10 Surprisingly Good First Movies of The 21st Century

6. Nightcrawler (2014)


Speaking of Gilroys, brother of Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy made his directorial debut in 2014 with Nightcrawler. Before becoming a director, Gilroy worked mostly as a screenwriter, including co-writing The Bourne Legacy with his brother Tony.

Nightcrawler is a neo-noir thriller film. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom – a stringer who stumbles into a new career as a cameraman who records shocking and violent crimes late at night in Los Angeles. He comes to the attention of a news director who is looking for a chance to boost her station’s ratings, which pushes Louis to go to extreme lengths to get the best shots.

Nightcrawler premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and was a commercial and critical success. It made $50.3 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of $8.5 million. It received critical acclaim from many critics and was nominated for several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay at the 87th Academy Awards. Gilroy was inspired to write Nightcrawler after reading the book Naked City. He spent many years trying to tighten the plot and get it right.

Since Nightcrawler, Gilroy has gone on to direct Roman J. Israel, Esq. and upcoming horror thriller film Velvet Buzzsaw. He also co-wrote Kong: Skull Island with Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly.


7. Son of Saul (2015)

Hungarian drama film Son of Saul is the directorial debut film of Laszlo Nemes, which he also co-wrote with Clara Royer. The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it was met with critical acclaim and won the Grand Prix.

Son of Saul also received positive reviews from the majority of critics. It was also nominated for, and won many awards at various festivals. Son of Saul was nominated at the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film which it went on to win, making it the second ever Hungarian film to win the award. Commercially, the film made $9.7 million against a budget of $1.7 million.

The film takes place in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War and follows a day and a half in the life of Saul, a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando. Saul is tasked with burning the dead. One day he finds the body of his young son and must decide whether to secure a proper burial for his child or to take part in an uprising being planned by the prisoners.

Nemes’ next directorial project is upcoming Hungarian film Sunset. It will screen at the 75th Venice International Film Festival and the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. As with Son of Saul, Nemes also co-wrote the film.


8. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of The Southern Wild (2012)

Benjamin “Behn” Zeitlin’s feature length directorial debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was adapted from Lucy Alibar’s one act play Juicy and Delicious. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize.

Beasts of the Southern Wild went on to win dozens of awards including the Camera d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for four Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

The film follows a bayou community who are cut off from the rest of the world. Six year old Hushpuppy exists on the brink of orphan hood. Using her extraordinary imagination, Hushpuppy believes that the natural order is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to restore the world she knows and to save her ailing father, she must overcome great struggles and catastrophes.

Zeitlin has kept a low profile since the massive success of his debut, and has been all but off the grid. In 2015, there were rumours that he was shooting his follow up to Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy. However it wasn’t until 2017 that on set pictures emerged of the film. Wendy now looks set to be released in 2019, and already has buzz surrounding it as audiences eagerly wait to see what Zeitlin does next.


9. Donnie Darko (2001)


Director Richard Kelly had previously directed short films before taking on Donnie Darko, his feature length debut. Donnie Darko had a disappointing performance at the box office earning $7.5 million against its $4.5 million budget, and was considered a flop. However it received critical acclaim and has gone on to attract a cult following. It also won over twenty awards at various festivals and frequently features on critics’ best of lists.

The film follows the titular character as he tries to deal with his doomsday related visions. One night Donnie sees a giant demonic rabbit named Frank who tells him that the world will end in twenty-eight days. After this, Donnie returns home to find that a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. Now Donnie must try and work out what is real and what isn’t, and whether the world is really ending.

Kelly is probably still best known for Donnie Darko, although he has gone on to write and direct several other projects. In 2009, a sequel to Donnie Darko, called S. Darko, was released. It was critically panned and fans of the original were incensed with Kelly.

However Kelly has spoken out strongly against the film saying, “I had nothing to do with it. And I hate when people try and blame me or hold me responsible for it because I had no involvement. I don’t control the underlying rights. I had to relinquish them when I was 24 years old. I hate when people ask me about that because I’ve never seen it and I never will.”


10. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Michelle Monaghan in Gone Baby Gone

First time director Ben Affleck was already well known to audiences when he debuted his feature length film Gone Baby Gone. Affleck also co-wrote the film, along with Aaron Stoppard, which is based the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. The film only grossed $34.6 million against its budget of $19 million, however it was well received by critics and Affleck was lauded for his directorial debut. Gone Baby Gone went on to win a number of accolades.

The film is set in a tough Boston suburb where a young girl has been kidnapped. Private detective Patrick Kenzie is hired by the girl’s aunt to find her because he has criminal connections that the police do not. Along with his partner Angie Gennaro they begin their investigation, where they uncover a much deeper web of corruption then they could have imagined. Soon they are faced with impossible and life changing choices.

After the positive reception of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has gone to direct a number of successful films including Academy Award Best Picture winner Argo. Although Affleck’s next directing project is yet to be officially announced, he is rumoured to be directing and starring in a remake of the courthouse drama Witness for the Prosecution.