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15 Great First Movies By Amazing Directors

Like any art form, filmmaking takes dedication to the form, talent and years and years of practice to perfect and refine the knowledge you have. That being said, like any art form, there is always someone who breaks all of these rules and is so ridiculously talented and adept at their chosen medium that the first thing they ever produce is pure gold.

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Sometimes they never recreate that flash of genius and sometimes it is merely the match to light that touchpaper of creative genius. Here we look at several directors whose first films were nothing short of magnificent.


15. Jennifer Kent - The Babadook

Jennifer Kent made a short film called Monster in 2005 and went on to expand the idea into the fully fledged feature length film The Babadook which takes the traditional story of a malevolent fairy tale character and injects fresh energy and scares into the whole process by making it a crossover psychological thriller with straight up horror.

 

With genuine moments of fear that don't rely on gimmicky jump scares and an excellent storyline that gets you asking questions about the characters, even the director of The Exorcist said he'd  never seen a more terrifying film. 


14. Steve McQueen - Hunger

Artist turned director Steve McQueen took his visceral and graphic art and put it into motion on screen with his telling of the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA prisoner who went on hunger strike whilst in prison because he was denied political status by the British government. The film is impressive for the fact it doesn't take a stance on the issues and merely showcases the conditions that led to the hunger strike.

With minimal dialogue, McQueen uses his striking imagery to tell the story where lead actor Michael Fassbender lost 42 pounds over the period of shooting. McQueen would go on to win an Oscar for his film 12 Years A Slave.


13. George Miller - Mad Max

The original Mad Max film had such a low budget, that some of the members of the crew were paid in beer. Passionate to see his debut film through to the end, George Miller cast an unknown actor called Mel Gibson in the role of police officer Max Rockatansky in a post-apocalyptic society. Filmed in the Australian outback it tells the story of anarchic biker gangs and a fight for law and order.

 

It went above and beyond standard B-movies with its touching emotionality between Max and his family as well as spawning a massive franchise $100m from its $350,000 production budget, making it the most profitable movie of all time for nearly 20 years.


12. Sam Mendes - American Beauty

Sam Mendes was an accomplished theater director when he was offered the chance to direct American Beauty  because over 20 other directors had passed up the opportunity to helm the film. Bringing his theater knowledge to the screen, he used, languid, static shots to contrast with scenes of great violence and pain.

 

Mendes won an Oscar for his debut film which also saw lead actor Kevin Spacey pick up an Oscar for his work. Many debate what the messages and themes of the film are with even the director and writer disagreeing from time to time but ostensibly it is about the death of the American dream.


11. Charles Laughton - Night of The Hunter

Made in 1955, this film received such a critical mauling at the time that Hunter renounced ever making another film again which is a shame because time looks kindly on Hunter's piece as a film of stark expressionism, that shows the fight between good and evil. Perhaps to ahead of its time it tells of a vengeful preacher searching for the money of a criminal on the property of his family only to then turn on the family themselves.

 

Beautifully crafted and excellently thought out, it is no wonder that Laughton took such offense to his being slated as the film now stands out as a masterpiece.


10. Sofia Coppola - The Virgin Suicides

Being the daughter of legendary, Oscar-winning film director Francis Ford Coppola was always going to mean that Sofia Coppola's first film was going to be heavily scrutinized and held up to the level of her father. The fact that the director chose a novel considered unfilmable showed that she was not one to shy away from bold decisions and it paid off in a story of teenage innocence, middle America and suppression.

 

Subtle and delicate, this film set the stage for great things as she went on to win an Oscar of her own with Lost In Translation as well as The Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival for Somewhere.


9. Kevin Smith - Clerks

Kevin Smith films seem to rather divide film critics and the movie going public but his first film was so roundly well received for his poignant observations of generation-X angst and a slacker culture that launched his ongoing universe of zany characters and irreverent storytelling. Made on a budget of just $23,000, Smith maxed out 10 credit cards and cast friends and family members to make the film.

 

Shot entirely in black and white, it tells the story of two store clerks in a both immensely warm yet caustic and witty manner.


8. Tobe Hooper - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

One of the scariest and most controversial films of all time, it was made by documentary camera man Tobe Hooper who used is naturalistic, shaky style to add a realistic and breathless intensity to the film that made it scary and shocking, so much so that it still has the ability to chill some 40 years after its release.

 

A groundbreaking film, the horror and slasher genres would not be the same without this movie.


7. Sam Raimi - The Evil Dead

This budget horror comedy was made on just $90,000 and introduced the world to Bruce Campbell in this intense, grotesque and funny horror comedy from a director who was inspired by the likes of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Unable to afford expensive camera rigs, the director used shaky footage to his advantage and even created an invention to get a shaky effect when running through the woods.

 

This intensity and creativity shone through and made it a cult hit that would launch Raimi's career as one of the most successful and well-respected horror directors of all time.


6. Frank Darabont - The Shawshank Redemption

A Stephen King obsessive, Frank Darabont managed to buy the rights to King's novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption for just $1. The film was a box office flop but went on to recoup its losses on home video and TV syndication as it is now repeatedly ranked as one of the best films ever made and was nominated for seven Oscars although it didn't go on to win any.

 

One of the most accomplished debut films ever made, it is considered a classic by many.


5. Rob Reiner- This Is Spinal Tap

The heavy-metal mockumentary was the first directorial project of well-established actor Rob Reiner who also undertook the difficult task of casting himself as the fictional director filming the band Spinal Tap on their comeback tour. So close to the bone is it for many rock bands that the likes of Led Zeppelin,  Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses have all claimed it is based on them.

 

A sprawling, ludicrous comedy about the excess and idiocy of rock music, it is a subversive comedy that single-handedly launched the genre of mockumentary into the mainstream.


4. Quentin Tarantino - Reservoir Dogs

The film that blasted Quentin Tarantino from being an indie darling to a mainstream juggernaut, this gritty crime drama about a bunch of crooks trying to figure out who shopped them to the cops after a bungled jewelry heist, it made the two-piece suit synonymous with crime and coupled with the pitch-perfect soundtrack.

It became an icon of cinema with its non-linear story-telling and standout performances to boot. It is often recognized as the greatest independent film ever made.


3. George A. Romero - Night of The Living Dead

 The film that defined the zombie genre and was the first modern horror film of its age, it took a tiny budget and unknown actors and made a cult classic out of the formula. On the surface, a straight up gore fest but its themes of commercialism, communism, race and social antipathy make it a well thought out social commentary covered in blood and guts.

It launched a prolific career for Romero and in turn, has inspired countless other filmmakers along the way.


2. John Huston - The Maltese Falcon

A classic of the fil-noir genre and one of the greatest detective movies ever made, John Huston had done time as a screenwriter before he got his chance to direct this picture adapted from a Dashiell Hammett novel, sticking closely to the source material with all its dark and shocking twists and turns.

An epic icon of film-noir, it made Humphrey bonafide star and is considered one of the best films of all time.


1. Orson Welles - Citizen Kane

Technically brilliant, ambitious and way ahead of its time, this film created new storytelling narratives via the use of flashback, new camera techniques and angles and new screenwriting viewpoints. A pessimistic view of the American dream, it told the rise and fall of a media magnate and was based on real life entrepreneur William Randolph Hearst.

 

It was because of this that it failed to recoup its budget from the box office as Hearst's media empire slated the film and bullied theaters into not showing it. Now considered one of, if not the, greatest films ever made.

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