Entertainment The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time  

Ranker Film
4.1k votes 311 voters 2.7k views 87 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
91 21
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
105 48
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
102 48
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
98 56
Get Out is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Jordan Peele
Get Out is a 2017 satirical horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele. A young African American man visits his white girlfriend's family estate where he learns that many of its residents, ...more
5
34 7
Seven Servants is listed (or ranked) 5 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
6
56 38
John Wick is listed (or ranked) 6 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
7
40 25
The Maltese Falcon is listed (or ranked) 7 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
8
47 32
Eraserhead is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
David Lynch
Eraserhead is a 1977 American surrealist body horror film written and directed by filmmaker David Lynch. Shot in black-and-white, Eraserhead is Lynch's first feature-length film, coming after ...more
9
51 36
Boyz n the Hood is listed (or ranked) 9 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
10
37 23
Duel is listed (or ranked) 10 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
11
66 53
Deadpool is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Tim MIller
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
12
55 43
Ex Machina is listed (or ranked) 12 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
13
39 27
Breathless is listed (or ranked) 13 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
14
54 43
District 9 is listed (or ranked) 14 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
15
38 27
Nightcrawler is listed (or ranked) 15 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
16
47 37
Donnie Darko is listed (or ranked) 16 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
17
34 25
Play Misty for Me is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Clint Eastwood
Play Misty for Me is a 1971 American psychological thriller film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, in his directorial debut. Jessica Walter and Donna Mills co-star. The original music ...more
18
31 22
Badlands is listed (or ranked) 18 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
19
55 47
A Star Is Born is listed (or ranked) 19 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
20
59 55
American Beauty is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time
Sam Mendes
American Beauty is a 1999 American drama film, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, an office worker who has a midlife crisis when he becomes ...more
21
31 25
Pi is listed (or ranked) 21 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
22
47 43
Lady Bird is listed (or ranked) 22 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.
23
25 20
Sex, Lies, and Videotape is listed (or ranked) 23 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
24
48 47
Night of the Living Dead is listed (or ranked) 24 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
25
48 47
The Evil Dead is listed (or ranked) 25 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