25 Iconic Quotes From Famous Movie Directors

People love to draw inspiration from quotes, whether life-affirming, wise, or wickedly smart. The well-thought-out words of artists and notable public figures help us reflect our own thoughts on life. When it comes to cinema, the most revered role in most productions is the director, particularly those who play a more significant role than a hired gun and aim to construct their unique artistic visions.

Here, we will celebrate 25 of the most beloved filmmakers and dive into notable quotes from each, breaking down why their words hold meaning, from their accomplishments in film to the weight of their words reflective of their art and social observations — as well as some more humorous quotes that equally endear us to these standout creatives.

John Waters

John Waters

People vomited at my movies; not because of the movie but because they were drunk. I took credit anyway.

Director John Waters shocked audiences with his infamous ‘midnight movie’ Pink Flamingos, with his crass and over-the-top humor leading to the moniker ‘The Pope of Trash.’ The quote here is a nice homage to the showmanship of Waters and the types of movies he admired as a youth.

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Filmmakers like William Castle would thrive on gimmicks and sensational press, which created a sort of mad genius persona that John Waters embraced as a youth. This would notably come to fruition in his film Polyester, which featured the ‘odorama’ play-along card. Of course, like almost all John Waters’ quotes, there is a sharp comedic tinge to his thoughts; evoking vomiting moviegoers to build clout is undoubtedly on brand.

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig

I’m not saying that everyone needs to be celibate, but you don’t need a romance to complete a story about a woman.

Director Greta Gerwig established herself at a young age as a heavy-hitter in the film world, with several outstanding and critical successes, including Ladybird, Francis Ha, and Barbie. This quote from Greta Gerwig reflects much of the charms of her movies, showing that emphasis does not always have to be on romance to capture the ‘essence’ of a woman. At the same time, she does not outright belittle the idea that romance has its charms; just that it is not always necessary to tell the stories you want to tell.

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Every one of us is a perfect human being, deformed by the family, the society, and the culture.

A master of magic surrealism, director Alejandro Jodorowsky may not be as broadly known. Still, the films he did leave behind, notably El Topo and Holy Mountain, have cemented him as an icon of cinematic expression at its most unrestrained and most expressive.

Dealing with his past and his relationships with family being a large part of the themes in his films and his self-discovery, this quote touches on the idea that ‘perfection’ can happen in one’s life despite culture and family. This is most apt when looking at El Topo, which is a retelling of Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, with teaching from the Buddhist work Zen Flesh, Zen Bones interjected into the plot.

Both works focus on the theme of becoming greater than your surroundings and influences, which has resonated in Jodorwosky’s personal and professional life. Essentially, we all have that perfect version of ourselves inside us, and the trials we face to get there are natural in making that transition.

David Lynch

Director David Lynch

I don’t know why people expect art to make sense. They accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps one of the most quotable directors alive, David Lynch is known as much for his moments of insight as he is for his grumpy one-liners. Since he has redefined experimental cinema since his debut Eraserhead, fans are not only open to it, but love hearing his take on cinema. This one straddles the line in typical Lynch style, admonishing audiences for wanting clear-cut stories.

Lynch espouses the truth that art, including film, does not need to ‘make sense’ to be beautiful or ‘entertaining,’ it can exist in the general absurdity that comes with living.

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorcese

I’m not interested in a realistic look, not at all, not ever. Every film should look the way I feel.

Director Martin Scorsese is arguably the greatest director of his generation and almost unquestionably the best working today. His massive career, which has won him 181 Oscar wins, is highlighted by such films as Taxi Driver, Good Fellas, and the recent Killers of the Flower Moon. This quote wonderfully captures that passion that has kept him at the forefront of Hollywood since the ’70s, when his career became defined by works like Mean Streets and The Last Waltz.

The quote highlights what makes almost every director on this list so iconic that their works are often an extension of themselves, bucking the Hollywood system to create the type of cinema they want; not cookie-cutter superhero flicks, which Scorsese has been vocal about his distaste for.

Steven Spielberg

Director Steven Speilberg

Our one goal is to give the world a taste of peace, friendship and understanding through the visual arts, the art of celebration of life.

We all love the troubled artist, but Steven Spielberg is the master of (predominately) wholesome cinema or picturesque dramas with just a little bit of edge to keep the viewer engaged, which has defined much of the creator’s career, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial to A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

This quote wonderfully captures Spielberg’s ability to tap into this part of the arts, choosing to celebrate life by exploring the sentimental and profound connections his characters make. Moreover, movies can be a congregation in itself, a way for people to come together over one endeavor, and the fandom built around his movies reflects this utterly positive view of the power of cinema.

Stanley Kubrick

Director Stanley Kubrick

Everything has already been done. Every story has been told, every scene has been shot. It’s our job to do it one better.

Enigmatic yet beloved filmmaker Stanley Kubricks film career is short compared to many others on this list. Still, with films such as The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Full Metal Jacket to his credit, he left an undeniably massive impact on cinema.

