Top 10 Greatest Film Editors of All Time

By Miguel Fernández
Published: September 18, 2023 (Last updated: May 4, 2024)
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Blade Runner 2049 Image as Part of Best Film Editors List
Blade Runner 2049 (Credit - Warner Bros. Pictures)

It is often said that a film is made three times: when being written, when being filmed, and when being edited. The role of the editor is never brought up when discussing any movie, yet it is one of the most crucial players in the entire game. In this purely subjective list, I shall break down 10 of the best editors of all time — of course, I will miss many of them, so make sure to comment below with your picks!

10. Ray Lovejoy

We begin this list with someone responsible for one of the most iconic cuts in film history. Ray Lovejoy worked with Stanley Kubrick on several films, including as an assistant editor on Dr. Strangelove and The Shining, but there is no doubt that his greatest work came in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

He may not have as flashy a filmography as some of the names below, but for that movie alone, and in particular, for the cut from the bone to the spaceship, I shall grant him a spot on the list. (Oh, and he edited Aliens too.)

9. Joe Walker

Most of the names on this list are from editors who established themselves in the 20th century. But in an effort to include newer names who are making amazing contributions to the art of editing, I reserved a spot for at least one of them here.

And if I were to pick a single name, there is no one that comes to mind other than Denis Villeneuve’s go-to editor, Joe Walker. In addition to cutting Dune, Sicario, or Blade Runner 2049, Walker’s magnum opus remains 2016’s Arrival, a movie that would have fallen completely flat if it weren’t for a great editor at the helm.

He didn’t get the Oscar for that, but it was enough for me to give him a spot here. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it equally as much.

8. Peter Zinner

Zinner’s filmography may not be spectacular, but working on both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II is enough to earn you a spot on this list, in my eyes. So yeah, congratulations to him for those two little movies.

7. Sally Menke

Most of the names on this list are actually editors who are known collaborators of iconic filmmakers. Sally Menke is no exception, of course, and though she tragically died in 2010 at 57, she left a huge footprint on Quentin Tarantino’s work — including Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction.

That last movie seems one of the most complicated enigmas to solve for an editor, and in doing so, she made film history.

6. Anne V. Coates

We gave the lowest spot on this list to the person responsible for one of the most iconic cuts of all time — we now bring it back to the editor behind another icon in film cuts, also from the 1960s.

Anne V. Coates was the editor of Lawrence of Arabia, and in particular, the moment when Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) puts out the match, and we immediately cut to the sun rising on the desert.

5. Akira Kurosawa

The iconic Japanese filmmaker was a true auteur. In addition to writing and directing, he also edited his own work, and though it’s impossible to distinguish where each of the lines for his different facets is drawn, his body of work alone is enough to earn him a spot on this list: Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon.

4. George Tomasini

George Tomasini worked with Alfred Hitchcock on nine films — all of them are among the director’s top. Besides masterpieces like Rear Window, Vertigo, or North By Northwest, Tomasini worked with Hitchcock on Psycho, a film that is mostly remembered for the shower scene, which is a true combination of a director at their highest and an editor exploiting their raw potential.

3. Marcia Lucas

There is an argument to be made that this spot should belong to Paul Hirsch, who co-edited the original Star Wars with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew and also went on to work on The Empire Strikes Back, for which Lucas isn’t credited.

But I strongly believe that Lucas’ contribution to the original film is one of its most important, from saving the entire third act to even putting together the first one, along with her co-editors.

IMDb also lists her as an uncredited contributor to The Empire Strikes Back, which sounds about right, given her marriage to George Lucas.

2. Thelma Schoonmaker

Spoiler alert: the #1 pic is going to be an editor who is always paired up with an iconic filmmaker who started to shine in the 1970s. It is only fitting, then, that the #2 is another example of that.

Schoonmaker has been working with Martin Scorsese ever since Who’s That Knocking at My Door. Her most famous work is possibly Raging Bull, for which she won an Oscar, but of course worked with Scorsese on The Departed, Goodfellas, and 2023’s Killers of the Flower Moon.

1. Michael Kahn

When it comes to body of work, it is almost impossible to outdo Michael Kahn. He’s been Steven Spielberg’s editor going all the way back to Clone Encounters of the Third Kind and has worked with him in editing masterpieces like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, and even West Side Story.

He has pretty much the same filmography as Spielberg himself, possibly the greatest director of all time, so there is no way this list isn’t his.

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