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Can You Name a Great Movie Where the Lead Actor Also Directed?

​Okay, 'Citizen Kane.' But you may be surprised when we jog your memory of who else has stepped behind the camera to acclaimed results

spinner image Director Bradley Cooper looking on behind the camera on the set of A Star Is Born
Actor and director Bradley Cooper on the set of "A Star Is Born."
Clay Enos/Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

This month, Halle Berry, 55, makes her directorial debut with the film Bruised (coming to Netflix Nov. 24). Directing a movie is impressive enough, but the Oscar winner will be pulling double duty, also starring as Jackie Justice, a mixed martial arts fighter who reconnects with her young son after giving him up for adoption. Over the years, a number of celebrated performers have directed themselves to critical acclaim, with some even picking up Oscar wins and nominations in the process. Check out these 12 films to see how Berry stacks up — and drop some of your favorite self-directed performances in the comments below!

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Citizen Kane (1941)

Starring and directed by: Orson Welles ​

The plot: What were you up to when you were 25 years old? Don’t feel bad, but Orson Welles was writing, producing, directing and starring in his debut feature — which also happens to be considered by many the greatest film ever made. Welles stars as Charles Foster Kane, a megalomaniacal newspaper magnate modeled after William Randolph Hearst, who sparks a mystery with his cryptic final deathbed utterance: “Rosebud.” ​

The best part: Welles fills almost every scene with innovative camera tricks, cinematographic flourishes, clever dissolves, long unbroken takes and in-camera effects. It’s flashy, sure, but it’s also a feast for cinephiles.

Watch it: Citizen Kane on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, YouTube

Hamlet (1948)

spinner image Laurence Olivier holds a skull in a cemetery in the film Hamlet
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Starring and directed by: Laurence Olivier ​

The plot: “It may come as something of a rude shock to the theatre’s traditionalists to discover that the tragedies of Shakespeare can be eloquently presented on the screen,” wrote Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review. “But now the matter is settled; the filmed Hamlet of Laurence Olivier gives absolute proof that these classics are magnificently suited to the screen.” While this version is widely considered the best Shakespeare film of all time, it was seen as quite radical back then, with Olivier cutting nearly half of the Bard’s text and completely removing Fortinbras, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Nevertheless, it’s the only Shakespeare adaptation in Oscar history to win best picture or best actor. ​

The best part: His “to be or not to be” soliloquy is particularly dramatic — Olivier stages it with Hamlet standing on the edge of a cliff, clutching a dagger.

Watch it: Hamlet on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max

Reds (1981)

Starring and directed by: Warren Beatty, 84​

The plot: With this sweeping historical drama, Beatty became the third person — after Woody Allen, 85, and Orson Welles — to be nominated for best actor, director and film in the same year, winning for his directorial duties. He stars as the socialist journalist John Reed who travels to Russia to chronicle the Bolshevik Revolution and returns home a revolutionary. Diane Keaton, 75, plays feminist activist Louise Bryant, alongside Jack Nicholson, 84, as Eugene O’Neill. The film went on to be ranked number 9 on AFI’s list of the greatest epics.​

The best part: In a neat touch of realism, Beatty peppers the narrative with interviews from 32 “witnesses” who had known Reed and Bryant decades before, including the writer Henry Miller. The New York Times review noted that they were all “very old.”​

Watch it: Reds on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu

Don’t Miss This: 10 Beautiful Films That Will Make You Nostalgic for Your Childhood

Yentl (1983)

Starring and directed by: Barbra Streisand, 79​

The plot: Babs became the first woman in history to direct, write, produce and star in her own major Hollywood film, and she did so with this feminist musical set in a Jewish shtetl in 1904 Poland. When her rabbi father dies, Yentl Mendel decides to chop off her hair and dress as a boy so she can study the Talmud, but things get tricky when she develops feelings for her fellow yeshiva classmate Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin, 68). Streisand became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for best director — she remained the only one until Chloé Zhao won earlier this year — and later directed herself again in 1991’s The Prince of Tides and 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces.​

The best part: “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” earned an Oscar nomination for best song and reached number 26 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. ​

Watch it: Yentl on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Pluto TV, Tubi, YouTube

Dances with Wolves (1990)

Starring and directed by: Kevin Costner, 66 ​

The plot: This Oscar best picture winner — one of only three traditional Westerns to take home the prize alongside Cimarron in 1931 and Unforgiven in 1992 — is credited with reviving the genre. During the Civil War, Union Army Officer Lieutenant John Dunbar (Costner) is assigned to a remote outpost on the Western frontier, where he befriends a wolf he names Two Socks and then develops a relationship with the Lakota Sioux people he encounters. Costner strove for authenticity, and he worked with a South Dakota professor named Doris Leader Charge to translate much of the dialogue into Lakota. ​

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The best part: Costner brought a sensitivity to his depiction of the Native Americans, something that had been sorely lacking in other Westerns, and the Sioux responded by making him an honorary tribe member. ​

Watch it: Dances with Wolves on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, YouTube

Don’t Miss This: 8 Essential Films of the Native American Experience

Little Man Tate (1991)

Starring and directed by: Jodie Foster, 59​

The plot: The former child star and Yale graduate said there was a touch of the autobiographical in her directorial debut, about a 7-year-old genius (Adam Hann-Byrd) who has trouble fitting in. His single mother Dede (Foster) must decide whether to try to give him a normal life or let him work with brilliant child psychologist Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest, 75), who has big plans for him.

