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August 31, 2015

How old are Hollywood directors?

Hollywood director Clint EastwoodLast week, I looked at the average age of action stars and as an aside, I shared data on the average age of action film directors.  Since then, I have been contacted by a number of people asking if the average age of action film directors (45 years old) is also true for other genres.  

So I took a look at the top 100 grossing films each year for the past 21 years (2,100 films) and the top grossing films of twenty genres (2,000 films).  In summary…

  • The average age of a top grossing director in 2014 was three months shy of 50 years old
  • Only 2.6% of Hollywood directors are under 30 years old
  • A third of all directors of the top grossing films are between 40 and 49 years old
  • Clint Eastwood is the oldest living director of a top grossing film at 85 when American Sniper was released
  • Horror films have the youngest directors, with an average age of 42
  • The youngest director of the past 20 years is Allen Hughes aged 22
  • His twin brother, Albert, is the second youngest as he’s nine minutes older
  • Historical films have the oldest directors at an average of almost 52 years old 

Midlife License

A third of all directors of the top grossing films are between 40 and 49 years old.  Only 2.6% are under 30 years old and 8.9% are over 60.

Age spread of directors of top 100 grossing films 1994-2014

Hollywood directors the Hughes BrothersThe youngest director of a top 100 grossing film in the past two decades is Allen Hughes, who co-directed the 1995 film Dead Presidents.  The second youngest director is just nine minutes older than him: his twin brother and co-director, Albert.

The oldest director is technically James Algar, who was one of eight directors credited to Fantasia 2000.  At the date of the film’s release James would have been 88 years old, had he not died two years prior.  Fantasia 2000 is an updated version of the 1940 classic Fantasia and James directed the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence.

So if we want to look at who was the oldest Hollywood director actually on-set then Clint Eastwood takes the top spot.  And the second spot.  And thirdfourth, fifth and sixth.  My research looked at films released between 1994 and 2014 so Clint’s latest film, American Sniper, fell just outside the cut off, with a release date of 16th January 2015 (at which point Clint was almost 85 years old).

Are Hollywood directors getting older or younger?

Older. In 1995 the average age of Hollywood directors was 43 years and 9 months.  By 2014, that had increased by six years to 49 years and 9 months.

Average age of directors of top 100 grossing films, 1994-2014

Does the average age change between genres?

Yes, but only slightly.  Horror films have the youngest directors, with their average age on the day of the film’s release being a sprightly 42 years 6 months and 24 days. The genre with the oldest directors is Historical – where directors are on average 51 years, 11 months and 20 days old.

Average age of directors of the top 100 grossing films of each genre, 1994-2014

Methodology

For today’s research I created two datasets…

  • Movie poster for the Covered WagonTop films of each year.  These are the 100 highest grossing films of each year at the US box office (according to IMDb) between 1994 and 2014, inclusive (this relates to their US release date).  That’s 2,100 films in total. 
  • Top films of each genre. These are the 100 highest grossing films in each genre (as defined by The Numbers / Opus) released at any time before the end of 2014.  The oldest film on this list was The Covered Wagon, which was released on 16th March 1923 and is 90th in my list of top grossing Westerns.  However, as the figures have not been adjusted for inflation, most of the films (60%) were released after 2000.  

When reading this research there are a few things to bear in mind…

  • Historical data accuracy. The further back in time we study, the more prone we are to data errors. 
  • Age relates to age on the first day of the film’s theatrical release. Films normally take between 12 and 24 months from shooting before they are released so to get a true measure of the age of the director at the moment of filming then the results above need to be reduced slightly.
  • Missing information.  I was able to find reliable dates of birth for 85.4% of my Hollywood directors.

Epilogue

Today’s study was started by people asking me to look at the topic.  If you have something you want me to investigate then drop me a line.

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