The 25 oldest living film directors

Find out who among the world’s feature film directors holds the current record for longevity... as far as we know.

Updated: 24 February 2024

By David Parkinson

El topo (1970), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, by our count the 21st oldest living feature film director

Eight years have passed since we first ran a list of the world’s oldest living feature-film directors. Sadly, none of that line-up has survived, with Iranian New Wave figurehead Ebrahim Golestan being the last to depart, at the age of 100 in August 2023. B-movie maestro Bert I. Gordon also got to reach his century, as did writer-producer Norman Lear, who was somehow excluded, despite directing the 1971 comedy Cold Turkey.

Thirteen of those listed on this new edition were born in the silent era before The Jazz Singer premiered on 6 October 1927, while all but three were born before the first Academy Awards presentation on 16 May 1929. Strictly speaking, second place in our new list should be Edgar Morin (8 July 1921), the sociologist who co-directed Chronicle of a Summer (1961) with filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch. This pioneering work of cinéma vérité (a term coined by Morin) was ranked sixth in a 2019 Sight and Sound poll of the best documentaries of all time. But, as this collaboration was a one-off assignment behind the camera, it doesn’t quite qualify Morin for the 2024 edition.

Even though the qualification criteria requires solo direction of a full-length feature, a case could also be made for a pioneer like Madeline Anderson. Her precise birthdate is unclear (although she appears close to her centenary), but she followed her 24-minute debut, Integration Report 1 (1960), with I Am Somebody (1969), which became the first documentary short directed by a Black woman to be broadcast on American television.

Also sadly absent are Kim Soo-yong, the South Korean director of over 100 features between 1958 and 2000, who was on the provisional list before dying on 3 December 2023; Norman Jewison, who died on 22 January at the age of 97; and Robert M. Young, who was among our very oldest directors before his sad passing at the age of 99 on 6 February 2024.

Editor’s note: As last time, every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this list. If there are older living directors of feature films out there, please let us know. After first posting this update on Facebook, our knowledgeable readers alerted us to several missing filmmakers, who have now been added to the list below.

25. Larry Peerce

Born: 19 April 1930

The Incident (1967)

Much was expected of Peerce after Barbara Barrie won best actress at Cannes for the director’s debut, One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Following the modish Philip Roth adaptation Goodbye, Columbus (1969), he guided Elizabeth Taylor (Ash Wednesday, 1973) and wife Marilyn Hassett (The Other Side of the Mountain, 1975) to Golden Globe nominations (Hassett won). He also generated plenty of suspense in The Incident (1967) and Two-Minute Warning (1976).

24. Frederick Wiseman

Born: 1 January 1930

Menu-Plaisirs les Troisgros (2023)

Noted for documentary studies of institutions (Titicut Follies, 1967), issues (Welfare, 1975) and communities (Belfast, Maine, 1999) that seek to expose social and economic injustice, Wiseman dislikes the term ‘direct cinema’. As he makes conscious choices while shooting and editing in order to create drama and present his subjects in a fair light, he prefers to call his distinctive films ‘reality fictions’.

23. Kazuo Ikehiro

Born: 25 October 1929

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)

Having started directing in 1960, Ikehiro forged an effective partnership with Raizo Ichikawa, following the cult wandering gambler saga Seven Miles to Nakayama (1962) with three pivotal entries in Daiei’s Sleepy Eyes of Death series (1963 to 1969), which cast Ichikawa as the Son of the Black Mass. Making bold use of colour, angle and symbolism, Ikehiro also made three contributions to the Trail of Blood and Zatoichi chanbara series.

22. Mark Rydell

Born: 23 March 1929

On Golden Pond (1981)

Debuting with the D.H. Lawrence adaptation The Fox (1967), Rydell directed Steve McQueen in The Reivers (1969) and John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972). He also made three pictures with James Caan, including Cinderella Liberty (1973) and For the Boys (1991), which reunited Rydell with Bette Midler following The Rose (1979). His Oscar nomination came for On Golden Pond (1981).

21. Alejandro Jodorowsky

Born: 17 February 1929

The Holy Mountain (1973)

Undaunted by his debut Fando y Lis (1968) being banned in Mexico after a festival riot, Jodorowsky attained cult status with the surrealist provocations El topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). Despite failing to make a 14-hour version of Dune in the mid-1970s, he continued to work and launched a proposed autobiographical quintet with The Dance of Reality (2013) and Endless Poetry (2016).

