20 Sophomore Films From Celebrated Debut Directors

20 Sophomore Films From Celebrated Debut Directors

This week sees the release of John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary.” Among the many things the film is—a black comedy; a murder mystery; a dark-hearted fable; an anti-authoritarian screed—it is also a second film, coming on the heels of an admired debut, “The Guard.” “Calvary” is such a specific film, so unlike most anything else you’ll see this year, that it doesn’t easily lend itself to generalizations about the shape of the director’s career at this early stage, however in the feel of McDonagh digging in, getting into heavier, darker and less compromising territory, we can see a valid, some would say admirable, response to the challenges of the sophomore film.

The “difficult second album” syndrome affects filmmakers as much, if not more than musicians, especially those who have found a degree of success with their first outing. Do they try to replicate that film’s success? Do they simply expand on it with a larger budget? do they do a 180 and head off in the entirely opposite direction? Or do they struggle, laboring under the fear that perhaps they only ever had the one film in them?

Here we run down a selection of 20 films, each the second film of a director who’d found success of some kind with their debut. Please note we’re not suggesting these 20 are the best 20 sophomore films ever, nor that the filmmakers on the list are the most notable 20 filmmakers we could think of—we’re fairly sure most of you already know the stories of Orson Welles’ and Quentin Tarantino’s second films, for example. Instead, we’ve chosen our picks off a broad (though U.S.-centric) base, with an eye to showing the spectrum of responses to the specific challenges of the second feature film (narrative features only), and those who succeeded, those who stumbled, and those who seemed, just two films in, to have already burned out.

Richard Kelly – “Southland Tales” (2006)
More or less the poster boy for a precipitous sophomoric fall from dizzying debut heights, Richard Kelly’s plasticky, outrageous and completely incomprehensible follow-up to “Donnie Darko” feels similarly like a prime example of what results when a director’s early success (at a very young age) goes straight to his head. “Southland Tales” is a mess, but it’s an immensely grandiose mess. But all things it’s not—”Donnie Darko”; a real story; any actual good—can obscure what it is, and that is an ambitious experiment, albeit one that failed, in fusing an exuberant, candy-pop-culture sensibility onto serious-minded dystopian science fiction. It’s just a terrible shame that its sparks of cleverness (borne out when real-life events such as the passing of the Patriot Act started to ape the events of the film) are buried in the slag heap of so much cereal-box gimcrackery, from the tic-laden, mannered performances from Dwayne Johnson, as a compromised amnesiac boxer and Sarah Michelle Gellar, pinkly playing a porn star, to the overstuffed and undeveloped subplots. It’s a film catastrophic enough to have sent former wunderkind Kelly to director jail subsequently, only emerging to make “The Box” in 2009. And frankly, if that’s what a chastened, older, wiser Kelly looks like, we’ll take the fearless, ditzy hokum of “Southland Tales” any day.

Lynne Ramsay – “Morvern Callar” (2002)
Lynne Ramsay’s 1999 debut “Ratcatcher” was close to exceptional, but it also fit quite neatly into the long British cinema tradition of kitchen-sink drama. Three years later, Ramsay followed it up with “Morvern Callar,” an adaptation of the novel by Scottish writer Alan Warner, and it was just as exceptional, and much more singular and distinctive. Samantha Morton, in a startling performance, plays the title character, who wakes up to discover that her boyfriend has killed himself. Inheriting a mixtape he made for her, and an unpublished manuscript of a novel that she puts her name on, she heads to Spain in an attempt to sell it to a publisher. But plot really couldn’t be less important: this is a tone poem more than anything else, a woozy, gorgeous, defiantly interior character piece, that’s both artfully quote-unquote difficult, and curiously watchable. Alwin Kuchler’s photography is remarkable, but it’s as much a treat for the ears as it is for the eyes: the carefully curated soundtrack, raging from Can and The Velvet Underground to Aphex Twin and Nancy Sinatra, is a hall-of-famer, and crucially is basically inseparable from the film as a whole. We’d call it an extended music video, but that feels like much more of a backhanded compliment than we mean…

