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The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time

Updated December 23, 2020 8.9k votes 622 voters 7.6k views126 items

List RulesOnly 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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  • Citizen Kane1
    213
    59

    Citizen Kane

    Orson Welles

    ActorsOrson Welles, Alan Ladd, Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Arthur O'Connell

    Released1941

    Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film produced by, co-written by, directed by and... more on Wikipedia
  • The Shawshank Redemption2
    242
    97

    ActorsMorgan Freeman, Rita Hayworth, Tim Robbins, Clancy Brown, James Whitmore

    Released1994

    The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont... more on Wikipedia

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  • Reservoir Dogs3
    246
    112

    Reservoir Dogs

    Quentin Tarantino

    ActorsQuentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen

    Released1992

    Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American ensemble crime film that depicts the events before and after... more on Wikipedia

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  • Get Out4
    214
    125

    Get Out

    Jordan Peele

    ActorsDaniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones

    Released2017

    Get Out is a 2017 American horror film directed by Jordan Peele. A young African-American... more on Wikipedia

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  • Toy Story5
    77
    22

    Toy Story

    John Lasseter

    ActorsTom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Penn Jillette, Annie Potts

    Released1995

    Toy Story is a 1995 American computer-animated buddy-comedy adventure film produced by Pixar... more on Wikipedia

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  • The Maltese Falcon6
    95
    45

    ActorsHumphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Walter Huston, Ward Bond

    Released1941

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  • Eraserhead7
    116
    66

    Eraserhead

    David Lynch

    ActorsJack Nance, Jeanne Bates, Jack Fisk, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Anna Roberts

    Released1977

    Eraserhead is a 1977 American experimental body horror film directed by David Lynch. Henry... more on Wikipedia
  • American Beauty8
    151
    97

    American Beauty

    Sam Mendes

    ActorsKevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari, Allison Janney, Chris Cooper

    Released1999

    American Beauty is a 1999 American drama film directed by Sam Mendes. An advertising executive... more on Wikipedia
  • Boyz n the Hood9
    100
    54

    Boyz n the Hood

    John Singleton

    ActorsIce Cube, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long

    Released1991

    Boyz n the Hood is a 1991 American hood drama film directed by John Singleton. Three young men... more on Wikipedia
  • Nightcrawler10
    98
    54

    Nightcrawler

    Dan Gilroy

    ActorsJake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Bird York

    Released2014

    Nightcrawler is a 2014 American neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Dan Gilroy in... more on Wikipedia
  • Night of the Living Dead11
    113
    68

    Night of the Living Dead

    George A. Romero

    ActorsGeorge A. Romero, Duane Jones, Bill Hinzman, Karl Hardman, Judith O'Dea

    Released1968

    Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent zombie horror film directed by George... more on Wikipedia
  • Breathless12
    89
    47

    Breathless

    Jean-Luc Godard

    ActorsJean Seberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Melville, Daniel Boulanger

    Released1960

    Breathless is a 1960 French film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard about a wandering... more on Wikipedia

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  • Ex Machina13
    125
    81

    Ex Machina

    Alex Garland

    ActorsDomhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac

    Released2015

    Ex Machina is a 2015 independent science fiction psychological thriller film directed by Alex... more on Wikipedia
  • John Wick14
    123
    82

    John Wick

    Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

    ActorsKeanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Ian McShane

    Released2014

    John Wick is a 2014 American action thriller film directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.... more on Wikipedia

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  • Duel15
    78
    42

    Duel

    Steven Spielberg

    ActorsDennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Lou Frizzell, Eugene Dynarski, Eddie Firestone

    Released1971

    Duel is a 1971 television thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard... more on Wikipedia
  • Donnie Darko16
    119
    81

    Donnie Darko

    Richard Kelly

    ActorsDrew Barrymore, Ashley Tisdale, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Seth Rogen

    Released2001

    Donnie Darko is a 2001 American supernatural drama film written and directed by Richard Kelly... more on Wikipedia

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  • This Is Spinal Tap17
    83
    49

    ActorsBilly Crystal, Fran Drescher, Anjelica Huston, Dana Carvey, Rob Reiner

    Released1984

    This Is Spinal Tap is an American 1984 rock music mockumentary written, scored by, and... more on Wikipedia

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  • Being John Malkovich18
    102
    67

    ActorsCameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, Winona Ryder

    Released1999

    Being John Malkovich is a 1999 American fantasy comedy film written by Charlie Kaufman and... more on Wikipedia

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  • Lady Bird19
    117
    85

    Lady Bird

    Greta Gerwig

    ActorsSaoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet

    Released2017

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  • District 920
    107
    77

    District 9

    Neill Blomkamp

    ActorsSharlto Copley, Jed Brophy, Vanessa Haywood, John Sumner, William Allen Young

    Released2009

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  • Badlands21
    72
    43

    Badlands

    Terrence Malick

    ActorsCharlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Emilio Estevez, Terrence Malick

    Released1973

    Badlands is a 1973 American film written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Martin... more on Wikipedia

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  • Blood Simple22
    78
    50

    Blood Simple

    Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

    ActorsHolly Hunter, Frances McDormand, M. Emmet Walsh, Dan Hedaya, John Getz

    Released1984

    Blood Simple is a 1984 neo-noir film written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It... more on Wikipedia

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  • Seven Servants23
    57
    29

    Seven Servants

    Daryush Shokof

    ActorsAnthony Quinn, Audra McDonald, David Warner, Alexandra Stewart, Sonja Kirchberger

    Released1996

    Seven Servants is a USA — Germany co-production 1996 German drama — comedy film directed by... more on Wikipedia
  • The Evil Dead24
    100
    75

    The Evil Dead

    Sam Raimi

    ActorsBruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Scott Spiegel, Ellen Sandweiss

    Released1981

    This film is a 1981 American horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive... more on Wikipedia

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  • Hereditary25
    52
    28

    Hereditary

    Ari Aster

    ActorsToni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

    Released2018

    Hereditary is a 2018 American horror film directed by Ari Aster. As an overwhelming terror... more on Wikipedia

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