This quote from the director may seem dismissive initially, but there is a fundamental truth here. As much as everyone wants to tout being ‘first’ in cinematic accomplishments, this is always nothing more than a marketing ploy, as most stories have been told regardless of how many superficial changes are made.

The point is not to create something new, but to take stories that have already captured the fundamentals of the human experience and make them better for a modern audience. The fact that Kubrick saw his job as telling better stories than creating something new reflects how deeply his work resonated with a global audience.

Francis Ford Coppola

Director Francis Ford Coppola

I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.

As the director behind both Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, not many are unfamiliar with Francis Ford Coppola‘s works. Knowing that the director of such classics has some degree of self-doubt is not so much comforting as it is an honest, humble reflection of any creative. If there is no doubt in your work, your ego starts to take hold, and the work suffers.

It begins to define the movie more than anything else, a case often seen by such filmmakers who try to make ‘cult classics’ instead of making great movies that manage to become cult hits. This awareness is critical, whether it be to give pause and reflect or inject a bit of chaos into the process that pays off with memorable scenes, the latter being particularly apt when considering the labor of love and total disaster of filming Apocalypse Now.

Wong Kar-wai

Director Wong Kar-wai

My films are never about what Hong Kong is like, or anything approaching a realistic portrait, but what I think about Hong Kong and what I want it to be.

The visually rich and beautiful flow of a Wong Kar-wai production has made him globally recognized as a true master of the craft, with films like Chunking Express and In the Mood for Love being his most definitive work. The quote here can feel slightly cynical, conveying that Hong Kong is not as beautiful as his films make it out to be.

However, the more optimistic cinephile will see it as him reflecting the possibility of what he sees in Hong Kong, highlighting the beauty and amplifying it to convey its potential. Regardless, this sentiment perfectly complements Kar-wai’s style and ability to draw viewers in with lush visuals.

David Cronenberg

Director David Cronenberg

I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontation.

Master of body horror David Croneberg‘s early career was primarily defined by its shock value, with a sharp artistic and surreal edge that made him stand out from his contemporaries, especially considering movies like Videodrome and Dead Ringers. While the Canadian director’s later efforts would slowly move away from horror, his roots in the genre are undeniable.

Related: 50+ Best Horror Movies of All Time, Ranked

Horror is often given the short end of the stick; despite being the most commercially successful genre of movie, it is often overlooked during award season, and many standout performances and films don’t get the same recognition because of the genre. David Cronenberg is one of many filmmakers who challenge that notion with quality films that cut more profoundly than the creature features and slashers that all get lumped into one big pile.

His movies capture fears that go far beyond an external force, having horror build from within, and our inability to fight it. To him, horror films are a kind of confrontational art, and Cronenberg embodies this sentiment throughout much of his career.

Tim Burton

Director Tim Burton

I grew up watching monster movies and horror movies, which I felt were like fairy tales and I think this always spoke to me. Something about that is symbolism — the beauty and the magic which helps me work with film and start making modern fairy tales.

Director Tim Burton has made a name for himself by straddling that line between horror and fantasy, creating an accessible gothic aesthetic that has earned him an eager following for his work on films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, and Beetlejuice. This quote perfectly captures his journey to becoming a filmmaker, and one which many of his fans can relate to.

Certain movies land differently for others, and there is a sense of wonderment to be drawn from various inspirations when growing up. Tim Burton excels at making modern-day fairy tales with an edge from his early love of monsters and horror movies. It is something that any fan of his knows to be true, but it is great to hear it from the man himself.

Jordan Peele

Director Jordan Peele

The scariest monster in the world is human beings and what we are capable of, especially when we get together.

Director Jordan Peele has his pulse on modern sentiments and anxieties, with his films like Get Out and Us radiating with young audiences and those tuned into the social problems facing the West. This quote perfectly summarizes his approach to the horror genre, focusing instead on people’s abilities to cause horror, whether systematic or inherent in humanity.

Undeniably, nothing is more terrifying than a sizable misinformed group getting together and indulging in an idea that only feeds into the individual’s misfortune, a sentiment his films resonate through both abstract and clear analogies.

Andrei Tarkovsky

Director Andrei Tarkovsky

A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books.

Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky was a profoundly unique talent who redefined how movies are conveyed visually, from his genre-defining Mirror to his dark sci-fi epic Stalker. This quote is particularly apt when looking at a film like Mirror, whose approach leaves it entirely up to its audience to draw their own conclusions.

However, this sentiment can be true of art in general, which pushes beyond regular storytelling conventions. In an age where everyone wants distinct opinions that match theirs to a tee, the nuance of different experiences allowing for varying views, each with its own validity, is often overlooked. Andrei Tarkovsky sees cinema as much as an expression of art as it is a means for self-reflection.

Bong Joon-ho

Director Bong Joon-ho

There is a lot of extreme emotion in Korean film. It’s because there are a lot of extremes in Korean society.