Cameron Crowe – “Singles” (1992)
Having given teen courtship and heartbreak one of its better screen outings with his script for “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” and then doing it all over again with 1989 directorial debut “Say Anything,” Cameron Crowe turned his attentions to twentysomethings with “Singles.” Presciently predicting the grunge boom (the film actually shot at the tail end of 1990, but was held for eighteen months until Nirvana and co. blew up, at which point Warner Bros. realized what they had), Crowe’s film focuses particularly on a pair of Seattle neighbors: Steve (Campbell Scott), negotiating a fledgling affair with Linda (Kyra Sedgwick), and Janet (Bridget Fonda), who has a tempestuous on-off thing with rocker Cliff (Matt Dillon). Crowe’s usual incisive feel for relationships is firmly on display, although the film feels skewed: Fonda and Dillon’s strand is much more compelling than the charming but bland one with Scott and Sedgwick. And it feels more sitcom-y than his other films, though in part that’s because of the way it proved so influential throughout the 1990s, not just on big-screen knock-offs like “Reality Bites,” but on the likes of “Friends” as well. But the film does have a winning specificity to it thanks to the setting and time: key Seattle bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains cameo, alongside with a curious rare acting appearance from Tim Burton.

Steven Soderbergh – “Kafka” (1991)
As stellar debuts go, it doesn’t get much more dream-scenario than your first, low budget indie winning the Palme d’Or, but that, among other landmarks detailed here, is exactly what Steven Soderbergh achieved with “sex, lies and videotape.” But he was already in production on his second film, a re-imagining of elements of Franz Kafka’s life and work into a, well, Kafka-esque story in its own right. It’s a film that still feels like the cuckoo in the nest of Soderbergh’s filmography—an exquisitely mounted movie that shows oceans of filmmaking talent and chutzpah, but in which thematically Soderbergh’s youth and inexperience show—it strives for depth and weightiness but ends up rather convoluted and a little ponderous. Sophomoric, you could say. Still, it’s very far from the flop it was hailed as at the time, if nothing else, it looks scrumptious in its German expressionism-influenced black and white photography (that briefly changes to desaturated color), and Jeremy Irons along with Theresa Russell and great supporting cast including Joel Grey, Ian Holm, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Jeroen Krabbe, Alec Guinness all turn in memorable work, not to mention Keith Allen and Simon McBurney as a couple of Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee-like clerks.

Kimberley Peirce – “Stop-Loss” (2008)
The theaters of 2007 and 2008 were littered with movies attempting to deal with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that American audiences simply weren’t ready to deal with. While “Stop-Loss,” the second film from director Kimberley Peirce, isn’t perfect, it is a sincere and searing look at the difficulties faced by soldiers both in combat, and when they return to home to be mistreated by the nation they were attempting to defend. Nine years on from acclaimed debut “Boys Don’t Cry,” Peirce focuses on three soldiers in particular: haunted Staff Sergeant Brandon (Ryan Phillipe), increasingly unhinged Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and straight-arrow Steve (Channing Tatum), who think they’re out only to learn that the Army’s stop-loss policy, where terms of service can be involuntarily extended, means they’ll be returning to combat. Peirce makes parallels with the Vietnam draft fairly explicitly (down to the dash to the border), and there’s a fierce anger that shines through, just as in her debut, but also the same humanism. And you can’t fault her casting instincts: she was on the Channing Tatum train while most others thought of him as the guy from that dancing movie, and he, along with Gordon-Levitt, Phillippe and the rest of the fine ensemble, are all very strong. A shame her equally belated third film “Carrie” was something of a let-down in comparison, then.

Francois Truffaut – “Shoot The Piano Player” (1960)
Francois Truffaut considered his debut, 1959’s “The 400 Blows,” to be very French, and for his follow-up, wanted to showcase his love of American cinema, and kick against expectations. “Shoot The Piano Player,” based on David Goodis’ novel “Down There,” probably stands as the director’s most experimental work, though experimental might be the wrong word for it—it’s a playful film, mischievous and restless, and more comic than you might expect. The plot nominally focuses on singing star Charles Aznavour as the musician of the title, drawn into the underworld to protect his brother, but Truffaut couldn’t really be less interested in the story—there’s a loose, freewheeling energy closer to “Hellzapoppin‘” than, say, Nicholas Ray, grabbing on to whatever transgressions and sidebars take the director’s fancy. It should feel like classic second album syndrome, indulgent and self-involved, but there’s something deeply infectious about the picture—having got to grips with the medium first time around, this is now a director taking Orson Welles‘ proverbial best-train-set-a-boy-could-ask-for, and building it into loop-the-loops and corkscrews. It’s probably Truffaut’s most Godardian picture in some ways (his frenemy debuted the same year with his own playful noir, co-written with Truffaut, “Breathless“), but as if Godard had grown up on the Marx Brothers and Ernst Lubitsch.

