10 Outstanding Directing Debuts: Jordan’s Take

"Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders... and another one in a dish on his desk" Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator

“Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders… and another one in a dish on his desk” Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator

By Jordan

When contemplating the finest directorial debuts of all time, too often do the obvious choices come to mind. Citizen Kane (Orson Wells – 1941), Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino – 1992), Badlands (Terrence Malick – 1973), Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero – 1968) and The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton – 1955) are all highly regarded and worthy inclusions, with the latter 3 being among my favourite films of all time, but when every list begins to look the same it’s apparent its time to begin looking slightly outside the box.

So, here are 10 debuts that I believe are equally relevant in their respective genres or eras, while also being outstanding films:

10. Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper guaranteed his legend with his classic Easy Rider

Directed by Dennis Hopper

Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson

Easy Rider has instilled itself in the subconscious of all American film fans, as well as possibly more American people in general than who would realize. Powerful whilst still boasting both care-free and experimental flourishes throughout, the great Dennis Hopper kicked off his sadly unsuccessful career as director in the best, most unexpected way possible.

A sign of things to come? Not as director. The Last Movie (1971) is viewed by many as one of cinema’s greatest egotistical disasters, and while Colors (1988) is solid, the Late acting legend will forever be remembered for his captivating work in front of the camera, not behind it.

9. Repo Man (1984)

Repo Man

Emilio Estevez is the Repo Man

Directed by Alex Cox

Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter

Repo Man is one of my favorite movies. Gritty, colorful, funny and dripping with cult atmosphere and a plethora of random occurrences, Alex Cox burst onto the scene clearly with the mindset that his first film may well be his last, and offered Emilio Estevez his best ever role and Harry Dean Stanton the opportunity to further his legend.

A sign of things to come? No. Unfortunately the films he has directed since aren’t even worth a mention.

8. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket movie

Owen and Luke Wilson shine in Wes Anderson’s charming debut feature

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Ned Dowd

A low key and genuinely quirky sense of humor pervades the entirety of the underrated Bottle Rocket; a crime caper that introduced the world not only to the talent of Wes Anderson, but also the brothers Owen.

A sign of things to come? Yes. Anderson has become the favorite film-maker of many, with Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel among many films that have endeared themselves to a large audience.

7. Hoosiers (1986)

Hoosiers

Hoosiers provided Gene Hackman with one of his most memorable performances

Directed by David Anspaugh

Starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper

Having worked quite prolifically in television previously, Anspaugh showed a natural talent in directing features with the inspirational college basketball classic Hoosiers. Garnering Dennis Hopper his only Acadamy Award nomination, and now revered as one of the greatest sports films of all time, Hoosiers is a timeless experience that teaches determination and overcoming.

A sign of things to come? Kind of… Rudy (1993) and The Game of Their Lives (2005) are fine sports films, but not exactly game changers.

6. Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator

Jeffrey Combs shines in Gordon’s horror classic

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton

Re-Animator deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Return of the Living Dead and Evil Dead II as one of the best humorous horror flicks of the excessive 80’s. Splattered with inventive and excessive gore, driven by the mesmerizing stare of Jeffrey Combs and crafted impeccably by the sure hands of the great goatee wearing Stuart Gordon, it is a hugely influential movie that demands rediscovery by all eager cult film fans who might have missed it.

A sign of things to come? A resounding YES. Gordon would go on to adapt other H.P. Lovecraft tales From Beyond and Dagon (both terrific films), as well as tackle Edgar Allen Poe with his feature The Pit and the Pendulum and Masters of Horror episode The Black Cat.

5. District 9 (2009)

A "Prawn" is confronted in District 9

A “Prawn” is confronted in District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Starring Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope

High concepts and directing debuts don’t normally go hand in hand, but with a stumbling Government Agent and an Alien race of nimble prawns, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, produced by Peter Jackson, kicked this expectation in the face and delivered a shot of adrenaline to a lethargic genre.

A sign of things to come? Yes. The effective handling of a bigger budget in Elysium, coupled with the energy of Chappie shows that South African prodigy will have a lengthy and impressive career.

4. The Evil Dead (1981)

Bruce Campbell The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead introduced the world to Bruce Campbell, and the world would never be the same

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor

The Evil Dead is many things: uncompromising, surprising, terrifying, ground-breaking and hugely entertaining. With more flowing blood and squirm inducing jolts of gore than you can shake a severed Deadite limb at, it found its way to the hearts of horror hounds as quickly as it did the UK Video Nasties list, and kick-started the careers of best buds and iconic industry figures Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.

