the duo were actually not on speaking terms!

The second co-helmed feature is the 2007 “No Country for Old Men,” by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

 As of now, Eastwood is the oldest winner of the Best Director Oscar.

 

 

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