Whenever something goes well the first time, it’s considered beginner’s luck. Well, clearly you weren’t there when I lost my virginity. With that vivid image in mind, let us consider some of the great directorial debuts in film history that were simply not beginner’s luck by any stretch of the term. From big names like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino to less appreciated greats like Rob Reiner and Sam Mendes, let’s get a good look at some debut delights. Honorable mention goes to Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” who would’ve made the list if his movies were all 35 minutes shorter and didn’t remind me of how awful it was losing my virginity. Seriously, what a mess.

“The Shawshank Redemption” – Frank Darabont (1994)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
Writer/director Frank Darabont only had a 1983 short and a 1990 TV movie under his belt before he jumped into the 1994 classic. Rob Reiner originally had hopes to take over the Stephen King book adaptation after filming “Stand By Me,” offering Darabont a generous sum of money to recast the original roles using Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, but Darabont refused. He would go on to direct other greats like “The Green Mile” and “The Majestic” before getting more into TV, including “The Walking Dead.”

“Reservoir Dogs” – Quentin Tarantino (1992)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
Tarantino’s earlier works are cult classics, but “Reservoir Dogs” stands as one of the best debut films by any director, a film he originally planned to shoot with friends for under $30,000. Written and directed by Tarantino, the blood-thirsty crime thriller follows a group of nameless color-coded men as they violently decipher who the rat is within their organization. The indie-style film was made on a measly $1.2 million budget, using big name actors like Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi. Tarantino would take his beginner success — he was working at a video store in Manhattan Beach, California before all this — and go on to immediately make “Pulp Fiction,” one of the most beloved crime movies in history, in 1994 with a budget of $8.5 million. His new film, “The Hateful Eight,” is said to have a bit of a “Reservoir Dogs” vibe.

“District 9” – Neill Blomkamp (2009)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
Directing a debut sci-fi film at age 29 with “The Lord of the Rings” director in his producing chair, Blomkamp made his 2005 short, “Alive in Jo’burg,” into a big screen, full-length feature with the help of Peter Jackson. Originally a short film and commercial ad visual artist, Blomkamp had the eye to bring original ideas to the screen while stretching a small budget, which in “District 9” he did with $30 million, compared to Peter Jackson’s $250 million “Hobbit” budgets. Blomkamp is prepping for a sequel, “District 10,” but will hold off while he works on a new “Alien” project after his inadequately received 2015 “Chappie” robotic reel.

“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” – Shane Black (2005)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
The “Lethal Weapon” series writer got his directing chops in 2005 with the murder comedy, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” starring an awkward and anxious thief, played by Robert Downey Jr., a quiet yet cunningly flamboyant private detective (Val Kilmer) and one of our favorite “Mission: Impossible” girls, Michelle Monaghan. The film barely surpassed the break-even point at $15 million but is held high as one of the funnier murder mysteries with great acting chemistry, a great cast for any debut directing project. Black wouldn’t direct again until the third installment of Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man” in 2013, but now he has a number of directing projects in the works for the next couple years, including a new “Predator” installment.

“This Is Spinal Tap” – Rob Reiner (1984)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
Before there was “When Harry Met Sally…” in 1989, Rob Reiner was getting his directing feet wet with the rock mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap,” following the life and strife of a degenerate British band, Spinal Tap. Not only did Reiner direct, but he wrote, scored and acted on the film, along with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. The film is a satire on ’80s hair metal bands, garnering laughs as much as any rock movie in history. Reiner would make the short 82-minute full-length film for $2 million before directing the John Cusack film, “The Sure Thing” in 1985, the coming-of-age tale, “Stand by Me,” in 1986 and “The Princess Bride” in 1987. But we all loved him most acting as Leo’s deranged dad in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“Donnie Darko” – Richard Kelly (2001)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
In his mid-20s, Richard Kelly brought us one of the most oddly distinct debut films with his bunny-induced crime thriller. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, along with Drew Barrymore and the late Patrick Swayze, starred in Kelly’s first feature in 2001. The film was budgeted around $4.5 million, impressively shot in only 28 days and made nearly as much revenue despite going straight to VHS and DVD release. Check your VHS collection for it, guaranteed to be there. By 2003, Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal released a movie coverage book, titled “The Donnie Darko Book.” The film debuted at Sundance Film Festival in 2001, getting released publicly by Barrymore’s production company a month after 9/11, a likely cause for slow starting revenue.

“American Beauty” – Sam Mendes (1999)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
We have Sam Mendes to thank for the past four James Bond films, along with a lot of James Bond Girls, but Mendes got his start more than 15 years ago with a Kevin Spacey-led drama. The $15 million film would pull in more than 20 times that when people got a look at Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham, amidst a midlife crisis and striking up love interests with young women. The film was raw and sexual, honest and believable for a movie of its time, as the film was originally intended to be a play written by Alan Ball. Mendes stepped in with Spacey as his top choice to the studio’s reluctance, as he was lesser known at the time, and yet the film still won the Academy for Best Actor, as well Best Directing, Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay. Not a bad debut, Mr. Mendes.

“Bottle Rocket” – Wes Anderson (1996)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
The visually evocative mind behind 1930s European “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” clever costuming in “The Life Aquatic” and his recurring Hollywood crew are all parts of the very unique writer/director, Wes Anderson. The further along he goes, the wilder his imagination, but his most simplistic, low budget work came with 1996’s Wilson brothers crime comedy “Bottle Rocket.” The film was originally a short written and shot in 1992 and released in 1994, also using the Wilson brothers, Luke and Owen. In 1996, Anderson was funded $9 million to release a full-length failure — it made less than $1 million box office sales — that would eventually launch his career. His 1998 release, “Rushmore,” starring Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, would be the start of his commercial success and unique character sensibility.

“Say Anything” – Cameron Crowe (1989)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
The writer behind 1981 novel, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story,” was none other than Cameron Crowe, a stimulating Picasso of literary work spun into a directing career. After his early writing success, Crowe followed soon after with the late ’80s summer of love flick starring John Cusack and Ione Skye. Crowe directed his debut rom-com in 1989 with a $16 million budget, and it’s still considered one of the great modern romance flicks, despite remaining modest in the box office at $21.5 million. Crowe would go on to turn down a TV spinoff series, but would later direct more great originals, most of which he helped to write, including “Vanilla Sky” and “Almost Famous.”

“Citizen Kane” – Orson Welles (1941)
Great Director Debuts, Memorable Movie Director Debuts
A movie that’s considered one of the greatest films of all time in general is also a directorial debut by writer/director Orson Welles. The film has stood the test of time, much like “Ben-Hur” as one of the most expensive stunts in movie history, and Welles is much to blame for its success as he not only directed, but helped to write and star in the film as well. With a relatively microscopic budget of $839,727, Welles still managed to get the film nominated for nine Academy categories, including Best Actor, Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Writing. Welles took his Broadway success to Hollywood to create a film following the life of Charles Foster Kane while piecing together filmmaking along the way with himself as the lead. Initially, the film failed to make any money in the box office, despite glowing reviews. The film would be rebooted in America in the 1950s and garnered much worldly attention. Welles would go on to direct a few dozen films, including classics like “The Merchant of Venice.”



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