The 30 Most Overlooked Debut Movies Made By Famous Directors

20. Amores Perros (Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2002)


Arriving with a wave of Mexican directors – Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron – Inaritu’s debut film was a bleak portrait of interpersonal human relationships, especially with animals. The themes and structure of Amores Perros would translate into Inarritu’s obsessions, especially in regards to experimental narratives that link tangential stories to one another.


19. Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrmann, 1992)

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

At his peak, Baz Luhrmann is a remarkable technician with a flair sparkling images and wonderful soundtracks. Strictly Ballroom is my personal favorite of his output. The tale of two unorthodox lovers competing in a dance competition shows Luhrmann at his most restrained. Unfortunately, Luhrmann’s ambitions got the best of him, and his more recent output shows a penchant for visuals over narrative depth.


18. She’s Gotta Have It (Dir. Spike Lee, 1986)

She's Gotta Have It

In his first film, She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s ambition and talent were palpable. Following the exploits of the sexually liberated Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) and her encounters with the various men in her life, Spike Lee introduced radical subjective matter, especially in regards to racial themes. His radicalism and explosive style would parlay into such masterpieces as Do The Right Thing.


17. Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann (Dirs. Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, 1975)

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum was the first directorial feature from Margarethe von Trotta, who collaborated with her husband, Volker Schlöndorff. The two constructed an intriguing crime film that examined the effects of the tabloid press on the life of an innocent housekeeper. Von Trotta would grow weary of her collaborations with her husband, eventually severing ties, embarking on a solo career, and becoming one of the most prolific female directors in the world.


16. Lola (Dir. Jacques Demy, 1961)

lola 1961

There is no denying Jacques Demy’s love of American cinema (especially musicals). His first feature, Lola, is in the same vein as any Gene Kelly or Stanley Donen musical. Anouk Aimee is spectacular in the titular role, constructing an elusive heroine for Demy’s cinematic obsessions. Demy’s filmography would delve deeper into the musical world, creating more blissful settings filled with cathartic tragedy.


15. Accattone (Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961)


A genius in all sense of the word, Pasolini was a gifted artist and philosopher who transitioned from screenwriting to feature filmmaking. With Accattone, Pasolini introduced his radical perspective by telling the story of beggars, thieves, and prostitutes who are all trying to make ends meet. His style and subject matter would prove to be controversial, even up to his final masterpiece, Salo, which explored the depths of human depravity and sexuality.


14. On the Town (Dirs. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1949)

On the Town

As two first-time directors, Kelly and Donen could not have found better material suited for them. On The Town is a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors, songs, and dances, showcasing the best talents of its principal cast. The film – which tells the story of three sailors looking for love while on leave – was a critical and commercial success, thus launching its directors into the cultural stratosphere and helping them create some of the most iconic films/characters imaginable.


13. L’assassin habite au 21 (Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1942)

L'assassin habite au 21

Clouzot’s early films were created around the time of the German occupation of France, thus adding another layer of subtext to his suspenseful plots and stories.

In L’assassin habite au 21 (The Murderer Lives at 21), Clouzot crafts a clever whodunit in which everyone is capable of murder. His penchant for suspense would run deep in the veins of Hitchcock, but his creative output in the 60s would be overshadowed by the French New Wave. Still, there is no denying Clouzot’s massive talent and his influence on contemporary directors.


12. A New Leaf (Dir. Elaine May, 1971)

A New Leaf (1971)

Elaine May’s comedic origins date back to her lucrative partnership with Mike Nichols, so it is only fitting that her debut film, A New Leaf, showcased her comedic talent. Examining the relationship between a gold digger (Walter Matthau) and his naïve, wealthy wife (Elaine May), A New Life is pinpoint perfect in its conception and comedic timing. Unfortunately, due to May’s infamous clashes (with actors and producers) on later productions, her directorial career would come to a end.


11. The Connection (Dir. Shirley Clarke, 1962)

The Connection

Blurring the lines between fictional narratives and cinema vérité, Shirley Clarke began her feature filmmaking career with The Connection, a film that chronicles a group of heroin addicts in an enclosed apartment. Clarke’s style and subject matter helped highlight the potential of independent cinema, while also addressing issues of censorship.