film The Best Directorial Debuts of All Time  

Ann Casano
720 votes 214 voters 5k views 28 items

Citizen Kane is often cited as the greatest movie ever made, but did you know it was Orson Welles's directorial debut? That's right - he knocked it out of the park on the first try, and so have many other film directors as well. These directorial debuts also happen to be some of the best movies of all time and are feats that many veteran Hollywood directors haven't matched over their entire careers.

We could marvel at the achievements of all of the talented directors on this list. Think about the first time you tried to do anything in life. Chances are it wasn’t perfect. It probably wasn’t even anywhere near perfect. But somehow, these filmmakers nailed it during their first time in the director's chair. Some of the directors on this list didn't even go to film school before directing their first movies (Welles included)!  

This is a list of the naturals who had the best directorial debuts in the history of cinema. It spans all genres from Quentin Tarantino’s postmodern take on the gangster movie in Reservoir Dogs to Cameron Crowe’s vision of a teenage romantic comedy in Say Anything... Even Steven Soderbergh and Terrence Malick, who would both go on to make great movies throughout their careers, had two of the best first films of any Hollywood film directors.

Be sure to vote up who you think made the best directorial debut in film. Don’t see one of your favorite first films from good movie directors on this list? Add it below!

The Shawshank Redemption is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Directorial Debuts of All Time
Photo: via Pinterest

It's hard to imagine that Frank Darabont's directorial debut was a box office disappointment, when it hit the big screen in 1994. The prison drama, adapted from Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is today among AFI's 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time and ranked #1 on multiple Ranker lists.

Directed by: Frank Darabont

Actors: Morgan Freeman, Rita Hayworth, Tim Robbins, Clancy Brown, James Whitmore, + more

Initial Release: 1994

Screenplay by: Frank Darabont

Rated: R (USA), UK: 15

Netflix Format: DVD and Blu-ray

Netflix Genre: Drama, Crime Dramas, Dramas Based on Contemporary Literature, 20th Century Period Pieces, Dramas Based on the Book, + more

Netflix Rating: UK: 15, R (USA)

Also Ranked

#2 on "Old" Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime

#70 on The Greatest Movie Themes

#42 on The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

#7 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

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2 76 VOTES

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Directorial Debuts of All Time
Photo: via Reddit
Quentin Tarantino had already written two screenplays (True Romance and Natural Born Killers) before getting the opportunity to finally direct his first feature. Reservoir Dogs at its core is just a gangster movie with a robbery gone wrong. However, the director was able to combine that simple plot line with a killer soundtrack, non-linear narrative, innovative use of dialogue, and an innate ability to move the camera around like a fluid character.

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Actors: Quentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, + more

Initial Release: 1992

Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Rated: R (USA)

Netflix Format: DVD, Blu-ray and streaming

Netflix Genre: Thrillers, Crime Thrillers, Mobster, Blu-ray

Netflix Rating: R (USA)

Also Ranked

#57 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#36 on The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

#52 on The Best Movies of All Time

#65 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

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3 38 VOTES

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Directorial Debuts of All Time
Photo: via Imgur
Is there a best films list that doesn't feature Citizen Kane? Boy wonder Orson Welles was just 26 when the film was released. Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred as Charles Foster Kane. He would go on to make a few more very good movies including Touch of Evil, but Welles would never match the greatness that he achieved with his first attempt at filmmaking.

Directed by: Orson Welles

Actors: Orson Welles, Alan Ladd, Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Arthur O'Connell, + more

Initial Release: 1941

Screenplay by: Orson Welles, Herman J. Mankiewicz, John Houseman, Mollie Kent, Roger Q. Denny

Rated: PG (USA)

Netflix Format: DVD and Blu-ray

Netflix Genre: Classics, Classic Dramas, Epics, 20th Century Period Pieces, Period Pieces, + more

Netflix Rating: PG (USA)

Also Ranked

#14 on Every Single Movie On Rotten Tomatoes With 100% Approval, Ranked By Sheer Watchability

#91 on The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

#25 on The Best Movies of All Time

#59 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

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Being John Malkovich is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Directorial Debuts of All Time
Photo: via Wikimedia
Spike Jonze was an acclaimed music video director before making his first feature in 1999. Jonze's vision, combined with an unconventional screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, told the story of a puppeteer who discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. The film is an inventive comedy-fantasy that will never be duplicated.

Directed by: Spike Jonze

Actors: Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, Winona Ryder, + more

Initial Release: 1999

Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman

Rated: R (USA)

Netflix Format: DVD and Blu-ray

Netflix Genre: Comedy, Dark Humor & Black Comedies, Indie Comedies, Blu-ray

Netflix Rating: R (USA)

Also Ranked

#7 on The Best Movies of 1999

#36 on Movies You Have to Watch Twice to Get Every Joke

#4 on Great Quirky Movies for Grown-Ups

#24 on The Best Surrealist Films

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