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10 Directors Who Started Their Careers With a Masterpiece

12 August 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Vitor Guima

5. Andrei Tarkovsky: Ivan’s Childhood (1962)


When talking about Andrei Tarkovsky, it is necessary to state that the Soviet filmmaker has one of the most impeccable careers in the history of film. Here at Taste of Cinema, every time a writer ranks the filmography of a certain director, it is ranked from “worst to best.” Tarkovsky is the only filmmaker whose filmography was ranked from “great to greatest,” and this is only fair.

With seven feature films in his career, his first movie is a story about a 12-year-old boy who works as a spy during World War II. Being able to cross the enemy lines unnoticed, the movie is about his struggles during the war and the three Soviet officers who take care of him.

The beautiful photography and the setting of the horrors of World War II make this Tarkovsky debut one of the greatest films in his career, and shows many themes like humanism, transcendentality and existentialism that would be later explored again and again in the filmography of one of the best directors who ever lived.


4. Jean-Luc Godard: Breathless (1960)


Jean-Luc Godard is a man who understood film so well that he decided to change everything forever. Breaking many of the cinematic rules at the time – while creating new ones – this is definitely among the greatest directing accomplishments in film history.

Imagine you’re someone in 1960 watching “Breathless” for the first time. The way this film was shot leaves only two alternatives: This is a man who does not know how to film, or someone who knows so well that he just decided to blow up every rule. It is not hard to notice that the second option is the right one.

With frenetic editing, jump cuts, and different shots/counter-shots than usual, Godard’s directorial debut was recognized with the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 10th Berlin Film Festival in 1960, which shows how ahead of its time this festival was.

Changing cinema forever is surely enough for this to be considered a masterpiece, right?


3. François Truffaut: The 400 Blows (1959)

Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows

Another landmark in film, and the first considered piece of the Nouvelle Vague, one of the most important film movements in history, “The 400 Blows” is the first feature film from acclaimed director François Truffaut.

Following the story of an unhappy kid with troubled behaviour living a poor life in an misfortunate family, “The 400 Blows” is a film about how a lack of opportunities and a deconstructed family environment can have complicated consequences.

Being something of an autobiographical story written by Truffaut with a great performance by a very young Jean-Pierre Léaud, one of the icons of French cinema, “The 400 Blows” is a mandatory movie for any cinephile and one of the greatest career debuts in film history.


2. Sidney Lumet: 12 Angry Men (1957)

One of the most underrated filmmakers in the history of Hollywood, Sidney Lumet started his career directing plays and after became a very prolific TV director before switching to film. In his debut, “12 Angry Men”, we can see a lot of how his experience in both stage and television were transferred to the big screen.

With a lot of close-up shots, a brilliant theatrical staging that takes place in basically a single room and great performances by the twelve actors portraying this angry men trying to solve a crime, “12 Angry Men” is Sidney Lumet’s masterpiece. And it’s especially stunning that it was his debut in film.

After that, Lumet had many other iconic movies in his filmography, including the brilliant “Network”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Serpico”, and many others. Through his 50 year career, he marked his name in the history of American cinema. Although he unfairly never won an Oscar, he was finally recognized by the Academy with an Honorary Oscar in 2005, six years before his death.


1. Orson Welles: Citizen Kane (1941)


This is probably the best debut in cinema history. Often considered the best movie ever made, “Citizen Kane” follows the story of a group of journalists trying to figure out the last words spoken by publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane after his death.

With a low budget but many creative choices that made it look visually brilliant, “Citizen Kane” is a filmmaking lesson of how to bend and change the rules in cinema. From shots where the darkness occupies the settings to the blurry storyline and main character’s arc, this is a movie that changed film forever.

Being the greatest achievement in Welles’ career and obfuscating most of his following works that might have been closer to the brilliancy of his debut film than the audience and critics recognized, “Citizen Kane” is one of the greatest movies ever made and should definitely be number one on this list.

Honorable Mention:

– Jean Vigo: L’Atalante (1934)
– Robert Bresson: Angels of Sin (1943)
– Jan Svankmajer: Alice (1987)
– Satyajit Ray: Pather Panchali (1955)
– Mario Peixoto: Limite (1931)
– Sergei M. Eisenstein: Strike (1925)
– Mike Nichols: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
– Alain Resnais: Hiroshima Mou Amour
– Rogério Sganzerla: The Red Light Bandit (1968)
– Jim Jarmusch: Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
– Charlie Kaufman: Synecdoche, New York (2008)
– Luis Buñuel: The Golden Age (1930)

Author bio: Vítor Guima is a filmmaker, writer and musician from São Paulo, Brazil. Every day he watches a movie, reads a few pages from a book, listens to an album and freaks out with the feeling of not having enough time to see everything. You can follow him on Instagram on @ovitorguima.



