5. Alfonso Cuaron/Harry Potter
There have been several directors to tackle the best selling books, but Cuaron was the one who first took the job over from family-friendly Christopher Columbus to expand the world into something the young could appreciate while delivering something a bit darker and grittier for the older audience. Beyond the franchise, Cuaron secured his place as one of the most talented directors working today with both Y Tu Mama Tambien and the devastating sci-fi flick Children of Men.
4. Martin Campbell/James Bond
This may be the single toughest franchise to crack simply because of how many directors its hosted. Terence Young was the first to handle the character, personally embodied the character himself, and delivered three films in the series. Guy Hamilton was the first to take over, and although he directed Goldfinger, he also didn’t have much of a career beyond Bond. The same can be said for John Glen. Lewis Gilbert directed Alfie, but his Bond’s aren’t necessarily the best.
Peter R. Hunt made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as his first film, but also doesn’t have a stellar career. Roger Spottiswoode has a steady action legacy (with some missteps), but Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t necessarily the best baton pass that ever happened. Michael Apted delivered the fantastic Coal Miner’s Daughter (and is currently directing the forthcoming Narnia films he’s inherited), but, again, The World is Not Enough isn’t the best example of Bond.
Meanwhile, Lee Tamahori directed Once Were Warriors, and did a good job with Die Another Day (except for the CGI), and Marc Forster couldn’t seem to mirror his other innovation with Quantum of Solace. That leaves Martin Campbell – a director who took over after five other gentlemen got a crack at it (sloppy sixths) and still managed to give birth to two different Bonds with GoldenEye (the first to feature Pierce Brosnan) and the highly praised Casino Royale (the first to feature Daniel Craig).
3. Paul Greengrass/Jason Bourne
It couldn’t have easy to follow up Doug Liman and the success of the first film, but Paul Greengrass did a phenomenal job with The Bourne Supremacy – so much so that he secured the job for the third film in the series. The quality of the films only seems to go up, a difficult feat when the usual cliche of sequels is the classic Law of Diminished Returns. Greengrass earned recognition for smaller films, and continues to build a strong career (even if Green Zone was a confused Bourne-style film with no Bourne in it).
Even with fewer films under his belt than others on this list, it’s undeniable the incredible job he’s done with someone else’s franchise.
2. Irvin Kershner/Star Wars
It’s difficult to fathom the popularity and impact on culture that Star Wars has had on the world. George Lucas, in no uncertain terms, changed cinema in a big way back in 1977. Even so, and even in the face of the rarity that a sequel is better than the original (save for the consistently Coppola-directed Godfather films), it was Irvin Kershner who directed The Empire Strikes Back – largely regarded as the best film in the entire series.
The plucky DIY nature of the first film gave way to a truly epic chapter that continued the story by delivering Yoda, Lando, Carbonite, betrayal, and the twist of all twists. If it weren’t for a lackluster career outside of this film (although he also directed the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again and another inherited franchise with RoboCop 2), he would probably be #1 simply because of this feat.
1. James Cameron/Alien
But that honor goes to James Cameron – a director who not only has the top two highest domestic grossing films of all time, but who also inherited a brilliant franchise of his own. Of course, that franchise entry is Piranha 2: The Spawning, but he was also privileged and daring enough to take over the reigns of the Alien franchise from Ridley Scott.
In doing so, he created Aliens – an unbelievably good film that took the story from horror to action without skipping a beat. It still stands as one of the best sequels of all time, and it was surprisingly not from the original visionary. Outside of that franchise, Cameron’s icon status speaks for itself.
Who did I leave out?