Oscar-winning directors who served in the military

Joel Searls
Jul 5, 2023 7:13 AM PDT
4 minute read
directors who served in the military

Actor Ben Cross in a scene from the film ‘Chariots of Fire’, 1981. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)


Can you guess who is on the list? Here are the films of the top Oscar winning directors who served in the military.

When audiences think of some of the greatest films of all time, names such as In the Heat of the Night, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Driving Miss Daisy and Kramer vs. Kramer are in the mix. All of these films have two things in common, or potentially more. The two top ones are that the films won Oscars, sometimes many, and military veterans directed them. Norman Jewison, John Avildsen, Robert Benton, Hugh Hudson and Bruce Beresford served before their time behind the camera. They all directed other stand-out films as well.

Here are the films of the top Oscar-winning directors who served in the military

1. In the Heat of the Night

Norman Jewison directed the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, based on John Ball's novel of the same name. Jewison served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. The movie is about the story of Virgil Tibbs, a Black police detective from Philly. Tibbs gets involved in a murder investigation in the deep south. He goes to Sparta, Mississippi, to visit his mom, is mistakenly arrested for murder, and in turn, helps the local police solve the case in spite of extremely racist police and circumstances in the town.

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The film stars Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, Rod Steiger, who won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Bill Gillespie and Lee Grant as Mrs. Colbert. It also won Best Picture and later spawned a long-running TV series of the same name, then with Carrol O'Connor as Chief Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Virgil Tibbs.

2. Rocky

John Avildsen served a stint in the US Army in the 1950s before making his way to Hollywood initially as an Assitant Director. He directed a notable series, The Karate Kid franchise, in the 1980s, but even before that, Avildsen was turning out hits. One of which won the Oscar, Rocky. He earned a Best Director Academy Award for the thrilling rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, then played by breakout actor and writer Sly Stallone. Made on a shoestring budget of $960,000, the film grossed $225M at the box office. A great Return on Investment!

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The film follows Balboa as he makes his way in life and as a boxer, eventually fighting champion box Apollo Creed played by Carl Weathers. The movie also won Best Picture and Best Film Editing.

3. Chariots of Fire

British Army veteran of the Dragoon Guards Hugh Hudson, who reached the rank of lieutenant in the service, directed a well-known film, Chariots of Fire. You may have heard of it or know its famous soundtrack. He started out directing documentaries and culminated his career by directing scripted narratives.

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The story follows the true story of two British athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, who is a faithful Christan and runs for God's glory and Harold Abrahams a Jewish immigrant who runs to overcome prejudice. The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score. It has an all-star cast with Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, who won Best Supporting Actor, and Nigel Havers. It brought in $59M at the box office on a $5.5M budget.

4. Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy hit theaters at Christmas time in 1989 on Dec 15th. It is directed by Bruce Beresford, an Australian film director known for his films Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies and Crimes of the Heart, which won multiple Oscars. He served in the Australian Army in the tank corps as a gunner before his career in the motion picture business.

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Driving Miss Daisy, based on the play of the same name, is about a woman, Daisy, played by Jessica Tandy, who has an interesting set of relationships that audiences experience throughout the film. She is elderly, can no longer drive (safely), and is chauffeured around by Hoke, played by Morgan Freeman. The movie delves into racism, antisemitism and the challenges of the elderly. It stars a great cast which includes Dan Ackroyd, Patti Lupone and Esther Rolle. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Makeup. It charmed audiences so well people spent $145M at the box office to see it on a small budget of $7.5M.

5. Kramer vs. Kramer

Audiences flocked to see Kramer vs. Kramer in Christmas of 1979, which made a nice $173M on a budget of $8M for director/writer and military veteran Robert Benton. Benton served in the US Army during the 1950s and painted dioramas. In the late 1950s, he became an art director for Esquire and switched in the mid-1960s to being a contributing editor. He broke into the industry, being one of the writers on the award-winning Bonnie and Clyde movie. His 1979 film is based on Avery Corman's novel of the same name, which Benton adapted to the screen.

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The movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Justin Henry as their son caught in the middle of a divorce. The story shows the impact the divorce has on their son and how the parents adapt to the situation at hand. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Streep) and Best Adapted Screenplay.


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