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The Most Important Spanish Directors of All Time

Table of Contents

In recent years, Spanish directors have achieved very high recognition. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the director Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve global recognition, followed by Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s. Spanish cinema has been successful all over the world with famous directors such as Segundo de Chomón, Florián Rey, Luis García Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem, Carlos Saura, Julio Médem and Alejandro Amenábar.

Here is a partial list of the most influential Spanish directors of all time to discover their works, in alphabetical order.


Alejandro Amenábar


Amenábar is a Spanish director born in Santiago de Chile, on the eve of Pinochet’s coup in 1973. He is the son of a Chilean father and a Spanish mother. His family moved back to Spain when he was 1, and he was raised and educated in Madrid. He wrote, produced and directed his first short film La cabeza at the age of 19, and was 23 when he directed Tesis (1996). His film Abre los ojos (1997) was a notable success in Spain and was released worldwide. It was remade in Hollywood by Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky (2001). The Others (2001) is Amenábar’s first English-language film. In all his films he also composes the music and writes the screenplay.


Pedro Almodóvar


The best known Spanish director in the world after Luis Buñuel was born in a village (Calzada de Calatrava) in the poor Spanish area of ​​La Mancha. Arrives in Madrid in 1968, selling used products in the flea market called El Rastro. Not having the money, Almodóvar was unable to study cinema. Filmmaking schools were closed in the early 1970s by Franco’s federal government. Rather, he got a job in the Spanish telephone company and saved up his earnings to buy a Super 8 camera. From 1972 to 1978 he was busy making short films with the help of his companions. The “premieres” of those early films were well known in the rapidly growing world of Spanish counterculture. In a couple of years, Almodóvar ended up becoming a star of ‘La Movida’, the pop cultural movement of late 1970s Madrid. His very first feature film, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), was made in 16mm and enlarged to 35mm for public release. In 1987, he and his brother Agustín Almodóvar developed their own manufacturing business: El Deseo. The “Almodóvar phenomenon” has reached all over the world, making his films incredibly popular in many countries.


Jaume Balagueró


Jaume Balagueró is a Spanish director born on November 2, 1968 in Lleida, Catalonia. He is a director and writer, known for [Rec] (2007), Mientras duermes (2011) and Los sin nombre (1999).

Antonio Bardem


Juan Antonio Bardem Muñoz was a Spanish film director and author, born in Madrid. He belonged to the Communist Party. Bardem was best known for Death of a Cyclist (1955) which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, and El puente (1977) which won the Gold Prize at the 10th Moscow International Film Festival. His 1979 film Seven Days in January won the Gold Award at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival. In 1981 he was a member of the jury of the 12th Moscow International Film Festival. In 1993 he served on the jury of the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival. In 1953 he and Luis García Berlanga founded a film publication, Objetivo, which existed until 1956. Bardem is the father of director Miguel Bardem and the uncle of star Javier Bardem. Bardem died in Madrid in 2002, aged 80.

JA Bayona


Juan Antonio García Bayona is a Spanish director. He directed the 2007 horror film The Orphanage, the 2012 drama The Impossible and the 2016 dream drama A Monster Calls. Bayona’s most current film is the science fiction film 2018He actually directed TV commercials and videos as well. 


Icíar Bollaín


A Spanish director born in Madrid, Iciar Bollain has worked as an actress in films such as El Sur (1983), directed by Víctor Erice; Sublet (1991) directed by Chus Gutiérrez, Malaventura (1988) directed by Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón; El Mejor de los Tiempos (1990) and Un Paraguas para Tres (1992) directed by Felipe Vega, Tierra y Libertad (1995) directed by Ken Loach, LEO (2000) directed by Jose Luis Borau, Nos Miran (2002) directed by Norberto Pérez, La Balsa de Piedra (2003) directed by Geogre Sluiezer and La Noche del Hermano (2005) directed by Santiago García de Leániz. As a director, Icíar has written and directed a number of distinguished films. Flowers from Another World, his second film, was awarded at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival as Best Film at the International Critics’ Week. Take my eyes (2003), his next film, won 7 Goya (Spanish Academy Awards), including best film, and many other international awards. He directed a screenplay by Paul Laverty in 2009, Even the Rain. The film achieved global and national recognition: 13 elections at the Goya Awards, Panorama Award at the Berlinale, Ariel Award for best Latin American film and remained in the list of foreign films chosen for the Academy Awards in 2010 representing Spain. In 2011 he co-wrote and directed Katmandú, un Espejo en el Cielo. The film was nominated for the Goya Awards for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2014, En Tierra Extraña was launched, a documentary Iciar directed about the lives of young Spanish immigrants in Edinburgh, Scotland who needed to leave Spain due to the economic crisis and unemployment. 


