50 All Time Top Debut Features

 50. Easy Rider (1969)
Directed by Dennis Hopper
The voice of a generation, for better or worse
A fairly dreadful film in almost every way, Hopper’s vacuous ode to the 'catwalk hippie’ scene is a weak and feeble-minded burn through the ashy leavings of the Sixties counterculture. It’s true success came not from its over-rated soundtrack or idea-neutral motorcycle emptiness, but in opening up the studio system – to paraphrase ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ author Peter Biskind – to ‘any freak wearing a bandana’. Without Hopper’s ludicrously amateurish first effort we may never have had the likes of Bob Rafelson’s majestic ‘Five Easy Pieces’ (1970) or Hal Ashby’s ‘The Last Detail’ (1973), and for that we should, though it might stick in our craws, be hugely thankful to the massive crossover success of Hopper’s flatulent debut. ALD
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49. Throw Momma From the Train (1987)
Directed by Danny DeVito
A ghoulish little movie in the finest Hitchockian tradition
The little big man’s directing career has never fully received the credit it deserves, but ‘The War of The Roses’ (1989) and ‘Hoffa’ (1992) are both incredibly assured films. His first bow was a darkly comic riff on ‘Strangers on a Train’ that also managed to be every bit as tense and twisted as the original. ALD
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48. Kids (1995)
Directed by Larry Clark
The sort-of-true face of American youth. Ban this sick filth!
Photographer Clark set out to create a bleak and honest portrait of the darker side of adolescence, but almost despite himself ended up releasing a nostalgic and even rather jealous love letter to the youth of America, in all it’s cynical, self-absorbed, diem-carpe-ing glory. ‘Kids’ was of course penned by then 21-year-old Harmony Korine, who went on to produce his own strikingly original debut ‘Gummo’ just two years later. TH
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47. Jour de Féte (1949)
Directed by Jacques Tati
Beloved French clown gets to grips with the gifts of cinema
Arguably the film that coined all those fond stereotypes of salty, wine-quaffing French ruralites, Tati’s humming comic debut sees him play a disaster-prone postman attempting to up his productivity rate American-style on the day that a travelling carnival is passing through town. The adults make merry, the kids make mischief and Tati does his best to keep things professional, despite being constantly hassled by an ever-present bumblebee and repeatedly lured into the local bar by the friendly townsfolk. As his work in film goes, this is Tati’s broadest and most easily enjoyable comedy, yet the kernel of his desire to mould the cinematic form into bizarre and beautiful new shapes is unmistakably present.
Watch Tati's hapless postman attempt to make his rounds

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46. Say Anything (1989)
Directed by Cameron Crowe
Crowe’s witty, heartfelt tribute to adolescent infatuation
‘I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.’ Crowe may have sunk into putrid heart-string flagellating chick-flick hell, but his debut feature remains the pinnacle of the ’80s teen movement, the ultimate in raincoat-wearing, college-rock-listening, boombox-elevating heart-on-sleeve adolescent swoonery. It’s also worth mentioning John Hughes’s debut ‘Sixteen Candles’ (1984), which loses out due to an unfortunate streak of rampant racism. TH
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45. Violent Cop (1989)
Directed by Takeshi Kitano
Gun metal sandwich anyone?
In 1983, Western audiences had been introduced to one ‘Takeshi’ (as the opening credits dubbed him) in Nagisa Oshima’s homoerotic POW saga, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’. This highly physical and intense Japanese actor stole the show away from headliners Tom Conti and David Bowie (with hindsight, not such a coup) with his turn as a prison commander who becomes wise to the absurdities of war. Forward to 1989, and a studio snafu leads to Takeshi (now known as ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano) being handed the directorial reigns on the film ‘Violent Cop’, a brutal riff on ‘Dirty Harry’ but, as the title suggests, with the violence notched up to gut-wrenching. The now highly regarded director has since dismissed the film as a youngster larking around in front of the camera, but it’s still a rollicking thriller in which ‘Beat’ casually tosses the rule book in the furnace to facilitate his latest high stakes manhunt. Think ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, but replace the smug one-liners with swift boot heels to the temple. DJ
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44. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
Directed by Paul Mazursky
Free love, poet warriors and the hippy dream are all in the crosshairs

Everyone harps on about how Hal Ashby is the unloved poet of the New American cinema, but I say to you, what about Paul Mazursky? Drawing on his experiences as an actor in the ’50s and ’60s, this rebellious directorial debut takes a glance at the counter culture revolution with a refreshingly cynical eye. Despite its comedic façade, the film is a very serious dissection of the free love movement, how (and if) it can be implemented and whether full emotional disclosure is really the best way for couples to maintain long and fruitful relationships. The four bashful, bed-swapping leads (Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Elliott Gould, Dyan Cannon) all give generous performances that skilfully balance the realistic and the sardonic. The final reel is a hoot, and looking over his CV, it’s a film Mazursky never bettered.
Watch Mazursky discussing the film here

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43. Celia (1989)
Directed by Ann Turner
It’s only pre-teen wasteland in Turner's eerie look back
It’s remarkable how many filmmakers mine childhood experiences for their first feature (see ‘The Night of the Hunter’, ‘River’s Edge’, ‘Kids’ or Bob Balaban’s wondrously sadistic ‘Parents’ (1989)). Very few have nailed the pre-pubescent experience better than Ann Turner, whose singular debut might be described as anti-nostalgia: a politically astute rites-of-passage horror movie with one of the grimmest endings in cinema. TH

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42. George Washington (2000)
Directed by David Gordon Green
Southern Gothic curveball from the man behind 'Pineapple Express'
In our original review of David Gordon Green’s stunning sophomore feature, ‘All the Real Girls’, Time Out proposed that the young Arkansas-born director was ‘the real deal’. This is in no small part due to ‘George Washington’, a debut that combined the dreamy eloquence of Tarkovsky, the rhapsodic visual poetry of Malick and the militantly unaffected performance style of Robert Bresson with effortless virtuosity. The ‘story’ centres on a group of Southern latchkey youths as they spend their time uncovering a world of dilapidated buildings and overgrown rail sidings. Though notable for being Green’s first collaboration with long-time DoP Tim Orr (who, arguably, peaked early with his glowing visuals), it’s the film's haunting portrayal of the joys and heartbreak of growing up beneath the poverty line that really sticks with you. DJ
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41. The Hired Hand (1971)
Directed by Peter Fonda
Peter Fonda's quietly devastating, unfairly overlooked neo-Western
Fonda’s admirably restrained revenge western is a hallucinatory addition to the genre that foreshadows Eastwood’s ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973) and ‘Unforgiven’ (1992). Shot by legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, it looks exquisite, and the score by sometime-Dylan guitarist Bruce Langhorne takes some beating, but it’s unquestionably Fonda’s eye for a shot and ear for dialogue (certainly not his lead performance, which is typically weak) that hone the film into something of a mini-masterpiece. ALD
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 50 Top Debut Feature Films Of All Time