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Top 10 Directorial Debuts in Film

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Tiffany Ezuma. These filmmakers all benefitted from beginner’s luck. Whether it was a low budget horror flick, a violent masterpiece, a hilarious sports movie or the greatest movie ever made (according to some people), these movies represent the best first ever film efforts of some of our favorite directors. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 directorial debuts. For this list, we’ve picked the most ambitious and impressive first full-length efforts by movie directors – which means their earlier short-films don’t count. Special thanks to our users Deathmatch1959, Andrew A. Dennison, Aizdiakova Dostoevsky, Ohilodude, Michael Chapman and Changa12345678987654 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Tiffany Ezuma.

Top 10 Directorial Debuts in Film

These filmmakers all benefitted from beginner’s luck. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 directorial debuts.

For this list, we’ve picked the most ambitious and impressive first full-length efforts by movie directors – which means their earlier short-films don’t count.

#10: Sam Raimi
“The Evil Dead” (1981)
Horror movies aren’t always taken seriously in the film world, but mastering one is an art form. With a budget of $90,000, 22-year-old Raimi created one of the most influential horror films of all time. Most of the movie was shot in the woods with a cast and crew made up of his friends. But the guerilla, do-it-yourself style of the movie captures a terror many high budget horror movies miss.

#9: Charles Laughton
“The Night of the Hunter” (1955)

Years ahead of its time, this film was Charles Laughton’s first – as well as his last – official effort. Considered a critical and a financial flop at the time of its release, the film stars Robert Mitchum as a preacher who terrorizes a young family in order to find their hidden fortune. Unlike other Hollywood films at the time, Laughton’s movie contained expressionist and lyrical elements, and over the years it’s earned the recognition it rightfully deserves.

#8: Clint Eastwood
“Play Misty for Me” (1971)

Not many actors with a career as expansive as Eastwood’s would take a chance as a movie director. But he did just that when he directed this creepy gem about a DJ who has a sexual encounter with an obsessed fan. Eastwood’s filmmaking is like his acting – economical, to the point, and honest. Kudos to him for both directing, and acting in, this exciting thriller.

#7: George A. Romero
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Romero was already successful directing commercials when he decided to make this independent feature about a zombie attack in small town Pennsylvania. At the time of its release, the film was criticized for its violent and gory images; but audiences still came out in droves to see it – even though it was meant to be a joke. Now, it’s one of the highest grossing and most highly regarded independent horror films ever.

#6: Harold Ramis
“Caddyshack” (1980)

This film bends the rules of sports movies to make one of one the funniest flicks of all time, in any genre. Set on the green and telling the story of a young caddy and his interactions with the many eccentric, rich golfers he meets at the course, “Caddyshack” became an instant classic upon its release. But not only that; it was also one of the highest grossing films that year, and it revitalized Rodney Dangerfield’s career.

#5: John Huston
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

It’s hard to believe that a film as perfect as this one was the effort of a first-timer. The classic noir story follows a gumshoe detective as he helps a mysterious woman find her sister, but soon he stumbles upon a bigger crime with a jeweled Maltese falcon at the center. Huston’s attention to detail and use of supporting characters earned the film three Oscar nods, and made for one of Humphrey Bogart’s best roles.

#4: Guy Ritchie
“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998)

Written and directed by Ritchie, this comedy tracks a small-time card player, who’s forced to rob a local gang in order to pay his debts. Ritchie’s sense of storytelling and comedic timing blend well to make an unforgettable crime drama, and one of the most unlikely films ever to be nominated for a BAFTA. Also, we can’t forget this movie is responsible for the career of Jason Statham.

#3: Sam Mendes
“American Beauty” (1999)

Who can forget the iconic image of Mena Suvari lying naked in a sea of bright red roses? This movie tells the story of a lonely suburbanite’s mid-life crisis, and its affect on everyone around him. A simple story, but Mendes’ direction and use of color and imagery, elevate it to a modern-day tale of lust, longing, and the need to live a life examined. The film rightfully won four Oscars as a result.

#2: Quentin Tarantino
“Reservoir Dogs” (1992)

By the time he directed this film, Tarantino was more than ready to direct a full length-feature. However, he had trouble-securing studio funding, which caused him to write this film with minimal sets and a small cast. It goes to show that a strong story is at the heart of any good movie, and “Reservoir Dogs” defines Tarantino’s trademark stylistically violent, slick and funny films.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Terrence Malick “Badlands” (1973)
- Ben Affleck “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
- Kevin Smith “Clerks” (1994)
- Joel and Ethan Coen “Blood Simple” (1984)
- François Truffaut “The 400 Blows” (1959)

#1: Orson Welles
“Citizen Kane” (1941)

Hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film of all time, “Citizen Kane” is known for its structure, cinematography, and use of music. The film wasn’t initially considered a success, since its box-office earnings did not surpass its costs. But as the years passed, more and more critics began to praise the film, creating a resurgence in its popularity and leading many to consider it a well-made classic.

Do you agree with our list? What’s the best flick you’ve seen from a newcomer? For more groundbreaking top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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