Behind the Lens: 9 Top Actors Who Are Also Successful Film Directors

Behind the Lens: 9 Top Actors Who Are Also Successful Film Directors
Behind the Lens: 9 Top Actors Who Are Also Successful Film Directors

Throughout the history of American cinema, there have been thousands of actors who partially or wholly transitioned to become movie directors. Although not all have found as much success as movie directors as they did with their acting careers, others have been able to combine both worlds effortlessly. Although it is now more common than before, top actors directing themselves or others isn’t new in the film industry.

Great actors like Charlie Chaplin were known to write, act, produce, and direct some of the movies they starred in. Over the years, the industry has witnessed great actors like Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Tim Robbins fully transition from acting to directing. On this list, these popular actors still have an active acting career but have made more than just a directorial debut behind the camera to become notable movie directors. Here are our top 9 active actors who are also successful movie directors.

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born (2018)

Bradley Cooper was already one of Hollywood’s most successful actors before making his directorial debut in 2018 with A Star Is Born. Cooper has found success as a leading man and supporting actor. He’s one of the bankable actors, with his films grossing over $11 billion at the worldwide Box Office. For a long time in his acting career, Cooper has always wanted to direct a film. He chose to direct the fourth American adaptation of A Star Is Born story as his debut. However, he also played the lead role as singer-songwriter Jackson “Jack” Maine.

A Star Is Born (2018) received three nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay) at the 91st Academy Awards. The film also won a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. Cooper made his sophomore movie directing with the 2023 biographical drama Maestro. Again, he plays the lead role, portraying Leonard Bernstein, a music composer and conductor.

Elizabeth Banks

Elizabeth Banks in Charlie's Angels (2019)

Elizabeth Banks‘ earliest breakthrough role was playing Betty Brant in Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man trilogy. Then, she starred in the 2005 romantic comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Her acting career pretty much picked up from there, appearing in films like Invincible (2006), Meet Bill (2007), Our Idiot Brother (2011), The Hunger Games films, and the Pitch Perfect films. Elizabeth Banks joined the list of actor-movie directors in 2013 with her directorial debut, Movie 43. Having only starred as an actor in the first Pitch Perfect film, she returned, reprising her role and also as director in Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). With an ever-busy film and television acting career, Banks found time to direct the 2019 action comedy Charlie’s Angels and the 2023 comedy horror Cocaine Bear.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck in Air (2023)

Ben Affleck has long proven he’s more than a pretty-face actor. He’s one of his generation’s actor-movie directors who have succeeded in both worlds. Affleck is known for his roles in Dazed and Confused (1993), Good Will Hunting (1997), Armageddon (1998), and Bounce (2000). He played the Marvel Comics superhero, Daredevil, in Daredevil (2003) before playing DC Comics superhero, Batman, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), and several other DCEU films. Ben Affleck made his feature movie directorial debut with the 2007 neo-noir crime thriller Gone Baby Gone. Since then, he has directed four other feature-length films, including The Town (2010), Argo (2012), Live by Night (2016), and Air (2023). Affleck, a two-time Academy Award winner (Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture), has two upcoming directorial projects, Witness for the Prosecution and Keeper of the Lost Cities.

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig in White Noise (2022)

With the success of her last three directorial works, Greta Gerwig has become one of the most successful directors of her generation. Gerwig, whose career began as an actress, was mostly known for starring in mumblecore films. Also, a talented writer, Gerwig has successfully moved from acting in films to sitting in the director’s chair. Although she’s now more recognized as one of the top movie directors, Gerwig still stars in leading and supporting roles as an actor. Her most recent appearance is playing Babette Gladney, the on-screen wife of Adam Driver‘s character, in the absurdist comedy-drama White Noise (2022).

George Clooney

George Clooney in The Flash (2023)

George Clooney is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors and an established movie director. Clooney made his directorial debut as far back as 2002 with the biographical spy film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Since his debut, he has directed seven other feature films and two works on television. Notable mentions include Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005), The Ides of March (2011), 2 episodes of the miniseries Catch-22 (2019), and The Tender Bar (2021). Although he has starred in fewer film and television productions in recent times, Clooney is still raking up his credits whenever possible. His recent film roles include The Midnight Sky (2020), Ticket to Paradise (2022), and a cameo appearance as Bruce Wayne in The Flash (2023).

John Krasinski

John Krasinski in A Quiet Place (2018)

John Krasinski is more popularly recognized by television audiences for playing Jim Halpert in The Office. On the big screen, Krasinski has worked with some of Hollywood’s big names as an actor and director. Krasinski made his directorial debut in 2009 with his written comedy-drama screenplay for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. However, the success of his post-apocalyptic science fiction horror films, A Quiet Place (2018) and A Quiet Place Part II (2020), puts him on the list. Starring alongside his real-life wife, fellow actress Emily Blunt, the films were a massive success. John Krasinski continues to work actively as an actor while still being a movie director. He portrayed Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and the titular character in Amazon Prime Video’s political action thriller Jack Ryan (2018–2023). Krasinski’s upcoming film as a director is his fantasy comedy IF (2024).

Joel Edgerton

Joel Edgerton in Boy Erased (2018)

Over the years, Australian actor Joel Edgerton has raked up notable credits as a movie director. Edgerton is known for playing Owen Lars in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) and its sequel, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). He has starred in several other successful films like Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Great Gatsby (2013), and Thirteen Lives (2022). On the small screen, he starred in the miniseries The Underground Railroad (2021) and reprised his role as Owen Lars in the Disney+ miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022). Although he directed three short films, Joel Edgerton made his feature film debut in 2015. He wrote and directed the psychological thriller The Gift and the biographical drama Boy Erased (2018).

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington in Fences (2016)

The two-time Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, needs no further introduction as an actor. He’s one of Hollywood’s leading men, with most of his movies being commercially successful. Washington made his debut as a movie director with Antwone Fisher (2002). Since then, he has also directed three feature films: The Great Debaters (2007), Fences (2016), and A Journal for Jordan (2021). A master of both worlds, Washington has received accolades for his work as a movie director and actor. At the 89th Academy Awards, his directed film, Fences (2016), received a nomination for Best Picture. Denzel Washington was also nominated for Best Actor for his performance in the film.

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables (2010)

Sylvester Stallone has long combined being a leading actor with being a movie director. Stallone made his directorial debut in 1978 with Paradise Alley. Till today, Sylvester Stallone continues to work on-screen and behind the camera. Of the nine released films in the Rocky film series, Stallone directed four – Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), and Rocky Balboa (2006). Also as a movie director, Sylvester Stallone directed the 2008 Rambo, as well as the 2010 The Expendables.

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