8 First Time Directors Who Got Hired For Major Films

By  · Published on October 6th, 2015

by David Christopher Bell


This week WB hired first time director Seth Grahame-Smith to direct their upcoming movie about The Flash. While this seems like a gamble, it isn’t the first time that a newbie director has been tapped for a major blockbuster. We explore some of the most notable examples.

People don’t just get handed million-dollar blockbusters, nor do studios go door-to-door looking for someone to direct the next Jurassic Park. That’s why the following list of first time directors – while seemingly out of nowhere – certainly had backgrounds directing stuff like music videos or commercials.

Still – they were untested in feature filmmaking, and to the un-obsessed public it would appear that studios simply plucked a dude off the street. Like giving a small child a semi truck, the results were mixed.

8. Simon West – Con Air

Honestly there are way bigger films I could have put in place of Con Air. For example, you won’t see J.J. Abrams on this list despite him starting his feature career with Mission Impossible 3. The reason why is simple: J.J. Abrams didn’t direct “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley.

Yep. Simon West, the director who began his career with an awesome action film starring a handful of actors who were probably way too good to be there is also the person we can thank for Rickrolling. Aside from Rick Astley, that is.

7. Marcus Nispel – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I have a theory on horror movie remakes – a good formula in terms of gauging the quality: If the original’s sequels were terrible, then remake will be terrible. Evil Dead got a good remake with highly favored sequels, Halloween got a so-so remake because of it’s mixed quality sequels, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre got some terrible sequels, and a terrible remake.

The reason? The sequels point out how much you can do with a plot before people are sick of it – in Texas Chainsaw’s case, the only shining light was seeing Dennis Hopper go berserk with a chainsaw.

Anyway, I think I’m supposed to mention that this is the first feature for Marcus Nispel, who has yet to make something that didn’t piss me off. Nispel came to it from directing music video docs and went right back to them.

6. McG – Charlie’s Angels

I remember watching, for some ungodly reason, the behind the scenes features for the first Charlie’s Angels DVD. From them, I remember thinking that the one thing McG had going for him was that he seemed at least genuinely excited about making the movie. Unfortunately that was the only thing he had going for him.

Before remaking the old TV show, he was shooting such music videos as “Walking On The Sun” and “Pretty Fly For A White Guy” – which means that surprisingly enough, Terminator Salvation is probably the best thing he’s done.

5. Rupert Sanders – Snow White And The Huntsman

By this point you’ve probably figured out why the title uses the term “major films” and not “good films.” Snow White And The Huntsman probably wasn’t that bad – just passable and forgettable. I say “probably” because after watching this movie I immediately forgot every plot point.

Before getting picked for a live action Snow White, Rupert Sanders did a short film called Black Hole and nothing else. You can watch it here if you feel like wondering why the hell someone thought this guy should direct a major film that didn’t involve annoying laughter and HR Giger-inspired tail sex montages.

4. Carl Rinsch – 47 Ronin

This guy doesn’t even have a picture on his IMDb page, and yet he’s the guy behind 47 Ronin, aka “Neo Goes East.” Seriously, Keanu Reeves – you’re not The One. Stop being The One. You already got to play freaking Siddhartha in Little Budda – you’re done.

Despite this not being in theaters yet, I have high hopes – as this first-time director seems to have a knack for visual mumbo-jumbo, and that’s at least 75% of 47 Ronin’s trailer.

3. Fede Alvarez – Evil Dead

As a die hard Evil Dead fan, the last thing I expected was to enjoy a remake of the film – especially one that was being co-written by Diablo Cody and directed by a guy whose only claim to fame was a short littered with CGI. And then they went with a CGI-less film, and left out Ash – two things that saved the movie.

No, of course it’s not the original – but thanks to it trying not to be the original while at the same time keeping the original’s tone, somehow we got a really entertaining bizarro Evil Dead film worthy of its name. Now lets all sit quietly and hope Army Of Darkness 2 is as awesome as it sounds.

2. Joseph Kosinski — TRON: Legacy

TRON doesn’t have a huge following these days – but the few fans out there seem like the type of crazy people who you don’t want to piss off lest they chloroform your ass for their own basement game of “beat a guy to death with a glowstick-wrapped Frisbee.”

Naturally, I am a TRON fan.

I can’t speak for all of us, but TRON: Legacy was actually a lot of fun for a sequel to a movie that had no reason to get another one. There’s no telling how this Joe Kosinski fellow got into the game – but considering his past as a commercial director and architecture major I’d say they made a darn decent pick – terrible Jeff Bridges CGI aside.

1. David Fincher – Alien 3

It’s bizarre to realize that David Fincher was once just a no-name dude put in charge of a long-awaited sequel to one of the most iconic franchises ever. Boy did that go wrong – not that it was really his fault.

To be perfectly honest – I really like all of the Alien films, including Resurrection. I don’t expect anyone else to like them, but personally I never cherished the canon so much as I wanted to see how different good directors handed the franchise. But before he was seen as a good director, no one liked Alien 3 – just like no one liked Charlie’s Angels or Snow White And The Huntsman. So who knows?

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