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The Greatest Directorial Debuts Of All Time

Updated December 23, 2020 9.0k votes 657 voters 8.1k 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
    215
    62

    Citizen Kane

    Orson Welles

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

    Released1941

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  • The Shawshank Redemption2
    253
    94

    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

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  • Reservoir Dogs3
    257
    107

    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

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  • Toy Story4
    82
    23

    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

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  • Get Out5
    213
    127

    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

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  • American Beauty6
    156
    94

    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

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  • Nightcrawler7
    106
    53

    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

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  • The Maltese Falcon8
    96
    46

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

    Released1941

    The Maltese Falcon is a 1941 Warner Bros. film noir based on the novel of the same name by...  more

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  • Eraserhead9
    118
    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

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  • Night of the Living Dead10
    113
    62

    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

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  • Ex Machina11
    130
    78

    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

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  • Boyz n the Hood12
    98
    51

    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

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  • Breathless13
    90
    45

    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

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  • John Wick14
    124
    80

    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

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  • Donnie Darko15
    124
    79

    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

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  • This Is Spinal Tap16
    86
    46

    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

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  • Being John Malkovich17
    103
    66

    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

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  • Duel18
    78
    42

    Duel

    Steven Spielberg

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

    Released1971

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  • District 919
    110
    73

    District 9

    Neill Blomkamp

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

    Released2009

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  • Badlands20
    74
    41

    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

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  • Hereditary21
    58
    27

    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

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  • Blood Simple22
    79
    48

    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

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  • Lady Bird23
    115
    84

    Lady Bird

    Greta Gerwig

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

    Released2017

    Lady Bird is a 2017 American comedy-drama film directed by Greta Gerwig. The adventures of a...  more

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  • The Evil Dead24
    100
    71

    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

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  • The Terminator25
    30
    1

    The Terminator

    James Cameron

    ActorsArnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Paxton, Linda Hamilton, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Biehn

    Released1984

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