The 10 Best Directorial Debuts of the Past 5 Years

5. Tyrannosaur (2011, Paddy Considine)


Featuring stellar performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, as Joseph and Hannah respectively, Tyrannosaur is an uncompromising drama film about two people from opposite social classes who discover that they face similar demons. The film is an expansion of director Paddy Considine’s first short film called Dog Altogether, where Mullan and Colman played the same roles.

Tyrannosaur’s key to success is that it does not coddle the audience with exposition. It lets the audience discover these characters as Joseph and Hannah discover each other, the most relatable element of this being that we all know what it’s like to talk to strangers, and learn that they have depth and grit. Although we may walk different paths, Tyrannosaur is determined to remind us that we are all coping with the experience of being human.

Olivia Colman had previously only appeared in British comedy series such as Peep Show, Green Wing, and That Mitchell and Webb Look. Tyrannosaur saw her transition to a drama role with high acclaim. When she did not receive a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress, there was global trending of both Colman and Tyrannosaur on Twitter.

Considine got his start in acting, some of his most notable roles being in Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), both a part of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Aside from a £206,540 grant from the National Lottery fund through the UK Film Council, most of the film’s budget came from a variety of production companies, including Warp X and StudioCanal


4. Submarine (2010, Richard Ayoade)

Submarine (2010)

Richard Ayoade, of IT Crowd fame, made his directorial debut with Submarine, a charming coming-of-age comedy about a young boy who just wants to lose his virginity. Based on the book of the same name, Submarine manages to touch upon darker themes than most coming-of-age films, while also remaining light-hearted and fun.

Many coming-of-age films suffer from being by-the-numbers accounts. They cover the same territory – discovering love/sex, realizing parents are fallible, dealing with mortality, but there’s no voice behind it. What Ayoade succeeds most at with Submarine is establishing a concrete voice. Protagonist Oliver Tate narrates his tale with a charismatic, self-aware humor.

Red Hour Films, Ben Stiller’s production company, produced the film. Stiller expressed a confidence in Ayoade’s sensibilities after reading the script, and watching Ayoade’s work in music videos. Stiller and Ayoade later co-starred in The Watch (2012) together. Ayoade has gone on to direct The Double (2014), a black comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.

Fun Fact: Paddy Considine, who is on this list for directing Tyrannosaur, plays an ex-boyfriend of Oliver Tate’s mom in Submarine.


3. Beasts of The Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin)

Beasts of The Southern Wild (2012)

Few films can instill such reckless abandon as Beasts of the Southern Wild. Benh Zeitlin’s first feature tells the fantastical story of Hushpuppy and her father Wink, played by Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry respectively. Wink and Hushpuppy live in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community. Hushpuppy’s naivete and child-like hope are questioned when Wink falls ill and a storm threatens her community.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a victorious poem to childhood and innocence. Like Submarine, it deals with similar topics as other coming-of-age films, but Zeitlin’s distinctive lens is what sets it apart from everything else. There is a harmony in the film, as it dances between an awe-inspiring parable and a bitter pill of reality. It shows a grasp of vision that few other first-time directors show.

The film has been met with both high praise and harsh criticism. Most commend Zeitlin’s direction and empathy but some claim that Wink and Hushpuppy are racist caricatures, drawing upon depictions from slavery. Despite criticisms, the film performed well, earning several times its budget back, along with awards from the Academy and Cannes. At age nine, Wallis became the youngest Best Actress nominee in history.


2. Mary And Max (2009, Adam Elliot)


Mary and Max is a stop motion film that tells the poignant story of two unlikely pen pals, and how their letters affect each other’s lives. It is a tale that celebrates life and details how friendship can help one through the darkest of times. Likewise, the film itself is a testament to dedication, having taken over five years to complete.

Elliot fills his characters with magnificent quirks, such as Max’s affinity for chocolate covered hot dogs, or Mary’s love for condensed milk. It gives the claymation world an original voice that is uniquely Elliot’s. As Mary and Max grow older, they write to each other about their feelings of neglect, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Somehow, Elliot is able to maintain a balance of emotion throughout due to the courageous honesty of his characters.

Although Mary and Max is Adam Elliot’s first feature, he achieved recognition through his earlier trilogy of shorts, all of which were also stop motion. Elliot has dubbed his films as Clayographies, or clay animated biographies, since they are all embellished stories from his life. For Mary and Max, he claims the story comes from a pen pal in New York who he’d been writing to for over twenty years.

A notable aspect of Elliot’s style is that he refuses to use digital additions or computer generated images to enhance his aesthetic, despite some of the economic pressures he’s faced. Elliot was born with a physiological tremor, but he has incorporated this in developing the character models, intentionally displaying uneven lines and faults. He considers himself an auteur filmmaker, with each of his films featuring a bittersweet nature and a pervasive, dry sense of humor.


1. Nothing Bad Can Happen (2014, Katrin Gebbe)

Nothing Bad Can Happen

Nobody does grim and unrelenting horror quite like the Germans. Katrin Gebbe’s Nothing Bad Can Happen (with the German title Tore Tanzt) is certainly no exception. Set in Hamburg, Nothing Bad Can Happen tells the story of Jesus freak Tore, an orphan who joins with a family after fixing their car via divine intervention. Benno, the father of the family, seeks to test Tore’s beliefs to the very limit, with increasing violence and psychological torture.

Inspired by true events, Katrin Gebbe felt compelled to tell the story after hearing about it on the news. Her dark provocative take on the tale has been compared with the controversial films of Lars von Trier. In many ways, Gebbe’s film feels like a mirror to von Trier’s “Golden Heart Trilogy,” featuring themes of martyrdom and violence.

What really sets this film apart is the unity of all of Gebbe’s choices. The score is haunting; featuring motifs that grow more somber each time Tore faces a new tribulation. The raw performances of Julius Felmeier as Tore and of Sascha Alexander Gersak as Benno ground the characters as two opposing forces bent on making an example of the other.

With only a single short behind her belt before this film, Gebbe’s debut feature remains both impressive and gut wrenching. It has been a controversial film, inspiring boos and cheers out of its audience, but never apathy. Do not let the claim that this is a disturbing film deter you – Nothing Bad Can Happen is a film not to be missed. It is also the first female-directed film to be bought by distribution company Drafthouse Films.

Author Bio: Ethan Levinskas is a writer living in North Hollywood where he enjoys a consistent diet of oven baked pizzas and blessing each slice with his shameless tears. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Art + Science (yes, that is the degree name) at Columbia College Chicago with a focus in screenwriting. His goal is to one day have people enjoy his stories from a reclined leather seat with a bag of overpriced popcorn in their hands.