Luis Bunuel


Luis Buñuel is the most popular Spanish director. Bunuel has worked in France, Mexico and Spain and has been widely regarded by many film critics, directors and historians as one of the best and most important directors of all time. When Buñuel died at age 83, his New York Times obituary called him “a moralist, critic, and revolutionary who was a leader of surrealism in his youth and a dominant global filmmaker half a century later.” His first film, Un Chien Andalo, made in the silent film period, is seen all over the world and maintains its power to surprise the audience, and his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire, made 48 years later, it earned him Best Director awards from the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics. Author Octavio Paz called Buñuel’s work “the relationship of the film to the poetic image, which produces a new truth … subversive and outrageous”. Often linked to surrealist movement of the 1920s, Buñuel made films from the 1920s to the 1970s in Europe and North America, and in Spanish and French, Buñuel also directed films spanning numerous categories. Director John Huston thought that regardless of category, a Buñuel film is so distinct that it is immediately identifiable or, as he put it Ingmar Bergman, “Buñuel almost always made Buñuel films.” Several of Buñuel’s films are among the greatest movies ever.

Mario Camus


Mario Camus García, born in 1935, was a Spanish director and screenwriter. He won the Golden Bear at the 33rd Berlin International Film Festival with La colmena. His 1987 film The House of Bernarda Alba was rated Un Certain Regard at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and a top contender at the 15th Moscow International Film Festival. His 1993 film Shadows in a Conflict participated in the 18th Moscow International Film Festival.

Segundo Chomón


Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz, born October 17, 1871, was a Spanish film pioneer, cinematographer and director. He produced many short films in France while working for Pathé Frères and has been compared to Georges Méliès, due to his electronic camera techniques and visual effects. He is considered Spain’s foremost silent film director and is world-renowned for his work.

Isabel Coixet


Isabel Coixet was born on April 9, 1960 in Sant Adrià de Besòs, Barcelona, ​​Catalonia, Spain. She is a director and author, known for The Secret Life of Words (2005), My Life Without Me (2003) and The Bookshop (2017).

Rodrigo Cortés


Rodrigo Cortés is a Spanish director born in 1973 in Pazos Hermos. He is an editor and director, known for Buried (2010), Love Gets a Room (2021) and Red Lights (2012).

Álex de la Iglesia


Álex de la Iglesia is a Spanish director born in Bilbao, Spain in 1965. At the age of 10 he was drawing comics and acknowledges Alex Raymond and Stan Lee as his spiritual fathers. Wanting to broaden his knowledge, he studied at the University of Deusto, a school in his hometown, where he spent most of his time in a café and in the school’s film society.

Determined to enter the world of entertainment, he worked as a designer for television and was art director on Enrique Urbizu’s film Todo por la pasta (1991). Later he started directing films. He directed his first and short film, Mirindas asesinas (1990), in collaboration with Jorge Guerricaechevarría as co-writer. Jorge became Iglesia’s regular writing partner on all of her subsequent films. The short film won awards at many festivals, and also served to convince the famous Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, through his production company, El Deseo, to sponsor Iglesia’s very first feature film, Acción mutante (1993).

This entertaining sci-fi film received 2 awards at the Montréal Fantasia Film Festival and 3 Goya awards, turning the director into the most attractive director of the year. His second film, El día de la bestia (1995), won 6 Goyas, including best director. It also received accolades at the first Gérardmer Fantastic Film Festival (France) and the Brussels Fantastic Film Festival, and won critical and public acclaim at the Venice and Toronto World Film Festivals, and the Catalonia Fantastic Film Festival of Sitges. Then it became a huge hit at the ticket office.


Víctor Erice


Víctor Erice Aras, born June 30, 1940, is a Spanish director. He is known for his two fiction films, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), which many consider among the best Spanish films ever made, and El Sur (1983).

Jesús Franco


Jesús Franco Manera was a Spanish director, writer and actor, a well-known director of low-budget films and B movie. In a profession spanning from 1954 to 2013, he wrote, directed, produced, acted in approximately 173 feature films, working both in his native Spain and in France, West Germany, Switzerland and Portugal. Also, during the 1960s, he made a number of films in Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul.


Fernando León de Aranoa


Fernando León de Aranoa is a Spanish director born on May 26, 1968 in Madrid, Spain. He is an author and director, known for A Perfect Day (2015), El buen patrón (2021) and Los lunes al sol (2002).

Paco León


Paco León is a Spanish director born on October 4, 1974 in Seville. He is also an actor and writer, and is known for the films Kiki, el amor se hace (2016), Carmina o revienta (2012) and Carmina y amen. (2014).

Bigas Luna


José Juan Bigas Luna was a Spanish artist and director. His films are usually characterized by a strong attention to the sensual, often linked to food, for which he has confessed a strong enthusiasm. His work typically parodies Spanish identity clichés, but he has had a worldwide career and has actually made films in Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French and English.

