Underrated Movie Directors Who Deserve More Recognition, Ranked


Hollywood has some exceptional movie directors who are praised for their work worldwide, but Hollywood also has a crop of equally outstanding and talented directors who do not get their fair share of recognition from the masses. These unsung heroes are responsible for bringing unforgettable moments to our screens and should be celebrated for their immense contributions.

We’ll highlight some of their notable work, and themes they have focused on and used their contributions not only to leave a legacy on the world of cinema but also to tackle some serious issues with their work. From independent filmmakers to those working within the studio system, these are the best of the best.



6 John McTiernan

John McTriernan in Rollerball
MGM Distribution Co.

John McTiernan directed some of the most critically acclaimed cult classics of the time. McTiernan’s work is characterized by his distinctive storytelling and skillful direction of action scenes. Despite his success and immense contribution to the action genre, McTiernan remains underrated and overshadowed by other directors in the industry. However, his influence on contemporary action films cannot be denied.

A complex directorial style along with a web of intricately placed multi-layered narratives became McTiernans signature directorial style that popularized and get critical acclaim. He mostly worked to produce tantalizing action-paced drama and action movies where he explored redemption arcs for characters and themes such as the dangers of powers. His work has been influential and inspirational for many of the great directors who keep producing cinematic masterpieces. He has laid a strong foundation for future directors of action films with his work. His use of practical effects and immersive action sequences has become a staple of the action genre, inspiring numerous remakes and imitations.

Related: Die Hard Is a Classic Christmas Movie, Director John McTiernan Explains Why

5 Mary Harron

Marry Harron in The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Next up is Mary Harron, a talented director known for her unique vision and distinctive style. Harron’s work is characterized by her use of dark humor, complex characters, and intricate narratives. She is known for creating characters that showcase the struggles of being human, and her films portray emotional stories that make audiences care about a character regardless of them being fictional.

Her movies usually include intense storylines where she tackles issues of gender and power dynamics between people. Her work always showcases how immensely talented she is, American Psycho which is now considered a cult classic is an example of her movies challenging the status quo. She has risen to prominence among audiences for challenging traditional beliefs and making people rethink their ideas on different topics.

4 Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen on the set of Small Axe
Amazon Studios

Another incredible director with immense talent and cinematographic ability is Steve McQueen. He commenced his directorial journey in 2008 with the movie Hunger, which recounts the story of the 1981 Irish starvation strike. The film received critical approval and attained the honor of the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen’s subsequent films encompass Shame (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), garnered attention for winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Despite his accomplishments, McQueen remains an underappreciated director. He is quite underrated in comparison to Hollywood’s bigwig directors, yet his work has the same quality and nuance as theirs. One rationale for this could be his inclination to focus on arduous subject matter, such as addiction, sex addiction, and slavery. While these themes are paramount and necessitate attention, they may not be as inviting to mainstream audiences as other genres.

McQueen’s style is frequently portrayed as candid and uncompromising. His films also benefit from his experience starting out as a visual artist in the industry. He is known for his extended takes and utilization of natural illumination. His themes often revolve around power dynamics and the human condition. In Hunger, he investigates the psychology of a man on a hunger strike, while Shame plunges into the world of sex addiction. He examines the horrors of slavery and the resilience of the human spirit in 12 Years a Slave.

McQueen’s influence on the industry cannot be overstated. Diversifying the industry, he has enabled filmmakers of color to share their stories. Inspiring a new generation of filmmakers to push the boundaries of cinema, his unique storytelling style has earned his films high praise.

Related: Here’s Every Movie Steve Mcqueen Has Directed, Ranked

3 Karyn Kusama

karyn kusama directing Aeon Flux
Paramount Pictures

Karyn Kusama commenced her journey as a filmmaker with her 2000 premiere movie, Girlfight, which featured Michelle Rodriguez and proved to be a critical triumph. The critically-acclaimed movie secured both the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, showcasing Kusama as a promising talent in the industry.

