10 Best Directorial Debuts


Over the past century, many directors have been key in creating great films that inspire viewers. While directors can make high-quality cinema at the height of their careers, they all have to start somewhere. Some filmmakers’ first feature-length film is noticeably their first, and they have some issues in finding their voice and style. However, other filmmakers are able to create a great movie on their first effort. These are 10 of some of the best directorial debuts. 

Wes Anderson, Bottle Rocket (1996)

Although a financial disaster, making only $560,069 according to IMDB on an estimated $7,000,000 budget, Wes Anderson’s 91 minute feature about a group of young men trying to become expert thieves got high praise from the few who saw it, with Martin Scorsese putting it at number seven in his top 10 films of the 1990’s. Anderson’s first film may not have had his trademarked symmetry, but it gave viewers his ability to create awkward yet relatable characters, and tell emotional and funny stories through them. Producers were able to see his creativity and intellect, giving him the opportunity to create the films Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), which gave him worldwide recognition. 

Coen Brothers, Blood Simple (1984)

The duo behind the camera for so many critically-acclaimed films, Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, directed, and produced Blood Simple, a film about lovers in Texas trying to escape one’s ex-husband. Starring Frances McDormand, the film quickly turns from a dramatic romance to a crime thriller, after shady deals and misunderstandings start causing trouble. While not as intense as No Country For Old Men (2007) nor as absurd as The Big Lebowski (1998), Blood Simple exposed the Coen Brothers’ ability to keep audiences entertained. 

Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Before he became a pop culture icon with Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin Tarantino broke into directing with Reservoir Dogs, a film about a group of anonymous bank-robbers whose job goes horribly wrong. Tarantino starts out his filmography with a strong cast, starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi, who all appear in Pulp Fiction. The film displays all of Tarantino’s popular traits: Extended dialogue, over-the-top violence, and a non-linear plot. The first movie to come from Tarantino is very easy to point out and recognize as a movie from the stylistic director.

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane (1941)

Before creating what some consider to be the most influential film ever made, Orson Welles was a playwright and radio storyteller, gaining popularity in the entertainment industry. In 1941, he debuted as a film director, releasing Citizen Kane, a film about the life of a billionaire newspaper mogul, seen through the eyes of the public and his closest friends. The film was one of the first to introduce a non-linear story, starting with a quick summary of his entire life, then bouncing back and forth from the stories of people who knew him best. It also dealt with the biased, unreliable narration from the different people, some who loved him, and others who grew to resent the flawed character. Due to its impact on future filmmakers and the filmmaking methods it inspired, many view Citizen Kane as one of the greatest movies of all time.  

Jordan Peele, Get Out (2017)

Known for his role on the comedy show Key & Peele, few expected Jordan Peele’s debut, a horror film, to be such a success. Get Out, starring Daniel Kaluuya, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the film, is about a black man visiting his white girlfriend’s parents, who seem to appear to be awkward with him visiting. Initially thinking it to be racial biases, he soon learns of a much darker, sinister plot, which puts his life in danger. The film was hugely popular on release, and started Jordan Peele on the path of directing horror films such as Us (2019) and Nope (2022).

Rob Reiner, This Is Spinal Tap (1982)

By releasing the film This Is Spinal Tap, the “mockumentary” style of filmmaking came into the mainstream, with Reiner’s film about a struggling English rock band on tour, with a filmmaker along to document their struggles. Spinal Tap uses interviews and raw footage from characters to give the feel of a real documentary, while the band stupidly puts themselves into messy situations with their dumb mistakes. Reiner uses creative elements to showcase a unique type of satire on the music business.

Bong Joon-Ho, Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho stepped into the filmmaking world with his dark comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, a story about a man who is irritated by the loud dogs in his apartment, and a woman who tries to help people find their lost dogs. Although making only $800,000 of his $10 million budget back, according to IMDB, the film displayed his talents for cinematography, as well as his themes on lower class struggles in a capitalist society. Although it is not as polished as his later films, it led him to create films such as the modern classic Parasite (2019), which won him the Oscar for Best Picture.

David Lynch, Eraserhead (1977)

With a small budget of only $10,000 according to IMDB, David Lynch smashed people’s minds with Eraserhead, a uniquely dark and disturbing film. Set in a world that is very off-putting and not exactly our own, Lynch uses dark, lowly-lit sets and disturbing images to put the audiences in a discomforting, tense position watching the film. Eraserhead tells the story of a young man who learns that his girlfriend gave birth to his child, which is not human. Using unconventional story elements, combined with cuts to disturbing dream sequences, Lynch is able to create a dark metaphor on the fears of fatherhood. 

Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station (2013)

Four years after the shooting of Oscar Grant by police, Ryan Coogler submitted his telling of the story to the Sundance Film Festival, winning the festival’s award for Best Picture. The film recounts the last day in the life of Grant, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan, who later came back to work with Coogler for Creed (2015) and Black Panther (2018), following his struggles financially to support his family, before being tragically killed by police. Co-starring Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station shows the emotional tragedy that police brutality and racism creates, and displays Coogler’s talents as a filmmaker. 

Steven Spielberg, Duel (1971)

Before becoming a cultural icon with many critically-acclaimed films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Jurassic Park (1993), Steven Spielberg impressed audiences with his first movie, Duel. Following a regular salesman driving across the desert, he encounters a 18-wheeler truck, which starts to harass his car, before violently pursuing him. Spielberg shows his potential for gripping action scenes, and the ability to keep the movie flowing fluently. Spielberg’s first feature set him on a path of becoming one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.