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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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Great Debuts
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View Breathless / À bout de souffle
Breathless / À bout de souffle

Breathless / À bout de souffle 1960 PG

Jean-Luc Godard’s extraordinary debut feature, an insouciant and iconoclastic crime film that paved the way for the French New Wave.

90 mins France Director. Jean-Luc Godard

One of the most auspicious feature debuts in cinema history, Jean-Luc Godard's homage to Hollywood crime films rebooted a moribund French cinema.

And the Nouvelle Vague in turn inspired like-minded 'New Waves' throughout global cinema.

View The Immortal One
The Immortal One

The Immortal One 1962 12

The debut feature from famed novelist and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet is a daring examination of fantasy and memory set in Turkey.

101 mins France Director. Alain Robbe-Grillet

Before his debut feature, controversial author Alain Robbe-Grillet was already a key figure in the French New Wave as screenwriter of Last Year in Marienbad.

Desperate to direct, he finally procured funds on the condition they were spent in Turkey, so Robbe-Grillet reframed his beguiling mystery around the exoticism of Istanbul.

Shane Meadows has worked hard to establish his signature style; engaging ensemble pieces presented with naturalism and warmth.

The genesis of all of the above can be found in his charming debut feature, a hilarious comedy about small-time Nottinghamshire crooks.

View Shadows

Shadows 1959 12

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

87 mins USA Director. John Cassavetes

One of the most significant debut features in the history of American film, Shadows was a key work in establishing the template for American independent cinema.

John Cassavetes considered his opening statement so important he ended up filming it twice, so dissatisfied was he with the first attempt. The first version survives but is all but unseen today.

View Loving Memory
Loving Memory

Loving Memory 1970 12

An unsettling portrait of love and loss by the director of Top Gun.

57 mins United Kingdom Director. Tony Scott

Arguably one of the most incongruous debuts in British cinema, Tony Scott’s debut film is a poetic black-and-white wonder in the vein of early works by Bill Douglas and Terence Davies.

Scott would of course progress to the brashest of Hollywood careers, directing Top Gun, Man on Fire and Domino, but the keen visual style seen in his debut stayed with him throughout.

View Unrelated

Unrelated 2007 15

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).

96 mins United Kingdom Director. Joanna Hogg

This perfectly formed, subtle and slight comedy of manners was the feature-film debut for both director Joanna Hogg and star Tom Hiddleston.

While Hiddleston has gone on to bigger (budgeted) things, he’s so far returned to feature in all of Hogg’s subsequent films; a practise we hope will continue.

View Radio On
Radio On

Radio On 1979 18

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.

100 mins United Kingdom Director. Chris Petit

In mounting early works, filmmakers often lean heavily on the influence of past masters, and Chris Petit openly appropriated the style of Wim Wenders for his stylish debut.

What’s impressive is how successfully Petit fuses the road-movie tropes of New German Cinema with British themes and character.

View Distant Voices Still Lives
Distant Voices Still Lives

Distant Voices Still Lives 1988 15

Terence Davies' debut feature is a remarkable evocation of working-class family life in the 40s and 50s and a visionary exploration of memory.

85 mins United Kingdom Director. Terence Davies

Terence Davies's debut feature is actually two films, made two years apart.

With the same cast and setting, Distant Voices and Still Lives work together to make a resonant feature which continues to mine the rich biographical seam explored in Davies' earlier Trilogy.

View Sanshiro Sugata
Sanshiro Sugata

Sanshiro Sugata 1943 PG

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

79 mins Japan Director. Akira Kurosawa

One of the greatest of all filmmakers seemingly arrived almost fully formed with a film that displays all the director’s dynamism and dramatic drive.

This Judo drama might not quite match Kurosawa’s finest epics but it’s a fine film that was a huge success in its day, spawning an immediate sequel and five remakes.

View The Falls
The Falls

The Falls 1980 PG

Peter Greenaway's epic first feature, constructed as an excerpt from an imagined, filmic directory listing everyone affected by VUE – the Violent Unknown Event

185 mins United Kingdom Director. Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway had built a reputation as a master of short-form nonfiction before his first feature, so the sheer scope of his debut feature astounded.

A sprawling, 195-minute epic, it bursts with invention. Perhaps Greenaway feared his first could be his last – but thankfully he’s still working today.

View In Which We Serve
In Which We Serve

In Which We Serve 1942 U

Noel Coward and David Lean direct this affecting drama of a Royal Navy crew recalling their lives in flashback, as their ship sinks.

115 mins United Kingdom Director. David Lean, Noël Coward

David Lean’s respected reputation as an editor led to this assignment on Noël Coward’s patriotic war film.

As Coward became preoccupied with his acting role, Lean ended up directing most of the film and it’s viewed today as the first great work from one of British cinema's masters.

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