First impressions are just about everything when it comes down to everything in life, and film isn’t much different. While there are a slew of directors like Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and James Cameron that had less-than-memorable debuts, there are quite a few examples of directors busting down the doors of Hollywood with enough gusto to put their name on the star studded map of Tinsel Town. Most of these had a small budget with little fanfare when they came out, but at the end of the day, the entire cinematic world saw the cream rise to the top. These are some of my favorite debuts of all-time, and also some of the most impactful releases to shake the world of filmmaking to its core.
10. This Is Spinal Tap
Directed by Rob Reiner, 1984
Written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer & Rob Reiner
Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer & Rob Reiner
This is Spinal Tap is not just a monumental debut, its a historic comedic film that has transcended its own existence as it becomes part of the collective pop culture unconsciousness. The spoof on the documentary genre accompanied by a scathing series of jabs against the rock n’ roll lifestyle make it a must-see for any music or film fan. This is through and through one of the best comedies of all-time, paved the way for mockumentaries and it birthed the phrase “turn it up to 11”, so there is that. Rob Reiner has gone on to do bigger movies that are arguably more well-known to the public like When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men, but this cult favorite remains one of the most important music/comedy films to be made.
9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Directed by Adam McKay, 2004
Written by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carrell
Not to be outdone by the last entry on this list, Anchorman is an example of how a comedy can be more than a film and spawn an entire wave of love for its characters. Preceding the internet, most of this film has been meme’d to the point where it got a belated sequel almost a decade after its initial release. Will Ferrell has arguably never been more iconic than in this role, and its endless quotes from the ensemble cast of the likes of Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, David Koechner, Vince Vaughn, Chris Parnell, and the late Fred Willard make this a true gem of the goofy comedy genre that dominated the genre for the last 20 years. Also, lets have a quick shout out to Christina Applegate. Adam McKay is a seriously underrated talent behind the camera and perfectly juxtaposed the 1970s aesthetic with modern comedic delivery, something he would go on to perfect with films like The Other Guys, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights.
Directed by Christopher Nolan, 1998
Written by Christopher Nolan
Starring Jeremy Theobold, Alex Haw, and Lucy Russell
This black and white affair by the mind of Nolan has gone down as a sleeper hit for anyone searching Netflix for hidden treasures amongst the trove of content. Running at just under feature length at 69 minutes, this mind-bending tale shows two of the biggest traits of the now blockbuster director; his penchant for intricate storytelling and stylistic directing that plays with the audience expectation. Where the film lacks in scale and budget, it makes up for it with sharp dialogue and an ambitious plot twist that tugs at the cerebral cortex. The tale is just a taste of what the mastermind of mental mastery would go on to do with dramatic films like Memento and Inception, holds the suspension and thrilling action that would be showcased in The Dark Knight, The Prestige, and Tenet, and it stands alone is 69 of some of the most intriguing minutes ever filmed and edited for the screen.
Directed by Kevin Smith, 1994
Written by Kevin Smith
Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith
Upon the creation of this list, this writer did some research on some of the other lists that circulate the internet and none of them (as far as the amount of research that went into others) featured this View Askew trigger for a film universe that would go on to influence a generation of filmmakers, comic book readers, and regular ol’ working stiffs across the globe. Clerks is quirky, quick, intelligent, and irreverent towards all of the filmmaking norms that plagued the world at one time or another. Kevin Smith was inspired to go full on guerilla style with this independent production that would become the benchmark for anyone with a camera, script and friends to make a film with. Smith would go on to do other critically acclaimed films in Chasing Amy and Dogma, which were some of the most intelligent independent films/scripts to ever be developed, and the popularity of the characters Jay and Silent Bob cannot be understated. He also had a hand in making Ben Affleck the major star and Batman actor that he would go on to become. None of that would be possible without this brilliant work of art.
Directed by Larry Clark, 1995
Written by Harmony Korine
Starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce & Chloe Sevigny, & Rosario Dawson
Just as This is Spinal Tap became an integral pop culture staple of the rock n’ roll culture, Kids would go on to become a staple of the ever-growing and evolving brand of skate culture. This would supersede the actual sport of skating and become a cool sub culture of fashion (specifically the start up brand Supreme, which at the time was just founded and would go on to be a cornerstone of streetwear) along with pushing the voyeuristic style of filmmaking that the likes of Spike Jonze would go on to use to boost their careers. This movie is an unrelenting look at the adolescent youth stuck in poverty/recidivistic cycles of abuse and less-than-favorable life conditions. A skilled photographer of over 20 years at the time, Clark would go on to do similarly themed films in Bully and the heavily underrated Ken Park, but Kids remains one of the most influential films for the entire skating/streetwear community.
5. Get Out
Directed by Jordan Peele, 2017
Written by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rey Howery, and Catherine Ann Keeler
For years, Jordan Peele was strictly known as a comedic actor/writer especially for his work on Key & Peele, the popular sketch television series on Comedy Central that ran for 5 years. As an avid fan of the show, it was clear that they could venture out of the strictly goofy and into horror/drama/romantic elements as his co-star Kegan Michael Key and himself would go on to do elaborate skits that rivaled big-time Hollywood productions while maintaining the funny, light hearted script structure. Get Out wasn’t just a tour-de-force for newcomer Daniel Kaluuya, but it also proved to be one of the most thought provoking films that highlighted the undertones of racism in today’s America. Something that was still being grazed upon by the casual film fan at the time as it was prior to such dire events that would go on to politically shake the American audience to their core. Peele also bended genres and made one of the best horror films of the last 20 years with something that was not just scary, but eerily scientific with its fiction. As of now, he has only done the other horror film Us, which was similar in tone and execution but the buzz that Peele got from this film is just the beginning.
4. The Evil Dead
Directed by Sam Raimi, 1981
Written by Sam Raimi
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Betsy Baker
Before there was Spider-Man, there was The Evil Dead. This low-budget romp was straight from the mind of Raimi, who crafted a slew of brand new filming techniques and did not hesitate to go past the norms of the average independent film as he created this world that would still be remade/built upon as recently as 2018, and made Bruce Campbell a household name. To stand out in a generation that had classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street all come out in the span of 10 years and still stand out as one of the best despite the budgetary setbacks shows how innovative Sam Raimi was with what he had. Maintaining some of the most unique directing feats and crafty special effects, The Evil Dead is also an important film in the regard of how it influenced a generation of filmmakers and special effects artists. Raimi would go on to make other cult favorites like the sequels to this film The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, along with the movies Darkman and Drag Me To Hell but his work as the original Spider-Man director for the trilogy has landed him a job helming the newest Dr. Strange movie, which shows that the director is still coveted by major studios. And it all started with this indie horror flick.
3. Citizen Kane
Orson Welles, 1941
Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingmore and Everett Sloane
There is a reason why the phrase “this is the Citizen Kane of [insert name of genre/medium/culture” came to be and this film is far more than just a cinematic movement, its a culture reassignment. Orson Welles was a renaissance man of no limits that set out to make a political drama that changed the way that films were made and produced. From top to bottom, this movie has become a beacon of a changing tide in cinema as the artistry, framing, long-takes and serious satirically dramatic script has made this one of the most watched films in film classes all over the world. It also probably has the record for having some of the most parodies and His later films like The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey Into Fear might not have lit the world on fire like Citizen Kane has, but when it comes to changing the culture, there might not be a debut as significant as this one right here.
2. Reservoir Dogs
Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 1992
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Chris Penn
When it comes to bombastic film releases, Quentin Tarantino has transcended the title of “driven auteur” and is now up there with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg as one of the greatest cinema directors in the history of the medium. All of that started with this extremely low budget film that was mainly financed by Harvey Keitel as he backed the project after his wife was given the script. Largely influenced by a plethora of filmmakers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, QT was able to bend the genre of crime thriller and add in suspense, comedy, and horror elements that would become a trademark of his legendary repertoire. Movies like Django Unchained, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds would never have happened if it wasn’t for this who-dun-it that reportedly shook a lot of audience members upon their first viewing. Raw, sharp, and incredibly realistic for its quippy dialogue and less-than-common situations, Reservoir Dogs is an example of how to put yourself on the map with one hit.
1. Night of The Living Dead
Directed by George A. Romero, 1968
Written by John Russo & George A. Romero
Starring Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman & Karl Hardman
The granddaddy of not just the zombie sub genre, but modern horror as we know it. George Romero went as far as to take a sub class of horror villains and make them a household name and make them an entire genre on its own is just a taste of how powerful this piece of art would go on to be. While it would spawn his other films Dawn of The Dead and Day of the Dead (along with many others), Night of The Living Dead is a movie that represents so much more than how it depicts the thinly veiled representation of racism and distrust within humanity. This film is practically a modern-day fairy tale or myth, it is a tale that inspires generations and remains a staple of the upper-echelon of pop culture royalty. Night of The Living Dead was a technical marvel for its production, special effects, and usage of its limited budget towards to its advantage. This remains a meaningful film to many filmmakers, critics, casuals, horror fans, and zombie fans all over the world and it remains the best debut for any filmmaker in the history of movies.