Some directors are so talented that they hit it out of the park on the first try. Of course, even the best directors of all time make a stinker from time to time, but the first movie a director makes is usually a telling sign of what’s to come for their future careers.
If a director can make a great film on a shoestring budget then the chances are that he or she will be able to make another masterpiece with more help and a bigger budget. The best films by first time directors span decades.
Here’s a look at the ten best films that most wouldn't believe are from first time directors. These auteurs went on to create many more amazing works of cinematic art, and some of these films even won big awards.
10 The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont
Many consider Frank Darabont’s the Shawshank Redemption to be one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s work. The film was a commercial failure, but it was a critical success - it currently holds the number one spot on IMDB’s top 250 list, and Roger Ebert included this on his great movies list in 1999.
The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards but didn’t win a single one. Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Red was praised by many, and he received an Oscar nomination for his acting in the film. The film was voted as the best film of the 1990s by readers of Empire magazine.
9 Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino became a critical darling for his writing work on amazing films like True Romance and Natural Born Killers. Soon after, Tarantino became one of the greatest directors of all time, releasing a string of critically acclaimed hits such as Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs.
Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is easily one of the greatest crime movies of all time, and arguably Tarantino’s best film. Reservoir dogs was named the greatest independent movie of all time by Empire magazine, and the magazine also named it the 97th best film ever on its list of 500 best films. Reservoir Dogs won the critics award at the 4th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.
8 Hard Eight by P.T. Anderson
P.T. Anderson just keeps getting better and better. Almost every one of his films receives universal critical acclaim, from the riveting There Will Be Blood to the dark yet hilarious Boogie Nights. His directorial debut, Hard Eight, showcased the acting ability of character actor Philip Baker Hall, and the neo-noir crime film featured great performances from for future P.T. Anderson staples John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us," said Roger Ebert in his review of Hard Eight. Ebert, one of the most respected critics in the history of modern film, gave the film 3.5 stars out of four.
7 Bottle Rocket by Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson’s directorial debut showcased his talent, and the film features Anderson’s signature feel and style. Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson, who also made their acting debuts in the film, give stellar performances.
Critics quickly took notice of Wes Anderson after Bottle Rocket was released, and he would go on to create successful movies like the Royal Tenenbaums, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and the Grand Budapest Hotel, which is a nominee for best picture at this year's Oscars. Iconic director Martin Scorsese said that Bottle Rocket was one of his favorite movies of the 1990s.
6 Donnie Darko by Richard Kelly
Donnie Darko is strange and sometimes confusing, but it's also acknowledged to be one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time. The cult hit is a science fiction time travel story that focuses on the pressures of being a teen.
Donnie Darko has received critical acclaim and was well received by general audiences. Empire magazine named it the second best independent film of all time and it was listed as the 58th best film ever in the magazine’s 2008 poll. Richard Kelly won the award for best screenplay at both the Sitges Film Festival and at the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards.
Kelly, however, hasn't lived up to his promise. He has been largely unproductive in the years since Donnie Darko's release, leading many to believe this was a fluke.
5 Citizen Kane by Orson Welles
Citizen Kane is considered by many to not only be the greatest directorial debuts of all time, but many critics have called it the greatest movie of all time, period. The American film Institute placed it number one on its 100 years, 100 movies list in both 1998 and 2007. Orson Welles’ masterpiece was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, and it was listed as the greatest film ever on Sights and Sounds best movies ever poll for five straight years. Roger Ebert said that Citizen Kane was both the best movie ever made and his favorite film of all time.
4 Mean Streets by Martin Scorsese
3 The Maltese Falcon by John Huston
John Huston’s film version of the Maltese Falcon is not the first adaptation of the book by Dashiell Hammett, but it is the most well known and most highly praised. It was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1989, and Roger Ebert called it one of the greatest films ever made.
The film received 14 Academy Award nominations, and when it was released Variety said the film was “one of the best examples of actionful and suspenseful melodramatic storytelling in cinematic form." Because of the film’s acclaim and success, a sequel was planned, but it never came to fruition.
2 Badlands by Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick’s directorial debut was the 1973 crime film Badlands which starred Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film, which focused on the murder spree of a young couple, was met with critical praise and it has since been added to the National Film Registry for preservation.
In 1999, Martin Sheen, who played Kit Carruthers in the dark crime drama, said the script for Badlands was the best that he has ever read. The film holds an astonishing 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a top critics score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four.
1 Blood Simple by the Coen brothers
The Coen brothers have gone on to receive near-universal acclaim for almost every movie they have made. Fargo, No Country for Old Men, a Serious Man, Raising Arizona and Barton Fink have showed that these auteurs are just as skilled at making masterful comedies as they are at making serious dramas.
The brothers made an amazing first impression, thanks to their superb directorial debut Blood Simple in 1984. The neo-noir crime film was met with high praise and holds a 94% approval rating. It marked the feature film debut of Joel Coen’s wife Frances McDormand, who would go on to become a regular in Coen brothers films like Fargo.