Entertainment

The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time  

Ranker Film
5.4k votes 449 voters 4.4k views 105 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. 

list ordered by
1
Citizen Kane is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Orson Welles
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
2
The Shawshank Redemption is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Frank Darabont
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
3
Reservoir Dogs is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Quentin Tarantino
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
4
Get Out is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jordan Peele
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
5
Toy Story is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added John Lasseter
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
6
Eraserhead is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
David Lynch
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
7
Seven Servants is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
daryushshokofo added Daryush Shokof
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
8
John Wick is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
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
9
The Maltese Falcon is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
John Huston
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
10
Booksmart is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Greg Machlin added Olivia Wilde
Booksmart is a 2019 American comedy film directed by Olivia Wilde. On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie ...more
11
Boyz n the Hood is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
John Singleton
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
12
Donnie Darko is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Richard Kelly
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
13
Nightcrawler is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Dan Gilroy
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
14
Breathless is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jean-Luc Godard
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
15
Lady Bird is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Greta Gerwig
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.
16
Ex Machina is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Alex Garland
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
17
American Beauty is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Sam Mendes
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
18
District 9 is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Neill Blomkamp
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
19
Brick is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Greg Machlin added Rian Johnson
Brick is a 2005 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It was Johnson's directorial debut and won the Special Jury Prize for ...more
20
Sorry to Bother You is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Greg Machlin added Boots Riley
Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 American sci-fi fantasy comedy film directed by Boots Riley. In an alternate reality of Oakland, California, a young African-American telemarketer (Lakeith ...more
21
Badlands is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Terrence Malick
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
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
23
Night of the Living Dead is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
George A. Romero
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
24
Monsters, Inc. is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
MattGreene1 added David Silverman, Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich
Monsters, Inc. is a 2001 American computer-animated comedy film directed by Pete Docter, produced by Pixar Animation Studios, and released by Walt Disney Pictures. John Lasseter and Andrew ...more
25
Hereditary is listed (or ranked) 25 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