Angus MacLane’s feature-length directorial debut for Pixar’s Lightyear brought fans of the Toy Story franchise plenty of Easter eggs and references to the original movies, Ranker has created a fan-voted list of the best directorial debuts since 2010 – which includes some surprisingly popular and beloved movies.
If it weren’t for these new cinematic voices being given a home by major movie studios, plenty of the great movies that are now considered modern classics would never even have been made. Upcoming directors being given the chance to produce high-budget projects without previous experience is becoming rarer and rarer, so it’s important to appreciate to ones we have.
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Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
Although the film has since become famous for Jake Gyllenhaal’s career-best performance as Lou Bloom, much of Nightcrawler’s success must also be attributed to director Dan Gilroy, who managed to turn this twisted and immoral story into one of the best crime thrillers ever made.
The journey that protagonist Lou Bloom makes throughout this film is an expertly written and completely unpredictable one, with Gilroy using his keen eye to misdirect the audience at every turn. It also boasts a shocking ending that will stick with the viewer long after the credits roll.
Often hailed as one of the best superhero movies ever made, Tim Miller’s Deadpool shines thanks to its complete disregard of the previously established rules of the genre. It’s bloody, violent and darkly hilarious in a way that no superhero movie had ever dared to be before.
Ryan Reynolds also provides one of his best performances to date in the titular role, completely embodying the sarcasm and dry wit that makes Deadpool such an entertaining character. There are few films quite like Deadpool, though many have since tried and failed to replicate its unique style.
John Wick (2014)
It’s hard to imagine that what is now considered the gold standard of action movies was once merely a low-budget directorial debut from Chad Stahelski. It features some of the most intense and innovative action sequences of the last few years and spawned a series of sequels that all rival the greatness of the original installment.
Although Chad Stahelski’s directorial outings remain confined to the John Wick franchise, it’s clear that the director has a huge career ahead of him once he does decide to branch out into other projects. But for now, he (and his audiences) seems completely content with his expansion of this thrilling action universe.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is widely considered one of the 2010’s strongest directorial debuts of the 2010s thanks to its wild imagination and deep understanding of what it means to become an adult. Saoirse Ronan provides a richly empathetic lead performance, allowing the audience to relate to her vulnerable character as she undertakes an all-too-familiar journey for many audiences.
What Lady Bird does better than most coming-of-age dramas is that it doesn’t ignore the many faults of its protagonist. Ronan’s Christine isn’t a perfect person, but it’s the mistakes that she makes throughout the film that mold her into the person she eventually becomes – which is a perfect way of presenting the journey we all take through life.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Starring Shia LaBeouf in one of his most open and vulnerable roles to date, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a soaring accomplishment of independent cinema. It tells an extremely touching and poignant story without ever veering too far into its own sentimentality, keeping the audience engaged and moved until the very last frame.
Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz both wrote and directed the film in their first (and only) feature-length project to date. Whilst their directorial talent shouldn’t be overlooked, the real magic of their filmmaking lies in just how thoughtful and considerate their screenplay is towards the film’s own characters.
Many film buffs cite Ari Aster as one of the best horror directors working today, and it’s his debut film Hereditary that most people still consider his best project to date. Not only is it an extremely effective and terrifying piece of supernatural horror, but it also features some of the best performances of the last few years.
Hereditary has pretty much everything one could want from a horror movie – a sinister plot, lots of terrifying imagery, bold and dynamic storytelling, effective but scarce jumpscares, and a killer ending that rivals even some of the most iconic horror moments.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane might not be the most well-known or widely-acclaimed horror movie ever made, but that definitely doesn’t stop it from being one of the best. It’s quiet and atmospheric when it needs to be, but it’s also blood-pumpingly intense in its more thrilling moments.
10 Cloverfield Lane also remains Trachtenberg’s only full-length project to date (barring a single episode of Black Mirror), but fans are eagerly awaiting the director’s return later this year with the much-anticipated Predator revival, Prey.
Ex Machina (2014)
Since the release of his sci-fi classic Ex Machina in 2014, Alex Garland has gone on to become one of the most acclaimed and prolific names in the sci-fi genre. But his success began with the mysterious Ex Machina, a sinister exploration of the human condition and our relationship with technology.
If it weren’t for the influence of auteurs like Garland, it’s impossible to imagine what the sci-fi genre would look like today. From Ex Machina to Annihilation and Devs, he’s had a huge impact on how audiences respond to more thought-provoking, thematic science fiction stories.
Get Out (2017)
To many people, Get Out is the best horror movie of the modern era. Jordan Peele’s biting social criticism brashly turns this already-intense thriller into something much more topical and sickening through an arresting examination of generational racism in America.
When people talk about the new wave of ‘elevated horror’ that we’re seeing so much of today, it’s easy to point back to Get Out as the first real example of this in mainstream cinema. Even with his follow-up feature Us, Peele used the same arresting commentary to bring his supernatural story into the domestic sphere.
The Gift (2015)
Perhaps the most underrated entry on this list, Joel Egerton’s The Gift is a thrilling drama about one couple’s dark secret which is brought to light by a mysterious figure from the couple’s past. Standout performances Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall bring this thriller to life in a way that perfectly compliments Egerton’s unique directorial style.
The Gift might not have the sensational storytelling or intense set pieces that some of these other entries do, but it tells its story in an effectively mature and restrained way that keeps things engaging whilst simultaneously building an air of mystery that creeps under your skin without the viewer even realizing its happening.
NEXT: 10 Directorial Debuts By Popular Actresses
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About The Author
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At Screenrant, Jack is a Lists Writer with a focus on the newest trends in film and television. Elsewhere, you can find his thoughts on the latest movies at his various outlets: linktr.ee/jwalters204
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