Cookies notification

This website uses cookies to provide you with a better experience

You can adjust your cookie settings at any time at the bottom of each page. If you do not adjust your settings, you are consenting to us issuing all cookies to you

Hereditary filmmaker Ari Aster and 7 other first-time directors who hit the jackpot


Much-anticipated horror movie Hereditary opens next month, and brings with it a new name: director Ari Aster. If the ecstatic first reviews anything to go by, his is a name to watch out for, and the film will potentially be making waves at the summer box office. (Critics have even been describing it as "the new Exorcist".)

Not that Aster is the first director to hit the big time with their first feature. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) is a cornerstone of movie history, having redefined what the visual language of cinema could do, and the great Sidney Lumet made his debut with courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men (1957). Quentin Tarantino burst onto the screen for the first time with profane, witty crime drama Reservoir Dogs (1992), while Spike Jonze announced his arrival with the gloriously surreal Being John Malkovich (1999). 

Before we bring you the gloriously terrifying trailer for Hereditary, here are seven other directors who struck it big with their first feature film.

1. Joel and Ethan Coen – Blood Simple (1984)

The Coen brothers jointly wrote and directed this seedy, sweaty story of Texan infidelity and murder, and modern movies were never the same again. Not all their films have been a hit – The Ladykillers, anybody? – but they've delivered an almost constant stream of classics like The Big Lebowski, Fargo and No Country For Old Men.

Just about every film fan has a Coen brothers movie somewhere in their top ten. Now they're dipping into TV: after the TV version of Fargo, mini-series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is due out later in the year. Their names on a film at the very least point to something superior and, often, unique.

2. Kevin Costner – Dances With Wolves (1990)

Costner's debut dominated the 1991 Oscars, winning seven trophies including Best Picture and Best Director. Already at the top of the acting tree at the time, he defied convention with Dances With Wolves. Not only was it a Western at a time when the genre was all but dead, but it was deemed too long for a cinema release. The rest, as they say, is history.

Yet Costner never reached those heights again. The Postman (1997) was panned, although the home entertainment market was more welcoming, and his return to the Western in Open Range (2003) was met with praise.

3. Frank Darabont – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

When the film version of Stephen King's story opened, it nearly sank without trace, but the home entertainment launch turned it into a phenomenon, resulting in seven Oscar nods. Darabont, making his feature film debut, had started in the movie industry as a writer and made his debut by adapting the novella into a full-length feature for the big screen.

More Darabont/King adaptations followed – The Green Mile and The Mist – yielding more Oscar nods for the former, but more recent years have seen him concentrate on writing again, especially for TV's The Walking Dead.

4. Sofia Coppola – The Virgin Suicides (1999)

After trying her hand at acting in The Godfather III, Sofia Coppola followed filmmaker father Francis Ford Coppola to the other side of the camera for The Virgin Suicides. This story of five mysterious and doomed sisters, which she also wrote, brought her unique vision to the fore and put her at the front of Hollywood's very small group of women directors.

An Oscar came her way for her second film, Lost In Translation, this time for Best Original Screenplay, and she recently brought together a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, for The Beguiled (2017). As Hollywood works to bring more women directors on board, she remains one of the first and best.

5. Bennett Miller – Capote (2005)

Miller's output is small but select. Since his debut with Capote, he's made just two films: Moneyball (2011) and Foxcatcher (2014). That makes a Miller movie something of an occasion: he attracts big names and tells powerful stories which, so far, are all based on fact.

Capote stars the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as author Truman Capote, focusing on the writing of his seminal true crime novel In Cold Blood. It didn't just win Hoffman an Oscar, it also rocketed Miller into the big league, garnering numerous nominations.

6. J.C. Chandor – Margin Call (2011)

Chandor must have pinched himself when the cast came together for his first feature, Margin Call, a mix of established names and rising stars like Justice League's Jeremy Irons, Star Trek's Zachary Quinto and SOLO: A Star Wars Story's Paul Bettany. His engrossing financial crash drama, which he also wrote, didn't have the widest of distributions, but his next two films demonstrated that he never trod the same path twice.

In All Is Lost, he cast movie icon Robert Redford adrift in a boat in raging seas. That was followed by A Most Violent Year, with The Last Jedi's Oscar Isaac and Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain as a shady business couple.  His next, drugs drama Triple Frontier, is due in cinemas next year and re-unites him with Isaac, alongside Justice League's Ben Affleck and King Arthur's Charlie Hunnam.

7. Damien Chazelle – Whiplash (2014)

The prodigiously talented Chazelle blasted onto screens with a searing debut that etched itself indelibly on the memories of everybody who saw it. Whiplash won an actor for veteran actor J.K. Simmons, here playing a terrifyingly abusive drumming teacher, and further solidified Fantastic Four's Miles Teller as a star.

Then, just two years later, his musical La La Land was the darling of the festival circuit and went on to lose the Best Picture Oscar by a hair's breadth. Next up for Chazelle is the Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man, reuniting him with La La Land star Ryan Gosling. It's due out this autumn, timing that points towards its being a possible award contender. Given Chazelle's track record, it could be a no brainer.

Will you be brave enough to watch Ari Aster's chilling directorial debut Hereditary when it arrives in Cineworld on 15th June? Check out the trailer and decide for yourself.

Freda Cooper is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.