John Singleton – “Poetic Justice” (1993)
John Singleton’s groundbreaking and still superb debut, “Boyz N the Hood” crossed so many boundaries that he more or less had to follow it with something deeply different. Unfortunately, “Poetic Justice,” while different, is significantly lesser and in retrospect feels like it charts the beginning of a slow fizzling out of Singleton’s once-blazing star. Not so much a bad film as a mild and rather irrelevant one, “Poetic Justice” is a road trip/love story starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur (which makes Singleton a natural choice for the long-gestating Tupac biopic). Interestingly, Singleton elects to start inside the film-within-the-film, a whiter-than-white thriller starring, (hello 1993!) Billy Zane and Lori Petty, before skipping to the other side of the screen to the drive-in and the mostly black audience watching from their cars. But that’s really where the social/racial commentary ends, as, after an early shooting death, the film then settles into a low-key, sincere but occasionally overwrought romance that displays the admirable intent to foreground a black female perspective, but can’t find much to do with it. And it doesn’t help that its title is derived less from any instructive or ironic lessons learned and more from the fact that Jackson’s character’s name is Justice, and she, erm, writes poetry.

John Huston – “In This Our Life” (1942)
Back in the pre-auteur theory, pre-indie cinema studio age, a second film as a director was not necessarily as big a personal deal as it is today—once you were inside the machine, and attained any sort of success, you were pretty much assured of another gig. And John Huston’s debut, “The Maltese Falcon” was such a hit with critics and audiences alike, that the very next year Warners had him behind the camera again. But surprisingly, given Huston’s subsequent rep for masculine, Hemingway-esque cinema, it’s a women’s picture, an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ellen Glasgow novel starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. Co-directed by Raoul Walsh when Huston was called up, it is a superior film, originally dropped from wartime release due to its subplot about racial discrimination (that, and the incestuous desire that an uncle feels for his flirtatious niece are both present, but toned down) featuring two terrific leading lady performances, though again, it seems to labor under the misapprehension of the time that de Havilland could be thought of as “plain.” Davis especially is great as the selfish, capricious monster Stanley, with neither the actress nor Huston pulling any punches in portraying the coquettish character’s ugliness.

Agnes Varda – “Cleo From 5 To 7” (1962)
Not to paint with a broad brush, but it seems harder for female directors to get the backing for a second film, even after an acclaimed first feature. Whereas Truffaut only had a year between “The 400 Blows” and “Shoot The Piano Player,” near-contemporary Agnes Varda had seven years between debut “La Pointe Courte” and follow-up “Cleo From 5 To 7” (though she did turn in several documentaries in the meantime). Fortunately, the latter was so unignorably good that she worked consistently throughout the rest of the 1960s. Varda began as a photographer, so it’s no surprise that both of her first two films are quiet and observational to some degree: in this case, a near-real-time look at a pop star (Corinne Marchand) waiting for possibly life-changing medical results. Varda’s formally playful in a rather more subtle ways than the more testosterone-y New Wavers (Godard actually cameos, along with Anna Karina and Eddie Constantine), but more importantly, has real compassion towards her possibly-doomed protagonist: Cleo is self-absorbed, and even shallow, but is far from a caricature, in part thanks to Marchand’s luminous turn. It’s a portrait of a person, but also of a city and a time, and while it feels almost effortlessly light, adds up to something truly substantial, and arguably still Varda’s best.

Vincent Gallo – “The Brown Bunny” (2003)
A sort of proto-James Franco, the ever-divisive Vincent Gallo emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as a beguiling screen presence who dabbled in modeling and music as well as acting, but seemed to have much larger ambitions. But for a minute, he seemed like he might be the real deal: debut feature “Buffalo 66” landed in the post-Tarantino wilderness and stood out as something firmly original, and unusually well-executed. Follow-up “The Brown Bunny,” which starred Gallo as a motorcycle racer, got even more attention, but not necessarily for the right reasons: it was booed heartily at Cannes, and Roger Ebert called it the worst film in the history of the festival, while it also proved controversial for featuring a scene of unsimulated fellatio between Gallo and co-star Chloe Sevigny. Once the dust cleared (and Gallo cut nearly half an hour for the released version), the film did win over some admirers, but we’re not among them: there are moments of tenderness and poetry in Gallo’s film, but the whole is indulgent, narcissistic, and heavily marred by a My First Creative Writing Class twist that causes no reaction other than eye-rolling. Gallo decided to never release his third film, “Promises Made In Water,” and we can’t say we mourn its absence all that much.

Shane Carruth – “Upstream Color” (2013)
It’s one thing to cobble together enough money for your no-budget, brainy sci-fi debut, but quite another to parlay that film’s low-key success into a much grander second feature that compromises none of the author’s vision or complexity. And for Shane Carruth, after “Primer,” that process proved anything but straightforward, encompassing a couple of false starts before “Upstream Color” finally came along, almost a decade later. A gloriously evocative, creepy, shimmery science fiction love story, polyglot Carruth maintains an utterly unique tone that oscillates between jittery paranoia and quiet awe, and controls everything from the camerawork to the excellent soundscape/score. Pigs and poetry, math and mystery, swooning love and sweeping fear, the film encompasses them all, but while the plot is sinuous and cyclical and chimeric, it is not vague—there is a  steely precision to Carruth’s writing that makes even his gauzy, sensual imagery amount to a lot more than esoteric pretty pictures. Less a movie than a voyage into Carruth’s singular, labyrinthine brain, as a signal of commitment to independent, auteurist ideals, they don’t come much better or more resonant than “Upstream Color.” It’s among our very favorite sophomore films of recent years, and one we fervently hope will be followed up in somewhat shorter order than before.

Sofia Coppola – “Lost In Translation” (2003)
It’s easy to tar a second-generation filmmaker with the brush of nepotism, but Sofia Coppola, the then-28-year-old daughter of “The Godfather” master Francis Ford Coppola, managed to quiet down most accusations with her 1999 debut “The Virgin Suicides.” And any remaining doubters were silenced with her follow-up four years later, a deeply personal, tender little comic romance which crossed over to the mainstream, picking up multiple Oscar nominations (including Best Picture). Seemingly commenting on the breakdown of Coppola’s marriage to fellow director Spike Jonze (his recent film “Her” serves as a fascinating companion piece to this), the film sees Scarlett Johansson in a breakout role as a young woman left to her own devices in Tokyo while her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) works. She forms a friendship with a lonely middle-aged movie star (Bill Murray), the pair drawing closer even as they’re aware that their time together will be brief. Coppola really refined her gorgeous, dreamy aesthetic (thanks to Lance Acord’s phenomenal photography and a tremendous soundtrack) here, and Murray’s performance in particular remains a towering, bittersweet high in his career.

Sarah Polley – “Take This Waltz” (2012)
Not every actor-turned-director gets a second shot at getting behind the camera, so it’s not surprising that Sarah Polley took five years to follow up her devastating directorial debut “Away From Her.” But there was no mistaking her touch when “Take This Waltz” did arrive: the same cut-to-the-bone emotionally raw quality was to be found, even though the new film dealt with characters much closer to Polley’s age than to those in her first film. Michelle Williams took the lead role, of a young woman in a seemingly happy marriage (to Seth Rogen, surprisingly but effectively taking a dramatic role), who starts to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, namely the side belonging to Luke Kirby’s handsome pedicab operator. The film isn’t as tight, focused or, frankly, successful as “Away From Her”—it’s rough around the edges, with a number of distracting or ineffective choices making the whole feel uneven. But it is deeply felt, with an understanding of female sexuality that’s rare for any filmmaker, and when it works, it’s transcendentally good. It’s also the rare film that grows when you see its successor: Polley’s fantastic third film “Stories We Tell,” which premiered a year later, makes clear how personal the concerns of “Take This Waltz” are to her.

Amy Heckerling – “Johnny Dangerously” (1984)
With the fall from grace of the “Look Who’s Talking” franchise (and really, fellow movie watchers of the late ‘80s, what were we all on?) the narrative of Amy Heckerling’s early career is largely reduced to two movies—her debut “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and her teen classic “Clueless” with everything that happened in between reduced to “…” status. And we’ll be honest, it might have remained so with us were it not for this excuse to catch up with Heckerling’s near-forgotten second directorial outing “Johnny Dangerously,” which, dammit, is fucking funny. Seriously, why have we been allowed to overlook it till now? It’s a ridiculous, gag-a-minute spoof of 1930s gangster movies, but done with such affection and so brilliantly played by its cast (Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner and Griffin Dunne are great, while our personal MVP is Maureen Stapleton as Johnny’s redoubtable Irish mammy) that even when the jokes slow up a bit it’s still immensely likeable. Clearly influenced by the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker school of sight gags (more silly than scatological) and one-liners (“Did you know your last name is an adverb?”), the energy and ambition as a second film can’t be denied. But it’s up there with the best ZAZ output, and so is ripe for a reappraisal, not just within Heckerling’s back catalogue, but within the pantheon of spoof comedies in general.

Mike Nichols – “The Graduate” (1967)
If you could choose to have any director’s first two films as your first two films, you could do an awful lot worse than opting for Mike Nichols’. Coming from theatrical direction (after a stint as one half of comedy duo with the great Elaine May) Nichols’ first film is a corker, a still scabrous screen version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” starring a never-better Burton and Taylor, that won five Oscars and saw Nichols nominated as Best Director. How to follow such a blistering success? By winning the Best Director Oscar next time out. A film that’s so much a monolithic part of cinema history it’s difficult perhaps to get any perspective on it, with “The Graduate” Nichols not only launched the unknown Dustin Hoffman to stardom and turned in a bona fide smash hit, he pre-empted a new, offbeat, independent sensibility in U.S. cinema. The antiheroic tale of one unfocused young man’s affair with his girlfriend’s mother felt so progressive and fresh in 1967, that it’s surprising that the 70s were not kinder to Nichols than they were. But perhaps when you make two classics and two box-office hits with your first two films, there’s nowhere to go but down, at least for a while.

Spike Jonze – “Adaptation” (2002)
1999’s “Being John Malkovich” has to be one of the most original and boldest directorial debuts in cinematic history. Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman took an oddball concept—what if you found a portal into John Malkovich’s head?—and turned it into something hilarious, visually imaginative, and oddly profound. Three years later, they did it again: “Adaptation” is more unruly than its predecessor, and less accessible (because yes, as it turns out, it’s possible to be less accessible than a movie about finding a portal into John Malkovich’s head), but just as strange, glorious, and subtly sad. Kaufman was hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief,” but struggling with writer’s block, turned in a script about his writer’s block, with a fat, needy Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage, in his last truly great performance) as the protagonist, along with his gauche, crude brother Donald (also Cage). The film functions as a Hollywood satire and an examination of the creative process, but also somehow successfully adapts Orlean’s book (with Meryl Streep as Orlean, and an Oscar-winning Chris Cooper as her subject) at the same time, while even taking in a voyage to the beginning of time. The film isn’t as satisfying as its predecessor—it may be the only movie in history to deliberately sabotage its own third act—but it’s still an odd, remarkable picture that could have only come from Kaufman and Jonze.

Terrence Malick – “Days Of Heaven” (1978)
Malick’s 1973 debut feature, “Badlands” if not universally acclaimed, certainly came close to it. Five years later (a positively speedy follow-up by the director’s standards, as we know by now), he returned with “Days Of Heaven,” and at the time, it was frostily received in comparison: American reviewers praised the film’s beauty, but found an emptiness behind it without the obvious crime-movie conceit of “Badlands” at its heart. Fortunately, the winds soon changed: the following year, Malick won Best Director at Cannes, and the film’s reputation has been restored to the extent that it’s now widely seen by many as the director’s best (we’d maybe tie it with “The Thin Red Line,” but still). A Texas-set Steinbeckian love triangle between Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard, this really saw the Malick we know and love crystallize: the magic-hour photography, a making-it-up-as-you-go-along approach to production (the director tossed the script two weeks in), a poetic, lyrical feel. The result is a titanic example of American cinema, pure cinema, something that wouldn’t be achievable in any other medium. It took Malick twenty years to make another film, but if you’d made “Days Of Heaven,” you’d probably consider it a hard act to follow as well.

