Billy Wilder was one of the most celebrated and successful Hollywood directors of his generation, responsible for classics like Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960). Like his directing contemporaries Fred Zinneman, Robert Siodmak, and Joseph Mankiewicz, Wilder was a Jewish emigre from Eastern Europe who fled the continent for the United States during World War II. Wilder worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for six years between 1933 and 1939 before earning his first major credit as a co-writer for Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy Ninotchka (1939) starring Greta Garbo.
Double Indemnity was Wilder's third film as a Hollywood director, and his first runaway hit. Film scholars often cite the film as one of the earliest major examples of film noir—a genre of crime drama that featured urban social realism, torrid romance, and morally corrupt protagonists. From the start of his career, Wilder often challenged the censorship standards of the Production Code, making films that pushed the boundaries of conventional mores. Double Indemnity featured two morally corrupt murderers as protagonists, a plot element that challenged the prevailing conventions of Hollywood narrative and tested the limits of the censorship codes of the time. The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, The Lost Weekend, and Some Like It Hot explored a host of controversial themes for their day, such as cross-dressing, homosexuality, adultery, rape, alcoholism, and suicide. Indeed, many cite the success of Some Like it Hot as the tipping point for the abandonment of the puritanical Hays Code.
Unlike Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Wilder tended to emphasize story and narrative over cinematography and visual panache as a director. He still holds an outsized influence over contemporary directors around the world, such as French filmmaker Michael Hazanavicius, who in his acceptance speech for the 2012 Best Picture Oscar, received for his film The Artist, remarked, "I would like to thank the following three people. I would like to thank Billy Wilder, I would like to thank Billy Wilder, and I would like to thank Billy Wilder." Garnering twelve Academy Award nominations for Best Director over his career, Wilder is the second most nominated director behind Woody Allen.