Oscar Directors: Age of Winning, from Damien Chazelle, the Youngest, to Polanski, the Oldest

Updated August 27, 2020
Second Article in a Series of Five (The First One dealt with the Winning Age of Best Actresses).

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

Oldest 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.

If you want to know more about the Oscars, please consult my book:

All About Oscar: History and Politics of the Academy Awards (hardcover, paperbak)

Youngest Directors

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

Lewis Milestone was 33, when he won Best Comedy Director at the first year of the Oscars, for “Two Arabian Nights.”

Joining him that year was Frank Borzage, who was 35, for “Seventh Heaven.”

Other young achievers include Sam Mendes, 34, for “American Beauty,” in 1999.

My study shows that of the 69 Oscar-winning directors:

16 directors were in their 30s;

32 directors in their 40s;

16 directors in their 50s;

 5 directors in their 60s.

Hence, if you want to predict the most prevalent age at winning the Best Director Oscar, stick close to 45:

About half of the winning directors were in their 40s.

The 5 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.” He won for an uncharacteristic movie genre, a musical, Oliver! At his third nomination.

George Cukor is 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.

Martin Scorsese won at age 64 at his 6th nomination, for The Departed, in 2006.

The For Clint Eastwood, who’s 88, 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 Group

Early Thirtysomething: 30 to 34: 4

Lewis Milestone

Norman Taurog

Sam Mendes

Damien Chazelle

Late Thirtysomething: 35 to 39: 14

Frank Borzage

Frank Capra

Leo McCarey

Billy Wilder

Elia Kazan

Delbert Mann

Tony Richardson

Mike Nichols

William Friedkin

Francis Ford Coppola

Kevin Costner

Mel Gibson

Steven Soderbergh

Tom Hooper

Early Fortysomething: 40 to 44: 18

Frank Lloyd

John Ford

William Wyler

John Huston

Joseph Mankiewicz

Jerome Robbins (co-winner with Robert Wise)

John Schlesinger

John Avildsen

Woody Allen

Michael Cimino

Robert Redford

Warren Beatty

James L. Brooks

Oliver Stone

Robert Zemeckis

Anthony Minghella

James Cameron

Peter Jackson

Michel Hazanovicius

Late Fortysomething: 45 to 49: 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

Fiftysomething: 50 to 59: 16

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

Guillermo del Toro

Bong, Joon-ho (South Korean0)

Sixtysomething: 60 or Older: 5

George Cukor (won at fifth and last nomination)

Carol Reed (British won at third and last nomination)

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

Roman Polanski (Polish director, won at third and last nomination)

Martin Scorsese (won at sixth nomination)

 

Notes

Many directors have won multiple Oscars.  My study considers the age at which the filmmakers had won their first Oscar.

Only two Oscar-winning movies were co-directed: “West Side Story” in 1961 (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, who, by the end of the shoot, were not on speaking terms!), and “No Country for Old Men” in 2007. (brothers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen).