Don’t Worry Darling has just recently been released, but it hasn’t gotten the best reception, as critics have called it predictable and criticized Harry Styles’ acting. That comes as a disappointment to many who loved director Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, 2019’s Booksmart. While Wilde is just two movies into her directing career and the jury’s still out, it’s looking unlikely that she’ll repeat the success of the 2019 indie darling.
However, tons of other directors’ best movies remain their first works too. And whether their filmographies are great but their directorial debut is untouchable, or their debuts were total flukes, Redditors have some strong opinions about these mostly successful filmmakers.
10/10 Orson Welles
Professor_Superman thinks Orson Welles’ first movie, Citizen Kane, is the director’s best. The Redditor comments, “Was watching Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, thinking how tragic that his first film was his best. He never got the same kind of resources and the same level of control to surpass his success with Citizen Kane.”
While it would have eventually been achieved by some other filmmaker, Welles is singlehandedly responsible for contemporary cinema as people know it today. Whether it’s non-linear storytelling, deep-focus cinematography, or anything else, the 1941 movie started it all. However, Welles still released some incredible films following Citizen Kane, many of which some fans would call better than the influential release, such as Othello and Touch of Evil.
9/10 Neill Blomkamp
MN-Warrior refers to Neill Blomkamp, who has directed several blockbuster movies, but none have landed with audiences as well as his directorial debut. The Redditor notes, “District 9 – Nominated for 4 Acadamy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Hasn’t even come close to replicating his success.”
The sci-fi movie is especially impressive considering that it was based on the short film Alive in Joburg, which was already an accomplished sci-fi flick that also serves as a fascinating social commentary. In the time since, Blomkamp has directed Elysium and Chappie, which have failed to capture the same magic. However, as the filmmaker is now attached to the video game adaptation Gran Turismo, with his knowledge of special effects, it could be a surprise hit.
8/10 John Singleton
As the 1990s were filled with filmmaking wunderkinder such as Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, John Singleton unfairly doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath. ThrowerWayACount comments, “John Singleton debuted with Boyz n the Hood, only aged 23 years old. Really incredible stuff.”
Singleton had directed other riveting dramas and a couple of massively entertaining franchise films since 1991, including 2 Fast 2 Furious. And while the street racing sequel was panned by critics and is completely different from the high-octane franchise that it has become, the 2003 movie has a huge cult following. However, while both his dramatic movies and popcorn flicks are fun and engaging, none of them quite measure up to the eye-opening 1991 drama.
7/10 Tony Gilroy
Simony1922 think’s Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy’s first directed film, is by far his best. However, there isn’t a huge filmography that fans can judge him on, as he has only directed two movies so far with the other being The Bourne Legacy. And as he is more of a writer than a director, Michael Clayton is in no way the best based on his writing portfolio, which includes The Devil’s Advocate, most of the Bourne movies, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
It’s also heavily rumored that he ghost-directed Rogue One, adding the best parts of the film, including the iconic Vader hallway scene at the end. And he’s now the showrunner of the Disney+ Star Wars series, Andor, which is being praised to no end and has gotten an even better reception than The Mandalorian. So, in fairness, the jury’s certainly still out on whether or not Michael Clayton is Gilroy’s best movie.
6/10 Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith made a huge splash in 1994 with his micro-budget directorial debut, Clerks, which was made with just $17,000, and PicanteLive thinks Smith hasn’t made anything better since. The film is one of the funniest comedies of the 1990s, and with just a few exceptions, all of Smith’s other efforts have been based on characters from the cult hit.
While the filmmaker’s ventures into other genres such as Red State were surprisingly well-made, nothing compares to his films set in the “ViewAskewniverse,” which started with Clerks. And as Clerks III has just been released, so many shots are identical to the original film, just adding to the fact that it’s capitalizing on fans’ nostalgia for the classic.
5/10 Rian Johnson
Doubly_Curious argues that Brick, the 2005 teen crime drama, is easily Rian Johnson’s best movie. This is something of a hot take, as Johnson most recently released Knives Out, a movie that completely changed the rules of what a murder mystery movie could be.
With fans eagerly anticipating Knives Out 2, which some critics who saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival thought was better than the original, Brick doesn’t come close to being the obvious crown jewel in Johnson’s filmography. But the Redditor argues, “I liked Knives Out (and Brothers Bloom, actually,) but his first is still absolutely my favorite. It felt like something really special.”
4/10 Richard Kelly
CrasherKid79 points to one of the most obvious examples of a director’s debut being their best, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. The Redditor states, “Donnie Darko is in my top three films ever. Had such high hopes for Richard Kelly after that… oh, well.” The director doesn’t have a single movie that’s a clear second best, as all of his following movies have been slammed by critics.
Kelly is largely considered a one-hit-wonder director, though there are a few who will vouch for the bizarre Southland Tales. As Kelly hasn’t found success outside of the teen sci-fi movie, he is unsurprisingly developing a sequel to the beloved cult hit, but that risks the film’s legacy getting tarnished, and some things are better left alone.
3/10 Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder is such a polarizing director, and most film buffs either love him or hate him. But while he has recently gotten tons of acclaim for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Reddit user FilmFifty2 thinks Snyder’s best movie is easily his first. The filmmaker’s first movie was the horror remake Dawn of the Dead, which established his style-over-substance and heavy CGI style.
The Redditor notes, “The Dawn of the Dead remake is a genuinely good movie and a great remake.” In fairness, Dawn of the Dead is one of the most rewatchable Zack Snyder movies, but it might be his all-around best movie simply because it didn’t have that big of a fanbase for him to divide.
2/10 Sidney Lumet
MarkOfTheDragon12 calls 12 Angry Men Sidney Lumet’s best film. There’s no doubt that the courtroom drama is one of the best of all time, but there isn’t a clear winner when it comes to Lumet’s movies. There is no director more prolific than Sidney Lumet, and even Steven Spielberg releasing movies almost every year is child’s play to Lumet.
The filmmaker directed 36 movies in 33 years, but it was now way quantity over quality. Lumet directed countless classics, and he seemingly only got better with age. While 12 Angry Men was released in the late-50s, the 1970s saw the director release the classic dramas Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network, and that was all within four years with other films in between them.
1/10 Andrew Niccol
Andrew Niccol isn’t a director whose work can be easily remembered without looking it up, as he generally releases satisfactory sci-fi movies that help fill the gaps between the next Interstellar, Arrival, or other epic sci-fi releases. And that’s clear from the way GoblinElevator119 phrases his opinion of the director.
The Redditor posits, “Guy who made Gattaca has been all downhill from there.” However, that isn’t giving Niccol all the credit he deserves, as his movies such as Lord of War and In Time were still entertaining, and he wrote The Truman Show, which is one of the smarted dramedies of the 1990s. However, even though Gattaca isn’t exactly considered a work of art, it has become a cult classic, and he hasn’t made anything like it since.