5 Directors Whose First Films Were Blockbusters

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These Directors Nailed It on Their First Shots

American Beauty
DreamWorks SKG

The First Time Fest, an annual film festival held in March in New York City, celebrates the work of first-time filmmakers and has helped dozens of rookie filmmakers gain recognition in the industry. There is an immense amount of pressure on filmmakers directing their first films – a great first film can launch a director into bigger and better projects from Hollywood studios.  Although many directors produced classics with their first films – Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men), and Steve McQueen (Hunger), just to name a handful – only a few directors have produced major box office hits with their first movie.

These few film directors were entrusted with major studio projects from their very first film. While some prove to be not up to the task of handling such a big film as a first-time director, others have launched massively successful careers after scoring their first big hit. Here are five directors who scored big at the box office with their first movie and have had continued success ever since.

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Tim Burton - 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' (1985)

Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Warner Bros.

With only a $7 million budget, animator Tim Burton managed to turn both a then little-known character Pee-wee Herman (portrayed by comedian Paul Reubens) and Burton himself into box office stars. While Pee-wee's Big Adventure wasn't as big of a hit as other films on this list, the film proved that Burton had a unique cinematic style that audiences would grow to admire. In fact, films directed by Burton have grossed over $3.5 billion worldwide combined -- a massive take for a director who started with a film about man-child and his lost bicycle!

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David Fincher – ‘Alien 3’ (1992)

Alien 3
20th Century Fox

If you ever encounter David Fincher, you should probably avoid talking about Alien 3. The former commercial and music video director fought with producers during the production of his directorial debut on many aspects, and Fincher began distancing himself from the final product even before it was released. But despite the ugly gestation period of the film, Alien 3 grossed $160 million worldwide.

Though that was initially considered a disappointment – it was less than the box office of both Alien and Aliens – it led to Fincher later directing such successful films as Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl.

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Michael Bay – ‘Bad Boys’ (1995)

Bad Boys
Columbia Pictures

Though Michael Bay is far from a favorite of critics, his movies are among the most successful of all time. Bay-directed movies have grossed over $5 billion at the worldwide box office combined. After a successful career directing commercials, he made his directorial debut with Bad Boys, an action comedy starring TV stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The movie grossed $141 million worldwide on just a $19 million budget.

While the budgets for Bay's movies have increased substantially, he continues to have massive success regularly at the box office -- so much so that they often make the $141 million gross of Bad Boys look puny in comparison.

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Gore Verbinksi - ‘MouseHunt ‘ (1997)

DreamWorks SKG

Okay, it's doubtful that anyone thinks of 1997's MouseHunt as a cinema classic. After all, it's a movie about two brothers (Nathan Lane and Lee Evans) trying to catch a tricky mouse -- sort of like a rodent version of Home Alone. Though somehow $38 million was spent making the movie, it grossed $122.4 million. Director Gore Verbinski, who had developed his skill directing music videos and commercials (including the famous Budweiser frog commercial), saw even more success with The Mexican (2001), The Ring (2002), and his golden goose, the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. His films have grossed a combined $3.7 billion worldwide.

Aside from a misstep with 2013's The Lone Ranger, Verbinski proved from his very first feature film that he can turn just about any concept into a blockbuster.

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Sam Mendes – ‘American Beauty’ (1999)

American Beauty
DreamWorks SKG

Sam Mendes came to his film directorial debut after already establishing himself as an award-winning stage director in England. Not having much faith in Mendes, the studio only offered him the minimum salary to direct American Beauty. Mendes accepted and turned the $15 million movie into a major hit for DreamWorks, grossing $356 million worldwide.

Furthermore, Mendes became one of only six first-time directors to win the Academy Award for Best Director (American Beauty won four other Oscars, including Best Picture). Mendes has since gone on to director other major hits, including Skyfall and Spectre, the highest-grossing James Bond movies of all time.