20. Chung Chang-wha

Born: 1 November 1928

King Boxer (1972)

Feted for the patriotic wartime epic Horizon (1960), Chung made diverse South Korean pictures like A Bonanza (1961), Sunset on the Sarbin River (1965) and A Swordsman in the Twilight (1967) before decamping to Hong Kong. A prolific spell with Shaw brothers and Golden Harvest yielded King Boxer (1972), the first martial arts film to top the US box-office chart. Some 40 further features followed in his homeland.

19. Susumu Hani

Born: 10 October 1928

Bad Boys (1961)

A key figure of the Japanese New Wave, Hani was renowned for such docu-humanist studies of youth as Children Who Draw (1955), Bad Boys (1961) and Nanami: The Inferno of First Love (1968). He focused on the status of women in A Full Life (1962) and She and He (1963) and worked in Kenya (The Song of Bwana Toshi, 1965) and Peru (Bride of the Andes, 1966) before quitting cinema to make small-screen natural history programmes.

18. Serge Bourguignon

Born: 3 September 1928

Sundays and Cybèle (1962)

A Cannes winner with the short Le Sourire (1960), Bourguignon took the Oscar for best foreign film with his debut feature, Sundays and Cybèle (1962). He never repeated such feats, however, despite Brigitte Bardot headlining Two Weeks in September (1967). Max von Sydow fronted The Reward (1965) and The Fascination (1985), which both co-starred Yvette Mimieux, who also teamed with Albert Finney in The Picasso Summer (1969).

17. James Ivory

Born: 7 June 1928

Howards End (1992)

Along with German-born screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Indian producer Ismail Merchant, American director James Ivory helped save the British film industry with a string of literary adaptations that captured the essence of a certain kind of Englishness. Nominated for A Room with a View (1985), Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993), the 89 year-old Ivory became the oldest Oscar winner after co-scripting Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name (2017).

16. Joseph McGrath

Born: 28 March 1928

The Magic Christian (1969)

This Glasgow School of Art graduate directed some of the earliest pop videos, for The Beatles in 1965. Comedy was McGrath’s métier, however, notably teaming with Peter Sellers on Casino Royale (1967), The Magic Christian (1969) and The Great McGonagall (1975). Following The Bliss of Mrs Blossom (1968) and Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World (1973), his collaborators included John Cleese, Leonard Rossiter, and Morecambe and Wise.

15. Michael Roemer

Born: 1 January 1928

Nothing but a Man (1964)

A Berlin-born Kindertransport evacuee, Roemer made what is purportedly the first US student film, A Touch of the Times (1949), while at Harvard. Having made newsreels and educational films, he won two prizes at Venice for his feature debut, Nothing but a Man (1964). However, his reluctance to conform to commercial convention meant The Plot Against Harry (1971) and Vengeance Is Mine (1984) were shelved for many years.

14. Marcel Ophuls

Born: 1 November 1927

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)

The son of director Max Ophüls hoped to make features along the lines of his debut, Banana Peel (1963). But he found his métier in multi-voiced archive documentary, with Munich (1967) and the Oscar-winning Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988) bookending a rigorous Second World War quartet that also contained The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) and The Memory of Justice (1976).

13. Toshio Masuda

Born: 5 October 1927

Rusty Knife (1958)

Action specialist Masuda directed 52 films for Nikkatsu in the decade following his 1958 debut, almost half of which starred Yujiro Ishihara, including Rusty Knife (1958) and Red Handkerchief (1964). He also made several features with Tetsuya Watari, notably Gangster VIP (1968), before being invited to take over the Pearl Harbor epic Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) from Akira Kurosawa. He later moved into anime with Space Battleship Yamato (1977).

12. Jerry Schatzberg

Born: 26 June 1927

The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Preserved by the BFI National Archive

Following two portraits of troubled women, Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970) and The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Schatzberg hit the road with Scarecrow (1973) and Sweet Revenge (1976). The former co-starred Gene Hackman, who also headlined Misunderstood (1984). Favouring literate scripts like Alan Alda’s The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) and Harold Pinter’s Reunion (1989), Schatzberg directed Morgan Freeman to an Oscar nomination in Street Smart (1987).

11. Allen Baron

Born: 14 April 1927

Blast of Silence (1961)

Baron landed a studio contract after directing himself in the indie noir Blast of Silence (1961). He would make over 250 TV episodes for shows like Charlie’s Angels and The Love Boat, but he also got to direct occasional features, including the delinquency saga Pie in the Sky (1964), the draft-dodging drama Outside In (1972), and Foxfire Light (1983), an Ozarks romance starring Leslie Nielsen and Tippi Hedren.