Steve McQueen – “Shame” (2011)
It’s too early to see how “Shame” will come to be seen within Steve McQueen’s filmography: an intimate and insular character study falling between two rather-more-upper-case-I-Important works, in Irish troubles drama “Hunger” and the Oscar-winning “12 Years A Slave,” it’s easy to see it falling between the cracks and becoming a lesser-known McQueen picture. It’s probably fair to describe it as the least of his three films, but despite its flaws, it doesn’t deserve to disappear from the history books entirely. “Hunger” star Michael Fassbender, having broken out with the earlier picture, returned, playing Brandon, a Manhattan finance type essentially controlled by a sex addiction (“Hunger” would actually have been an appropriate title for this one too). His comfortable life of one-night stands, pornography and workplace masturbation is upset when his little sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay, and by hints of genuine connection with colleague Marianne (Nicole Beharie). In places, the screenplay, by McQueen and Abi Morgan, is heavy-handed and crashingly obvious: this is not a work of great subtlety by any means, particularly in Brandon’s final meltdown. But McQueen’s formal control is quite a thing to behold, and at its very best (the ickily close interactions between the siblings, suggesting so much about their pasts; Brandon’s night-time run), it’s a work of great power.

Andrew Dominik – “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007)
Delivering a visceral gut punch that launched unknown Eric Bana to stardom with “Chopper,” Andrew Dominik took seven years before delivering his second film. The elegiac, dying-of-the-light Western, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” led by Brad Pitt, is based on an acclaimed novel, and is as sweeping and epic as “Chopper” was brutal and lean. And it also happens to be, unequivocally, one of the best films of the last decade. ‘Assassination’ is about the wide golden spaces of the Old West contrasted with the constricted darkness that a jealous heart can harbor; it’s about the death of the old to make way for the new; and it’s about, of all things, the creepy extremes of celebrity worship. Pitt delivers one of his best performances but was one-upped by an astounding Casey Affleck as Robert Ford, who embodies a stalker’s covetous admiration souring into resentment, and calls to mind every “celebrity assassin” from John Wilkes Booth to Mark Chapman. For Dominik it was a step up in profile, a step outward in terms of scope and breadth, and a step inward in terms of the film’s contemplative, thoughtful tone. ‘Assassination’ is an epochal movie that will only grow in estimation with time.

Darren Aronofsky – “Requiem For A Dream” (2000)
With Darren Aronofsky’s deeply weird, micro-budget directorial debut “Pi,” it was clear that a singular new voice had arrived. But few were expecting his follow-up to be as fully-realized, or unbelievably punishing, as “Requiem For A Dream” turned out to be only two years later. An adaptation of the novel by “Last Exit To Brooklyn” writer Hubert Selby Jr, it follows a quartet of drug addicts—Harry (Jared Leto), girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), all hooked on heroin, and Harry’s mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn, nominated for an Oscar for her astonishing turn), who develops a dependency on diet pills and amphetamines in an attempt to lose weight—as they sink further and further into the holes caused by their addictions. It’s an abrasive, noisy, uncomfortable picture, with the style cranked up to the very top, Aronofsky throwing every trick in the book at the viewer in an attempt to capture the highs and lows of his characters. It’s also terribly, terribly bleak, and understandably proved too much for some viewers, even those who liked it. But anything less—anything less vibrant, anything less despairing, anything less attention-seeking—wouldn’t have captured the experience and costs of experience in quite the same way. From wildly ambitious, big-hearted sci-fi flop “The Fountain” to acclaimed arthouse giallo werewolf picture “Black Swan,” Aronofsky‘s continued to plough the furrow he started here ever since. 

