1. Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty”
After getting attention for his work in English theater, Mendes made the difficult jump into film when he directed 1999’s “American Beauty.” But considering how different the mediums are, it didn’t seem like Mendes took much time to adjust because the film grossed $356.3 million worldwide, and earned him a Directors Guild of America Award, a Golden Globe Award, and the Academy Award.
2. Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”
Kevin Smith shot “Clerks” in 1994 for $27,575, and the movie went on to make $3 million in theaters. So it’s arguable that Smith’s frugality is what launched him into the big leagues.
3. Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides”
After growing up on the set of her father’s films, Sofia Coppola took her first shot at filmmaking in 1999 with “The Virgin Suicides.” Though it did not make much money, critics praised Coppola for her production. The New York Post even wrote, “It’s hard to remember a film that mixes disparate, delicate ingredients with the subtlety and virtuosity of Sofia Coppola’s brilliant ‘The Virgin Suicides.’”
4. Steven Spielberg’s “Duel”
Spielberg’s first feature-length production was “Duel” in 1971, which was about a motorist who was stalked by the mysterious driver of a huge tractor trailer. It was originally made as a TV movie (and later became a feature film), and was very well received: it won an Golden Globe for “Best Movie Made for TV,” and an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography.”
5. Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”
Quentin Tarantino came onto the movie-making scene with his 1992 production of “Reservoir Dogs.” The story revolves around the planning for an aftermath of a diamond heist, and it was the first time he displayed what would become his trademarks moves: violent crime, pop culture references, profuse profanity, and a nonlinear storyline. Empire Magazine has called it the “Greatest independent film ever made.”
6. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Loveless”
Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie was 1982’s “The Loveless,” starring Willem Dafoe and coincidentally, it was Dafoe’s very first movie as well. The film was about the problems a motorcycle gang causes for a southern town, and TV Guide praised Bigelow when it wrote, “the the filmmakers’ knowing, stylized eroticization of biker culture is extraordinary.”
7. Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”
Mel Brooks burst into filmmaking with 1968’s unforgettable “The Producers.” It told the story of two Broadway producers (Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel) who realized they could make more money with a bad musical than they could with a good one. The film received less than favorable reviews, and The New Yorker even called it “amateurishly crude,” and Renata Adler wrote that it was a “violently mixed bag.” Thankfully, Brooks didn’t let anyone stop him from doing his own thing.
8. Rob Reiner’s “This Is Spinal Tap”
One of the first mockumentaries was Rob Reiner’s 1984 film, “This Is Spinal Tap.” It set out to satirize the wild behavior of the musicians in the fictional heavy metal band, while also making fun of rock ‘n roll documentaries. It wasn’t tremendously successful in theaters, but once it was released on video, a cult following was established and in 2002, The Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
9. Gabourey Sidibe In “Precious”
Gabourey Sidibe’s very first movie was “Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire” in 2009. Her performance was praised by virtually every critic, but Roger Ebert put it best when he said, “The film is a tribute to Sidibe’s ability to engage our empathy. Her work is still another demonstration of the mystery of some actors, who evoke feelings in ways beyond words and techniques.” She was nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA, and a Critics Choice Award.
10. Rachel McAdams In “The Hot Chick”
Rachel McAdams debuted her talents alongside Rob Schneider in 2002’s “The Hot Chick.” She didn’t have much screen time because her likeness quickly morphed into Rob Schneider. Richard Roeper hilariously praised the film for being in focus and in color. But McAdams actually benefited from the role, since the next movie she did was “Mean Girls” in 2004.
11. Dustin Hoffman In “The Graduate”
Dustin Hoffman’s very first leading role was in “The Graduate,” when he played Ben Braddock opposite Anne Bancroft in 1967. He lost the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1968 to Rod Steiger for “In The Heat Of The Night,” but Roger Ebert wrote even though Hoffman was “so painfully awkward and ethical,” his portrayal of Ben resonates with us so well because he perfectly mirrors how we would behave in the same situation.
12. Jennifer Hudson In “Dreamgirls”
Jennifer Hudson barged into the entertainment industry when she played Effie in “Dreamgirls” in 2006. And though the film wasn’t considered a masterpiece, Josh Tyler of Cinemablend compared her to Aretha Franklin and said “Long after you’re home and you’ve forgotten the movie, you’ll remember Jennifer Hudson’s big, belting voice.” She went on to win an Oscar in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress, and we’re still anxiously awaiting for her epic voice to return to the big screen.
13. Anna Paquin In “The Piano”
Anna Paquin’s first major role came when she was just 11 years old. She starred in 1993’s “The Piano,” as Holly Hunter’s daughter, and has to watch as her mother’s fingers are cut off. Paquin earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1993, and she became the second youngest actress to ever receive the award. Desson Howe of The Washington Post noted “Paquin is unforgettably precocious,” which we know get to witness when she portrays Sookie on “True Blood.”
14. Julie Andrews In “Mary Poppins”
After she was turned down for the role of Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” Julie Andrews went on to play the titular character in “Mary Poppins” in 1964. Andrews won three awards for her debut: an Academy Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer.