The DGA presented Ron Howard with the 2001 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film on Saturday at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.
Howard, the only American nominated for best director, was up against New Zealander Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), Australian Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and two Britons, Christopher Nolan (Memento) and Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down).
The award comes two weeks before the Oscars and is often seen as a barometer for who will win the Academy Award for Best Director. All but five DGA Award winners have gone on to win the coveted Oscar in the last 54 years.
Howard, a former child star remembered by most as Richie Cunningham in the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, hadn't prepared a speech because he didn't think he was going to win. He acknowledged his competition at the awards dinner, calling them "a tough selection."
A Beautiful Mind is based on the true story of Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematics professor who struggled to overcome schizophrenia. The film has received eight Oscar nods, including Best Actor for Crowe and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly.