The 20 Most Successful Directorial Debuts of All-Time

Directing a movie can be hard. You’re responsible for making money, making critics happy, and making sure your actors don’t die. Here are the best first films from the directors we’ve all come to know and love.

20
Deadpool (Tim Miller)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Rookie director Tim Miller blew box office expectations out of the water, which is amazing considering the fact $7 million was deducted from the budget last-minute.
19
12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Three major Oscar nods, a remake, and a general legacy of cinematic grandeur.
18
Airplane! (The Zucker Brothers)
MARK OF GREATNESS: It is perhaps the most quotable comedy in cinematic history.
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17
Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)
MARK OF GREATNESS: It does boast one of the finest movie trailers ever made.
16
Caddyshack (Harold Ramis)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Bill Murray, Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, a gopher... take your pick.
15
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Aside from the fact that it's considered the best movie ever made? Um, the funny hats, I guess.
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14
Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner)
MARK OF GREATNESS: A Best Picture Oscar and a 3D re-imagining in Na'vi form.
13
Eraserhead (David Lynch)
MARK OF GREATNESS: To this day, nobody has successfully figured out what the hell this movie is actually about.
12
The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Well, it spawned two sequels and a remake, didn't it?
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11
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling)
MARK OF GREATNESS: It's not exactly Dazed and Confused, but it did define the high school comedy for a while.
10
Grease (Randal Kleiser)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Ranking as the highest grossing directorial debut of all time with a $188M gross.
9
Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski)
MARK OF GREATNESS: A 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes!
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8
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
MARK OF GREATNESS: A permanent residence on AFI's Best Movie Quotes list with, "The stuff dreams are made of."
7
Mad Max (George Miller)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Two sequels, three developing revivals, and a Mel Gibson cool enough to make us forget what he did later.
6
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam)
MARK OF GREATNESS: It is the very best of the Monty Python movies... and that is saying quite a lot.
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5
The Producers (Mel Brooks)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Spawning a the most successful Broadway musical ever, and then a film remake (itself a directorial debut, but not a good one).
4
Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Well, it was good enough to inspire the character names in Breaking Bad.
3
Say Anything... (Cameron Crowe)
MARK OF GREATNESS: An essay by Chuck Klosterman about the evils of John Cusack... and yes, that damn stereo thing.
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2
Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks)
MARK OF GREATNESS: A record number of tears conjured by a single movie.
1
This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)
MARK OF GREATNESS: Its gift to the public lexicon of the phrase "up to 11."

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