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The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time 

Ranker Film
Updated February 18, 2020 5.9k votes 491 voters 5.2k views 108 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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1
The Shawshank Redemption... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Frank Darabont

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

Released: 1994

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and ...more

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2
Reservoir Dogs is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Quentin Tarantino

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

Released: 1992

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American ensemble crime film that depicts the events before and after a botched diamond heist. The film was the debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino, and stars ...more

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#133 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #204 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

3
Citizen Kane is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Orson Welles

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

Released: 1941

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film produced by, co-written by, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The picture was Welles's first feature film. The film was nominated for Academy ...more

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4
Get Out is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jordan Peele

Actors: Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, + more

Get Out is a 2017 American horror film directed by Jordan Peele. A young African-American (Daniel Kaluuya) visits his white girlfriend's parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness ...more

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5
American Beauty is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Sam Mendes

Actors: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari, Allison Janney, Chris Cooper, + more

Released: 1999

American Beauty is a 1999 American drama film directed by Sam Mendes. An advertising executive (Kevin Spacey) has a midlife crisis when he becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter's best ...more

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6
Lady Bird is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Greta Gerwig

Actors: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, + more

Released: 2017

Lady Bird is a 2017 American comedy-drama film directed by Greta Gerwig. The adventures of a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) living in Northern California for a year.

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7
Eraserhead is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
David Lynch

Actors: Jack Nance, Jeanne Bates, Jack Fisk, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Anna Roberts, + more

Released: 1977

Eraserhead is a 1977 American experimental body horror film directed by David Lynch. Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend (Charlotte ...more

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8
John Wick is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Actors: Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Ian McShane, + more

Released: 2014

John Wick is a 2014 American action thriller film directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean ...more

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9
Donnie Darko is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Richard Kelly

Actors: Drew Barrymore, Ashley Tisdale, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Seth Rogen, + more

Released: 2001

Donnie Darko is a 2001 American supernatural drama film written and directed by Richard Kelly and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena ...more

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10
Ex Machina is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Alex Garland

Actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

Released: 2015

Ex Machina is a 2015 independent science fiction psychological thriller film directed by Alex Garland. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a ground-breaking ...more

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11
District 9 is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Neill Blomkamp

Actors: Sharlto Copley, Jed Brophy, Vanessa Haywood, John Sumner, William Allen Young, + more

Released: 2009

District 9 is a 2009 science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp, released August 13, 2009. It takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. District 9 is based on Alive in Joburg, a short film ...more

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12
Boyz n the Hood is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
John Singleton

Actors: Ice Cube, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, + more

Released: 1991

Boyz n the Hood is a 1991 American hood drama written and directed by John Singleton in his directorial debut, and starring Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia ...more

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13
The Maltese Falcon is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
John Huston

Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Walter Huston, Ward Bond, + more

Released: 1941

The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 Warner Bros. film noir based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. Directed by John Huston, the film stars Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam ...more

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14
Night of the Living Dead... is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
George A. Romero

Actors: George A. Romero, Duane Jones, Bill Hinzman, Karl Hardman, Judith O'Dea, + more

Released: 1968

Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent zombie horror film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and ...more

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15
Nightcrawler is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Dan Gilroy

Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Bird York, + more

Released: 2014

Nightcrawler is a 2014 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal who starts shooting footage in Los Angeles and ...more
16
Deadpool is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Tim MIller

Actors: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, + more

Released: 2016

Deadpool is a 2016 American superhero film directed by Tim Miller, based on the Marvel Comics character. After being given mutant abilities with a scarred physical appearance, Wade Wilson (Ryan ...more

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17
Toy Story is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added John Lasseter

Actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Penn Jillette, Annie Potts, + more

Released: 1995

Toy Story is a 1995 American computer-animated buddy-comedy adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by John Lasseter, Toy Story was the ...more

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18
Breathless is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jean-Luc Godard

Actors: Jean Seberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Melville, Daniel Boulanger, + more

Released: 1960

Breathless is a 1960 French film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard about a wandering wrong doer and his American girlfriend. It was Godard's first feature-length work and represented ...more

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19
The Evil Dead is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Sam Raimi

Actors: Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel, Ellen Sandweiss, + more

Released: 1981

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

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20
Being John Malkovich is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Spike Jonze

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

Released: 1999

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

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21
Badlands is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Terrence Malick

Actors: Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Emilio Estevez, Terrence Malick, + more

Released: 1973

Badlands is a 1973 American film written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Warren Oates and Ramon Bieri are also featured. Malick has a small speaking ...more
22
Duel is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Steven Spielberg

Actors: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Lou Frizzell, Eugene Dynarski, Eddie Firestone

Released: 1971

Duel is a 1971 television thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on Matheson's short story of the same name. It stars Dennis Weaver as a terrified ...more

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23
This Is Spinal Tap is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Rob Reiner

Actors: Billy Crystal, Fran Drescher, Anjelica Huston, Dana Carvey, Rob Reiner, + more

Released: 1984

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

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24
Seven Servants is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
daryushshokofo added Daryush Shokof

Actors: Anthony Quinn, Audra McDonald, David Warner, Alexandra Stewart, Sonja Kirchberger, + more

Released: 1996

Seven Servants is a USA — Germany co-production 1996 German drama — comedy film directed by Daryush Shokof. The movie is about a man named Archie, portrayed by Anthony Quinn, who wishes to unite ...more
25
A Star Is Born is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Bradley Cooper

Actors: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle

Released: 2018

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

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