Director Bong Joon-ho made history when Parasite became the first South Korean film to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Still, even before that, he had developed a faithful following with movies like Mother and Memories of Murder.

Undeniably, South Korean cinema and TV have been massively successful in the past several years, with the country becoming a heavy-hitter on the global stage thanks to its emotionally enthused dramas that resonate with many. This quote is a relatively simple yet straightforward way that Joon-Ho shows his appreciation for his homeland and his understanding of why it has come to be admired globally for its arts.

William Friedkin

Director William Friedkin

But the audience is right. They’re always, always right. You hear directors complain that the advertising was lousy, the distribution is no good, the date was wrong to open the film. I don’t believe that. The audience is never wrong. Never.

All you need to know to make William Friedkin an icon in the annals of cinema is that he directed arguably the greatest horror film of all time, The Exorcist. But Friedkin’s career has also included notable standouts like The French Connection and Sorcerer.

This quote from the director needs to be adhered to more, with studios and celebrities often quick to blame the failure of a film on any number of factors while never acknowledging the film itself may be bad. Undeniably, art is subjective, and there will always be an audience for almost any film. Still, when a movie flops, it means that it didn’t reach audiences.

Related: The Exorcist: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts That Haunted The Cast

There is no reason other than people not enjoying the movie itself. If a film is excellent, it will blast past any expectations as word of mouth takes root. Surprise successes are as common as surprise failures, and the industry needs to stop pointing blame when they create something that the masses don’t like.

Sergio Leone

Director Sergio Leone

I’ve always felt that music is more expressive than dialogue. I’ve always said that my best dialogue and screenwriter is Ennio Morricone. Because, many times, it is more important a note or an orchestration than a line said.

Sergio Leone proved himself to be a master of the Western genre, and the ‘Dollars Trilogy’ (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) remains among the best Western films ever made. An undeniable fact of the success of the movies is how well the score works with each.

Leone acknowledges the brilliance of composer Ennio Morricone and how vital the relationship between the two was in making the spaghetti westerns iconic and reaching global acclaim. It is always appreciated when directors recognize the talent outside their own and how essential it is to the end product. One would be hard-pressed to find a better duo that exemplifies a partnership in creating a distinct cinematic style, and this quote shows Leone’s awareness of this fact.

Kathryn Bigelow

Director Kathryn Bigelow

It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie; the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t.

Kathryn Bigelow has proven herself to be the most successful and accomplished modern female director with films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. However, this quote points to the fact that her movies go beyond her identity as a woman working in Hollywood when looking at how the audience receives the work.

Undeniably, having different perspectives and diversity in cinema is essential for the continued growth of the art. Still, the validity of work will always be tied to what you make and not who you are as an individual. It is a very wise approach to cinema from one of the best to ever enter the art form.

Mel Brooks

Director Mel Brooks

All right, I am often brash, rude and brutally direct. Someday I’m going to die and I don’t have time to toe-dance around the periphery of hatred.

Mel Brooks was not only a master of comedy, he understood the importance of the medium, and that shock through humor was an essential release that society needed to indulge in to function. Most of his movies contained controversial subjects, the most notable being the race-focused humor of Blazing Saddles, but it was never done in poor taste.

The comedic genius also lived his life this way, and there is a slew of witty quotes from the filmmaker/actor that show his outlandish personality matched perfectly with what his movies were attempting to accomplish. He was unapologetic for who he was, his movies thrived because of it, and he was a beloved figure for the same reason.

Roger Corman

Director Roger Corman

You can make a movie about anything, as long as it has a hook to hang the advertising on.

Director Roger Corman gained his iconic status much differently than other filmmakers in this list, known as the man who ‘made over 100 movies and never lost a penny.’ Corman embraced ballyhoo and fly-by-your-seat filmmaking on a budget, with films like Death Race 2000 and A Bucket of Blood, showing him to be the essential ‘movie salesman’ who could draw out the charm of B-cinema.

This quote speaks to his approach and track-record-approved boasting that he could turn a buck on any good idea. Yes, cinema is an art form, but brilliance on the business end is often a missing skill set for creatives, whereas Corman was the rare mix of both.

Werner Herzog

Director Werner Herzog

I think there should be holy war against yoga classes.

Who does not love Werner Herzog as a persona? His outlandish remarks and expressive mannerisms make every word of his feel profound, even when he is being sardonic. A director of both film and documentaries, with notable standouts like Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Grizzly Man, he has undoubtedly earned a right to tout his ‘irreverent wisdom,’ which teeters between tongue-in-cheek and poignant social commentary.

Related: The Best German Films of the Past Decade, Ranked

This quote may not be deep, but it perfectly encapsulates the director’s views on art as a reflection, perhaps an outlet, for humans to express the darkest elements of existence. Yoga, which aims to relax and find internal peace, certainly speaks against how Herzog approaches creating art. Ultimately, it is just a funny, biting quote.

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