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The Best Second Films from Famous Directors

Updated November 5, 2019 1k votes 166 voters 4.7k views23 items

List RulesVote up the best second films from famous directors.

The dreaded sophomore slump. A band makes a great debut album or an author writes an acclaimed first novel, but then can’t live up to the hype and create another masterpiece. What about a director's second film? There are no sophomore slumps on this list. In fact, many of these directors are best known for their second films, which are the finest of their esteemed filmography. Here are the best second movies of famous directors.

Some of the best directors of all time are featured on this director’s best second films list. There are plenty of modern auteurs like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, and, of course, old school filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Mike Nichols. It’s hard to believe Memento, Fight Club, and The Graduate were only the second time around for those directors. It’s not easy to helm a feature-length film, and these guys seem to have mastered the art by Round 2.

Make your voice heard. Vote up your favorite best second films of famous directors.

  • David Fincher was an acclaimed music video director before helming his first film Alien 3 in 1992. The experience was so awful, he vowed to never direct a motion picture again. Thankfully, he changed his mind, and had much better results with his second film, Se7en (1995), a dark, atmospheric mixture of neo-noir and horror that had everyone asking, "what's in the box?" Interestingly, that box wasn't even supposed to be in the movie - the studio asked for a revision on the script, but Fincher was accidentally given an old draft to read, and insisted upon the box ending. 

    Fincher went on to become one of the most celebrated directors of the modern era, with films like Fight Club (1999), The Social Network (2010), and Gone Girl (2014).

    • Actors: Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: David Fincher
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  • Quentin Tarantino burst onto the indie scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992, then pretty much single-handedly launched the independent film movement into the mainstream two years later with Pulp Fiction (1994).

    Tarantino, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction, redefined storytelling with his nonlinear tale of a boxer, two gangsters, a mob boss's pretty wife, and two diner robbers, while turning lowbrow genres into high art. Pulp Fiction is unapologetically violent, but with each drop of blood comes a shard of humor. The auteur's signature visual style and clever winks at old school Hollywood, couched in the language of the French New Wave, only add to what has to be considered one of the most original movies ever made.

    • Actors: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken
    • Released: 1994
    • Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
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  • Photo: Miramax

    Danny Boyle started his career in theater, before becoming a producer for the BBC in Belfast, a job he got because no one else wanted it (the city was essentially a war zone at the time). There, he learned from British maverick Alan Clarke, producing Elephant, a startling, nearly wordless 30-minute omnibus of murder scenes exploring the violence in Northern Ireland. From there, Boyle moved into TV directing, and launched his film career with the pitch black comedy Shallow Grave.

    Boyle's second film, Trainspotting, is perhaps the most important British movie of the '90s. A hyper-stylized, punk rock adaptation of Irvine Welsh's darkly comic novel, Trainspotting explores the lives of heroin addicts and low-level criminals in Edinburgh, Scotland in the '80s and early '90s. The film hit the Britpop zeitgeist in the UK (the premier was attended by members of Oasis, Blur, and Pulp), became a cult success in the US, and launched the careers of Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, and Kelly Macdonald. Boyle went on to direct 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and Steve Jobs (plus also Millions, Sunshine, and Trance).  

    • Actors: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald
    • Released: 1996
    • Directed by: Danny Boyle
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  • Photo: Dazed and Confused / Gramercy Pictures

    Richard Linklater writes and direct low-budget, realist films with a focus on character. In other words, most of his films don't really have much of a plot, and that's totally okay. It all started with Slackers in 1991, a film more or less about nothing. Linklater achieved cult status with Dazed and Confused in 1993, a quotable day-in-the-life film with only the vaguest of plot notions (someone needs to get a keg and there's some baseball hazing ritual going on). 

    Not much happens in Dazed and Confused; it's just bunch of high school kids celebrate the last day of school. And yet, it's totally absorbing, because Linklater has endless things happening in the interior world of his characters, and they're things everyone understands, because we were all teenagers once. The film is a perfect encapsulation of what it means to be young, bored, and trapped in between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. 

    • Actors: Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Parker Posey
    • Released: 1993
    • Directed by: Richard Linklater
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