Top 9 Debut Films From Directors

Its rare that a director’s debut film becomes successful. However, some films have not just succeeded but were some of the world’s top movies

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Posted: October 15, 2023

It is often rare that a director’s debut film becomes successful. However, some films have not just succeeded but were some of the world’s top movies. Here are my top 9 debut films of the past century.

Film 9- Nightcrawler



Nightcrawler was a film written and directed by Dan Gilroy in 2014. The movie was rated 7.8/10 and made $50.3 million on a budget of $8.5 million.

Dean Biron of Overland says, “Nightcrawler is a shattering critique of both modern-day media practice and consumer culture.

It’s about a character named Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who lives by scavenging and petty theft. He stumbles into a new career as a cameraman and, armed with a camcorder and police scanner, begins nocturnal forays across the city in search of shocking and horrible crimes. When he catches the eye of a shopworn news director (played by Rene Russo), who welcomes the chance to raise her station’s ratings, Louis goes to increasingly more extraordinary lengths to catch the “money shot.

What makes the film so great is that Nightcrawler is a phenomenal thriller that’s extremely tense, disturbing, shocking, and an excellent character study.

It was a revolutionary movie of its time, in my opinion, and the characters had unique appearances that caught the viewers’ attention. Overall, the Nightcrawler was an eye-catching film and was already a very successful movie despite being directorial debut. 

Film 8- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a 1974 American horror film produced, co-composed, and directed by Tobe Hooper, who co-wrote it with Kim Henkel. It’s rated 7.4/10 and made a profit of $30.9 million out of a budget of $140,000, selling over 16.5 million tickets in 1974.

It has since gained a reputation as one of the best and most influential horror films, especially in my view. Many people credit the movie with originating several elements that have become common in the slasher genre. The film introduced the use of power tools as murder weapons, depicted the killer as an imposing, hulking, masked figure, and showed graphic killings of victims. These elements made the movie a standout, catching the attention of many viewers.

The film had been a completely original idea of Tobe Hooper as such a setting had never been applied in any film before it.

It begins when a character named Sally (played by Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized; she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (played by Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate. After detaining their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hansen), who wears a human skin mask, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.

Overall, I think it was a game-changing film of its time and has inspired many movies, and it is unbelievable that such a revolutionary film was a directorial debut.

Film 7- American Beauty

American Beauty

American Beauty is a film made in 1999, an American black-comedy drama-film written by Alan Ball and directed by San Mendes in his feature directorial debut. It’s rated 8.3/10 and earned $356.3 million from a budget of $15 million.

Critically acclaimed, this film has earned five Academy Awards, including Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Film.

It’s about a telesales operative who became disillusioned with his existence and began to hunger for fresh excitement. As he experienced a new awakening of the senses, his wife and daughter also undergo changes that seriously affect their family.

American Beauty’s central theme highlights the disconnect between the characters’ pursuit of freedom and the realizations they ultimately come to.

The world of the film is seen to be carefully structured as a culturally deterministic system. The movie spells out the social disillusionment phenomenon everyone experiences but can’t grasp.

American Beauty reminds us that, like Lester, we have no idea what we want. We’re not rational creatures as economists assume we are.

American Beauty is one of the most successful directorial debuts of its time, not just in my opinion, for several reasons: it was written by a new director and achieved several milestones.

Film 6- My Left Foot

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown

My Left Foot is a 1989 biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jim Sheridan. It’s rated 7.8/10 and had made $14.7 million out of a budget of £600,000.

At the 62nd Academy Awards, the film received five nominations, including for Best Picture, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. In 2018, the British Film Institute ranked it the 53rd most excellent British film of the 20th century.

It was based on the autobiography of the Irish writer and painter Christy Brown. Brown was born in 1931, one of the thirteen children of a working-class Dublin family. Cerebral palsy at birth led to the mistaken assumption that he was mentally handicapped.

It is visible that My Left Foot, without lapsing into sentimentality, helps us to empathize with severely disabled people and see them as complete human beings.

Jim Sheridan adapted the text into a 1989 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, who received Academy Awards for their performances.

The movie’s success surprised many, but it introduced Brown’s work to a new generation.

The film adaptation of “My Left Foot” vividly depicts how Brown faced the challenges of his near-complete quadriplegia caused by Cerebral Palsy.

For these reasons, I consider it one of the greatest directorial debuts on the list.

Film 5- (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer Movie

(500) Days of Summer is a 2009 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Marc Webb. The movie made a profit of $60.7 million on a budget of $7.5 million. Its rating stands at 7.7 out of 10.

As an independent production, the film was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight Pictures and premiered at the 25th Sundance Film Festival. It received positive critical reviews and became a successful “sleeper hit.”

It’s about a man named Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer and a hopeless romantic. He was caught completely off-guard when his girlfriend, Summer (played by Zooey Deschanel), suddenly dumped him. He reflects on their 500 days together to try to figure out where their love affair went sour, and in doing so, Tom rediscovers his true passions in life.

(500) Days of Summer has always been a unique indie film for rom-com and film lovers alike because it subverted fans’ expectations and didn’t play into outdated tropes. It was raw, honest, and even painful to watch at times. However, it also paved the way for future rom-coms to do something different. 

