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Best Directorial Debuts By Actors

These Films Prove That Actors Can Also Be Talented Directors

When it comes to actors, we don’t often associate them with directing movies. They might provide feedback on what they think could work for a scene to the director or even do an improvisation, but they are usually not the ones who take on full creative control of the movie. There are however actors that have directed a movie before but often they only do one in their career and we never hear about it because it either wasn’t very successful commercially or wasn’t very well received or both.

But some started as actors and went on to become amazing directors. Some are so talented that they’re able to direct themselves and still get a fantastic performance which seems like it would be very difficult to succeed given how we are our own worst critics. For film lovers, oftentimes, what these actors did for directing movies is as, if not, more important than what they did on screen. For some actors, it took them a while to make a movie that was recognized as something great amongst film lovers while others were great right out the gate. We will be discussing the latter. Here are five of some of the greatest directorial debuts by actors.

5. Get Out (2017) Directed by Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele’s career in show business seems like it has been nothing but a success. He has proven to be a very good comedian and actor with shows like Key and Peele. And now he has entered the world of filmmaking, which apparently, he has wanted to do since he was a child, and it turns out, he’s pretty good at that too. With Get Out, Peele succeeded at blending his comedy with a truly terrifying horror film. Chris visits his girlfriend’s family, who at first seem friendly, but later become extremely complaisant, which leads to him discovering truths about them that are quite disturbing. The subject matter is fascinating as Peele comments on White people admiring Black people as a way to fit in. The film went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and even got a Best Picture nomination as well as one for Best Actor which would’ve gone to Daniel Kaluuya. Horror movies seem to never get the attention they deserve from the Academy so it was nice that this got a decent amount and hopefully helped them realize that horror films still have a tremendous impact.


4. This is Spinal Tap (1984) Directed by Rob Reiner

It seems in the present day that Rob Reiner’s directing career is what people know him best for, having directed classic American films such as Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and When Harry Met Sally. But he started as an actor in television on shows like The Andy Griffith Show and That Girl. He made a name for himself as a TV actor when he played Michael Stivic in All in the Family. Shortly after this is when he started directing films and had much success during the 1980s with the films mentioned earlier. But all that started with This is Spinal Tap in 1984, which is one of the best mockumentaries and many to this day look to it as a model on how to make a fantastic one. The film parodies music documentaries and is about a band’s tour around America and who struggles to stay relevant. Outside of the actors being given an outline of when scenes start and end, the dialogue was completely improvised and yet never feels out of control. The comedic moments are top-notch as well with plenty of great gags.

3. The Kid (1921) Directed by Charlie Chaplin

When you think of the silent era, there is a very good chance Charlie Chaplin will be the first name that comes to mind. There isn’t much that can be said about Chaplin that hasn’t already been well-established but he is one of the greatest geniuses not only in filmmaking but in stunts, music, and comedy. Jackie Coogan, who played the child in The Kid, said that he could do anything. As for the film, Chaplin had made many shorts before, playing his iconic Tramp character in them, and decided he wanted to try making a feature film which is what became The Kid. It went on to be one of the best films of its era. In it, an abandoned child gets found by the Tramp and he raises him as his own while the mother has regrets about her decision and wishes to find him. It’s a film where viewers will be both laughing hysterically and bawling their eyes out one scene after another.

2. Citizen Kane (1941) Directed by Orson Welles

It is an absolute no-brainer that Orson Welles’ seminal masterpiece, Citizen Kane, is included in this list. This film lives up to the hype and is not only a fantastic first film by an actor but one of the best films of all time. It does everything right in a film. The editing is phenomenal with several cuts using a seamless dissolve technique. The cinematography is groundbreaking for its pioneering of deep focus, where everything within the frame is in focus. The makeup in the film seems to be something that is understated because it is also astounding. Orson Welles was just 25 years old when he made the film and he plays Charles Foster Kane during many stages of his life. He plays him as a young man and into his old age and he is believable for the latter. The narrative of course is fantastic too as it is a rags-to-riches story about a boy taken from his family where despite the life of wealth he is given, it seems to do more harm than good to him. A lot of what we learn about him is through interviews of people that knew him which is a unique choice as we see how others perceived him. The film to this day feels very modern and sticks out amongst its contemporaries.

1. The Night of the Hunter (1955) Directed by Charles Laughton

It’s a real shame that The Night of the Hunter was the only film that Charles Laughton directed. This mainly had to do with the initial poor response to the film. Though, it became a cult film later on and is now regarded as a very important film amongst filmmakers and film lovers today. Robert Mitchum plays the psychotic preacher, Harry Powell, who is after $10,000 hidden with the family of the man who stole it. The man, Ben Harper, is executed for killing two men while robbing the bank and this allows Powell to charm the widow and get married into the family, getting him closer to the money. Harry Powell is one of the most terrifying antagonists in all of the film and has a very Terminator before Terminator-esque presence whenever he is on screen. The black and white photography is absolutely stunning which allows for some very ominous lighting, shadows, and silhouettes. The visuals are also quite something and Guillermo del Toro has said that he has tried to do some of them for 25 years. This film should be watched exclusively at night by anyone who is looking for a good scare.

It is a rare find when an actor is multifaceted and can create in front of the lens and behind it! If this lens prompts a rewatch, Get Out and This Is Spinal Tap can be rented on Amazon Instant Video. The Kid can be streamed on The Roku Channel and The Criterion Channel. Citizen Kane on HBO Max, and Night Of The Hunter on Prime Video. 

Citizen Kane 1941 Official RKO Pictures Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Robert Delfino is a writer based in San Jose, California. He loves films of all genres made by people who enjoy the craft of movie making.