10. Pere Portabella

Born: 11 February 1927

Umbracle (1972)

Noted for having coaxed Luis Buñuel back to Spain to make Viridiana (1961), the Catalan Portabella fashioned an alternative cinema that used associative logic to combine political critique and conceptual art. Christopher Lee graced the fragmentary documentary duo of Vampir-Cuadecuc (1971) and Umbracle (1972), while conventional linearity was at a premium in features like Nocturno 29 (1969), Warsaw Bridge (1990) and The Silence Before Bach (2007).

9. Alvin Rakoff

Born: 6 February 1927

Passport to Shame (1958)

A Canadian trained at the BBC, Rakoff gave Sean Connery his first lead in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957) before winning Emmys for Call Me Daddy (1967) and Voyage Round My Father (1982). His eclectic features ranged from crime (World in My Pocket, 1961), drama (The Comedy Man, 1964) and comedy (Hoffman, 1970) to disaster (City on Fire, 1979), adventure (King Solomon’s Treasure, 1979) and horror (Death Ship, 1980).

8. Margot Benacerraf

Born: 14 August 1926

Araya (1959)

In 1951, Benacerraf quit the French film school IDHEC to direct Reverón, a poetic profile of painter Armando Reverón. However, almost a decade elapsed before she made her sole feature, Araya (1959). Focusing on the salt miners of the arid north-west of her Venezuelan homeland, this landmark documentary shared the Fipresci Prize at Cannes with Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. Subsequently, she devoted her energies to the Cinemateca Nacional, which she founded in 1966.

7. Mel Brooks

Born: 28 June 1926

High Anxiety (1977)

EGOT winner Brooks broke into television with Sid Caesar in the 1950s. After creating spy parody show Get Smart (1965 to 1970), he moved into features with The Producers (1967), which won the Oscar for best original screenplay. A run of inspired parodies followed, with Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein (both 1974), Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977) being superior to later lampoons of historical epics, sci-fi, Robin Hood and Dracula.

6. Roger Corman

Born: 5 April 1926

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Producer, distributor and director, Corman is one of the most significant figures in New Hollywood history. Along with more than 300 producing credits (many for New World Pictures), he has directed over 50 features. Excelling at exploitation, his cult classics outside the celebrated eight-strong Edgar Allan Poe cycle (1960 to 1964) include A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967).

5. Lee Grant

Born: 31 October 1925

Down and Out in America (1986)

Although her birthdate is disputed, Lee Grant’s talent is not. On stage since 1931, she won best actress at Cannes for Detective Story (1951) and overcame HUAC blacklisting to win an Academy Award for Shampoo (1975). She began directing with Tell Me a Riddle (1980), winning the best documentary Oscar for Down and Out in America, before becoming the first female DGA winner for Nobody’s Child (both 1986).

4. Jean-Charles Tacchella

Born: 23 September 1925

Cousin cousine (1975)

A critic for L’Écran français and a co-founder of the Objectif 49 cine-club that helped shape nouvelle vague sensibilities, Tacchella returned to his roots in Travelling avant (1987). He also had success with Blue Country (1977), Escalier C (1985) and Seven Sundays (1994). But he remains best known for his second feature, Cousin cousine (1975), which earned Oscar nominations for best foreign film and original screenplay.  

3. George Morrison

Born: 3 November 1922

Mise Éire (1959)

Undeterred by having a 1942 version of Dracula destroyed in the London Blitz, Morrison made information films while scouring archives for the 300,000 feet of footage edited into Mise Éire (1959), a history of Irish nationalism that was the first feature in the native language. Also scored by Seán Ó Riada, a civil war record, Saoirse? (1961), proved more divisive, But Morrison kept filming while writing books, completing Dublin Day in 2007.

2. Manos Zacharias

Born: 9 July 1922

Punisher (1968)

Having directed the documentary short The Truth About the Children of Greece (1948) while head of the film section of the EAM-ELAS resistance movement during the Greek civil war, Zacharias trained at IDHEC in Paris and VGIK in Moscow. At Mosfilm, he made seven features denouncing oppression and conflict, including The Night Passenger (1962), I’m a Soldier, Mother (1966) and Punisher (1968).

1. Francis Rigaud

Born: 22 March 1920

Nous irons à Deauville (1962)

Starting out scripting four Darry Cowl and Francis Blanche comedies, Rigaud made his directorial bow with Les Nouveaux Aristocrates (1961). He reunited with Cowl and Blanche on Les Gros Bras (1964) and Les Baratineurs (1965), with Blanche also co-starring in Faites donc plaisir aux amis (1969). But Rigaud’s reputation largely rests on Nous irons à Deauville (1962), with Louis de Funès, and the modish caper, Jerk à Istambul (1967).

Originally published: 7 February 2024