This is why the film has been a great success, and I see it earned a place on this list. a

Film 4- Citizen Kane

Detail of Italian poster, Kane for Governor

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film directed by, produced by, and starring Orson Welles. It impressed audiences with its 8.3 rating and astounding $1.8 million gross, made on a budget of just $839,727.

Many critics and film enthusiasts consider Citizen Kane a masterpiece and often regard it as the most excellent film ever made. For 50 consecutive years, it stood at number 1 in the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound decennial poll of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998 and its 2007 update.

The film was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories and won Best Writing (Original Screenplay) by Mankiewicz and Welles. Citizen Kane is praised for Gregg Toland’s cinematography, Robert Wise’s editing, Bernard Herrmann’s music, and its narrative structure, all of which have been considered innovative and precedent-setting. Thus, it was a very famous movie.

Citizen Kane is about a reporter assigned to decipher newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane’s (played by Orson Welles) dying words; his investigation gradually reveals the fascinating portrait of a complex man who rose from obscurity to staggering heights. Though Kane’s friend and colleague Jedediah Leland (played by Joseph Cotten) and his mistress, Susan Alexander (played by Dorothy Comingore), shed fragments of light on Kane’s life, the reporter fears he may never penetrate the mystery of the elusive man’s final word, “Rosebud.”

According to its audience, ranking a debut film as one of the greatest movies ever is a remarkable achievement for any directorial debut.

Film 3- 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is a 1957 American legal drama film directed by Sidney Lumet, adapted from a 1954 teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. The movie made an impressive $1,663,000 profit, exceeding its $337,000 budget. Additionally, it received a remarkable rating of 9 out of 10.

The film tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of a teenager charged with murder based on reasonable doubt; disagreement and conflict among them force the jurors to question their morals and values.

12 Angry Men has won awards for Best Film in the British Academy Film Awards, Prix International in Étoiles de cristal, and Top Ten Films in the National Board of Reviews.

What I think makes the film so great is that it shows the power embodied in the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” and why we don’t pronounce someone as “innocent” at the end of a trial but instead “not guilty” as we have reasonable doubts over the body of evidence leveled against the accused.

Another thing that makes the film so great is that the rate of character development in it is arguably unparalleled in any film, either before or since. The level of personality exhibited by the film’s cast and through Reginald Rose’s script allows the audience to get to the crux of each character with rapid but organic speed.

These reasons make 12 Angry Men one of the greatest directorial debuts ever.

Film 2- Reservoir Dogs

Image may contain Clothing Overcoat Coat Apparel Suit Shoe Footwear Tuxedo Human Person Blazer Jacket and Tie

Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American neo-noir crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino in his feature-length debut. It has a rating of 8.3/10 and has made a profit of $2.9 million from a budget of around $1.2 million.

The film is regarded as a classic independent and cult film and was named “Greatest Independent Film of All Time” by Empire. Reservoir Dogs stirred up controversy when it first came out due to its frequent use of profanity and graphic violence. However, critics quickly praised the cast, and audiences received the film well.

Six strangers band together to rob a jewelry store in this action-packed movie. However, their plan suddenly turns when the police show up, forcing the gang to fight out of the situation. After escaping, the group meets to discuss the incident and soon realizes that one has betrayed the others. They decide to find the traitor and take revenge.

Reservoir Dogs is, in my opinion, a fantastic film because, as well as having an incredibly intense, gripping storyline, the film stands firm as a cult classic due to its impossibly cool styling, a cinematic standpoint many have come to expect from Tarantino in the years that followed its release.

Many film enthusiasts consider it a mere directorial debut and a true masterpiece.

Film 1- Shawshank Redemption


The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American prison drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The movie earned a commercial success by raking in $73.3 million, while it had a budget of $25 million. Its impressive rating of 9.3 out of 10 is a testament to its outstanding quality.

Over 320,000 VHS rental copies were shipped throughout the United States, and on the strength of its award nominations and word of mouth, it became one of the top video rentals of 1995.

The movie has remained a regular feature on TV screens in many countries, even decades after its release, and has garnered a massive following. People, including celebrities, have hailed it as a great source of inspiration and named it their all-time favorite in numerous surveys. As a result, it has gained a reputation as one of the most beloved movies ever created.

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Causes of success

In it, the main character, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins), was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover and was sentenced to a brutal prison called “Shawshank State Penitentiary.” However, only Andy knew he didn’t commit the crimes. While there, he formed a friendship with Red (played by Morgan Freeman), experienced the brutality of prison life, adapted, helped the warden, etc., all in 19 years with a sudden twist to the end.

I find that many things made The Shawshank Redemption powerful – the impeccable plot, the story that manages to be both specific and universal, the unbearable injustice, and the fact that nearly every character searches for and finds their definition of redemption.

Shawshank Redemption teaches us to take active steps to earn redemption, especially from ourselves. Regardless of the impact on others, our actions and efforts ultimately determine whether we achieve redemption.

For these many reasons, I have considered to be top on this list of the top 9 greatest Directorial Debuts of all time.


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Ahmed Ayan Arsalan
Ahmed Ayan Arsalan