Oscar Directors: Mann, Michael–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

September 12, 2020

Michael Mann Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance:


Social Class:

Race/Ethnicity: Jewish


Formal Education: M.A. at London Film School


First Film:


First Oscar Nomination:

Gap between First Film and First Nom:

Other Oscars:

Other Oscar Nominations:

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):

Collaborators: Dante Spinotti, frequent cinematographer of Mann

Last Film:


Career Length:

Career Output:




Michael Kenneth Mann (born February 5, 1943) is an American director, screenwriter, and producer of film and television who is best known for his distinctive brand of stylized crime drama.[1] His most acclaimed works include the crime films Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986), Heat (1995), Collateral (2004), and Public Enemies (2009), the historical drama The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and the docudrama The Insider (1999). He is also known for his role as executive producer on the popular TV series Miami Vice (1984–89), which he later adapted into a 2006 feature film.

For his work, he has received nominations from international organizations and juries, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Cannes, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Total Film ranked Mann No. 28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Directors Ever,

Sight and Sound ranked him No. 5 on their list of the 10 Best Directors of the Last 25 Years, and Entertainment Weekly ranked Mann No. 8 on their 25 Greatest Active Film Directors list.

Mann was born February 5, 1943, in Chicago, Illinois, to a family of Jewish ancestry. He is the son of grocers Esther and Jack Mann.

He received a B.A. in English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,.[8] While a student, he saw Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and fell in love with movies. In an L.A. Weekly interview, he described the film’s impact on him: “It said to my whole generation of filmmakers that you could make an individual statement of high integrity and have that film be successfully seen by a mass audience all at the same time. In other words, you didn’t have to be making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you wanted to work in the mainstream film industry, or be reduced to niche filmmaking if you wanted to be serious about cinema. So that’s what Kubrick meant, aside from the fact that Strangelove was a revelation.”

He later earned his M.A. at London Film School.

His daughter Ami Canaan Mann is also a film director and producer.

Mann later moved to London in the mid 1960s to go to graduate school in cinema. He went on to receive a graduate degree at the London Film School in 1967. He spent seven years in the United Kingdom going to film school and then working on commercials along with contemporaries Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and Adrian Lyne. In 1968, footage he shot of the Paris student revolt for a documentary, Insurrection, aired on NBC’s First Tuesday news program and he developed his ’68 experiences into the short film Jaunpuri which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1970.

Mann returned to United States after divorcing his first wife in 1971. He went on to direct a road trip documentary, 17 Days Down the Line. Three years later, Hawaii Five-O veteran Robert Lewin gave Mann a shot and a crash course on television writing and story structure. Mann wrote four episodes of Starsky and Hutch (three in the first series and one in the second) and the pilot episode for Vega$. Around this time, he worked on a show called Police Story with cop-turned-novelist Joseph Wambaugh. Police Story concentrated on the detailed realism of a real cop’s life and taught Mann that first-hand research was essential to bring authenticity to his work. Mann also wrote an early draft of the 1978 film Straight Time.

His first feature movie was a television special called The Jericho Mile, which was released theatrically in Europe. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special in 1979 and the DGA Best Director award.

His TV work also includes being the executive producer on Miami Vice and Crime Story. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the creator of these shows, but the executive producer and showrunner, produced by his production company.

Mann’s first cinema feature as director was Thief (1981) starring James Caan, a relatively accurate depiction of thieves that operated in New York City and Chicago at that time. Mann used actual former professional burglars to keep the technical scenes as genuine as possible. His next film was The Keep (1983), a supernatural thriller set in Nazi-occupied Romania. Though it was a commercial flop, the film has since attained cult status amongst fans.

In 1986, Mann was the first to bring Thomas Harris’ character of serial killer Hannibal Lecter to the screen with Manhunter, his adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, which starred Brian Cox as Hannibal. In an interview on the Manhunter DVD, star William Petersen comments that because Mann is so focused on his creations, it takes several years for him to complete a film; Petersen believes that this is why Mann does not make films very often.

Mann gained widespread recognition in 1992 for his film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel into the epic film The Last of the Mohicans. This was followed by the films Heat and The Insider, the former featuring Al Pacino co-starring with Robert De Niro and the latter starring Russell Crowe, showcased Mann’s cinematic style and garnered the most critical recognition of his career up to this point. The Insider was nominated for seven Academy Awards as a result, including a nomination for Mann’s direction.

With his next film, Ali (2001), starring Will Smith, Mann started experimenting with digital cameras. For his action thriller film Collateral, which cast Tom Cruise against type by giving him the role of a hitman, Mann shot all of the exterior scenes digitally so that he could achieve more depth and detail during the night scenes while shooting most of the interiors on film stock. Jamie Foxx was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Collateral. In 2004, Mann produced The Aviator, based on the life of Howard Hughes, which he had developed with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Aviator was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to Million Dollar Baby. After Collateral, Mann directed the film adaptation of Miami Vice which he also executive produced. It stars a completely new cast with Colin Farrell as Don Johnson’s character Sonny Crockett, and Jamie Foxx filling Philip Michael Thomas’ shoes.

Mann served as a producer with Peter Berg as director for The Kingdom and Hancock. Hancock stars Will Smith as a hard-drinking superhero who has fallen out of favor with the public and who begins to have a relationship with the wife (Charlize Theron) of a public relations expert (Jason Bateman), who is helping him to repair his image. Mann also makes a cameo appearance in the film as an executive.

