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The Best Second Films from Famous Directors

Updated November 5, 2019 987 votes 154 voters 4.5k 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.

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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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  • Mike Nichols hit it out of the park with his debut movie, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?(1966), which won five Academy Awards and was nominated for 13, including Best Director. Thankfully, Nichols did not suffer a sophomore slump when he took on The Graduate (1967), one of the most iconic films of all time. Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director for his efforts on a film about an alienated and confused college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) and his affair with the much older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft.) The film was stylistically innovative and hit the '60s counter-culture zeitgeist

    • Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Richard Dreyfuss, Katharine Ross, Norman Fell
    • Released: 1967
    • Directed by: Mike Nichols
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  • Steven Spielberg made a few TV Movies in the early 1970s before hitting the big screen with The Sugarland Express in 1974. A year later, the 27-year-old director's make-or-break sophomore film arrived in theaters. It was Jaws, and we all know how that played out. The film is an arresting hybrid of '70s drama, '50s monster movie, and procedural thriller that not only scared beachgoers for generations to come, but invented the concept of the summer blockbuster.

    • Actors: Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, John Searle
    • Released: 1975
    • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
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  • Ridley Scott's first film was The Duellists (1977), a decent debut that set him up to direct the first installment of one of the greatest sci-fi franchises in cinema history. Alien (1979), however, was not just a sci-fi movie. It was a horror movie in space, and a rich exploration of character and the existential effects of extreme isolation. The film was dark, visually stark, and truly frightening. How could anyone ever forget the famous chestburster scene?

    Did you know you have George Lucas to thank for Alien? As it turns out, Scott was planning on following up The Duelists with an adaptation of Tristan and Isolde, a medieval love story. The Scott saw Star Wars.

    "I never saw or felt audience participation like that, in my life. The theater was shaking. When that Death Star came in at the beginning, I thought, I can’t possibly do Tristan and Isolde, I have to find something else. By the time the movie was finished, it was so stunning that it made me miserable. That’s the highest compliment I can give it; I was miserable for week. I hadn’t met George at that point, but I thought, 'Fu*k George.' Then, somebody sent me this script called Alien. I said, 'Wow. I’ll do it.'"

    • Actors: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton
    • Released: 1979
    • Directed by: Ridley Scott
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