10 Successful Actors-Turned-Directors

Jobs in Hollywood seem to be a lot more fluid than in the real world. Celebrities might start out modeling, but then launch a successful acting career, before trying their hand at recording an album. It is a lot easier for someone who is already famous to excel in other show business arenas, because they already have fans, and people who think they can do no wrong.

Actors, in particular, can make really good directors, because they have experience with what it takes to create a film. They also have the connections, money, and clout to be able to approach a production company, and say, “this time, I want to direct”. Here are some of the most successful directors, who started out as actors.


10 Ben Stiller - Reality Bites

We all know Ben Stiller for his comedic roles, but he was directing before he made it big in character acting. He directed the 90’s classic, Reality Bites, which he also costarred in opposite Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke. After that he went on to direct Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy. Since then, two of his most well known roles, Derek Zoolander (Zoolander) and Tugg Speedman (Tropic Thunder) were in films he also directed. He got a little more serious in 2013, with his film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He is now rumored to be working on a sequel to Zoolander.

9 Ron Howard - Night Shift


You might have forgotten that the Oscar-winning director of A Beautiful Mind, actually started out as an actor. Ron Howard was only six years old when he was cast as Opie Taylor, the son of the title character in The Andy Griffith Show. He portrayed the character for the show’s entire 8-year run. He went on to do a variety of guest-starring TV roles, before landing a role in George Lucas’ American Graffiti, and then the iconic role of Richie Cunningham in Happy Days. His big directorial break was the film Night Shift, starring Michael Keaton. Nowadays, he is a director first and foremost, having directed hits like Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, and Frost/Nixon.

8 Mel Gibson - Braveheart

It was Mel Gibson’s role in the Mad Max franchise that cemented his leading man status in Hollywood, and he went on to star in a steady stream of box office hits after that. Studio executives were encouraging him early on to try his hand at directing, but it wasn’t until 1993 that he made his directorial debut with The Man Without a Face. The film was a moderate success, but his real breakthrough as a director came two years later with Braveheart. He was both the star and the director of the film, and won the Academy Award for Best Director, that year. Gibson has since directed The Passion of the Christ, and Apocalypto, which were both ambitious and controversial films heavy on subtitles. Gibson has said he does not want to be a movie star anymore, and would prefer to direct.

7 George Clooney - Confessions of a Dangerous Mind


George Clooney made his start on TV, his biggest role being that of Dr. Doug Ross on E.R. He was on the show for 6 years, but he was did a variety of films during that time as well, including Batman & Robin, and Out of Sight. In 2005, he won the Oscar for Best  Supporting Actor for his role in Syriana, and he has been nominated for numerous Best Actor awards since then. Although he may be best known as an actor, he is also a talented director. In 2002, he directed his first film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. He also directed Leatherheads (2008) and more recently, The Monuments Men. He is clearly multi-talented as he is the only person to be nominated for an Oscar in six different categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

6 Jon Favreau - Iron Man

A career in comedy was Jon Favreau’s goal when he dropped out of college in 1988. He decided to pursue acting and screenwriting, and landed his first role in Rudy, which turned out to be a classic sleeper hit. He went on to appear in episodes of Seinfeld and Friends throughout the 90s, and made his real breakthrough as an actor and screenwriter with Swingers (1996). His directorial debut was in 2001 with another film he wrote, Made. But his big hit in directing was Elf, starring Will Ferrell. He continues to take supporting roles in many films, and has also directed Iron Man and Iron 2. His goal for the future is to be in charge of an Avengers film.

5 Sarah Polley - Away From Her


One of Canada’s most critically-acclaimed directors, Sarah Polley got her start as a child actor on the TV series, Road to Avonlea. She also appeared in films The Sweet Hereafter, Dawn of the Dead, and Splice. For her directorial debut, the film Away From Her, won her a Genie Award for Best Achievement in Directing and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her second film, Take This Waltz premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and her latest film, Stories We Tell, won her the top prize of $100 000 for the best Canadian film of the year. She is currently working on adapting Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace into film.

4 Kevin Costner - Dances With Wolves

After a string of small roles in the early 80s, Kevin Costner got his big acting break in the 1987 film, The Untouchables. He followed that up with starring roles in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. His next starring role was also his directorial debut, in the Academy Award winning, Dances With Wolves. The film won him the Oscar for Best Director. Despite this success, he went on to win a Razzie for Worst Director for his next film, The Postman. He has made attempts to get back in the director’s chair since, but has had more success as an actor. He has not given up on directing, though, and hopes to recreate the success of Dances With Wolves in the future.


3 Robert Redford - Ordinary People


Robert Redford’s impressive career started in the 1950’s with a number of guest starring roles on TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In film, Redford starred opposite other big stars like Marlon Brando and Natalie Wood, among others. His biggest role to date was opposite Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and he also portrayed Jay Gatsby in the original film version of The Great Gatsby. His first shot at directing won him an Oscar for Best Director for 1986’s Ordinary People. He went on to direct one of Brad Pitt’s earliest roles in A River Runs Through It. He continues to act in a variety of projects, and although he hasn’t directed since 2012, he has not retired yet.

2 Ben Affleck - Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck started out as a regular in Kevin Smith films, including Mallrats, Dogma, and Chasing Amy. He won an Oscar for screenwriting with Matt Damon for their film, Good Will Hunting in 1997. He has since acted in blockbusters, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, and The Sum of all Fears. During a low period in his acting career following the flop, Gigli, he decided to turn to directing. His debut was with the thriller, Gone Baby Gone, where he directed his brother, Casey Affleck. He followed that up with critically-acclaimed films The Town, and Argo (for which he won the Golden Globe for Best Director). He is currently attempting an acting comeback with the highly anticipated adaptation of Gone Girl, and the role of Batman in Batman vs. Superman. But he hasn’t forgotten about directing, as he plans to release an adaption of another Dennis Lehane novel, Live By Night, in 2015.

1 Clint Eastwood - Million Dollar Baby


83-year-old Clint Eastwood’s most notable role is undoubtedly Harry Callahan in the 5 Dirty Harry films throughout the 1970's and 1980's. He has appeared in many films over the years, and also directed over 30 of his own, starting with thriller, Play Misty for Me in 1971. His directing style is notable because he prefers scenes to be finished in one take, and does not rely on constant re shoots to achieve perfection. He has directed many critically-acclaimed films including Million Dollar Baby (for which he won the Best Director Oscar), Mystic River, and Gran Torino. He is one of the successful actors-turned-directors in Hollywood and continues to work even into his mid-80’s. That is a sign of a director who loves everything about making movies.

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