Cinema’s Greatest Wildly Prolific Directors

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Cinema buffs tend to romanticize the kind of auteur who takes years to finish a film. How many times have we heard breathless tales of Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionist antics, which left a five-year gap between Barry Lyndon and The Shining, and over a decade between Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut? Then there’s Terrence Malick, who took a generation-long break from filmmaking between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, and has never gone less than five years between features. But crappy, commercial directors are hardly the only ones who can bang one, two, or even five movies a year. After the jump, we’ve rounded up ten legendary moviemakers from around the world who also happen to be wildly prolific.

The Trip

Michael Winterbottom

At only 50 years old, British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom has produced 26 features, averaging more than one new release each year. But what’s really impressive is his willingness to keep exploring new genres, from music biopic (24 Hour Party People) to serious war film (Welcome to Sarajevo) to brilliantly offbeat literary adaptation (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) to roadtrip mockumentary (The Trip). Over the years, Winterbottom has also produced a handful of political documentaries, as well as the controversial 2004 film 9 Songs, which featured graphic, unsimulated sex interspersed with scenes from indie-rock concerts. The director currently has two movies in the works for 2012: an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles called Trishna and Bailout, which stars Jack Black as a down-on-his-luck dad who turns to dealing weed. Sometime after those are completed, he may begin work on a movie about The Beatles.

Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen

Lots of directors are prolific in their youth and even middle age, but 75-year-old Woody Allen has been churning out roughly one film a year since his 1966 debut, What’s New, Pussycat? His productivity is especially impressive considering that he writes all of his own movies (and has even written some scripts he didn’t direct) and has starred in a fair number of them, too. Although his heyday spanned the period between 1971’s Bananas and 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, and much of his post-’80s work leaves something to be desired, there have certainly been high points scattered throughout the past 25 years: Crimes and Misdemeanors, Mighty Aphrodite, Match Point, and especially this year’s surprise hit Midnight in Paris, which has surely earned a spot on our top 10 movies of 2011 list.

Audition

Takashi Miike

It’s not unusual that a Japanese cult horror director would produce upwards of five films a year; what’s shocking about Takashi Miike, then, is that many of his movies are very, very good. Although his home is in the scary and perverse, he’s made everything from gangster flicks and samurai period pieces to kids’ movies and musicals. Even Miike’s most accomplished features have come out in years when he’s put out a handful of other films: the skin-crawling psychological thriller Audition and yakuza freak-fest Dead or Alive were only two of seven he released in 1999; 2007’s tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, Sukiyaki Western Django, screened in the same year as three other Miike movies and one play.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

He may have died tragically young, at only 37, but the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder left behind a bigger body of work than most filmmakers who live past 90. A wild and rebellious soul, Fassbinder drove his casts and crews crazy in the process of making movies that attacked mainstream, middle-class values. Between 1965 and 1982, when he died of mixing cocaine and sleeping pills, he finished a whopping 40 features — many of which, such as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Veronika Voss, went on to become classics of global cinema. In addition to those films, Fassbinder undertook the massive project of adapting Alfred Döblin’s 1929 Modernist masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz into a 15-hour series that ran on German TV. It’s difficult to fathom how he packed so many important works into a career that spanned less than two decades, but we suppose it helps if, like Fassbinder, you can get a whole feature in the can in under three weeks.

Stagecoach

John Ford

Master of the American Western John Ford had already directed 62 silent films during the decade he spent in the industry before he made his first talkie. Many of this early work has been lost to the ages, but fortunately for cinephiles, Ford made no shortage of great movies later in his career: 1935’s The Informer, 1939’s Stagecoach, 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath, 1941’s How Green Was My Valley, 1956’s The Searchers, and 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, to name just a few absolute essentials. By the time he died in 1973, Ford had directed (or co-directed) no fewer than 140 films, won four Best Director Oscars — and, most importantly, shaped the way American movie-goers saw their history, frontier, and the country itself.

Kagero-za

Seijun Suzuki

Japanese director Seijun Suzuki released at least three films per year between 1956 and 1966, and one more in 1967. Then, none of his work appeared on the big screen for a decade. Those ten lost years began after Suzuki was released from his studio contract with no notice for wasting their money on obscure, difficult films and, after taking his former employer to court, blacklisted from making movies in Japan. He was finally able to find a studio in the mid-’70s, after his work attained cult-classic status among audiences both within his home country and around the world. It was only then that Suzuki created his best-loved works, the dreamy, psychologically dense Taishō trilogy, comprised of Zigeunerweisen (1980), Kagero-za (1981), and Yumeji (1991). Watching these films now, it’s hard to believe that even the greediest and most amoral industry could silence such a powerful artist for so many years.

Bringing Up Baby

Howard Hawks

Yet another director who could do great work in any genre, Howard Hawks was responsible for one of the most influential early gangster films (Scarface), a classic noir (The Big Sleep), an iconic musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), and a whole mess of immortal comedies and historical pictures. Hawks, who often released two or more movies a year, is best known for his great dialogue and his bold, brassy female characters — both of which tend to make for excellent viewing.

Le Boucher

Claude Chabrol

Like Woody Allen, the French filmmaker Claude Chabrol worked well into old age. Initially part of the French New Wave movement, he worked alongside Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer in the ’60s, finding his first great critical success with 1960’s biting comedic drama Les Bonnes Femmes. Through the turn of the millennium, Chabrol — who is known for his suspenseful, psychological style, as well as his collaborations with such muses as Stéphane Audran and Isabelle Huppert — made at least one film every year, including such touchstones of French cinema as Le Boucher, Violette Nozière, Story of Women, and Merci pour le chocolat. For those who haven’t spent time with his work, know this: If you like Hitchcock, you’ll love Chabrol.

Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock

Speaking of Hitchcock! In our reverence for the quality of his work, we tend to forget that part of what’s so impressive about his achievements is that he managed to finish so many impeccable films. (This, perhaps, is why it’s so difficult to pick a favorite.) The British-born Hitchcock spent about a decade and a half making one to three features a year in his home country before jumping ship to Hollywood. We won’t bore you by repeating his greatest hits, but contemplate this for a minute: Dial M for Murder and Rear Window both hit theaters in 1954, while Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho came one after another between 1958 and 1960. Can you imagine getting to see a brand-new Hitchcock movie at least once a year?

Dog Day

Sidney Lumet

To be honest, we were not always fans of Sidney Lumet’s later work — although the director did go out on a high note with 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, his final film before succumbing to lymphoma earlier this year. But there’s no denying the power of a filmmaker whose burst out of the gates with 12 Angry Men in 1957, and whose staggering ’70s filmography included Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and even The Wiz. Throughout his career, Lumet was known for his truly collaborative relationships with actors, which have resulted in truly showstopping performances by some of cinema’s greatest talents. Out of over 50 movies produced in as many years, over a third were nominated for Academy Awards.