Kusama’s subsequent film, Aeon Flux, didn’t receive as much acclaim, but she bounced back with the critically acclaimed Jennifer’s Body, a horror-comedy with Megan Fox in the lead. Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of a police detective seeking revenge in Kusama’s recent film, Destroyer, was dark and gritty, earning critical acclaim. Kusama’s directorial credits include popular TV shows.

Despite Kusama’s critical triumphs, her films have encountered obstacles in finding an audience in the mainstream. This is probably because Kusama frequently deals with complex themes and subjects that are not traditionally linked with commercial success. Additionally, Kusama’s films frequently highlight strong female protagonists, which may make them less appealing to certain segments of the moviegoing audience.

Kusama’s films are distinguished by their powerful emotional impact and their uncompromising portrayal of challenging subject matter. Themes of violence, trauma, and the struggle for identity and autonomy frequently appear in her works. Kusama’s style is often referred to as gritty and naturalistic, with an emphasis on handheld camerawork and immersive sound design.

Despite her relative lack of mainstream success, Kusama’s influence on the film industry is indisputable. Kusama’s inspirational work paved the way for women in the industry and has influenced countless moviemakers. Her films challenge gender roles and amplify the voices of women who have long been marginalized in the film industry.

2 Lynn Shelton

Lynn Shelton in Swords of Trust
IFC Films 

Lynn Shelton was a talented writer, director, and producer, who worked on independent films. She commenced her career in the 1990s, supervising numerous brief films before progressing to feature-length ventures. A few of her most notable productions encompass Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, and Laggies.

Despite the praise her movies have garnered, Lynn Shelton remains undervalued in the business. Her preference for independent film, which typically garners less attention than high-budget studio productions, contributed to her undervaluation. Furthermore, Shelton’s style of filmmaking—which frequently hinges heavily on improvisation and naturalistic dialogue—is not always easy to classify, which might have made it more arduous for her to acquire a more extensive audience.

One of the components that distinguishes Lynn Shelton’s work is her capacity to seize the intricacies of human relationships. Her films regularly scrutinize themes of love, companionship, and kinship, and she has a talent for crafting nuanced, genuine characters. Moreover, Shelton’s utilization of improvisation and naturalistic dialogue helps establish a sense of intimacy and realism in her films.

Despite being underestimated, Lynn Shelton had a significant influence on the film industry throughout her career. Her work aided in pushing the boundaries of independent film and in generating space for more diverse voices in the industry. Additionally, her use of improvisation and naturalistic dialogue has impacted many other filmmakers, and her movies continue to be lauded by critics and audiences alike.

Related: Highest-Grossing Indie Movies of All Time

1 Gavin O’Connor

Gavin O'connor in Miracle
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Talented writer, director, and producer Gavin O’Connor has contributed to both indie and major studio films. Despite receiving critical acclaim, O’Connor hasn’t achieved the same level of recognition as his peers. One reason for this could be that his films deal with fewer commercial themes than those of other directors. For example, Miracle explores patriotism and national pride, while Warrior delves into family and complicated relationships.

Another possible explanation for O’Connor’s under appreciation is his films’ lack of commercial success. Frequently, his movies have struggled to gain a wide audience, resulting in industry oversight. O’Corners best strength as a filmmaker lies in his ability to showcase how complex human relations can turn out to be. His work is usually styled by intense character development and depth of emotions. He also has the ability to create a perfect amount of tension between characters using music.

Even though he may not necessarily get the attention he deserves, he has been a pioneer of the industry. His movies revolutionized how sports films were created and went on to inspire countless filmmakers to follow in his footsteps, changing the sports genre of movies forever. His movies mostly received critical acclaim for emotional performances and exceptional storytelling.

These directors are the masters of their craft, they have produced some of the most iconic movies of our time. The contributions of these directors should not be forgotten but rather cherished for all the memorable moments they have given the audience to enjoy. The movies from these talented cinematographers may not be for mainstream audiences at times, but their work is worth taking a look at and will surely change your opinions on the best Hollywood directors. It’s time we gave them the recognition they deserve and appreciate these immensely talented directors.

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