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Best Director Oscar Winners 1950s


In the 1950s, Hollywood suddenly found itself competing with television and sought new innovations to lure audiences back to theaters. Because of this, movies became grand spectacles that featured new widescreen formats to showcase massive historical epics, Westerns and adventure movies.

But audiences also wanted more realistic character-driven pictures and filmmakers were happy to oblige with dramas that focused on infidelity, youthful rebellion and emotional ennui. As a result, older studio directors like John Ford and William Wyler started giving way to a new generation of filmmakers like Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet and David Lean. Here are all ten Best Director winners from the 1950s.

1. 1950 Best Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz for ‘All About Eve’

20th Century Fox
Without a doubt the best film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in his sterling career, All About Eve was nominated for a whopping 14 Academy Awards – a record that stood until James Cameron tied the feat with Titanic (1997). A sharp-witted showbiz satire about an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) who takes a seemingly naïve young actress (Anne Baxter) under her wing, the film earned six Oscars with Mankiewicz winning Best Director over John Huston for The Asphalt Jungle, George Cukor for Born Yesterday, Billy Wilder for Sunset Boulevard and Carol Reed for The Third Man.
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2. 1951 Best Director – George Stevens for ‘A Place in the Sun’

Paramount Pictures
Eight years after receiving his first nomination for 1943’s The More the Merrier, George Stevens won the first of two career Oscars for his adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel An American Tragedy. Starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun might have been something less than was it was had it not been for Stevens’ exceptional gift for crafting compelling entertainment with a steady hand. Still, this was one of those years were the award had more than one worthy recipient with nominations also going to John Huston for The African Queen, Vincente Minnelli for An American in Paris, William Wyler for Detective Story and Elia Kazan for A Streetcar Named Desire.
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3. 1952 Best Director – John Ford for ‘The Quiet Man’

Sonar Entertainment
Once again returning to his Irish roots – which often brought out his best work – John Ford crafted this charming romantic comedy that drew a rare understated performance out of John Wayne and earned the director a record fourth Best Director Academy Award. Wayne starred as an American boxer who seeks escape from tragedy in Ireland and falls the high-spirited daughter (Maureen O’Hara) of a bullying landowner. Having stepped outside his comfort zone of directing stark Westerns, Ford made a refreshing film that won him Oscar over Joseph L. Mankeiwicz for Five Fingers, Cecil B. DeMille for The Greatest Show on Earth, Fred Zinnemann for High Noon, and John Huston for Moulin Rouge.
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4. 1953 Best Director – Fred Zinnemann for ‘From Here to Eternity’

Sony Pictures
A major box office hit and winner of eight Academy Awards, Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of James Jones’ acclaimed World War II novel was an expertly crafted film that delved into the troubled lives of several soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months prior to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Drawing exceptional performances out of Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Ernest Borgnine, Zinnemann won Best Director over stiff competition that included Charles Walters for Lili, William Wyler for Roman Holiday, George Stevens for Shane and Billy Wilder for Stalag 17.
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5. 1954 Best Director – Elia Kazan for ‘On the Waterfront’

Sony Pictures
In his third collaboration with Marlon Brando, Elia Kazan crafted a classic film that has lived on as one of the greatest movies ever made. A searing drama about a washed-up boxer (Brando) forced by circumstances to testify against the mob, On the Waterfront has been seen as an allegory for Kazan’s own testimony during the anti-Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy Era. Kazan’s deeply personal film earned him his second Best Director Oscar over George Seaton for The Country Girl, William Wellman for The High and the Mighty, Alfred Hitchcock for Rear Window and Billy Wilder for Sabrina.
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6. 1955 Best Director – Delbert Mann for ‘Marty’

United Artists
With his one and only career nomination, Delbert Mann took home the Oscar for his heartrending drama adapted by Paddy Chayefsky from his acclaimed 1953 teleplay. Staring Ernest Borgnine as the titular lovelorn butcher, Marty was a rousing story about an average everyman who leaves behind his dour existence in search of emotional happiness. Anchored by Chayefsky’s extraordinary script, the film earned Mann the Academy Award over John Sturges for Bad Day at Black Rock, Elia Kazan for East of Eden, Joshua Logan for Picnic and David Lean for Summertime.
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7. 1956 Best Director – George Stevens for ‘Giant’

Warner Bros.
George Stevens won his second Oscar of the decade for this epic decades-spanning drama about race, class and family traditions tested by the passages of time. At its heart, Giant was about a headstrong Southern belle (Elizabeth Taylor) trapped in a marriage to a wealthy rancher (Rock Hudson) while secretly in love with an uneducated ranch hand (James Dean in his final performance). A major box office hit that transcended generations and remained relevant to contemporary audiences, Giant earned Stevens the Academy Award over Michael Anderson for Around the World in 80 Days, William Wyler for Friendly Persuassion, Walter Lang for The King and I and King Vidor for War and Peace.
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8. 1957 Best Director – David Lean for ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’

Sony Pictures
Not only was David Lean’s mammoth World War II film one of the great war movies ever made, but it has often been considered one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Starring Alec Guinness as an obsessive British prisoner of war and William Holden as an American saboteur impersonating an officer, The Bridge on the River Kwai was a landmark achievement and the first of Lean’s great epics. Lean had little in the way of competition and won the Oscar over Mark Robson for Peyton Place, Joshua Logan for Sayonara, Sidney Lumet for 12 Angry Men and Billy Wilder for Witness for the Prosecution.
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9. 1958 Best Director – Vincente Minnelli for ‘Gigi’

MGM Home Entertainment
One of the last great musicals of the Golden Age, Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi delivered the one and only Oscar to the director in his career. Set in turn of the 20th century Paris, the film drew comparisons to the Broadway hit My Fair Lady thanks to a script by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Though he would direct for almost another 20 years, Minnelli struggled to reach such commercial and critical heights again. Still, he won the Academy Award for Best Director over Richard Brooks for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Stanley Kramer for The Defiant Ones, Robert Wise for I Want to Live! and Mark Robson for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
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10. 1959 Best Director – William Wyler for ‘Ben-Hur’

MGM Home Entertainment
In the last year of a great decade for classic movies, William Wyler directed the greatest historical epic ever made and with it set the record for most Academy Award wins with eleven statuettes. Starring Charlton Heston as the titular Judah Ben-Hur, the film was a stunning achievement that featured a cast of thousands and captured on screen a ten-minute long chariot race that has remained one of cinema’s most iconic sequences. Wyler deservedly took home the third and final Best Director Oscar of his career, winning the award over George Stevens for The Diary of Anne Frank, Fred Zinnemann for The Nun’s Story, Jack Clayton for Room at the Top and Billy Wilder for Some Like It Hot.
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