The Hollywood film industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. This year alone, over twenty films have earned more than $100 million in domestic sales, with Jurassic World taking the cake with a cool $652 million. And many are predicting that J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is destined to become the highest grossing film of all-time, surpassing the $2.8 billion benchmark set by James Cameron’s Avator.
The person most responsible for the success or failure of a film is the director. They are the ones who are in charge. They overlook just about every aspect of the film—from casting to design to the artistic direction—and so ultimately they are the ones who can make or break a film. Over the years there have been many great film directors, but not all of them can lay claim to being one of the ten richest.
With 14 Academy Awards and billions of dollars in box office sales between them, most of the names on this list should come as no surprise. But financial success and critical success don’t always go hand in hand. Despite consistently raking in huge numbers, some of the highest paid directors regularly produce cinematic duds.
Here’s the list of the ten richest directors in Hollywood.
10. Christopher Nolan – $135 million
With a net worth estimated to be somewhere in the $135 million range, Christopher Nolan comes in at number ten on this list. While he’s perhaps most famous for his Batman movies, he’s also written and directed standalone hits such as Inception and Interstellar, both of which brought in a considerable amount of money worldwide: $825 and $675 million, respectively.
Unlike many famous directors, Christopher Nolan plays an active role not only in the production of his films, but also the creation of the stories, as he writes with his brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan. And on top of being a director, he helped to write and produce the financially successful, yet critically polarizing, Man of Steel.
Before hitting it big with the critically acclaimed Memento, Nolan wrote and directed his first film, Following, a neo-noir thriller, on a scarce $6,000 budget (for comparison, Interstellar cost $165 million to make).
9. Ridley Scott – $180 million
Edging out Christopher Nolan for the ninth spot is Ridley Scott, with an estimated $180 million net worth. Like Nolan, Scott’s directing career started from humble beginnings. His first feature film, a 1977 historical drama named The Duellists, cost just $900,000 to make, and it did not make a big splash commercially. But what it did do was receive good reviews from critics, including being named the best debut film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which was enough to jumpstart Scott’s career, where he would go on to direct such classics as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and Gladiator, all of which faired well critically and financially.
8. The Wachowskis – $250 million
Next on the list is actually a pair of directors: siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski. The Wachowskis made the vast majority of their money off the highly successful The Matrix franchise, which brought in a combined $1.632 billion. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis’s careers are on a bit of a downward slide at the moment, as their last two films, Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, did not perform well at the box office, barely making enough money to cover the production costs. To make matters worse, Jupiter Ascending, which had a monstrous budget of $176 million, was slammed by most critics, receiving a score of 25% on Rotten Tomatoes.
7. Francis Ford Coppola – $250 million
With roughly the same net worth as The Wachowskis, Francis Ford Coppola places seventh on the list of the richest film directors (he gets the spot over the Wachowskis because he did it on his own and racked up five Oscars along the way). Because of films like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, which are regularly cited as being among the greatest films of all-time, Coppola is widely considered one of the best—if not the best—film directors of the 20th century. Even The Godfather Part III, which pales in comparison to Parts I and II, received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
6. Tyler Perry – $400 million
Every time you see an advertisement for a new Tyler Perry movie, you might say to yourself, “Who watches this stuff?” Well, it turns out that a lot of people watch that crap, as Tyler Perry has a net worth of $400 million. Perhaps his most recognizable accomplishment/embarrassment is the Madea series, wherein Perry dresses up in drag as an old woman. According to Rotten Tomatoes, he’s only directed one “fresh” film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself , which just barely made it over the 60% approval threshold.
5. Michael Bay – $430 million
Ah, yes, Michael Bay, the bane of every cinephile’s existence. It’s safe to say that no one will ever argue that Bay is one of the greatest film directors of his time. In fact, no one has ever come out with their reputation intact after uttering the words, “I like Michael Bay’s films.” From Pearl Harbor, which was so bad that some critics compared it to the event upon which the film was based, to Transformers 1 through 5 (yes, there’s another one coming out), Michael Bay has consistently produced one crappy Hollywood movie after another. Explosions, unrealistically beautiful women, mutants, robots, slow-motion action sequences, yet no ability to tell a story.
4. Peter Jackson – $450 million
New Zealand-born director Peter Jackson has J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for the bulk of his money, roughly $450 million of it. Jackson is famous for his adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, three critically acclaimed films that earned nearly $3 billion dollars combined. Jackson followed up LotR with a prequel: The Hobbit. While The Hobbit franchise wasn’t as well received by critics (and many questioned the decision to stretch it out into three films), it still earned a considerable amount of money: $2.932 billion.
Before immersing himself in Middle-earth, Jackson directed smaller films like Heavenly Creatures, which stars a young Kate Winslet.
3. James Cameron – $700 million
Although not the richest director in Hollywood, James Cameron sets the standard when it comes to making financially successful films. His last two films, Avatar and Titanic, are the highest grossing films of all-time, bringing in $2.788 billion and $2.187 billion respectively. But it doesn’t end there. He’s also responsible for box office hits like The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Aliens. He may not make a lot of films, but when he does he breaks box office records.
Three of his next five films are to be sequels to Avatar.
2. Steven Spielberg – $3.6 billion
With a net worth of $3.6 billion, Spielberg is one of only two billionaires on this list. His filmography—which includes classics like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park, just to name a few—spells a rare combination of critical and financial success. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s somehow managed to remain consistent even to this day. His latest film, Bridge of Spies, holds a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the two films before that, Lincoln and War Horse, were both nominated for best motion picture of the year at the Academy Awards.
1. George Lucas – $5.2 billion
Coming in at number one on the list is George Lucas, with $5.2 billion. And it’s only fitting, since a new addition to the movie franchise that made him famous and wealthy, Star Wars, is being released this week. Lucas directed four out of the six Star Wars films, which combined for over $4 billion at the box office.
Outside of Star Wars, Lucas directed two films, THX 1138, a sci-fi made for less than $1 million, and American Graffiti, a comedy set in the early 1960s in California that earned $140 million on a $770,000 budget.
Lucas’s wealth is due in large part to his production company, Lucasfilm, which, on top of producing the Star Wars films, produced the Indiana Jones films.
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