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  • Sam Mendes – American Beauty

    • Mortimer

      American Beauty is good movie but I think it didn’t age particularly well. Just my opinion though.

      • Kosta Jovanovic

        I’ve seen that said a lot, can you tell me in what it did not age well, I’m really curious, because I haven’t seen anything dated when I watched it

      • I actually think that it aging has made it all the more enjoyable. It’s like a time capsule, but at the same time it has themes that are resonant today.

  • Zwei

    Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – The Lives of Others

    • CatKitten Amy

      And his only great film to date

  • Тутарков Дамјан

    Quentin Tarantino: Reservoir Dogs

    • CatKitten Amy

      I know this site hate Tarantino…but his debut is masterpiece and game changing.
      Honorable Mention :
      Martin Scorsese
      Coen Brothers
      Dardenne Brother
      Billy Wilder
      Ang Lee
      Alexander Payne

      • Marvin Staal

        people hate tarantino? why?

        • bd

          See my reply to the other person ITT

      • The Boss

        People hate Tarantino?
        Since when?

        • bd

          There’s quite a few of the more notable critics who have proposed a lower standard in Tarantino’s 21st century work, particularly post-Kill Bill Vol. 2. With the exception of Inglorious Basterds, his other films have been labeled as increasingly redundant (i.e., repeating himself too much textually), and their arguments are somewhat justifiable. The most blatant offense to that claim being Hateful Eight, which ended his de facto “period piece revenge” trilogy on a flat note — it’s an exciting roller coaster of a film to watch and is wonderfully written in the superficial sense, but the film is plainly just a story void of Tarantino’s usual subtext and thematic flare. A lot of people have read the film as an exercise in controversy for controversy’s sake, and again, that argument is somewhat justifiable.

          I’ll still go watch his movies multiple times whenever new ones release — which is more than I can say for Nolan at this point — but I really think Tarantino would benefit from taking a nice sabbatical in order to reinvent himself and subvert the style that he’s beaten to death for over two decades now.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    I think it’s long passed time that Ridley Scott’s debut, The Duelists, got a critical reappraisal.

  • oscarstan

    Amores Perros sucks.

    • The Boss

      Alright mate, lets take it further than the one-line-grenade you just threw in the kitchen. Why does it suck so badly for you?

      • oscarstan

        I think it’s one-third of a good movie.

  • Lucas Carvalho

    ”Honorable Mention: Damien Chazelle: Whiplash (2014)” do you fucking research before posting shit. Damian debut was Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench((2009) and why the fuck is The Night of the Hunter here ? sure is an masterpiece but was Laughton ONLY film.

    • Teodoro Medeiros

      Why the profanity?
      Also, if “the Night of the Hunter” was a sole film, does it not still qualify as a debut?
      Also, and again, why the profanity? Does that help anyone build a coherent thought?

    • Arshad Khan

      Whiplash is a pretentious overrated melodrama.

      • wow, leave this place now, you know nothing

      • bd

        I wouldn’t say “pretentious” but it’s def overrated. It’s a slightly above average melodrama that’s worth watching at least once. I’ve seen it several times and it still escapes me how much praise it gets. Chazelle got a decent start with Whiplash, but he definitely blossomed with La La Land.

      • The Boss

        Ok, what was pretentious about Whiplash?

      • The Boss

        By pretentious, by any chance did you mean Prodigalintitious or pordentitious or proteantitious? Just asking.

  • Begoña F Martin

    This is not objective. Most directors actually debuted with a short film (ie, Whiplash), so it’s not accurate saying that they debuted with a masterpiece. Maybe so whenever they moved to feature length movies, but yeah. Misleading title.

  • Michel Duthin

    Steven Spielberg : Duel

  • Ratcatcher by Lynne Ramsay, The Virgin Suicides by Sofia Coppola. Red Road by Andrea Arnold, & Walking & Talking by Nicole Holofcener.

    • Bergkamp

      What are your 3 favorite films from Lars Von triers? I’m just looking for a recommendation.

  • Abhishek

    Where is Satyajit Ray?

  • Kosta Jovanovic

    Ray, I think, should replace Laughton, hunter is great, but it is his sole film, pather paved the way for one of the most impressive careers in movie history

  • Bumdog Torres

    Mike Nichols “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf”.

  • Andrey Koshmar

    George A. Romero, Sam Raimi, Wes Craven

  • Muhammad Berlian

    Where is The Seventh Continent by Michael Haneke?