The best part: Foster has acted since the age of 3, so it’s no surprise that she was able to draw a beautifully naturalistic performance, with no signs of precociousness or pretense, out of her young star.

Watch it: Little Man Tate on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Pluto TV, Tubi, YouTube

Life is Beautiful (1997)

Starring and directed by: Roberto Benigni, 69 ​

The plot: You may remember the impish Benigni from the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, when he infamously climbed over chairs (and the A-listers seated in them) to accept his best foreign film award from his fellow Italian countrywoman, Sophia Loren, 87. He also became the first non-English-speaking best actor winner for his sensitive portrait of Guido Orefice, a Jewish waiter who is determined to protect his young son from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp they’ve been taken to by turning it all into an elaborate game.​

The best part: The scene in which Guido mistranslates the rules of the camp is a perfect encapsulation of Benigni’s trademark blend of humor and heart. ​

Watch it: Life is Beautiful on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Starring and directed by: Clint Eastwood, 91 ​

The plot: You could fill this entire list with only movies that Clint directed and starred in, which number at about two dozen (and counting), including such favorites as UnforgivenThe Bridges of Madison County and Gran Torino. Perhaps the most emotionally resonant, however, is this 2004 best picture winner about an amateur boxer (Hilary Swank) and her gruff trainer (Eastwood), which transforms from a simple sports movie into something much deeper — and more devastating — as it goes. Roger Ebert called it “a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true,” and named it the best movie of the year.​

The best part: The paternal care that Eastwood’s Frankie shows in the tragic second half of the film is enough to melt even the heaviest heavyweight into a puddle of tears. ​

Watch it: Million Dollar Baby on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Netflix, YouTube

2 Days in Paris (2007)

Starring and directed by: Julie Delpy, 51

The plot: You may know Julie Delpy best for her role opposite Ethan Hawke, 51, in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, but the French-American actress took the reins to write, produce, direct and star in her own cross-cultural romance. In this wry comedy, French photographer Marion (Delpy) and her neurotic American boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg, 51) visit her parents in the City of Light to try to rekindle their romance, but they run into a number of her old flames along the way. The film was an indie darling, yielding a sequel called 2 Days in New York that costarred Chris Rock, 56.​

The best part: Delpy cast her real mother (Marie Pillet) and father (Albert Delpy, 81) as her parents in the film.​

Watch it: 2 Days in Paris on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Pluto TV, Tubi

Argo (2012)

Starring and directed by: Ben Affleck ​

The plot: One half of the once and future Bennifer, Affleck has been a tabloid fixture for so long that it’s easy to forget what an impeccable track record he has behind the camera. After his success with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, he helmed Argo, a fast-paced historical thriller about the Iran hostage crisis and the so-called “Canadian Caper." Affleck stars as CIA operative Tony Mendez, who worked with the Canadian government to free six U.S. diplomats from Tehran by faking the production of a new sci-fi film. The film won best picture at the Oscars, but Affleck himself was famously snubbed after having won best director at the Golden Globes. “I mean, I also didn’t get the acting nomination,” he quipped in the Globes press room, “and no one’s saying I got snubbed there!” ​

The best part: The pulse-quickening airport scene may be a bit fictionalized for dramatic effect, but it’s no doubt an excellent piece of action moviemaking. ​

Watch it: Argo on Amazon PrimeApple TVGoogle PlayHBO MaxHuluYouTube

In a World... (2013)

Starring and directed by: Lake Bell ​

The plot: Actor-directors have often gravitated toward projects about show business, but Lake Bell managed to find a previously unexplored subsection of the entertainment world to build a film around: movie trailer voice-overs. Bell plays vocal coach Carol Solomon, the daughter of “the king of voice-overs” Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed66). When she hears that a new blockbuster franchise is going to use the classic, deep-voiced “In a world ...” format for their new trailer, she decides to challenge the industry’s sexism and throw her hat in the ring to beat out her cocky father and his protégé (Ken Marino, 52) for the gig.​

The best part: The movie has a lot of important things to say about women in Hollywood, some of which is explained beautifully by Geena Davis, 65, who cameos as a producer. ​

Watch it: In a World… on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, YouTube

A Star Is Born (2018)

Starring and directed by: Bradley Cooper ​

The plot: How can the fourth version of the same story still feel fresh and relevant? Chalk it up to the storytelling power of Bradley Cooper, who cowrote and directed this musical-romance remake about the meteoric rise of a talented young singer (Lady Gaga) and the tragic decline of the veteran rocker who discovered her. Cooper brings real pathos to the role of Jackson Maine, a singer who battles alcoholism and drug addiction, with many critics calling this the definitive version of the Star story. ​

The best part: One of cinema’s best musical moments of the past 25 years is the scene in which Ally joins Jackson onstage to sing “Shallow.” You’ll have to remind yourself to breathe. They repeated the duet at the 2019 Oscars, where it won best original song. ​

Watch it: A Star is Born on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, YouTube

Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.

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