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The Most Successful Directors at Cannes

June 29, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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The Cannes Film Festival is renowned for its exclusivity to only the best filmmakers in the world. Every director’s dream is to climb the signature red carpet stairs and have their film compete for the Palme d’Or. Several have done it over the years, but only so many have been able to stick with it for so long.

In this list, I’ll highlight the most successful directors in the festival’s history. In other words, these figures are the best of the best… of the best. Many of the aspects that come to mind when we think of the festival are relatively new, so almost everyone mentioned here is either still making films or recently retired.

The criteria for placement on this list are as follows:

  • The prominence of the director and their films. Do they grab headlines, or do they just kind of come and go?

  • The number of films they've screened within the Official Competition. Films in the sidebars will be excluded.

  • The number of awards they’ve won (Palme d’Or, Jury Prize, Best Director…)

  • The consistency of their output. Do they have many duds within their resume, or are they steady as she goes?

Honorable Mentions

  • David Cronenberg

  • Hou Hsiao-Hsien

  • Sofia Coppola

  • Paolo Sorrentino

  • Mike Leigh

10. Quentin Tarantino

Films in the Official Competition (4): Pulp Fiction (1994, Palme d’Or), Death Proof (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Cannes is a Mecca for international cinema and the purity of filmmaking, but it’s also a business that needs to grab headlines with glitzy premieres filled with stars. Tarantino is the perfect marriage of art and commerce, supplying the festival with artistically unique movies filled with Hollywood A-listers. Every one of his movies is the talk of the town, even if they haven’t been the most well-received (Pulp Fiction got a few boos after winning the Palme d’Or, and Inglourious Basterds received decidedly mixed reviews). With his final film soon to enter production, we can already predict what will be the hottest ticket for Cannes 2025.

9. Nanni Moretti

Films in the Official Competition (9): Ecce Bombo (1978), Dear Diary (1994, Best Director), Aprile (1998), The Son’s Room (2001, Palme d’Or), The Caiman (2006), We Have a Pope (2011), My Mother (2015), Three Floors (2021), The Sun of the Future (2023)

The director is always the star of the show at Cannes (they are awarded the Palme d’Or instead of the producer), and Italian auteur Nanni Moretti is one of the biggest on account of him writing, directing, and starring in nearly all his films. He’s been referred to as the Italian Woody Allen, with his quirky satires taking aim at Italian society and politics. He’s been a mainstay of the competition for almost thirty years, with 2001’s The Son’s Room winning the top prize.

8. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Films in the Official Competition (8): Distance (2001), Nobody Knows (2004), Like Father, Like Son (2013, Jury Prize), Our Little Sister (2015), Shoplifters (2018, Palme d’Or), Broker (2022), Monster (2023)

Described as a modern-day Yasujirō Ozu by Roger Ebert, Kore-eda has always been adept at delivering social realism with gentle tenderness. But that loving affection doesn’t come across as overly sentimental, with hints of melancholy aiding the authenticity. His films have often focused on the construction of a family, whether by blood or special bonds. All of his films have been warmly received, with 2018’s Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters being considered his magnum opus.

7. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Films in the Official Competition (7): Distant (2003, Grand Prize of the Jury), Climates (2006), Three Monkeys (2008, Best Director), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Grand Prize of the Jury), Winter Sleep (2014, Palme d’Or), The Wild Pear Tree (2018), About Dry Grasses (2023)

While his long (usually running over three hours), slow, and morally complicated films may not grab the headlines of his contemporaries, Turkish director Ceylan stands above almost all thanks to his impressive trophy case. He finished in the runner-up position twice (2003’s Distant and 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) before claiming his Palme d’Or in 2014 for Winter Sleep. He’ll be competing again this year with the equally long About Dry Grasses.

