First impressions count. These features launched some of cinema's highest achievers, showing the themes and techniques to which many would return.
Whether on land, at sea or on the road, these debuts show what happens when an instinct for storytelling meets the medium in which it will blossom.
Spanking the Monkey
Comedy199495 minsDirector: David O. Russell
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made his feature debut in 1994 with this biting black comedy, which caused a stir with its incestuous subplot and portrayal of adolescent restlessness.
Breathless / À bout de souffle
Film noir196090 minsDirector: Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard’s extraordinary debut feature, an insouciant and iconoclastic crime film that paved the way for the French New Wave.
The Ninth Configuration
Horror1979118 minsDirector: William Peter Blatty
From the writer of The Exorcist, one of the ultimate cult film experiences: William Peter Blatty's unclassifiable blend of unhinged psychological thriller and anarchic comedy.
It Happened Here
Science Fiction1965101 minsDirector: Kevin Brownlow
Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's legendary, independently produced speculative fiction, imagining the Nazi occupation of Britain.
Drama201379 minsDirector: Rob Brown
A former child soldier in Congo, now living in London, witnesses a crime and is drawn into a violent world he'd hoped to leave behind.
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Biopic198881 minsDirector: Terence Davies
Terence Davies' debut feature is a remarkable evocation of working-class family life in the 40s and 50s and a visionary exploration of memory.
Animation & Artists Moving Image1980195 minsDirector: Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway's epic first feature, constructed as an excerpt from an imagined, filmic directory listing everyone affected by VUE – the Violent Unknown Event
Road movie1979100 minsDirector: Chris Petit
Chris Petit's cult classic is one of the most striking feature debuts in British cinema – a haunting blend of edgy mystery story and existential road movie.
Drama196989 minsDirector: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
A Greek immigrant unleashes jealousy and xenophobia among a group of Munich neighbours in Fassbinder’s shocking adaptation of his own play.
The Immortal One
Drama1962101 minsDirector: Alain Robbe-Grillet
The debut feature from famed novelist and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet is a daring examination of fantasy and memory set in Turkey.
Drama201699 minsDirector: Shubhashish Bhutiani
This gentle, tender and award-winning Indian comedy follows the ordeal of an over-worked modern son forced to accompany his 77-year-old father to the holy city of Varanasi, where he plans to end his days.
Drama2014116 minsDirector: Chaitanya Tamhane
Hailed as a modern classic channelling the spirit of Satyajit Ray, Chaitanya Tamhane's film is an absurdist portrait of injustice in contemporary India.
New Town Utopia
Documentary201781 minsDirector: Christopher Ian Smith
From Utopian dreams to concrete realities; charting the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex.
Mr. and Mrs. Kabal's Theatre
Animation & Artists Moving Image196777 minsDirector: Walerian Borowczyk
Walerian Borowczyk's (The Beast, Immoral Tales) first feature-length work is an existential marital drama set in a bizarre wasteland populated by exotic flora and fauna.
Nature of the Beast
Biopic201796 minsDirector: Daniel Draper
A suitably forthright profile of the evergreen socialist, trade unionist and Labour politician Dennis Skinner - also known as the Beast of Bolsover.
Drama200796 minsDirector: Joanna Hogg
On a Tuscan break a fortysomething woman finds herself drawn to the company of a group of partying teens, including a young Tom Hiddleston (in one of his earliest roles).
In Which We Serve
War1942114 minsDirector: David Lean
Noel Coward and David Lean direct this affecting drama of a Royal Navy crew recalling their lives in flashback, as their ship sinks.
Documentary2012103 minsDirector: Rodney Ascher
Rodney Ascher's enigmatic essay film weaves together the contrasting theories of five different narrators who believe Stanley Kubrick deliberately buried hidden messages in his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
Drama201594 minsDirector: Jane Linfoot
Jane Linfoot's clinically constructed study of guilt, betrayal, responsibility concerns a comfortable family whose seemingly perfect lives are suddenly thrown into turmoil.
Drama2001113 minsDirector: Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly's astounding debut feature is a mix of stylish eighties veneer and existential horror starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the troubled teen who is haunted by a giant rabbit prophesying the apocalypse.
Drama200796 minsDirector: Lance Hammer
Three haunted souls are thrust into co-existence in this searing debut work from Lance Hammer, a double prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival.
Drama201895 minsDirector: Mitra Tabrizian
An Iranian exile in London, who is haunted by his past, gets involved in the conflicts of a total stranger and has to see it through until the end, in this mesmerising slow-burn thriller.
Island of the Hungry Ghosts
Documentary201898 minsDirector: Gabrielle Brady
A therapist helps traumatised refugees detained on a remote island where powerful natural and tribal rituals prevail, in this extraordinary mix of fact and fiction.
Drama196381 minsDirector: Vera Chytilová
Věra Chytilová's first feature is an important work of women's cinema, which contrasts the parallel stories of a gymnast (filmed as documentary) and a housewife (told as fiction).
A Cambodian Spring
Documentary2017127 minsDirector: Chris Kelly
Filmed over 6 years, Chris Kelly's BAFTA-nominated documentary follows the lives of three people caught up in violent land-rights protests, in this illuminating record of a neglected tragedy.
Even When I Fall
Documentary201789 minsDirector: Sky Neal
The inspiring and fascinating story of two child-trafficking survivors who form Nepal’s first and only circus; an ode to survival and the healing power of performance.
Drama2014105 minsDirector: Debbie Tucker Green
What if an immaculate conception took place in a South London household? Idris Elba stars in a subtle, thought-provoking and original family drama.
The Living Wake
Comedy200792 minsDirector: Sol Tyron
Accompanied by his faithful assistant Mills (Jesse Eisenberg), self-proclaimed genius K. Roth Binew (Mike O’Connell) decides to go out in style following a terminal prognosis – staging a living wake.
Sex comedy2008116 minsDirector: Anna Biller
Anna Biller's outrageous sexploitation satire follows bored housewife Barbi as she searches for adventure in predatory 1970s Los Angeles.