The Big Picture

  • William Wyler holds the record for the most Best Director Oscar nominations at 12, unmatched in history.
  • Wyler’s films secured the most Oscar-winning performances and nominations, showcasing his revered influence.
  • Despite his lesser-known status today, Wyler’s legacy as a prolific and versatile filmmaker remains unparalleled.

In the pantheon of filmmakers who have most dominated the Best Director category at the Academy Awards, some names immediately leap to mind. Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese these renowned directing legends are certainly the first fixtures of the Best Director Oscar category one is bound to think about. However, for modern Oscar nerds, the most prevalent filmmaker in this category across the 96-year history of the Academy Awards is somebody who might not be a household name to 21st-century cinema geeks. Nominated for 12 different Best Director statues, more than anyone else in history, filmmaker William Wyler reigns supreme over all other directors in this Oscar domain.

It’s impossible to overstate the significance that William Wyler had in his career in Hollywood, with this man’s filmmaker exploits stretching from 1925 to 1970. It’s staggering to contemplate that sort of lengthy career — six decades of American cinema involved Wyler in some shape or form. Helming projects like The Best Years of Our Lives, Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur, and so many others in his towering career, Wyler also left an enormous impression on the Oscars. At this award show, his movies secured so much recurring acclaim and recognition that Wyler ended up procuring a record for the most Best Director Oscar nominations in history. What films made up those nominations? What features did Wyler win Oscars for? Those queries and so many others can be uncovered by looking through Wyler’s Oscars history.

Roman Holiday movie poster

Roman Holiday

A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome.

Release Date
August 27, 1953

William Wyler

118 minutes

What Movies Was William Wyler Oscar-Nominated For?

William Wyler secured his very first Best Director Oscar nomination at the 9th Academy Awards in 1937 for his work helming the motion picture Dodsworth. Within the first decade of this award show’s existence, Wyler was already a notable presence at the Oscars! He would secure his second Best Director Oscar nod three years later for Wuthering Heights, a nomination that kicked off a four-year consecutive Best Director Oscar nomination streak for Wyler. This included The Letter, The Little Foxes, and Mrs. Miniver, the latter of which won him his first Best Director trophy.

After this triumph, Wyler’s next Best Director nod, for The Best Years of Our Lives, would score the filmmaker his sixth Best Director nomination and his second win in the category. After this achievement, the Oscars gave Wyler a bit of a reprieve and didn’t nominate him for three more years. The Heiress brought Wyler back to the Oscars fold, followed three years later by Detective Story. The final four films that Wyler secured Best Director Oscar nominations would be for Roman Holiday, Friendly Persuasion, Ben-Hur, and The Collector. For his work on the grand epic Ben-Hur, Wyler scored his last Best Director Oscar win. With these features, Wyler’s presence in the Best Director category totaled 12 nominations by the time the 38th Academy Awards (the ceremony where The Collector was nominated for Best Director) rolled around.

To put things into perspective, this means nearly one out of every three Oscar ceremonies by the mid-1960s featured a Best Director Oscar nod for William Wyler. In the grand scheme of Wyler’s career, it’s also impressive that his acclaimed directorial exploits aren’t just limited to the dozen of his movies that were nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Beloved motion pictures that he helmed like The Big Country and How to Steal a Million were snubbed in this category. Wyler had such a dense filmography that it couldn’t be confined to just one Oscar category. Similarly, looking at all of the features he secured Best Director Oscar nods for confirms just how versatile Wyler was as an artist. He could direct intimate explorations of soldiers returning home from World War II, grand period piece epics, horror movies, wacky comedies set in Italy…there wasn’t a genre Wyler didn’t command mastery of. That level of artistry and malleability instantly helps explain why Wyler was such a fixture in the Best Director Oscar category.

What Other Filmmakers Did William Wyler’s Oscar Glory Edge Out?

Wyler’s expansive presence in the Best Director category means he also had an enormous influence on other sectors of the Academy Awards. Most notably, he also holds the record for helming the most Oscar-winning performances. 14 performances from his various motion pictures scored Oscar wins, while, in total, 36 performances across his filmography scored Oscar nominations. This achievement isn’t just a testament to the artistry of films like Roman Holiday, but also a reflection of why Wyler was so revered in the film industry. Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy Awards voters, and while this group of artists can’t single-handedly dictate how an Oscar race can go, their level of influence is undeniable. A director like Wyler, well-known for delivering Oscar-worthy performances and discovering performers like Audrey Hepburn, would certainly be up the alley of these artists.

Wyler’s works were so highly commended by Oscar voters of all stripes that his record for Best Director nominations continues to stand tall over any other potential challengers. With Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese secured his 10th Best Director Oscar nomination. This put him in second place behind Wyler among the most prolific number of Best Director nominations in history and made Scorsese only the second human being ever (following Wyler) to secure double-digit Best Director nominations. Fascinatingly, though, it took Scorsese 40 years of Oscar nominations (starting with his Raging Bull Best Director nod) to reach 10 nominations. Meanwhile, Wyler scored his 12th nomination 28 years after his first Best Director nomination.

The rapidness of Wyler’s Oscar nominations immediately helps explain why he’s still unchallenged in terms of the most prolific figure in the Best Director Oscar category. His presence in this category vastly outpaces the nine Best Director nods of Steven Spielberg, the eight Best Director nominations bestowed on Billy Wilder, and the six Best Director nominations given to Frank Capra. William Wyler isn’t just the victor in terms of Best Director nominations, he’s a titan who towers over his competitors. What makes this extra fascinating is that even the most ardent followers of this filmmaker would admit he’s nowhere near as much of a household name in modern culture as Spielberg, Scorsese, or even classic filmmakers like Wilder.

Wyler’s films and the movie stars he helped to birth have often surpassed him in terms of pop culture notoriety. Something like Roman Holiday or Ben-Hur aren’t necessarily thought of as Wyler motion pictures, they’re looked at as Audrey Hepburn and Charlton Heston star vehicles first and foremost. Even if William Wyler isn’t a name universally known in the age of internet film criticism, the impressiveness of his Oscar achievements and especially his larger filmography cannot be diminished. Wyler left behind an outstanding body of work with his time behind the camera that’s still influencing filmmakers to this day. To really get a good understanding of just how impactful and beloved his creative efforts were, well, just gaze at his rampant presence in the Best Director Oscars category in the mid-20th-century!

Roman Holiday is available to stream on Paramount+ in the U.S.

Watch on Paramount+

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