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Before They Were Blockbuster Directors: 8 TV Episodes by the People Behind 2017’s Biggest Films

From Patty Jenkins to Jordan Vogt-Roberts, these directors made meaningful stops in the TV world before making movies that would conquer the 2017 box office.

Even though the worlds of film and TV are converging more than ever before, it’s interesting to note just how many of the people behind the biggest films of the year have tried their hand at TV work in the past.

“Get Out” director Jordan Peele never officially directed an episode of his long-running Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele,” but his debut film currently sits at No. 7 on the year’s domestic box office list. Go up and down the rest of that chart and you’ll find movies from directors who’ve made valuable contributions to TV comedies and dramas alike.

Most of these episodes were pilots or season premieres, ways for directors to help establish a template or shorthand for what governs life in front of and behind the camera for the duration of these series. While some of these filmmakers took multiple opportunities in the TV director’s seat, we’ve tried to pick out the one that hewed closest to what we’ve seen this year.

One thing that we noticed with all of these episodes is that there’s one moment in each of them that hints at something that each filmmaker would bring to their 2017 box-office triumph. Whether it’s a major set-piece or a tiny emotional grace note, here are the TV episodes — and the moments from them — that showed these directors had what it took to wow audiences the world over.

House of Cards

“House of Cards”

Patrick Harbron/Netflix

James Foley

2017 Film: “Fifty Shades Darker”

Previous TV Show: “House of Cards”
Season 1, Episode 4 – “Chapter 4”

What They Had Done So Far: After having a significant music video career, being behind the camera for a towering adaptation of David Mamet’s play “Glengarry Glen Ross” and even heading up a late Season 2 episode of “Twin Peaks,” Foley’s 21st century credits are dotted with pit stops on “Hannibal,” “Wayward Pines” (more on that show later) and, most recently, “Billions.”

Signature Episode Moment: A pair of central Season 1 “House of Cards” affairs have their roots in “Chapter 4.” Claire’s first reunion with photographer Adam Galloway and Frank’s escalating relationship with Zoe Barnes both make for hazily lit encounters that are somehow steamy and sterile at the same time, an odd combination that’s been a part of both “Fifty Shades” films.

“The Killing”

Patty Jenkins

2017 Film: “Wonder Woman

Previous TV Show: “The Killing”
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”

What They Had Done So Far: Jenkins had already shown her filmmaking bona fides with “Monster,” eight years before. While she also directed a classic episode of “Arrested Development,” this hour of TV is a little closer to the dramatic heft she was able to bring to Wonder Woman’s origin story.

Signature Episode Moment: As the title of the series may have hinted at, the missing persons case driving much of the series premiere wasn’t destined for a happy ending. But rather than this homicide being a chance discovery in the woods, it’s Detective Linden’s ingenuity that leads to the case. When Rosie Larsen’s body is finally recovered, it’s not until after a sedan is exhumed from the bottom of a lake. It’s a dramatic entrance, and one that gives added weight to a case that would lead its central characters searching across an entire city.

Anne Heche;Scott Elrod Actors Scott Elrod and Anne Heche of the new drama "Men in Trees," are seen during the ABC Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif ABC Press Tour, Beverly Hills , USA

James Mangold

2017 Film: “Logan”

Previous TV Show: “Men in Trees”
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”

What They Had Done So Far: By the time this episode aired, James Mangold had already directed Angelina Jolie (“Girl, Interrupted”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) to Oscars, so having him head up the first episode of an Anne Heche-starring, stranger-figures-out-her-life-in-Alaska ABC comedy wasn’t too far out of left field.

Signature Episode Moment: With his remake of “3:10 to Yuma” on the horizon, this pilot has a scene that taps into Mangold’s experience with low-level period lighting. When Heche’s Marin disobeys one of the first rules of Alaska andthen falls through through thin ice into freezing water, she’s rescued by kindly stranger John. As she warms herself back up in his cabin, their first conversation (and eventual night in bed together) is lit by a single lantern. Much like a lot of what made “Logan” great, it’s like something out of a classic western.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mtv/Nickelodeon/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5870511a) The Ren and Stimpy Show (1991-96) The Ren and Stimpy Show - 1991-96 Mtv/Nickelodeon USA Scene Still

“The Ren & Stimpy Show”


Tom McGrath

2017 Film: “The Boss Baby”

Previous TV Show: “The Ren & Stimpy Show”
Season 5 – “I Was a Teenage Stimpy”

What They Had Done So Far: McGrath had worked on previous “Ren and Stimpy” episodes before working his way up to director for this segment. Years later, McGrath would help shepherd the “Madagascar” franchise through its first three installments, alongside co-director Eric Darnell.

