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Best actors-turned-directors of the past 20 years

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The actors and actresses behind the camera have been a concept for a very long time, dating back to big screen legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles. There have even been occasions when these actors-turned-directors have been so successful in their directorial careers that their directorial resumes are more prolific than their acting roles.

With new directorial debuts on the horizon from stars such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among other things, the number of movie stars who engage in directing is not slowing down. Why would he do it? There have been more than once when those directorial debuts turned out to be big wins both financially and critically. We’ve compiled a list of 7 of the best actor-turned-director debuts since 2010, ranging from comedies and horror to coming-of-age dramas.

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Bradley Cooper, A star is born

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Image via Warner Bros.

Over the years Bradley Cooper has grown from a handsome comedic sidekick to a full-fledged movie star, landing multiple Oscar nominations and working with revered directors like Clint eastwood, David O. Russell, Paul thomas anderson, and Guillermo del Toro, but with its remake of 2018 A star is born, Cooper has proven to be more than just an actor.

Although this is the fourth incarnation of classic history, Cooper has made A star is born feel like a cinematic event. Cooper’s magical chemistry with the iconic Lady Gaga was undeniable, so much so that fans were speculating if there was any real romance blossoming between the two. Cooper used both classic and modern filmmaking techniques in his early days, resulting in a film that was both authentic and fantastic.

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

ladybug-saoirse-ronan

Image via A24

While Lady Bird technically not Greta Gerwigthe directorial debut of – that would go to the 2008 mumblecore movie Nights and weekends co-directed with Joe swanberg– it’s his solo debut, as well as a much more publicized film than the little-seen indie. Lady Bird is one of those rare films that is just about perfect. Gerwig’s debut never feels sensational or larger than life, instead capturing the life of a rebellious Catholic schoolgirl (Saoirse Ronan) in the early 2000s with breathtaking precision. The fact that Gerwig drew inspiration from her real life when writing and directing the Oscar nominated hit makes the film’s themes of family, teenage rebellion and adolescence even more raw.

Ronan had already proven that she was an immensely talented actress at the time Lady Bird created, but his performance as the main character was one of his best work to date. Not only is Ronan effortlessly funny, but she gives one of the most human performances of the past 10 years. The supporting cast is just as strong, in particular Laurie MetcalfIt’s the mother of the young protagonist who sidesteps stereotypes of mothers in coming-of-age films and opts for this character with complex and heart-wrenching writing.

Jordan Peele, Get out

Get out

Image via Blumhouse

When it was announced that half of the beloved comedy duo Key and Peel would make his directorial debut with Blumhouse, many suspected Jordan peeleThe director’s first outing as a director would be more comedic. Peele overturned public expectations with Get out, a horror film that tackles issues of racism in such a unique way that it would be difficult for anyone to watch the film without getting anything essential out of it. Get out won Peele its first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as well as the start of a new phase in Peele’s career. Peele quickly rose through the ranks of filmmakers such as Christophe nolan and M. Night Shyamalan become one of those directors who could attract a large audience with his name alone.

Get out is one of the most brilliant horror movies ever written, no matter how many times the movie has been seen before, each review will allow audiences to catch new details. There is no weak link in the film’s cast and several of the film’s stars saw their careers skyrocket after the film’s release. Few people had heard of Daniel Kaluuya and Lil rel howery when Get out made their debut, but both actors continued to star and even title several high-profile films. There is no doubt that Peele’s film is one of the most important films of the past 15 years, which is quite a feat for a first director.

Seth Rogen, It is the end

it is-the-end-image

Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Once again, in terms of technicality, Seth Rogen is the co-director of It is the end, next to Evan goldberg, but that shouldn’t be too shocking as Rogen works with his creative partner on just about everything he does. It is certainly impressive that this apocalyptic comedy is Rogen’s first rodeo as a director; the film had a much larger scale than any of Rogen’s previous comedies and required a lot of visual effects work.

Rogen and Goldberg gave It is the end a surprising sense of style, of how they memorably portray biblical ecstasy in Hollywood and how horribly gruesome the film’s deaths are. The fact that the entire cast of the film plays out, often in its best light, makes the film all the more memorable. What other filmmaker would have the balls to kill Rihanna and Paul Rudd, in the same movie?

King Regina, One night in Miami …

regina-king-one-night-in-miami

Image via Patti Perret / EW

In 2019, King Regina had just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her formidable performance in If Beale Street could speak and HBO leader, Emmy winner Watchmen. Many expected King, who was at the peak of his career, to take on a new high profile role. Instead, King chose to make her directorial debut with the equally entertaining and insightful film. One night in Miami based on the piece of Powers of Kemp.

There have been several occasions when movies taking place in one location for most of their runtime have fallen flat and dragged out. This is not the case with One night in Miami. King made a film that seemed extremely timely, but also played out as a release film starring four of history’s most important black Americans: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben Adir), Mohamed Ali (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).

Bo Burnham, Eigth year

eigth year

Image via A24

Bo burnham drew quite a fan base among Gen Z and Millennials with his dark sense of humor. It’s now almost hard to believe that the comedy star started making videos on Youtube, but it also meant he had a good grasp of some of the themes of his directorial debut, Eigth year. There is an argument to be made that Burnham’s portrayal of modern college is the most accurate ever filmed. Burnham’s leadership accurately recreates the awkward and anxious nature of college, where even a minor mistake can feel like the end of the world.

For a movie set in a typical American college, Burnham is able to fill Eigth year with tension, but that’s part of what makes him such a strong filmmaker. Elsie Fisher is absolutely amazing like Kayla and portrays this character with such humanity. This movie is a must see for anyone who is currently struggling or has struggled in college before, as Burnham shows us that we are and have never been alone.

Olivia Wilde, Booksmart

On paper it would be easy to erase Olivia wildedirectorial debut Booksmart as the unofficial genre remake traded Super bad. If you’ve ever seen the movie, you know you just haven’t. Booksmart Certainly has a lot of scorching teen humor, but it also pushes the boundaries of the teen comedy genre with a story of not only letting go, but also letting go.

The fact Booksmart is Wilde’s first film as a director is even more surprising after seeing the film. From the way Wilde creates the unique world within the film as well as the fact that there is a literal stop motion animated scene in the second act that doesn’t sound shocking. Many of these R rated teen sex comedies / parties will focus on boys only, but with Booksmart, Wilde lets the girls have fun and it’s so refreshing.

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