5 Phenomenal Directorial Debuts


Sometimes it takes a director a few movies to really hit their stride. On the other hand sometimes directors knock it out of the park on their first try. This week I’m looking at five phenomenal directorial debuts. Now I have to admit as I was doing research for this list I was really surprised at some of the first efforts of some of the directors I came across. Many were extraordinary, others not so much. But one thing’s for sure, with so many directorial debuts throughout film history this certainly isn’t the definitive list. But after seeing these five directorial debuts, I can boldly say that they’re absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “THE 400 BLOWS” – Francois Truffaut

400 blows
Acclaimed director François Truffaut’s first film is arguably his very best. “The 400 Blows” is a 1959 French drama that was a pillar of the French New Wave movement. It was such a key film in defining a movement that was steering away from the traditional moviemaking of the time. Truffaut not only directed the film but wrote this semi-autobiographical story of a young boy’s hard life growing up in early 1950s Paris. Even with the movie’s sometimes heartbreaking subject matter, “The 400 Blows” is a beautiful film and it’s clearly a deeply personal work from Truffaut. I can’t say enough about this picture and it’s amazing that such an accomplishment could be a director’s first effort.

#4 – “BLOOD SIMPLE” – The Coen Brothers

Blood Simple
While Joel Coen was listed as director and Ethan Coen as producer we now know how the Coen brothers work. “Blood Simple” was the brilliant directorial debut from arguably the best directing team of our time. The Coens also wrote this modern-day film noir that gave us a new way of looking at crime thrillers. We get our first look at several of the reoccurring themes that the brothers would revisit in their following films as well as their own quirky sense of dark humor and unique style. Overall this is a fabulous movie and a great debut for the Coen brothers. It certainly set the table for the many wonderful pictures the Coens have given us since.

#3 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” – George Romero

My favorite horror movie of all time is “Night of the Living Dead” from director George Romero. I’ve always been impressed with how the film used a minuscule budget and no-name performers to create such a wonderfully eerie atmosphere around a groundbreaking story. Even more impressive is the fact that this was Romero’s directorial debut. There are so many director’s touches that make this such a classic movie. But it’s really cool that Romero’s first film essentially launched the zombie craze that is still going strong today. “Night of the Living Dead” is a fascinating bit of filmmaking and an incredible first effort from George Romero.

#2 – “CITIZEN KANE” – Orson Welles

You know it’s an amazing accomplishment when a director’s first film is considered by many to be the greatest movie of all time. Such is the case with Orson Welles and the phenomenal “Citizen Kane”. The movie underwhelmed at the box office but critics adored it and over time both it and Welles’ stellar direction have received well deserved praise. Welles also produced, co-wrote, and starred in the film. “Citizen Kane” had its share of controversy and obstacles while it was being made, but the finished product is an absolute masterpiece and it’s a master class on strong and visionary directing. It’s a true cinema classic.

#1 – “THE MALTESE FALCON” – John Huston

Being such a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart I knew a lot of cool tidbits about one of his biggest movies “The Maltese Falcon”. Yet one big and well known fact escaped me until a few years ago. This was the directorial debut for the brilliant John Huston. He also wrote the screenplay for this fantastic film noir that remains one of the greatest films of all time. It’s said Huston had envisioned and setup in his mind the entire film frame by frame before he ever started shooting. His intense preperation and incredible detail enabled him to shoot the entire film in order. The result was a seamless and fluid movie filled with great characters and some brilliant camera work. Huston would go on to make several more classic films but his career started here with the search for the “stuff that dreams are made of”.

And there they are, 5 Phenomenal Directorial Debuts. I know there are several that could have made the list. What are you thoughts? Feel free to leave your comments and share your favorites.

50 thoughts on “5 Phenomenal Directorial Debuts

  1. I can’t disagree with this list. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen #4 & 5.

    I would love to a see a more ‘recent’ Directors list of the same. Duncan Jones, Tarantino, etc. I smell sequel to this list!