Honorable Mentions: There are of course a thousand more names we could have chosen to feature, and perhaps we will in future. John Michael’s brother Martin McDonagh himself followed up a very successful debut, “In Bruges” with the bigger but not necessarily better “Seven Psychopaths”; Nicole Holofcener became one successful debut director to buck the trend of female filmmakers not being able to find financing for a second film with “Lovely And Amazing” that confirmed that “Walking and Talking” was not only no flash in the pan, it was firmly the milieu and genre that Holofcener would continue to mine; we actually wanted to include Claire Denis here, as her exceptional debut “Chocolat” is among our favorites, but could not track down her next film “No Fear, No Die” in time; Truffaut and Varda are representing the New Wave for us but of course Godard’s first film “Breathless” was somewhat successful and we could easily have included his follow-up, the colorful, playful “A Woman is a Woman”; Spike Lee we’ve written about a great deal recently, but could well have included “School Daze” which is where he went after the indie success of “She’s Gotta Have It.

Elsewhere, Sam Raimi, George Miller, Roman Polanski, The Coens, George Romero, Sam Mendes, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jane Campion, Jim Jarmusch, David Gordon Green and Larry Clark all found debut success and went on to mixed-to-terrific follow-ups, while across the pond Ken Loach and Mike Leigh also made waves with their first films and parlayed that into careers of longevity. More recently, Neill Blomkamp, Gareth Edwards and David Michod are among the most recent directors to have made their sophomore bow, with “Elysium,” “Godzilla” and “The Rover” respectively…but hey, we could go on forever, so let us know if there are any spectacular examples of second-film success or failure that you’d like us to cover in future. — Jessica Kiang, Oliver Lyttelton

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Comments

Eric Robert Wilkinson

Perhaps they're too obvious or perhaps it's an oversight but PT Anderson, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, Alejandro G. Innaritu, etc.? Where are they?!?

DG Brock

Thank you for covering so many 2nd films by women directors who are frequently short-changed in articles on interesting films of the past. One note: Alison Bagnall, the co-writer of Buffalo '66, certainly deserves a measure of credit for the quality of Vincent Gallo's first film, and I believe her absence or the absence of any co-writer on Brown Bunny may have been responsible for some of the story problems on the sophomore effort. However, Vincent stated many times that the purpose of Brown Bunny was to "upset" indie film audiences and he felt he succeeded in that intent.

Keil S.

I'd like confirmation on what's considered to be Linklater's debut: Slacker or It's Impossible to Learn to Plow By Reading Books. In a recent interview he referred to Slacker as his debut, and I wouldn't think an experimental 8mm film with no distribution should be considered part of his official filmography, but what does everyone else think?

Sid

David O. Russell! Spanking the Monkey then Flirting with Disaster!!

Emily

What about Todd Field's follow up to In the Bedroom? Little Children is one of my favorite films!

TheDoctor

Thanks for mentioning Kafka! I love that film so much and even Soderbergh himself wont say much about it

Gyandeep

Great list. But no PTA? No Ben Affleck?

ryan

um…boogie nights? pulp fiction??

Frank D

Something needs to be mentioned about arguably the most controversy-laden follow-up of all time: "The Magnificent Ambersons." It was the 2nd feature by a guy named Orson Welles who made a film called "Citizen Kane." The complete, director-intended version of "Ambersons" is likely lost forever. The studio-released, truncated versions (many of them) show glimpses that many film scholars have said could well be a film that surpassed its predecessor in vision, form, content.

How about a "reverse" list? Inauspicious debuts that led to great careers later? It may be an odd choice but Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" was his 3rd feature. Very rare in this biz that someone gets THREE chances to get "on the big board." (Granted, he's hit the decline since.)

Andrew from Troy

I'm surprised that Kevin Smith's Mallrats isn't here. I'm not the biggest fan of the film, but I expected to at least see it in the honorable mentions.

Matt

Shame is easily my favourite of Steve McQueens three movies. It definitely does not need to be written out of the history books just because of its personal nature…

Hashim AlHamar

I was surprised you didn't include Paul Thomas Anderson and probably one of the greatest sophomore efforts in history, Boogie Nights. You didn't even put it in the Honorable Mentions part.

oogle monster

I would throw Derek Cianfrance and Blue Valentine into the mix. I believe it's his second film, and it's hands down his best to date. Also, just a great film in general.

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