10 Best Directorial Debuts By Popular Actors, According To Ranker

Many A-list actors have turned to directing, with the recent announcement of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe regarding his plans to become a director. Stars like Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks used their talents behind the camera to great results and audiences appreciated their efforts.

Fans on private soldier voted for the films where the actors made their directorial debut. That includes everyone from comedians Danny DeVito to Jordan Peele to martial artists like Bruce Lee. It’s interesting to see how their early films rank according to viewers.

Ben Affleck

Gone Baby Gone (2007) – Stream on HBO Max

Casey Affleck standing by the pier in Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck’s career takes a turn with the releases of Man of the world and jersey girlbut the actor revitalized it with his directorial debut Gone baby gone. The story, which Affleck had also written, is about a private detective taking on the case of the mysterious disappearance of a young girl that has everyone perplexed.


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Gone baby gone was a huge critical acclaim and a hit with audiences as well. Casey Affleck’s performance was praised in the lead role, with praise directed at Ben Affleck for creating an environment for the protagonist to shine. He followed it with bigger films in The city and Argoand Gone baby gone was the ideal platform for the launch.

Billy Bob Thorton

Sling Blade (1996) – Not currently available for streaming

slingshot blade won Billy Bob Thornton the Oscar for Best Screenplay, with Thornton also directing and starring in the film. It’s about Karl, a man with mental health issues who is released from the hospital years after killing his cruel mother and becomes a father figure to another child with the same problem.

The film was praised for the way it handled a sensitive subject matter and a very morally ambiguous protagonist. Thornton’s direction was well received primarily for how well he managed to make viewers see things from Karl’s perspective, which was an incredibly difficult task given the character’s backstory.

bradley cooper

A Star Is Born (2018) – Rent On AMC On Demand

Among the most popular romance movies of the past decade, Bradley Cooper made his directorial debut in a remake of the classic film. A star is born is about singer-songwriter Jack Maine who falls in love with struggling singer Ally and helps her become a star; though his personal demons prove to be a major obstacle for the two.

A star is born was praised for the way Bradley Cooper incorporated music into the story, with a number of songs reflecting the emotions of the protagonists. Cooper also received praise for getting the best out of Lady Gaga, who was known primarily as a singer at the time but shone in the lead role.

Kevin Costner

Dances with Wolves (1990) – Stream on HBO Max

Kevin Costner kneeling in the Wild West in Dances with Wolves.

Kevin Costner set the benchmark for actors who made their directorial debut with dance with wolves, an epic western set in the sprawling landscape of the American frontier. The film is about Lt. John J. Dunbar who is accepted by the Lakota natives and helps them against Union soldiers who intend to take their land.

dance with wolves proved to be a huge commercial success due to good reviews and the star power of Kevin Costner. Audiences were pleasantly surprised by his direction which focused on environmental cinematography to make viewers feel the landscape the protagonist is a part of.

Danny DeVito

Throw Mom off the Train (1987) – Stream on Roku Channel

Billy Crystal and Danny Devito sitting at a table in Throw Momma From The Train

Danny DeVito had directed the short film The Vince D’Angelo Sale and the TV movie The odds gamebut his film debut was with Throw Mom off the train. It’s a black comedy about two hapless writers who conspire to kill each other’s wife and mother but are hilariously incompetent.

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Throw mom off the train did not fire reviews but proved to be well received by viewers. Fans loved DeVito’s trademark performance as the man with a short fuse while Billy Crystal’s sweet persona served as a nice balance. The film also set the stage for many other similar dark comedies to follow in the years to come.

Jordan Pele

Get Out (2017) – Rent On AMC On Demand

Exit Daniel Kaluuya

Jordan Peele conquered the world with his first film, which won him the Oscar for best screenplay. Fans were fascinated by the many details hidden in get out, which is a horror film about the abduction of a young black man by white people who intend to transplant their brains into his body.

Jordan Peele was widely known as a comedian before get out and many were shocked with fear get out turned out to be. The film’s success helped him transition from acting to directing horrors in what is a career shift few would have seen coming.

Harold Ramis

Caddyshack (1980) – Stream on HBO Max

Bill Murray in Caddieshack

Harold Ramis was known for starring in the sketch comedy Second City Television before his directorial debut with Caddyshack, and has since been widely known to appear in ghost hunters. Caddyshack is considered a classic of the comedy genre and is about a group of crazy golfers who resort to bizarre means to win a golf tournament.

Ramis’ direction has received more praise from viewers than critics, as audiences are generally delighted with the slapstick comedy found in Caddyshack. It’s a movie that can’t be taken seriously and is enhanced by the presence of comedians like Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.

Orson Welles

Citizen Kane (1941) – Stream on HBO Max

Kane and a man watch Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles is an interesting case because the actor’s debut is also his first film directing. Generally considered by critics to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane chronicles the rise and fall of tycoon Charles Foster Kane, examining the life he led until his death and why he uttered the word “Rosebud” in his final moments.

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The film is a rarity for how it has stood the test of time and wowed audiences for nearly a century now. Fans admire Welles’ dedication to making this a sprawling story spanning decades, while creating an authentic atmosphere through the make-up and impressive set design.

tom hank

That thing you do! (1996) – Stream on Starz

Amos White is a Tom Hanks role that people rarely talk about because the actor doesn’t play the lead role, as White is the manager of The Wonders. That thing you do!on the other hand, is a film many know for the Oscar-nominated song of the same name and the feel-good story of a one-hit band.

Hanks was already a household name due to his superstar acting status and impressed many with this highly entertaining musical film. The actor has since returned to directing only once with the 2011 films Larry Crownso That thing you do! remains popular for being Hanks’ creative spin behind the scenes.

Bruce Lee

The Way Of The Dragon (1972) – Not currently available for streaming

Bruce Lee fighting with nunchucks in Return Of The Dragon

Bruce Lee made two films during his lifetime, but the second was never completed due to his sudden death. The actor and martial artist’s debut was a mega hit, with The Way of the Dragon featuring his iconic fight with Chuck Norris that propelled the latter into the public eye in his first role.

Released as The return of the dragon in the United States, the film is notable for bringing a comedic flair to Lee’s performance that most were unaccustomed to. It has great action sequences which are entertaining to watch to this day. Lee’s star value is evident in the way he delivers a film filled with the highest quality combat-based direction.

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