14 of the most influential producers in film history

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022

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14 of the most influential producers in film history

Film producers are some of the most creative, business-minded contributors to the film industry, working their magic behind the scenes to make sure we’re entertained.

Many of us have heard of Hollywood’s heavyweight directors—the Steven Spielbergs and Martin Scorseses of the world—and of course, the actors in front of the camera take the lion’s share of the limelight. But there are innumerable film producers out there who rarely get their props—though they are responsible for hiring the prop masters on set.

So what exactly do film producers do? Film producers are responsible for overseeing all phases of production, hiring the creative team (often including the director and other key leadership roles), and are usually the go-to person 2hen the cast and crew need assistance.

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Giggster dug through film history and compiled a list of 14 of the most influential producers whose careers were mostly spent playing a hands-on role in film development (as opposed to financier types serving as executive producers) from pre- to postproduction. From Jordan Peele, whose directorial debut “Get Out” (which he also produced) wove in themes of modern and historical racism, to Fran Walsh, who helped bring Middle-earth to the screen, the focus is on producers who were heavily involved in the creation of films, as well as those who became trailblazers for their cinematic ideologies and craftsmanship.

Jerry Bruckheimer attends movie premiere

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Jerry Bruckheimer

Jerry Bruckheimer is one of the most successful film producers of all time with a resume that boasts works such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Bad Boys” series.

Bruckheimer got his start producing commercials for the advertising firm BBDO New York. He then left the advertising industry to pursue film production. His first critical and box office success came with 1980’s “American Gigolo,” starring Richard Gere. Shortly thereafter, Bruckheimer partnered with Don Simpson, and together they were the driving force behind some of the most definitive films of the 1980s and early 1990s, including “Flashdance,” “Top Gun,” and the first two “Beverly Hills Cop” movies.

Following Simpson’s death in 1996, Bruckheimer continued on his own, producing such smash hits as “Enemy of the State” and “Black Hawk Down,” and he forged a deep relationship with director Michael Bay, producing “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” and “Pearl Harbor.” He recently produced the long-awaited Tom Cruise sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Roger Corman attends film premiere

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Roger Corman

With over 300 film production credits to his name, Roger Corman has created a wide range of films from period and sci-fi films to independent films. Corman’s early days in the cinema world involved working as a messenger at 20th Century Fox, from which he worked his way up to a story reader and screenwriter.

Corman is perhaps most well-known as the absolute Hollywood originator of what we now call the “B-movie.” From 1954’s “Monster from the Ocean Floor” to 1978’s “Piranha” to the “Sharktopus” series of exploitation screamers, Corman has been behind some of the most esoteric and beloved cult classics of the 20th and 21st centuries.

He was also responsible for giving Martin Scorsese his big break with the 1972 drama “Boxcar Bertha” starring future Oscar nominee Barbara Hershey.

Juan de Dios Larraín attends premiere

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Juan de Dios Larraín

Juan de Dios Larraín is one of the most influential Latin American producers. Along with his director brother, Pablo Larraín, the duo opened their production company, Fabula, in Los Angeles in 2017. Larraín was the production force behind 2021’s “Spencer,” a surreal “fable from a true tragedy” of the late Princess Diana starring Kristen Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance.

Larraín’s films are darlings of the festival circuit, among them Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria Bell” starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro, as well as his brother Pablo’s “Ema” starring Gael García Bernal. He also produced Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman,” the first Chilean film to score an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Dino De Laurentiis on film set in Italy

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Dino De Laurentiis

Dino De Laurentiis helped to shape how films were sold internationally. He was one of the first producers to hone in on foreign audiences and recognize the value of their contribution to box office receipts. De Laurentiis produced over 180 films during his career, including “La Strada” and “Nights of Cabiria” for famed director Federico Fellini, both of which took the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

In the latter part of his career, De Laurentiis produced such hits as “Hannibal” and “Red Dragon” (both based on Thomas Harris’ bestselling Hannibal Lecter novels), submarine drama “U-571,” and the concluding chapter to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” series, “Army of Darkness.”

Ava DuVernay poses at the Academy Awards

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Ava DuVernay

In 2018, Ava DuVernay became the first Black woman to direct a $100 million grossing film with “A Wrinkle in Time.” The film was DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s fantasy book. Even before this, she had already begun to leverage her directorial success into producing several passion projects, among them “13th,” a hard-hitting look at the prison industrial complex; “Selma,” her dramatization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for equal voting rights; and “Middle of Nowhere,” a personal drama about one woman’s sacrifice for her incarcerated husband.

She most recently produced the Emmy-winning Netflix series “When They See Us,” which focuses on the real-life case of five teens falsely accused in the Central Park Jogger case.

Megan Ellison speaks at Producers Guild Awards

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Megan Ellison

Megan Ellison founded Annapurna Pictures in 2011, named after one of the destinations she visited after leaving the University of Southern California, the Annapurna mountain range located in north-central Nepal. Ellison got her break into the film industry when she contacted writer and director Katherine Brooks about investing in her next film project.

Ellison has been the guiding force behind some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of the last decade, and her resume includes collaborations with such notable directors as Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master,” “Phantom Thread”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Spike Jonze (“Her”), David O. Russell (“American Hustle,” “Joy”), and Richard Linklater (“Everybody Wants Some!!”).

Animated character Betty Boop from film still

Fleischer Studios

Max Fleischer

Born in Poland under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Max Fleischer immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age. Although Fleischer didn’t finish high school, he attended various trade schools and art programs. Raised in New York City, Fleischer worked as a cartoonist and photographer for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle before his animation career took off.

Max Fleischer is considered to be a pioneering and innovative figure in film animation. Not only did he create iconic cartoon characters Betty Boop and Popeye, Fleischer created the rotoscope, a device that allowed the hundreds of drawings necessary to make even just a single second of film to be actually “filmed” rather than photographed individually and then composited together. In his lifetime, Fleischer produced over 500 animated shorts.

Gale Anne Hurd poses with award

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Gale Anne Hurd

Gale Anne Hurd started out working in the industry as an executive assistant to film director and producer Roger Corman. Over her 40-year career, Hurd has produced numerous films which have generated Academy Awards attention. Hurd’s film resume includes James Cameron’s “The Abyss,” “The Terminator,” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”; Michael Bay’s “Armageddon”; and one of the first films in what is now the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.”

In 2012, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In recent years, Hurd has segued easily into television, producing “The Walking Dead” and “Fear the Walking Dead.”

Autographed Thomas H. Hince portrait

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Thomas H. Ince

Thomas H. Ince was a producer during the American silent-film era. In 1913 alone, Ince made over 150 films, most of which were Westerns. In fact, Ince was known as the “Father of the Western.”

Ince was born in Rhode Island to a family who was involved in show business. His passion for filmmaking led him to relocate to Pacific Palisades, where he built one of Hollywood’s first major studios, which he called “Inceville.” In addition to his role as producer, Ince was also a prodigious writer, having written the scripts for more than 60 films and shorts.

Kathleen Kennedy arrives at premiere

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Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy’s production debut was Steven Spielberg’s classic “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982, and the two—along with producer (and Kennedy’s husband) Frank Marshall—went on to make many defining movies of the 1980s and 1990s, among them the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “The Goonies,” the “Jurassic Park” trilogy, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

Since being named president of Lucasfilm in 2012, following Disney’s $4 billion purchase of the company, Kennedy has been a hands-on producer of every “Star Wars” universe film and TV series released, as well as the upcoming fifth installment in the “Indiana Jones” film series. Kennedy has been involved with the creation of more than 60 films, which collectively have grossed over $12 billion worldwide.

Actors in a film still from ‘Seven Samurai’

Toho Company

Sôjirô Motoki

Japanese film producer and director Sôjirô Motoki is perhaps most known for his work on 1954’s “Seven Samurai,” directed by Akira Kurosawa, with whom he often worked. At the time, “Seven Samurai” was the most expensive movie made in Japan, costing 125 million yen ($350,000). It has since served as the archetype for many American Westerns, most notably “The Magnificent Seven.” Motoki also produced Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” and “Ikiru.”

Little is known of Motoki’s early history, but he was a driving force in Japanese cinema for more than 30 years.

Jordan Peele speaks at event

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Jordan Peele

Before getting into producing and directing films, Jordan Peele was most known for the Comedy Central sketch series “Key & Peele,” which he co-created with partner Keegan-Michael Key. The show went on to win two Emmys and a Peabody Award. Peele soon leveraged his small screen success into a breakout feature film. 2017’s “Get Out” earned Peele the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making him the first Black filmmaker in history to win in this category.

In 2018, Peele produced Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman,” and in 2019, he released his second directorial effort, “Us,” about a family that goes on vacation and their experience with mysterious doppelgängers. Peele has since successfully produced TV hits “Lovecraft Country” and “The Last O.G.,” and is set to have his third self-produced and directed film, “Nope,” released in summer 2022.

David O. Selznick works at desk

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David O. Selznick

David O. Selznick is best known for his work on the classic film “Gone With the Wind,” which became a major Hollywood success and made him one of the most famed producers at just 37 years old.

Born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family, Selznick was already familiar with the world of cinema as his father, Lewis Selznick, was already a successful film producer. As a young man, David worked for his father, with a vision to continue the family filmmaking legacy. David moved to Hollywood where he worked for MGM as a story editor and then as an associate producer, working his way up the ranks.

Following the rampant success of “Gone with the Wind,” Selznick produced a string of films now considered classics, including Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Spellbound.” 

Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens pose with Academy Award

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Fran Walsh

New Zealand native Fran Walsh got her start in the film industry in the early 1980s writing material for producer Graham McLean. McLean was impressed with Walsh’s punch-up work on a colleague’s film and asked her to write scripts for his TV show, “Worzel Gummidge Down Under.”

Walsh met director Peter Jackson while he was in the final stages of his low-budget film, “Bad Taste,” and has been collaborating with Jackson ever since. (The couple married in 1987.) The duo earned an Oscar nod for scripting 1994’s “Heavenly Creatures,” and took home multiple Oscars for their work on “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” including Best Picture. Walsh also produced the “Hobbit” trilogy in the 2010s and wrote and produced Jackson’s 2005 remake of “King Kong.”

This story originally appeared on Giggster
and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.