Great Films from First-Time Directors


The work of a first time director can be promising or dreadfully misguided. Sometimes, a director’s first film represents a good start to a promising career and other times, we are left scratching our heads and wondering how he or she will ever work again? Every once in a while, though, a first time director blows us out of the water with something totally original, bold, and completely brilliant. 

It’s not very often that we are blown away as horror fans. We are a group that has seen everything the first time around and then seen it again when it was remade, so for us to be blown away, especially by a director making his or her feature film debut is exceptional and even a bit unusual. That’s not to say that it doesn’t ever happen, though. In fact, we have found ourselves completely blown away by first time directors several times. And to celebrate that raw, unadulterated talent, we are showcasing for you: five feature film directorial debuts that knocked our socks off!  


Based on his short film of the same name, Richard Bates Jr. came out of the gate swinging with his feature film debut Excision. I cannot find a single thing about this film to criticize. It’s one of the most brutal and intense films I’ve seen in some time but both the brutality (most of which occurs in fantasy) and the intensity are fully called for and not implemented in the name of shock value or in attempt to make the film appear artistic. Bates coaxed exceptional performances out of his entire cast: he led AnnaLynne McCord to deliver the performance of her career and he aided Traci Lords in turning in an absolutely phenomenal performance as well. The man simply shows directorial prowess far beyond his years. Bates has left me wanting, very much, to see just where his latest genre effort, Suburban Gothic will take us. My fingers are crossed that it will be just as brilliant as Excision. 

Trick ‘r Treat

Writer/Director Michael Dougherty struck gold with his first feature film. Trick ‘r Treat was an almost instantaneous cult classic and delighted horror fans by bringing a new Halloween tradition to the table. Dougherty didn’t just impress genre fans; he kind of blew us away. The manner by which he created an anthology film with a sometimes non-linear storytelling pattern and wrapped all of the vignettes around to intertwine was unlike anything I had personally seen done with an anthology horror film before. The performances from all of his leads were spot on and he crafted the perfect balance between legitimate and jump scares. Dougherty’s film still remains a major cult favorite and his directorial know how has even garnered the attention of mainstream movie folk; based on his track record, he has been tapped to write an upcoming installment in the X-Men franchise and, perhaps even more exciting: he will be writing and directing Trick ‘r Treat 2


With Saw, Co-writer/director James Wan proved what one could do with a fairly meager budget and a great deal of talent. In his feature film directorial debut, Wan showed us just how capable he is of creating tension and pulling off a completely unexpected surprise ending. The first time I saw the film, I would have never guessed that I was watching the work of a first time director. Wan appears wise beyond his years when he is behind the camera. His entry in the Saw franchise is by far the best installment in the series and a testament to Wan’s ever growing ability as a director. Wan intentionally made Saw appear to be a bit rough around the edges and that is a big part of what made his film so realistic. Subsequent entries (not directed by Wan) have lost that rawness, which is veryunfortunate. 

Attack the Block

Attack the Block was not only a great film for a first time feature film director; it was one of the best films of 2011. It was humorous, charismatic, and imaginative. Joe Cornish established himself as a force to be reckoned with as both a writer and director. He is someone that understands the value of dry humor and as such was able to interject a certain amount of parody regarding the socioeconomic class system that exists in nearly every free country of the world. But putting all of those things aside, it is still a highly entertaining film. Cornish has brilliantly ensured there is something for everyone in Attack the Block: those looking for a mindless good time will find it but those looking for a motion picture with something beneath the surface will also find what they are looking for. 

Night of the Living Dead

It is absolutely wild to think that Night of the Living Dead is the work of a first time director. This film is infused with the kind of inspired performances and directorial prowess that one would expect from a seasoned professional, not from someone just getting his or her feet wet. I suppose that’s the beauty of creativity: if you posses creative instinct, the finer points can be learned on the fly. George Romero is most certainly creative and he also proved that he has longevity when he followed up his black and white classic with exceptional films like Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead

These are five examples, but they are not the only five examples. Let us know which first time feature film director blew you away in the comments below.