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Great Debuts

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.

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Spanking the Monkey
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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.

Suture
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Suture

Thriller199496 minsDirector: Scott Mcgehee

David Siegel and Scott McGehee's sumptuously shot neo-noir is a moody, monochrome meditation on race and identity politics.

Shadows
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Shadows

Drama195982 minsDirector: John Cassavetes

John Cassavetes' directorial debut follows the relationship between a mixed-race woman and a white man.

Breathless / À bout de souffle
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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
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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
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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.

Under the Skin
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Under the Skin

Melodrama199783 minsDirector: Carine Adler

Carine Adler’s sexy and dark debut, starring Samantha Morton in her first major feature film role.

Sixteen
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Sixteen

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.

The Goob
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The Goob

Drama201484 minsDirector: Guy Myhill

A teen seeks meaning as an East Anglian summer and a violent outsider threaten to overwhelm.

Distant Voices, Still Lives
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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.

The Falls
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The Falls

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

Radio On
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Radio On

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.

Katzelmacher
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Katzelmacher

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.

Sanshiro Sugata
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Sanshiro Sugata

Crime194379 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa’s assured debut film about a young man’s spiritual journey through the study and practice of judo.

The Immortal One
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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.

Hotel Salvation
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Hotel Salvation

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.

Court
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Court

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.

Chameleon
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Chameleon

Drama201682 minsDirector: Jorge Riquelme Serrano

Two women are terrorised by an unwanted stranger in this impeccably-styled bourgeois nightmare.

New Town Utopia
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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
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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
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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.

Unrelated
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Unrelated

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
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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.

A Moving Image
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A Moving Image

Drama201674 minsDirector: Shola Amoo

The gentrification of London’s Brixton is examined in this probing and stylistically ambitious debut feature.

Room 237
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Room 237

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.

The Incident
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The Incident

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.

Donnie Darko
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Donnie Darko

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.

Ballast
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Ballast

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.

Gholam
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Gholam

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
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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.

Something Different
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Something Different

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
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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
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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.

Second Coming
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Second Coming

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
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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.

Viva
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Viva

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.