Entertainment

The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time  

Ranker Film
5k votes 409 voters 3.9k views 91 items

List Rules Only feature-length films.

Believe it or not, some of the greatest films of all time were also some of the greatest directorial debuts to date. It's not too often a director's first go at overseeing an entire production ends up on a list of the best movies, but it does happen. Considering this, we've probably all seen an awesome movie and thought, "What a great job by the director" without even realizing it was the director's first movie. Regardless of what thoughts you might have had, below you'll find a list of who are now famous directors' first movies. Just consider that next time you watch one of these top flicks of the past.

From hilarious comedies to full-on thrillers, these debut films from top directors would be impressive even if they weren't the directors first. Just take a look at some of the great movies on the list. Does the classic Reservoir Dogs ring a bell? Yep, that was Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut. How about the 2018 hit Get Out? Sure enough, Jordan Peele of Key & Peele nailed it on his first crack at directing. And that's only the start of a long list of incredible debuts. 

While you may find many of them surprising, check out the list of directorial debuts below and vote up the films you find most impressive. 

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26
Sling Blade is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Billy Bob Thornton
Sling Blade is a 1996 American drama film set in rural Arkansas, written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who also stars in the lead role. It tells the story of a man named Karl Childers with ...more
27
This Is Spinal Tap is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Rob Reiner
This Is Spinal Tap is an American 1984 rock music mockumentary written, scored by, and starring Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. The film portrays the fictional ...more
28
Hereditary is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Ari Aster
Hereditary is a 2018 American horror film directed by Ari Aster. As an overwhelming terror takes over their household, the Graham family's peaceful existence is ripped apart, forcing their ...more
29
Sex, Lies, and Videotape is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Steven Soderbergh
This film is a 1989 American independent drama film that brought director Steven Soderbergh to prominence. It tells the story of a man who films women discussing their impact on the ...more
30
Gone Baby Gone is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Ben Affleck
Gone Baby Gone is a 2007 American neo-noir mystery film directed by Ben Affleck and starring his brother Casey Affleck. The screenplay by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard is based on the novel of ...more
31
The Evil Dead is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Sam Raimi
This film is a 1981 American horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive produced by Raimi and Bruce Campbell, who also stars alongside Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker. This film ...more
32
Pi is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Darren Aronofsky
Pi, also titled π, is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky in his directorial debut. The film earned Aronofsky the Directing Award at ...more
33
Obvious Child is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Gillian Robespierre
Obvious Child is a 2014 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Gillian Robespierre. After a drunken one-night stand, stand-up comedian Donna (Jenny Slate) finds out she is pregnant and ...more
34
Spanking the Monkey is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
crystalplumage707 added David O. Russell
Spanking the Monkey is a 1994 American black comedy film written and directed by David O. Russell. The title is a slang phrase for masturbation and is used in the film by one of the teenage ...more
35
The Muppets is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added James Bobin
The Muppets is a 2011 comedy film directed by James Bobin.
36
Being John Malkovich is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Spike Jonze
Being John Malkovich is a 1999 American fantasy comedy film written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. It stars John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener, with John Malkovich ...more
37
A Star Is Born is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Bradley Cooper
A Star Is Born is a 2018 American musical romantic drama film directed by Bradley Cooper. A movie star (Cooper) helps a young singer/actress (Stefani Germanotta) find fame, even as age and ...more
38
Eighth Grade is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Bo Burnham
Eighth Grade is a 2018 American comedy film directed by Bo Burnham. An eighth grader (Elsie Fisher) struggles to finish her last week of classes before embarking for high school.
39
Blood Simple is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Blood Simple is a 1984 neo-noir film written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It was the directorial debut of the Coens and the first major film of cinematographer Barry ...more
40
The Cabin in the Woods is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Drew Goddard
The Cabin in the Woods is a 2012 American horror comedy film directed by Drew Goddard in his directorial debut, produced by Joss Whedon, and written by Whedon and Goddard. The film stars Kristen ...more
41
The Babadook is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jennifer Kent
The Babadook is a 2014 Australian psychological horror film, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, in which a woman and her son are tormented by a "boogie-man" type monster. The film ...more
42
Say Anything... is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Cameron Crowe
Say Anything... is a 1989 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Cameron Crowe in his directorial debut. In 2002, Entertainment Weekly ranked Say Anything... as the greatest ...more
43
Finding Nemo is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Finding Nemo is a 2003 American computer-animated comedy-drama adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton, it ...more
44
Brittany Runs a Marathon is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Paul Downs Colaizzo
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a 2019 American comedy film directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo. A 27-year-old New York woman, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell) takes up running as a way to find direction ...more
45
That Thing You Do! is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added Tom Hanks
That Thing You Do! is a 1996 American musical comedy drama film written, directed by, and co-starring Tom Hanks. Set in the summer of 1964, the movie tells the story of the quick rise and fall ...more
46
Fruitvale Station is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Ryan Coogler
Fruitvale Station is a 2013 American biographical drama film directed by Ryan Coogler, based on true events. The story of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, ...more
47
Kubo and the Two Strings is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Travis Knight
Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 American 3D stop-motion action fantasy film directed and produced by Travis Knight. The film revolves around Kubo, a young boy who wields a magical shamisen ...more
48
The Gift is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Joel Edgerton
The Gift is a 2015 American-Australian psychological horror-thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by Joel Edgerton in his directorial debut. The film stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca ...more
49
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added David Gordon Green
George Washington is a 2000 American drama film about a group of children in a depressed small town in North Carolina. The children band together to cover up a tragic mistake. The film is ...more
50
Wreck-It Ralph is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Rich Moore
Wreck-It Ralph is a 2012 comedy animation family film written by Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee and directed by Rich Moore.