Hollywood demands plenty from directors. In a forest of remade classics, “Chipmunks” sequels and other safe, dependable investments, studios want bankable reasons to invest in innovation. Indie filmdom has long been a launchpad for Hollywood careers, but only a select few filmmakers can claim to have gone against the grain with enough force to change long-term trends.
From Spike Lee and Woody Allen’s takes on New York life to Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron’s new experiments with special effects, these ten directors topped our list of wave-makers and game-changers. Each of them showed the establishment how approach movies from new perspectives, and each one deserves to be called a maverick.
Some of these towering figures are no longer with us, and a few are still making their marks, but we have them all to thank for heading into new territory and ensuring that other creators down the line would be inspired to think differently as well.
For more on today’s maverick filmmakers, tune in to the 2012 Spirit Awards on Saturday, February 25 at 10/9c on IFC. And while you’re watching, don’t forget to log into IFC.com chat with our movie experts LIVE via IFC Sync, presented by Capital One.
10. Amy Heckerling
Career highlights: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” ”European Vacation,” “Clueless”
Paved the way for: Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith and John Hughes
Heckerling gained a cult foothold in an overwhelmingly male-dominated class of directors when her film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” debuted in 1982. “European Vacation” and “Look Who’s Talking” cemented her place in ‘80s comedy, but they also proved her ability to score big rankings and dollars at the box office.
9. Robert Redford
Career highlights: “Ordinary People,” “Quiz Show”
Paved the way for: Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and Darren Aronofsky
It is difficult to understate the importance of Redford’s career and the extent of his impact on film both inside and outside of Hollywood. After building a formidable acting career (which already included an Oscar nomination for “The Sting”), he earned a directing win right out of the gate for 1980’s “Ordinary People.” His honorary Oscar in 2002 speaks for his career as a whole, though, as well as the importance of the Sundance Institute, which has opened big doors for countless directors and independent projects.
8. Kathryn Bigelow
Career highlights: “Near Dark,” “Point Break,” “The Hurt Locker”
Paved the way for: The Wachowskis and Mary Harron
A diehard indie filmmaker throughout her career, Bigelow made history with her 2009 Best Director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker.” She was the first woman to win in the category, but it only marks the tip of her iceberg-sized career. Few resumes come with credits as diverse and awesome as her jarring Best Picture-winner, “Point Break” and “Near Dark”—regardless of gender. When it comes to directors, her creative brilliance and scope are in a class of their own.
7. Spike Lee
Career highlights: “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and “Bamboozled”
Paved the way for: Lee Daniels, John Singleton and Dee Rees
Lee may be a magnet for controversy, but the fact of the matter is that the guy knows how to direct a well-crafted film, even when the project doesn’t translate to a ticket-sales jackpot. “Bamboozled” and “Miracle at St. Anna” have suffered their fair shares of critical attacks, but even when they were getting picked apart, they still introduced discourses on race at the movies that all too often stay clear of the spotlight.
6. Woody Allen
Career highlights: “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Midnight in Paris”
Paved the way for: Zach Braff, Jon Favreau and Christopher Guest
Woody Allen staked out his own genre of nakedly up-front narrators and navel-gazing New Yorkers, but his larger body of work has been a titanic beacon for aspiring filmmakers of all types. His movies make big budgets and big casts seem absolutely unnecessary, and his use of simple documentary techniques in his comedies paved the way for countless mockumentaries and narrator-driven flicks that have sprouted up in recent decades.