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The 15 Greatest Actors-Turned-Directors

November 14, 2011  |  8:07am

This has been a huge year for actors taking their chances on the other side of the camera. Clint Eastwood just released his latest film J. Edgar, and George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Paddy Considine have released The Ides of March, Higher Ground and Tyrannosaur, respectively. With so many great actors taking to directing, let’s check out the 15 greatest actors-turned-directors.

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15. Mel Gibson
Say what you will about the now-controversial, unusual Gibson, but the man can direct. With his second directorial effort, Braveheart, Gibson won Best Picture at the Oscars and Best Director. While his subsequent films The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto haven’t quite reached that level, Gibson is a talented director.

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14. Jon Favreau
Favreau has made a quick transformation from the “so money” Mike in Swingers to one of Hollywood’s favorite directors. Favreau’s family-friendly films like Zathura and Elf led into big-budget spectacles like Iron Man and its sequel and this past summer’s Cowboys & Aliens.

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13. Peter Berg
Peter Berg went from being a minor character actor to become a huge name in directing. While he started his career with mediocre-to-terrible comedies like Very Bad Things and The Rundown, Berg found his voice with the incredible Friday Night Lights. He went on direct the pilot for the TV show and has also since directed The Kingdom and the Will Smith superhero film Hancock.

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12. Ben Stiller
Reading Ben Stiller’s directing resume is like looking at a laundry list of cult comedies from the past 20 years. Stiller acted and directed in Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, all beloved comedies, some of which took time to find their audiences. Stiller’s brand of comedy has melded well with his directing sensibilities to create some comedy gems.

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11. George Clooney
Whenever George Clooney decides to direct a film, it’s always at the very least interesting. While he’s had failure (Leatherheads), successes like Good Night and Good Luck and the recent The Ides of March have showcased Clooney’s fly-on-the-wall approach to directing as a powerful way to approach his subjects.

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10. Ben Affleck
After taking a break from a slew of early 2000s bombs (Surviving Christmas, Gigli), Ben Affleck returned with a camera in hand and revitalized his career. Gone Baby Gone and The Town returned him to the comfort of his native Boston and revealed a darker, harder side—which shouldn’t have been that surprising since his first directing effort was a 1993 short called I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney.

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9. Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola’s acting credits mostly add up to being a bodyguard in The Phantom Menace, doing gymnastics in a Chemical Brothers video and receiving a majority of the blame for the awfulness of The Godfather Part III. But in just four movies—The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and Somewhere—she’s also proved that directing talent runs in the family.

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8. Gene Kelly
It seems like there was nothing that Gene Kelly couldn’t do. He sang, danced, acted, and even directed some of the greatest musicals of all time. With his co-director Stanley Donen, Kelly helmed On the Town and Singin’ In the Rain, arguably the greatest musical film ever made.

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7. Rob Reiner
While Rob Reiner played Meathead in the classic ’70s sitcom All in the Family, he’s proven to be quite competent as a director. Though his more recent films tend to be overly sappy, Reiner has had a phenomenal career. With bonafide classics like This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, Misery, The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally…, Reiner showed he can successfully work in a variety of genres.

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6. Sydney Pollack
Pollack’s directorial career spanned five decades and the illustrious director took on many different styles, from Tootsie to Out of Africa, always willing to try new things in his films. Pollack’s later films were mostly disappointing at the box office, but his early career is unquestionably great, with Oscars to prove it.

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5. Tom McCarthy
Tom McCarthy was the stereotypical character actor you recognize, but can’t quite place from where. McCarthy played bit parts in the Focker series as well as in George Clooney vehicles like Michael Clayton and Syriana. But with a trifecta of great films, The Station Agent, The Visitor and this year’s underrated Win Win (along with a writing credit on Up), McCarthy has made his mark on filmmaking.

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4. Ron Howard
Speaking of young TV actors becoming great directors, Ron Howard has pushed himself past his roles as Opie and Richie Cunningham to make some of the most critically and financially successful films of all time. Howard’s work on the films Apollo 13, The Paper, A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man greatly overpower his mainstream films like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Da Vinci Code, to prove he can create films that are not only well-made but also popular.

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3. Woody Allen
Before Allen became the directorial voice of New York, he was an actor. In fact, he even played James Bond in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale. Since 1982, Allen has directed at least one film per year. While it was thought the Allen of the past with films like Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters was long gone, he has proved with recent films like Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris, his most successful film, that he’s still a director to be reckoned with.

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2. Clint Eastwood
At 82 years old, Clint Eastwood is still one of the most exciting directors to watch. Films like Hereafter and Invictus might be slower than typical Hollywood fare, but he keeps his audience engaged. Eastwood directed one of the quintessential modern westerns Unforgiven, and in the last decade made such great films as Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River and Letters from Iwo Jima.

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1. Charles Chaplin
Nobody has been as influential to the world of cinematic comedy as Charles Chaplin. Not only is The Tramp one of the most iconic characters ever, Chaplin also directed, produced, wrote, composed and acted in most of his films. He was a perfectionist when it came to directing, putting the film ahead of himself, and it shows. For The Circus, Chaplin even took dozens of takes with a live lion, putting his life at risk with each one. With some of the greatest comedy films of all time, such as City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and countless shorts, Chaplin is easily the greatest actor-turned-director of all time.

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