6. Lars von Trier

Films in the Official Competition (9): The Element of Crime (1984), Europa (1991, Jury Prize), Breaking the Waves (1996, Grand Prize of the Jury), The Idiots (1998), Dancer in the Dark (2000, Palme d’Or), Dogville (2003), Manderlay (2005), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011)

Every major festival needs a provocateur to grab the headlines. While Michael Haneke and David Cronenberg may push people’s buttons, Danish bad boy Lars von Trier always takes it to another level, which was illustrated by him being excommunicated and labeled “persona non grata” by the festival after his Nazi comments at the press conference for 2011’s Melancholia. That banishment put a strain on the relationship between the festival and one of its star pupils, who had picked up a second-place prize (Breaking the Waves) and Palme d’Or (Dancer in the Dark) since he was admitted to the competition in the mid-’80s. Von Trier would return years later for The House That Jack Built, which appropriately caused one of the biggest walkouts in festival history

5. Pedro Almodóvar

Films in the Official Competition (6): All About My Mother (1999, Best Director), Volver (2006, Best Screenplay), Broken Embraces (2009), The Skin I Live In (2011), Julieta (2016), Pain and Glory (2019)

A relatively late bloomer to the festival, Almodóvar didn’t make his way into the competition until 1999’s All About My Mother. But he made his first shot count, winning the Best Director prize. He’s usually brought global stars like Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas along with him for his twisty stories filled with bright colors. Even with all his success on the Croisette, Almodóvar isn’t a hardcore festival loyalist, opting to sometimes debut his films at other festivals, such as Talk to Her at Telluride and Parallel Mothers at Venice.

4. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Films in the Official Competition (9): Rosetta (1999, Palme d’Or), The Son (2002), The Child (2005, Palme d’Or), Lorna’s Silence (2008, Best Screenplay), The Kid with a Bike (2011, Grand Prize of the Jury), Two Days, One Night (2014), The Unknown Girl (2016), Young Ahmed (2019, Best Director), Tori and Lokita (2022, 75th Anniversary Prize)

You only have to look at the made-up 75th-anniversary prize to know just how much the festival loves the Belgian brothers. Of course, they also have two Palme d’Ors, and awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay, sitting on their shelf to back up that claim. Self-described as one person who can do two things at once, their relatively short (running less than 90 minutes) morality tales about everyday people in Belgium have always struck a chord with whatever jury presides over them.

3. Michael Haneke

Films in the Official Competition (7): Funny Games (1997), Code Unknown (2000), The Piano Teacher (2001, Grand Prize of the Jury), Caché (2005, Best Director), The White Ribbon (2009, Palme d’Or), Amour (2012, Palme d’Or), Happy End (2017)

The angry Austrian has one of the best batting averages of any filmmaker at the festival, winning a substantial prize for four consecutive films, including back-to-back Palme d’Ors. As the yin to Quentin Taranitno’s yang, Haneke is usually the one to deflate the mood at the party with his no-thrills observations about violence and cruelty. But no one does it better than him, with those joyless lessons about the ugliness of humanity sticking with audiences long after the conclusion of the final reel.

2. Joel & Ethan Coen

Films in the Official Competition (8): Barton Fink (1991, Best Director, Palme d’Or), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Fargo (1996, Best Director), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Best Director), The Ladykillers (2004), No Country for Old Men (2007), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Grand Prize of the Jury)

The Minnesota-born brothers are the reason Cannes has a rule against a film winning more than two prizes, as their festival debut, Barton Fink, earned the awards for Best Actor, Best Director, and a unanimous Palme d’Or. The festival rules didn’t stop the duo from becoming the record holders for most wins for Best Director, repeating for Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There (tied with David Lynch for Mulholland Drive). Shockingly, No Country for Old Men, the film that won them the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (Adapted), and Best Picture, was not awarded any prizes when it premiered on the French Riviera.

1. Ken Loach

Films in the Official Competition (17): Looks and Smiles (1981), Hidden Agenda (1990, Jury Prize), Raining Stone (1993, Jury Prize), Land and Freedom (1995), My Name is Joe (1998), Bread and Roses (2000), Sweet Sixteen (2002), The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, Palme d’Or), Looking for Eric (2009), Route Irish (2010), The Angel’s Share (2012, Jury Prize), Jimmy’s Hall (2014), I, Daniel Blake (2016, Palme d’Or), Sorry We Missed You (2019), The Old Oak (2023)

The only certain things in life are death and taxes… and a Ken Loach film will compete for the Palme d’Or. The famed British director has had seventeen of his films in the Official Competition, a record that he continues to expand. He’s also tied for the record of most Jury Prizes (3) and Palme d’Ors (2). His slice-of-life style has made him the director of the people, with him never being attracted by the beckonings of Hollywood.

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