One can learn a lot about a director based on his or her first feature film. Some directors were born into show business families, knew the right people, or had a lot of money so they got off to any easy start. Others were just really big movie buffs who made a series of lower budget films before actually getting recognized. Watching through some filmographies shows an obvious growth in skill and story telling from film to film, while others start strong and then slowly taper out.
The following is a list of the inaugural films of some of my favorites currently working in the industry.
1. Christopher Nolan – Following
Christopher Nolan is known for his non-linear storytelling and gripping mysteries, as seen in Memento, Inception, and Interstellar. Fittingly, his first feature was a neo-noir mystery about a writer who follows people around for research. One day, he is confronted by one of the men he is following. The man just so happens to be a thief and teaches the writer his trade. You can watch the film on Netflix instant. Additionally, Nolan’s first short film, Doodlebug, is up on YouTube.
2. Danny Boyle – Shallow Grave
Before Danny Boyle went on to direct films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours he started off in television, directing episodes of various series and making made for TV movies. His first feature was Shallow Grave in 1994. Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox, it’s the story of three roommates who find their new roommate dead. However, they also find that he is in possession of a large sum of cash. They decide to keep the money and hide the body, which leads to a series of unfortunate events.
3. Darren Aronofsky – Pi
Darren Aronofsky would go on to direct heart-wrenching character driven stories like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, but his first feature was the gritty, black and white Pi. Pi is the story of a super genius mathematician who is set on discovering the key to unlock the meaning behind all of existence by looking for a number that unlocks all universal patterns found in nature.
4. Edgar Wright – A Fistful of Fingers
Before going on to make Scott Pilgrim and the Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright made this spaghetti western parody. The title is clearly a play on Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and the film follows a cowboy seeking revenge on a man who killed his horse. After this film, Wright would go on to make the much beloved show Spaced with Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. And the rest, as they say, is history.
5. George Lucas – THX 1138
THX 1138 was George Lucas’ first feature film. It was based off of a short film he made while a student at USC, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB. Also, it was produced by Lucas’ mentor, Francis Ford Coppola. The film takes place in the dystopian future where commercialism runs all. People are created and controlled to create things to be consumed and to be consumers. That’s it. Their emotions are even controlled by a strict drug regime which if not followed, can lead to arrest and isolation. However, THX 1138 and LUH 3147 are determined to fight the system and be together, at any cost.
6. Joss Whedon – Serenity
It’s impossible to talk about Joss Whedon without mentioning his notable television career. And though he directed multiple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, Serenity was technically his first feature film. A continuation of the Firefly universe, Serenity follows the crew as they attempt to flee an assassin sent by the Alliance to kill River Tam.
7. Peter Jackson – Bad Taste
One of the greatest things about Peter Jackson is the diversity of his filmography. Aside from LOTR and The Hobbit, one of my favorite Jackson films is Heavenly Creatures, starring Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. But almost a decade before this, Jackson directed a film called Bad Taste. In fact, he didn’t just direct it, but produced, wrote, camera oped, edited, and created most of the effects. It’s about a group of aliens that invade a small town and turn its population into fast-food burgers. It’s hardly Lord of the Rings, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere. You can even watch the whole thing on YouTube.
8. Sofia Coppola – The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and The Virgin Suicides may be her best film to date. It’s the story of 5 teenage sisters who are incredibly sheltered by their strictly religious parents. The story is told through the point of view of the teenage boys who live across the street from them, wanting to save them from their inevitable fate.
9. Steven Spielberg – Firelight
Firelight was not only Steven Spielberg first feature, but it is known as being the original version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg was merely 18 years old when he premiered this film at a theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Unfortunately, most of the film is lost. All I was able to find online was this 4 minute YouTube clip.
10. Terry Gilliam – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I find it pretty incredible that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is Terry Gilliam’s directorial debut because this is such an iconic film. It’s a romp on the classic Knights of the Round Table and follows King Arthur and his men on a journey for the Holy Grail. The film is highly quotable, extremely rewatchable, and heavily referenced in pop culture and just day to day life really.
What are the first films of some of your favorite directors? Let us know in the comments below!