    • I knew QT would come up but I have to say (an don’t kill me for this) but I’m not a huge fan of his films. Now Reservoir Dogs is one of his strongest films but I couldn’t see it putting it ahead of these personally. That’s kinda what kept other more recent directors off the list. These five were just such incredible accomplishments.

      Thanks as always for the great comments my friend!

  2. Great list! George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead is one of my favourite movies – agree with you that it’s impressive what he achieved on such a small budget, defining the zombie genre.

    • Thanks! I mean how many directors can say their film has defined a genre? A handful? Now how many of the handful can say that it was their first film? I’m with ya 100%.

  3. Great list! My other favorites are Cameron Crowe’s Say anything, Dennis Hopper’s Easy rider, Tarantino’s Reservoir dogs and Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and two smoking barrels.

    • I like the Crowe mention! I’ve never seen “Lock, Stock” though. I’m not a big QT fan but Reservoir Dogs is a solid picture. Then there’s Easy Rider. Please don’t boycott my site when I say this!!! I hate Easy Rider. I know I’m in the small minority but it didn’t work for me at all. I do agree about Hopper’s direction. For me it was the best thing about it. I know many disagreed when I put it on a Phenomenal 5 list of overrated movies last year. Heck even my family got on my case for that one! LOL!

      Anyway, great mentions and I always appreciate the comments!

      • I won’t boycott you or your blog 😀 Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I totally know what’s the feeling when you don’t like something universally recognised. I had the same experience with every Stallone movie. I just hate the guy 😀
        I’ve always been torn on Tarantino’s works. I have a “love it or hate it” thing with him.
        And you simply should watch Lock, Stock, it’s awesome!

    • I know right? I’m the same way. It’s a fact that I know but as you watch the movie it’s hard to believe it’s a director’s first film. So much artistry and technique goes into his filmmaking.

  4. I’ve never seen ‘Blood Simple’, I’ll have to get on that. As for ‘Night of the Living Dead’, I’d choose that as the standout Directorial Debut for me.

  5. Fine choices here sir. I’ve yet to see “400 blows” but can’t argue with the rest. Surprised to see that Tarantino doesn’t feature for “Reservoir Dogs”?

    • Thanks. I would love to hear your take on The 400 Blows. It’s brilliant filmmaking and a key film of that movement. I knew Reservoir Dogs would get some mentions. I’m not the biggest QT fan but Reservoir Dogs is a really good film and a really good debut.

  6. Great post! Wow! Get’s my mind racing….I vote for directorial debut of Costner’s Dances with Wolves, BBThorton’s Slingblade, Tarentino’s Resevoir Dogs, and Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich, and Sam Mendes, American Beauty…..

  7. Another awesome list here Keith! Sadly I have only seen one which is Blood Simple. I really should amend that don’t I? I’ve been hearing all kinds of great things about “THE 400 BLOWS” by Francois Truffaut so I really should get on that. Of course Citizen Kane is on my list to see this year for sure!

    • Thanks Ruth. You absolutely must see Citizen Kane AND Maltese Falcon. But I’m also a huge fan of The 400 Blows. It’s already been on a couple of my Phenomenal 5 lists. Would love for you to check it out and share a review. Remember, tomorrow is a movie that I finally saw that would easily have made my Top 5 from last year! (Teaser)

  8. Never seen Maltese Falcon or Blood Simple. All others are great choices! I think Reservoir Dogs is up there.

    • LOL, tons of QT folks out there. I do like Reservoir Dogs but not to the point of making this list. And I can’t toss Romero. As I said in the post not only did Romero make his film on a minuscule budget but he spawned a genre craze that remains huge today. Talk about influential. Plus I think “Night” is just a tremendous movie. So I’m an apologist for it! LOL

  9. Solid list. More great debuts:
    Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
    Hunger (Steve McQueen)
    Moon (Duncan Jones)
    Clerks (Kevin Smith)
    Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino)
    Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn)
    Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck)
    12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)

  10. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” (3/13) | The Focused Filmographer

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