A sign of things to come? Yes. Raimi invented the, well, Raimi-Cam that presents the hectic action on screen in an energetic manner, used to great effect in the later Evil Dead films, as well as the fun Darkman, the Spider-Man trilogy and his return to horror Drag me to Hell.

3. Withnail & I (1986)

Withnail & I

“Quickly, kill it before it stars trying to be friends with us”

Directed by Bruce Robinson

Starring Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths

Bruce Robinson’s Withnail & I is the envy of all cult comedies, being quite simply one of the most relentlessly funny ever made. Richard E. Grant produced the performance of a lifetime as the constantly intoxicated Withnail, an out of work actor who must drag all those around him into his hopeless squalor, and Paul McGann is nearly as good as his unfortunate friend, who must keep the hopelessly tragic Uncle Monty at bay while on a holiday pulled straight from the deepest recesses of a city slackers nightmare.

It’s also worth noting, of course, that such is my love for this film the image of Withnail and Marwood has been the icon/avatar of this blog from its creation onwards.

A sign of things to come? Kind of… he has a total of 4 films to his name, including this, but in his defense he certainly has employed a quality over quantity mantra with How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) actually being quite extraordinary.

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead

Its impossible not to laugh in Shaun of the Dead

Directed by Edgar Wright

Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield

If Spaced, the pop-culture riffing Channel 4 comedy series about nothing in particular, was the entree dish for what Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost could achieve together, the Shaun of the Dead was the nostalgia driven main course. Every horror comedy since has been compared with it, but none have really come close, after all, none others have their protagonists playing Time Splitters 2 or using selected vinyls to imbed in the heads of the undead.

A sign of things to come? A reluctant yes. His audience has, and will stand firm, but Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim and The World’s End represent a downward trend, not an upward one.

1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ending

Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is widely considered one of the best horror films of all time

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Starring Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger

Not many films throughout cinematic history can claim to have the level of impact that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre enjoyed, traumatizing it’s audience with a group of hideous, villainous monsters who leave an unsuspecting group of teenagers little chance of survival in rural American indeed. The image of Leatherface swinging his chainsaw wildly in front of a rising sun at the film’s end signaled in the arrival of an enduring franchise, and a creative film-maker.

A sign of things to come? Yes. Hooper has had his failings, but still doesn’t get the credit he deserves, having helmed plenty more genre gems in Eaten Alive, Poltergeist, Lifeforce and Toolbox Murders.

Honerable Mentions:

Frailty (2001), Chopper (2000), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Toy Story (1995), This is Spinal Tap (1984), Clerks (1994)

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27 responses to “10 Outstanding Directing Debuts: Jordan’s Take

  1. Hi Jordan – great list but Alex Cox? His films since Repo Man “aren’t worth a mention”? What about Sid and Nancy, or Three Businessmen? Sorry, really can’t agree with you on that one.

    • Hey mate, yeah I was probably a tad harsh there… it’s just that nothing could come close to matching Repo for me. And then there was Repo Chick… ha. But yeah he did certainly go on to show more talent.
      Jordan

  2. Completely agree with Neill Blomkamp being on this list. If he wasn’t I would be asking why he wasn’t. District 9 is still amazing today as it was when I first saw it. I now regularly check on how Blomkamp’s career is processing and look out for his next film.

  3. Alex Cox did have “Sid & Nancy” in 1986, which was often watched during my youth (haven’t seen it in quite a few years). I’d add (at least as an honorable mention) Peter Jackson’s “Bad Taste.” “Hot Fuzz” is not as good as “Shaun” (but still a good movie). I’d probably put “Scott Pilgrim” very close to being as good as “Shaun.”

    • Yeah I always enjoy re-watching Bad Taste! Still haven’t seen it anywhere near enough times as Dead Alive, but find it an absolute blast.. I actually really did consider it for this list.
      To me Shaun felt effortless.. not unlike the best episodes of Spaced, whereas his films since seem to be stamped too clearly with the “Wright” brand. I felt really let down by The World’s End, but know that with his undeniable and raw talent he’ll knock it out of the park again for me soon.
      Jordan

  4. Withnail and I is so singular it would be a one off even if the director went onto a career like Scorsese’s.

    But if you have to isolate what makes it so great it’s the way it turns horrible things (gay sexual harassment, unemployment, alcoholism, gay bashing, poverty, dirt, filth) into hilarity.

    Every time I think I’m too miserable to go on I remember how this film transformed misery into comic gold.

    • That’s right.. whenever you feel down in the dumps, just be glad you’ve not “gone on holiday by mistake” with Withnail in the depressing, damp countryside.
      It’s one of those rare films I could actually watch every day – every inch of the screen is filled with such grimy detail.
      Jordan

  5. Pingback: 10 Outstanding Directing Debuts: Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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