The phrase 'director's director' is well-worn and a little trite, but if there's a director that best deserves it, it's David Lean.
A craftsman who worked his way up the old-fashioned way from clapperboard assistant to the big chair, Lean was ensconced in filmmaking from a practitioner's point of view: how to tell stories visually and how to make them stick.
And they must have stuck. Filmmakers from the uber-commercial like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to the uber-auteur's like Martin Scorcese and Stanley Kubrick have all claimed Lean as an influence and inspiration, a director who showed -- perhaps more clearly than anyone before or since -- what the director's art could achieve.
Not ever film was like that, of course. Believe it or not, David Lean did actually make films that weren't giant epics. He started out making small novel and play adaptations like "Blithe Spirit" and "Great Expectations." But it was the epics that made David Lean, and more importantly, made the modern blockbuster.
His three major epics -- "The Bridge on the River Kwai" "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago" -- are, when adjusted for inflation, among the most successful films ever made. For all intents and purposes he created the modern epic. There were big films before him of course, and director's known for big films; the Cecil B. DeMille's and William Wyler's of the world. But the one's director's of today refer to are all Lean's.
Part of that was his equal attention to his characters and the complex problems they faced; the title character of "Doctor Zhivago" is an adulterer, Alec Guiness' Colonel Nicholson is essentially a war collaborator. These characters weren't what they did, though, and Lean always kept a light touch and a lack of judgment about them. A lot of this was due to frequent collaborator Robert Bolt's writing, and probably his early collaborations with Noel Coward, but it was Lean that made those words sing.
Like everyone on this list, it's both Lean's skill and the influence stemming from it that cements his place among the best of the best. More than anyone else on this list, though, it's almost impossible to separate one from the other for him. The list of director's who claim Lean as a direct inspiration is long and diverse. He may not have created new techniques the way D.W. Griffith or Orson Welles did, but he refined them to a point that was impossible to ignore.
WATCH TOP 10 DAVID LEAN FILMS MOVIE SCENES
10.LARA DR ZHIVAGO - The scene of Lara's departure in a carriage-sled and Yuri's waving goodbye from an upstairs window where he has rubbed the ice off for one final look..