Dennis Hopper, "Easy Rider" (1969)
Dennis Hopper's anti-establishment, psychedelic road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans started the independent film wave of the 1970s and is one of the best American films ever made according to the American Film Institute.
Neill Blomkamp, "District 9" (2009)
South African director Neill Blomkamp came out of nowhere when "District 9" was released in 2009. His sci-fi film, filled with strong undertones of race relations, guaranteed everyone in Hollywood knew his name by the end of the year.
Larry Clark, "Kids" (1995)
Called a "wake-up call to the modern world" by New York Times critic Janet Maslin, Larry Clark's debut film about city kids and the AIDS epidemic created intense reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Unfortunately, Clark would never receive the same kind of buzz for any of his future films.
Jean-Luc Godard, "Breathless" (1960)
Jean-Luc Godard helped kick off French New Wave cinema with "Breathless", which follows a petty criminal on the run with his American girlfriend. Outside of the then unique brand of story telling, Godard developed many revolutionary techniques while making the film.
Sidney Lumet, "12 Angry Men" (1957)
Watching 12 men sit in a room debating the outcome of a murder trial in real time has never been as thrilling as it was in the hands of Sidney Lumet, who would then capture a Oscar nomination for best director.
Wes Anderson, "Bottle Rocket" (1996)
Filmgoers were introduced to the unique sensibilities of Wes Anderson with the indie "Bottle Rocket." It also launched frequent Anderson collaborators Luke and Owen Wilson into national awareness.
David Lynch, "Eraserhead" (1977)
If Anderson's style is unique, David Lynch would have to be considered bizarre. Lynch unleashed his vision to the world with "Eraserhead," which chronicles a man's struggle to handle his life with his newly born mutant child.
The Coen brothers, "Blood Simple" (1984)Joel Coen is the only credited director for "Blood Simple," but it is well known that he and Ethan have always collaborated on their projects. Their tense thriller was definitely forshadowed what was to come from the prolific duo.
Behn Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)
Roger Ebert labeled Behn Zeitlin's first feature film a "remarkable creation" filled with "creative genius." Most people agreed as it became the indie darling of 2012 and received best picture and best director Oscar nominations.
Charles Laughton, "Night of the Hunter" (1955)
Originally overlooked when first released, Charles Laughton's "Night of the Hunter" is now a definitive classic featuring the iconic imagery of Robert Mitchum's tattoos of love and hate on his hands. Sadly, this would be Laughton's only film; he passed away in 1962.
Rob Reiner, "This is Spinal Tap" (1984)
Comedy master Rob Reiner struck gold his first time around with the rock mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap." With a script from Christopher Guest, Reiner helped craft one of the funniest movies of all time.
Judd Apatow, "The 40 Year Old Virgin"
Most of comedy's biggest stars got their start from one man, Judd Apatow. His first feature ushered in the era of gross-out comedy and helped create stars Steve Carell, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd.
John Huston, "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
John Huston clearly had "the stuff that dreams are made of" as a director. "The Maltese Falcon" is considered one of the greatest film noirs ever made and ranks in the top 50 of AFI's 100 greatest films list.
Steven Soderbergh, "Sex, Lies and Videotape" (1989)
Winning the Palme d'Or from the Cannes film festival for your first film is quite the feather in your cap. Steven Soderbergh's breakout movie made a splash both across the pond and in the States.
Quentin Tarantino, "Reservoir Dogs" (1992)
Tarantino instantly became the coolest filmmaker in Hollywood with "Reservoir Dogs." The memorable dialogue, infusion of music and pop culture, and violence made "Dogs" memorable and quickly set him apart in Hollywood's directors pack.
Mike Nichols, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
Adapting a famous broadway play should have been a daunting task for a first time filmmaker, but Mike Nichols handled it spectacularly. He was nominated for best director, but didn't end up winning one of the film's 5 Academy Awads.
John Lasseter, "Toy Story" (1995)
The legend of Pixar began with "Toy Story" and the guiding hand of John Lasseter. Lasseter would direct the first three Pixar films, but it's his first effort that has had the longest shelf life.
Sam Raimi, "The Evil Dead" (1981)
Sam Raimi's large cult following got behind him right from the get go with "The Evil Dead." His low-budget, gorey, horror film received wide praised and was called an instant classic.
Cameron Crowe, "Say Anything" (1989)
The era of teen movies in the 1980s ended with one of its best. Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything" has been labeled by Entertainment Weekly as the greatest modern romance, and the John Cusack stereo scene is recognizable across the pop culture landscape even by those who haven't seen the movie.
Orson Welles, "Citizen Kane" (1941)
It's pretty hard to top yourself when your first film has been heralded as the greatest American film ever made. Orson Welles turned the film industry on its head with "Kane" and set a nearly impossible mark for first time directors to aspire to.