Article by Ben Feuer, photo by John Brawley

If you want to direct the next big Hollywood blockbuster, how do you get to where you're going?  There's certainly no one size fits all answer, but looking at the ten directors of top grossing films in 2017, it's easy to see their similarities (and differences!)  PS: We're not including animated films, because the business/operational side of animation is so radically different from traditional feature filmmaking.

THE LIST

BILL CONDON (Beauty and the Beast): Columbia University BA. No film school (considered UCLA MFA). Worked in LA as a writer very shortly after graduating.
PATTY JENKINS (Wonder Woman): Cooper Union BA. AFI MFA. Directed well-regarded first feature, "Monster", 3 years after graduating. Lived & worked in LA.
JAMES GUNN (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2): St. Louis U BA, Columbia MFA (prose writing). Worked for Troma as a writer immediately after graduating, first produced movie one year after graduating.
JON WATTS (Spider-Man Homecoming): NYU Film School (degree unclear). Worked as a commercial and music video director for Park Pictures immediately after graduating. Got his first feature made by name-checking Eli Roth in a fancy horror film trailer. Sundance director.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI (It): 40 year old Argentinian director. Film school background unclear. Credited feature directing began at age 25 (approximately).
TAIKA WAITITI COHEN (Thor: Ragnarok): From New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington UG, drama. Nominated for a short film academy award in 2004 (aged 29). Sundance director 2x. Top grossing filmmaker in New Zealand 2x.
JAMES MANGOLD (Logan): Born in New York City, raised by two artists. CalArts Film (UG), Columbia Film (MFA). First feature won best director at Sundance film festival (Heavy). Got his first deal, with Disney, at age 22.
F GARY GRAY (The Fate of the Furious): Born in NYC, raised in Southern LA. Directed Friday, starring Ice Cube, at age 23.
ZACK SNYDER (Justice League): Studied painting, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Became a commercial director, made feature debut, Dawn of the Dead, at age 29.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN (Dunkirk): Raised in London, England and Evanston, Illinois. Moved to Chicago as a teenager. Educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College and University College London (UCL). Funded first feature, Following, out of pocket in 1998, aged 28. Film was a 'festival success', and paved the way for Memento in 2000.


Questions about how you break through?  Reach out to us, we're happy to share what we know.