10 Great First Movies Made by Directors Before The Age of 28

5. Donnie Darko (2001) by Richard Kelly (Age: 26)


This director may be considered a one hit wonder, but he deserves mention due to his creation of a cult classic that is a favourite film of many, and is widely considered one of the best independent movies ever produced. The film was released in 2001, which was not a happy year due to the infamous September 11th attacks. This event affected the release of and response to many film on a worldwide level. Only after international theatrical and VHS/DVD release did this film begin to gather devoted fans.

It had a bit of everything: drama, mystery, sci-fi, paranormal, open meanings,and puzzles, all combined in a nonlinear way in proper quantities. The title character is interpreted by the talented and then unknown Jake Gyllenhaal. Richard Kelly has yet to produce another gem such as this one, but there’s still hope that another may appear in the future.


4. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) by Steven Soderbergh (Age: 26)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Before Tarantino, Rodriguez, Smith, Linklater, Anderson, and other similar filmmakers, there was a director who helped introduce independent filmmaking to Hollywood. That director was Steven Soderbergh, who in 1989, came out  with the groundbreaking indie hit Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

Written in just a few days time, the story concerns a young man with a strange fetish and a woman being the wife’s sister, combined with great depth beneath a placid surface.

The film owed much to the keen eye of Soderbergh, which showed that he was a master of mature storytelling and understanding character conflicts and motivations despite his lack of experience. Soderbergh continued his meteoric career with such films as Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and the box office hits Oceans 11, 12 and 13.


3. Duel (1971) by Steven Spielberg (Age: 26)


Although it was made as a film for television and was later expanded and released to theaters (principally in Europe), Duel has a right to be on this list. In 1971 a young man who looked like a kid walked into the set of a TV movie and nobody there would believe that he was the director.

At the time it seemed incredible that someone so young could have been given such a responsibility. However, the “kid” embodied all of the qualities a director must possess: vision, skills, knowledge, empowerment, stamina, enthusiasm, and confidence among others. He possessed all of these qualities and a simple TV movie shot in 10 days about a driver being chased by a truck turned out to be an incredible rush of action and suspense.

Today it is considered to be one of the best TV movie ever made. Much of the synergy manifest in Duel would later appear in Jaws, the film that help invent the blockbuster concept, and which would propel Steven Spielberg to worldwide fame. He became one of the most successful directors of all time, with a distinguished and profitable 40 year plus career, with many fine films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List.


2. The 400 Blows (1959) by François Truffaut (Age: 27)

The 400 Blows

In the 1950s the film business was controlled by studios and producers. The director was considered another piece in the movie making process, assigned with the role of transforming the script into images within a confined budget. The images created were mandated to be a vehicle which would carry a film to box office success, and the editing was not assigned to the director’s control.

Around this time, some young critics in France were defying this policy. These artists decided that the director should be considered the author of the film, controlling every aspect of it, and giving the work a personal mark. This idea was the auteur theory, and critic turned director François Truffaut was one of the formulators of this idea. He then decided to pick a camera and test out the idea.

As a result, The 400 Blows was created, still one of the best films concerning the life of an adolescent boy. Combining a sense of realism and naturalism, a mobile camera, and one of the finest last scenes in cinema history, this film help to start the influential French New Wave. Truffaut work in film was lifelong and resulted in such works as Day for Night, The Story of Adele H., and The Last Metro.


1. Citizen Kane (1941) by Orson Welles (Age: 26)


Orson Welles is inevitable for the number one spot on this list. Though not a box office hit, the film has been increasingly praised by critics since the time of its release and is often cited with the appellation of being the greatest film ever.

This was achieved by a 26 year old young man who had never directed or wrote a film before, and who was given full empowerment and authority in doing so at a time when that was far from the norm in the film industry. He took advantage of the opportunity as director, writer, producer, and lead actor.

This was one of the first pictures to open with just the main title at the beginning, the action opened in documentary fashion, the plot developed through many non-linear flashback, told from several vantage point by characters who visibly age during the proceedings, and, on the technical side of things, featured unconventional lighting, elaborate camera movements, extreme low angles, deep focus and an original score composed especially for the film.

Many of the film’s elements were ahead of their time. Orson Welles was touched by genius and if his other films, such as The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil and F for Fake, didn’t rise to the Citizen Kane’s level of artistry, then they still showed the traces of that genius.