Signature Episode Moment: For a director who would eventually take the lead on a film about an infant thrust into the high-stakes world of adults, this particular “Ren & Stimpy” episode about the latter character’s puberty seems oddly prescient. All the show’s trademark twisted humor is here (Stimpy’s first solution to acne is to grab a rusty pair of pliers), but one particular “growth spurt” is as unsettling as the early days of Nickelodeon got.

Chris McKay

2017 Film: “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Prior TV Show: “Robot Chicken”
Season 3, Episode 1 – “Werewolf vs. Unicorn”

What They Had Done So Far: McKay was already a stop-motion vet by 2007, having worked on multiple episodes of “Moral Orel,” Adult Swim’s send-up of wholesome mid-20th-century small town sitcoms.

Signature Episode Moment: As the season’s premiere, the opening sketch pokes fun at the show’s renewal process, delivering the same sort of meta-humor that’s powered both installments in the greater LEGO film-verse so far. One quick “Defenders of the Earth” superhero segment has a few quick jabs against the idea of masked vigilantes, but the biggest surprise (in retrospect) is seeing Superman actually pop up in a commentary on immigration policy. (Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California for eight years?)

“Marco Polo”

Phil Bray/Netflix

Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

2017 Film: “Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Prior TV Show: “Marco Polo”
Season 1, Episode 1 – “The Wayfarer”

What They Had Done So Far: The Norwegian filmmaking duo had already wrestled “Kon-Tiki,” an Oscar-nominated biopic set aboard a raft on the open ocean. It’s effectively an audition tape for a swashbuckling franchise installment set on the high seas, but capturing the epic scope of “Marco Polo” wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either.

Signature Episode Moment: The fight-training sequence towards the end of this pilot has everything short of Laurence Fishburne shouting “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!” But Rønning and Sandberg opt for a handheld style that seems closer to where modern blockbusters like to keep their action scenes (and where future action-heavy Netflix shows would follow). Plus, Marco’s instructor flips a golden coin that’s awfully reminiscent of a few shots from “Curse of the Black Pearl,” right down to that shiny sound effect.

"Wayward Pines"

“Wayward Pines”

20th Studios

M. Night Shyamalan

2017 Film: “Split

Previous TV Show: “Wayward Pines”
Season 1, Episode 1  – “Where Paradise is Home”

What They Had Done So Far: After making two of the most fascinating sci-fi films of the decade (search your feelings, you know “Unbreakable” and “Signs” to both be quality films), this period of Shymalan’s work was far closer to career-rehabilitation mode when the show premiered in late spring 2015.

Signature Episode Moment: Two minutes in, you can already see the echoes of Shyamalan past and hints at what would lie right on the other side of his career. The series opens with a very “Lost”-ian eyeball shot and, before you know it, Shyamalan has us right inside a therapist’s office. Talking about psychological trauma might be one of the simplest exposition shortcuts in the business, but this shows how he was able to improve on the trope in “Split.”

YOU'RE THE WORST -- "PTSD" -- Episode 106 (Airs Thursday, August 21, 10:30 pm e/p) -- Pictured: (L-R) Aya Cash as Gretchen Cutler, Chris Geere as Jimmy Shive-Overly -- CR: Byron Cohen/FX

“You’re the Worst”

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

2017 Film: “Kong: Skull Island”

Previous TV Show: “You’re the Worst”
Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”

What They Had Done So Far: After 2010 Sundance short “Successful Alcoholics,” Vogt-Roberts went on to reteam with T.J. Miller for the Comedy Central series “Mash Up.” Toss in a few episodes of “Funny or Die Presents” and the delightful crowd-pleasing “The Kings of Summer” (Biaggio!!) and the director found himself directing the pilot for one of the best TV comedies of this decade.

Signature Episode Moment: On this list, this might be the biggest thematic jump between the TV and film work of a specific director. But there’s still something about Gretchen’s rooftop fight with rapper client Sam Dresden that makes the LA city skyline feel bright and ominous, much like the looming Skull Island would end up being. Plus, the first instance of Edgar’s PTSD showed how Vogt-Roberts could help draw a handful of laughs out of some dark, unexpected places.

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