Julio Medem


Julio Medem is a Spanish director born in San Sebastian, in northern Spain. As a teenager Medem accomplished short films with a super-8 camera owned by his father. Some of those films are ‘El ciego’ (1976), ‘El jueves pasado’ (1977) and ‘Fideos’ (1979). Interested in the darkest corners of the human mind, Medem studied psychiatry. In 1985 Medem graduated in Medicine from the University of the Basque Country. In 1986 Medem directed “Patas en la cabeza”, a short 35MM which won an award at the Bilbao World Film Festival. In 1987, after winning the Telenorte prize for another short film, “Las seis en punta”, he chose to become a professional director. Medem has worked as an assistant, editor and writer on various assignments for film and television. He also wrote several film scripts, but they were all rejected by most of the production companies in Spain. In 1991, Medem got a call from a new production company. They were interested in his screenplay titled ‘Vacas’, about the battle between 2 families over 3 generations, from 1875 to 1936. Medem directed the film and it was launched in 1992. ‘Vacas’ was a huge success. He won the Spanish Academy’s Goya Award for Best Debut Director and won prizes at the Tokyo, Turin and Alexandria film festivals. In 1993 Medem made his second film, “La ardilla roja”. “La ardilla roja” validated Medem’s skills and won awards in Fort Lauderdale, Bogota and Bucharest. His third film, “Tierra”, launched in 1996, was chosen for the Cannes Film Festival. In 1998 Medem launched “Los Amantes del Circulo Polar”, considered by most of his fans as his best film. In 2001 her fourth film, “Lucia y el sexo”, became a great success and started the career of Paz Vega, who won the Goya for best new actress. In 2003 the release of “La pelotatub”, a documentary which represents the phenomenon of nationalism in the Basque country of northern Spain, was extremely difficult.

Daniel Monzón


Daniel Monzón is a Spanish director born in 1968 in Palma, Balearic Islands, Spain. He is an author and director, known for Celda 211 (2009), El corazón del guerrero (1999) and Las leyes de la frontera (2021).


Alberto Rodríguez


Alberto Rodríguez is a Spanish director born in 1971 in Seville. He is an author and director, known for La isla mínima (2014 ), 7 vírgenes (2005) and Grupo 7 (2012 ). He has co-written and co-directed numerous works with Santi Amodeo. 

Jaime Rosales


Jaime Rosales is not the ordinary type of director. Constantly on the lookout for new ways to reveal his craft, he may annoy those who, having seen his films, believe they can classify him in one genre or another. Among his films there may be black and white or color. In one of his works the discussion will be almost imperceptible while in the next one it will be as full-bodied and clear as possible. Sometimes he will prefer static shots while in others circular dollys. In some scenes the time will be lengthened, in others it will be contracted. Jaime likes experimentation and it cannot be denied that he is a genuine artist, who requires constant renewal of himself.

Carlos Saura


Carlos Saura Atarés, born in 1932, is a Spanish director, professional photographer and author. In addition to Luis Buñuel and Pedro Almodóvar, he is considered one of the greatest Spanish filmmakers. He has a prestigious and long profession spanning over half a century. His films have won many awards around the world. Saura began his profession in 1955 making short films and documentaries. When his first feature film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960, it quickly gained worldwide prominence. He began filming as a neorealist, with films coded with metaphors to get around Spanish censorship. In 1966, he was thrust into the global spotlight when his film La Caza won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. In later years, he gained worldwide fame for his cinematic treatment of spiritual and psychological reactions to repressive political conditions. 

In the 1970s, Saura was the best known director operating in Spain. His films used complicated narrative devices and were regularly in polemic with the social situation in Spain. He won Special Jury Prizes for La Prima Angélica (1973) and Cría Cuervos (1975) at Cannes; and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1979 for Mama Cumple 100 Años. In the 1980s, Saura remained in the spotlight for his flamenco trilogy: Bodas de Sangre, Carmen and El Amor Brujo, in which he integrated extraordinary material and types of flamenco dance. His work has continued to be included in festivals around the world and has garnered various awards. He earned 2 Academy Awards nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, for Carmen (1983) and Tango (1998). His films merge truth with dream, past with present and memory with hallucination. In the last 20 years of the 20th century, Saura has in fact concentrated on works that combine music, dance and images.

Enrique Urbizu


Enrique Urbizu is a Spanish director born in 1962 in Bilbao. He is a director and author, known for La caja 507 (2002), No habrá paz para los malvados (2011) and La vida mancha (2003).

Nacho G. Velilla


Nacho G. Velilla is a Spanish director born in Zaragoza. He is known for Fuera de carta (2008), Que se mueran los feos (2010) and Villaviciosa de al lado (2016).

Carlos Vermut


Carlos Vermut is a Spanish director born on March 6, 1980 in Madrid, Spain. He is an author and director, known for Quién te cantará (2018), Magical Girl (2014) and Mantícora (2022). He is a graphic novel author. He has published comics such as: “El banyán rojo”, “Psicosoda” or “Plutón BRB Nero, la vendetta de Maripili”, based on the TV series by Álex de la Iglesia. 

Nacho Vigalondo


Nacho Vigalondo is a Spanish director born in 1977 in Cabezón de la Sal, Cantabria, Spain. He is an author and protagonist, known for Los cronocrímenes (2007), Colossal (2016) and Extraterrestre (2011).

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