In 2009, Mann wrote and directed Public Enemies for Universal Pictures, about the Depression-era crime wave, based on Brian Burrough’s nonfiction book, Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34. It starred Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Depp played John Dillinger in the film, and Bale played Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent in charge of capturing Dillinger.

In January 2010 it was reported by Variety that Mann, alongside David Milch, would serve as co-executive producer of new TV series Luck. The series was an hour-long HBO production, and Mann directed the series’ pilot. Although initially renewed for a second season after the airing of the pilot, it was eventually cancelled due to the death of three horses during production.

On February 14, 2013, it was announced that Mann had been developing an untitled thriller film with screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl for over a year, for Legendary Pictures.  In May 2013, Mann started filming the action thriller, named Blackhat, in Los Angeles, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Jakarta. The film, starring Chris Hemsworth as a hacker who gets released from prison to pursue a cyberterrorist across the globe, was released on January 16, 2015 by Universal. It received mixed reviews and was a commercial disaster, although many critics included it in their year-end “best-of” lists.

Style and Themes

His trademarks include powerfully-lit nighttime scenes and unusual scores, such as Tangerine Dream in Thief or the new-age score to Manhunter. A common stylistic device in several films (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider) is to show principal characters being forced to make critical decisions affecting the plot while overlooking large bodies of water.

Dante Spinotti is a frequent cinematographer of Mann’s films.

Indiewire’s 2014 retrospective of the director’s filmography focused on the intensity of Mann’s ongoing interest in “stories pitting criminals against those who seek to put them behind bars (Heat, Public Enemies, Thief, Collateral, Miami Vice). His films frequently suggest that in fact, at the top of their respective games, crooks and cops are not so dissimilar as men: they each live and die by their own codes and they each recognize themselves in the other.”

Mann directed the 2002 “Lucky Star” advertisement for Mercedes-Benz, which took the form of a film trailer for a purported thriller featuring Benicio del Toro. In the fall of 2007, Mann directed two commercials for Nike. The ad campaign “Leave Nothing” features football action scenes with former NFL players Shawne Merriman and Steven Jackson, as well as using the score “Promontory” from the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans. Mann also directed the 2008 promotional video for Ferrari’s California sports car.


1968 Insurrection Yes No No Short film
1971 Jaunpuri Yes No No
1972 17 Days Down the Line Yes No No
1981 Thief Yes Yes No Nominated – Palme d’Or
1983 The Keep Yes Yes No
1986 Manhunter Yes Yes No Cognac Critics Award for Best Film
Nominated – Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture
1992 The Last of the Mohicans Yes Yes Yes
1995 Heat Yes Yes Yes
1999 The Insider Yes Yes Yes Humanitas Prize for Feature Film
Paul Selvin Award
Satellite Award for Best Director
National Board of Review Freedom of Expression Award
Paul Selvin Award
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Picture
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated – DGA Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film
Nominated – Empire Award for Best Director
Nominated – Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated – PGA Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
Nominated – Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
2001 Ali Yes Yes Yes Nominated – Black Reel Award for Outstanding Film
2004 Collateral Yes No Yes Hollywood Film Award for Director of the Year
National Board of Review Award for Best Director
Venice Future Film Festival Digital Award
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated – Empire Award for Best Director
Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Director
2006 Miami Vice Yes Yes Yes
2009 Public Enemies Yes Yes Yes
2015 Blackhat Yes No Yes Huading Awards for Best Global Director for a Motion Picture

Producer only

1986 Band of the Hand Paul Michael Glaser Executive
2003 Baadasssss! Mario Van Peebles Executive
2004 The Aviator Martin Scorsese BAFTA Award for Best Film
PGA Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Picture
2007 The Kingdom Peter Berg
2008 Hancock
2011 Texas Killing Fields Ami Canaan Mann
2019 Ford v Ferrari James Mangold Executive
Year Title Director Writer Executive
Producer Notes
1976 Bronk No Yes No 2 episodes
Gibbsville No Yes No Episode: “All the Young Girls”
1975–77 Starsky & Hutch No Yes No 4 episodes
1976–78 Police Story No Yes No 4 episodes
1977 Police Woman Yes No No Episode: “The Buttercup Killer”
1978–81 Vega$ No Yes No Creator
1984–90 Miami Vice No Yes Yes Wrote episode “Golden Triangle”
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series
1986–88 Crime Story Yes story Yes Wrote 8 episodes;
Directed “Top of the World”
1990 Drug Wars: The Camarena Story No Yes Yes Miniseries
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series
2002–03 Robbery Homicide Division No Yes Yes Wrote episode “Life is Dust”
2011–12 Luck Yes No Yes Directed “Pilot”
2012 Witness No No Yes Documentary series
TBA Tokyo Vice[25][26] Yes No Yes In development
Television movies

Year Title Director Writer Executive
Producer Notes
1979 The Jericho Mile Yes Yes No Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special
DGA Award for Outstanding Directing in Specials for TV
1980 Swan Song No Yes No
1989 L.A. Takedown Yes Yes Yes
1992 Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel No Yes Yes Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series
Critical reception
Film Rotten Tomatoes[27] Metacritic[28]
Thief 96% 78
The Keep 40% 34
Manhunter 94% 75
The Last of the Mohicans 95% 76
Heat 86% 76
The Insider 96% 84
Ali 67% 65
Collateral 86% 71
Miami Vice 46% 65
Public Enemies 68% 70
Blackhat 33% 51
Average 73.4% 67.7