10 Best Movies From First Time Directors

Sony Pictures


Whoever said “third time’s the charm” clearly didn’t know what he or she was talking about. All these first time directors knocked it out of the park their first time up to bat. Some filmmakers gradually earned success with each film, slowly racking up acclaim until they reached Steven Spielberg-level status and got the recognition they deserve.

Hollywood is a beast of a town, and often times it takes years of waiting tables and driving limos before you can break out with your own creatively fulfilling endeavors. Then there are the Cinderella stories, the directors who go balls to the walls with their first attempts and become successes. Some of your favorite movies are actually first-time directing attempts.

Of course, you could take a short cut, like the guys in the hilarious new Comedy Central show Big Time in Hollywood, FL. After their parents decide to kick them out, delusional brothers and self-proclaimed filmmakers Ben and Jack Dolfe stage an elaborate ruse to maintain their financial dependence on Mom and Dad. But when their plan takes a dark and dangerous turn, the brothers find themselves embroiled in an increasingly messy situation that threatens both their artistic ambitions and their lives. Big Time in Hollywood, FL airs Wednesdays at 10:30pm on Comedy Central.

In honor of Ben and Jack and dreamers everywhere, here’s ten men and women who said, “Screw you! I’m going to make the next big movie,” and actually did it.

District 9, Neill Blomkamp

Neill Blomkamp came out on the scene with a bang, but ever since District 9 his stuff has been getting progressively worse. Elysium had a cool concept of the uppity upper class hovering above us all in an orbiting space-station paradise, but even Blomkamp admitted he fucked that one up. And his latest, Chappie, is essentially crap on a cracker. (At least in my opinion.) But his first big-screen romp is still golden. The effects were incredible and the whole thing played as an expertly crafted metaphor for the immigration issue — except it was way more badass ‘cause it had aliens.

Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino’s legacy rages on. His last film, Django Unchained, earned Christoph Waltz an Oscar nomination and Jamie Foxx the unofficial award for best use of poppin’ caps off in shitheads who deserve it. Hopefully the filmmaker will continue the magic with his upcoming, mysterious and highly anticipated film, The Hateful Eight, which will surely be another bloodbath. But the silver-screen dynasty all started with Reservoir Dogs. There’s nothing more iconic than the image of Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth strutting their stuff like masochistic Blues Brothers. People had no idea who the hell Tarantino was when he came out on the film festival circuit with this film, but they certainly do now.

American Beauty, Sam Mendes

If you can, for a second, look back at a time before Sam Mendes came to direct the new James Bond movies, back before he executive produced Showtime’s horror monster series Penny Dreadful, back even before he directed Jarhead and Road to Perdition, back to his first attempt at a big-screen project with American Beauty. It was so good that he won Best Director for it. And we’re not just talking about Mena Suvari bathing naked in a pool of rose petals. There were plenty of moments, like the plastic bag that taught us about life and Kevin Spacey teaching us how true winners quit their jobs.

The Babadook, Jennifer Kent

We’re still having nightmares from The Babadook. That shit was fucked up! But in a good way. Jennifer Kent had been making the rounds as an actress, including in Babe: Pig in the City. It’s safe to say that wasn’t really working out. Her last credit was in 2003, and by 2005 she had directed her first short film, Monster, about a mother struggling with her son’s fear of a monster hiding in the closet. Sound familiar? That’s because she expanded that and used its leading lady for The Babadook. We’re still having nightmares about that creepy as hell nursery rhyme…also, what kind of child-friendly bedtime tale features a mother strangling her dog?

Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed of a major Oscar nomination — and Best Screenplay doesn’t count, though that was well deserved. He gave one of his best performances to date as the mentally askew video journalist desperate for work, and it’s all thanks to Dan Gilroy. He’s written screenplays for that awful Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel, The Bourne Legacy and Two for the Money, but he ascended to the director’s chair for Nightcrawler. We’re shocked he hasn’t already signed up for his next big directing gig, but perhaps he’s pulling an Adele and waiting until everyone forgets about him to drop his next big hit.

Mad Max, George Miller

We’re getting a new Mad Max movie this year with Fury Road. Even though Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson in his career-defining role, the trailers make this installment look spectacularly badass. However, it also forces us to remember everything we liked about the original movie. In fact, there’s so many details, including Gibson’s quotes, the gunplay and motorcycle chases, that it’s hard to believe this was George Miller’s first movie. Not only was it the top-grossing flick in Australia at the time, it also held the Guinness World Record for most profitable film for decades. Gibson can have all the anti-Semitic rants he wants — well, actually, that’d be even more despicable. But no matter how crazy he gets, we’ll always have his glory days.

The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but look back and chuckle at the special effects attempted with The Evil Dead. My favorite moment comes in the beginning of the film when a shot of the moon is revealed — the box surrounding it shows how it was clearly cut and pasted into the frame. However, it’s still one of my favorite horror movies and for good reason. Sam Raimi created a cult hit with his first go, which is pretty difficult. It’s been so popular among moviegoers and horror fans that it spawned a couple sequels, a reboot that hit theaters last year and the upcoming TV series that’ll feature original star Bruce Campbell. I’d like to see someone try that nowadays.

Boyz N the Hood, John Singleton

John Singleton would go on to direct Higher Learning, Shaft and the second installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, but Boyz N The Hood is his first and arguably most famous work. The film earned him a nomination for Best Director at the Oscars, making him (at the time) the youngest and first African-American filmmakers to enter the Academy Awards race. It also marked Ice Cube’s first big-screen role as “Doughboy,” the street-wise and tough member of a group of friends living in Inglewood, California. Now he’s landed himself a spot in three movie franchises — Barbershop, Jump Street and Ride Along.

This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner

People are still quoting This Is Spinal Tap to this day. After all, “these go to 11.” Reiner arguably earned more success with films like Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride…yeah, definitely with The Princess Bride…but watching his 1984 mockumentary about one of the most ridiculous and loud English bands and their fall from fame is just as funny as it was years ago.

Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly

If Donnie Darko taught us anything, it’s to not chase the demonic bunny rabbit, or else you might end up like Jake Gyllenhaal, stuck in a Jake-Maggie Gyllenhaal relationship with your sister. We joke, of course…but seriously, what’s up with those two? The film which starred a 19-going-on-20-year-old Gyllenhaal as a young kid who has a demonic rabbit as an imaginary friend has gone down in history as one of the best films made outside of the Hollywood studio system.

Check out Big Time in Hollywood, Fl on Comedy Central every Wednesday at 10:30pm EST.