Seven Directors Who Bettered Their First Film With Their Second


It seems more often than not that directorial debut’s are more impressive than their follow-ups, but occasionally with some popular directors, they top their original debut with their second film. Here are seven directors whose second film, in my opinion, was much better than their first.

Paul Haggis (Crash < In the Valley of Elah)

If you’re one of the people like myself who hate Crash and wish it nothing but hatred, and you also hate Paul Haggis, then make sure you’ve seen In the Valley of Elah before you judge him. His follow-up film is surprisingly good, a neat little indie drama in the southern US which gives Tommy Lee Jones a chance to reprise his role in No Country for Old Men, in a way. His characters are quite similar in the two films, and they work. While this isn’t quite the apology we were hoping for for Crash, it is nonetheless acceptable.


Paul Verhoeven (Business is Business < Turkish Delight)

When you think of Paul Verhoeven, it’s likely you think of the crappy movies he made in America in the 90s, such as Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Yes, those films are bad, but let’s look back at his earlier, more fruitful career. His first feature film, Business is Business, was a fairly crappy sex-laden drama that doesn’t really warrant that much attention. However his second film Turkish Delight, voted the Best Dutch Film of All Time, while also sex-laden, is a brilliant work of art. Sure there’s lots of sex, but that’s just Verhoeven. It really is a great movie.


Terrence Malick (Badlands < Days of Heaven)

Malick has made far too few films, but that could be a good thing. At least in this format, he’s got a much smaller chance of disappointing us, and he never has. Badlands was a great, brilliant movie, but Days of Thunder managed to beat it. In terms of sheer visuals, the script, and Malick’s amazing direction, it’s a pure winner in my book. Sure, both films are great but Days of Thunder is just a flipping masterpiece.


Andrei Tarkovsky (Ivan’s Childhood < Andrei Rublev)

Ivan’s Childhood is a Criterion DVD, apparently, and although I haven’t seen it, my friend Stephen tells me it’s nowhere near as good as Andrei Rublev, which I have seen. Tarkovsky’s movies always amaze me; Solaris and Stalker, the other two I’ve seen, are masterpieces in my opinion, as is Andrei Rublev, and even if Ivan’s Childhood is a good film, I don’t see how it could top any one of Tarkovsky’s others.



Michael Cimino (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot < The Deer Hunter)

When Michael Cimino and Clint Eastwood teamed up, it should’ve worked. However, in my opinion, it didn’t, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was the result. Although Cimino’s career has really gone downhill recently, he at least had one great shining moment with The Deer Hunter, the classic war film which was his follow-up. A masterpiece of Francis Ford Coppola proportions, The Deer Hunter easily outwits any of Cimino’s films.


Clint Eastwood (Play Misty For Me < High Plains Drifter)

Okay, so Play Misty for Me wasn’t that bad, but when you compare it to High Plains Drifter? Come on, there’s a clear winner there. Although 1976’s The Outlaw Josey Wales beats both, in my opinion, before then there was one huge film that attracted everyone’s attention and proved Eastwood could do a great job both acting and directing, and in my opinion there’s no competition to which film proved that point better.


Peter Weir (The Cars That Eat People < Picnic at Hanging Rock)

Okay, from the title of the first film we can tell it was a poor starting point for Weir. Granted the film isn’t awful and its premise is mildly interesting, it just fails to take off for me. Picnic at Hanging Rock, however, is a masterpiece which had me riveted the entire time and only just managed to miss the cut on my Top 100 films list, published recently. The Cars That Eat People (aka, The Cars That Ate Paris) sucks ass compared to it’s follow-up, and even though I’ve never been that interested in Weir’s career subsequent to Picnic, I still have faith that he has the ability to make great films.

That’s my list. Disagree with any of my choices? Anyone you’d like to add? Leave a comment below!


Posted on August 19, 2011, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Am I the only person out there that didn’t like Elah and preferred Crash? Just saying 🙂

    Have a good weekend matey!! Don’t drink too much!

    • It’s a matter of taste, I suppose. I found Crash preachy and annoying, where as Elah was more silent, calmer, and just generally better. I think Haggis should stick to screenwriting rather than directing, though. His Million Dollar Baby script was genius.

      Thanks, Scott! How did you know I was drinking?

  2. Yes, I liked Badlands but Days of Heaven is one of my favorite movie of all-time. It’s just masterful on all levels of filmmaking!

    • Haven’t seen Badlands but Days of Heaven is lovely… so beautifully poetic!

      Well, I don’t know if Following counts as it’s a short, but Nolan’s second movie Memento is definitely a huge improvement.

      • It is, isn’t it? Aaah… I love it so much!

        Nolan was one of my initial considerations, but I wanted to list some not-so-obvious directors for a change. Plus I frickin love Following.

    • I definitely agree. A film Malick may never be able to top. Still got to see Tree of Life, though. It comes out here on Thursday.

  3. Lots of directors and movies I haven’t even heard of….always amazes me how much catching up to do I still have…even with me watching so many movies…

    • I know. It’s quite daunting for me sometimes, too. At the moment I’m kind of in the middle of a foreign film binge (as you can probably tell). It’s actually more than a binge considering it’s lasted all year.

  4. One your more interesting recent topics … but, Tyler, oh, Tyler … don’t you think that perhaps Boogie Nights edges out Hard Eight by just a teensy bit? You of all people!? I don’t know what to say. LOL. Also: Let me humbly opine that you are just wrong about Clint Eastwood, who made one of the most memorable directorial debuts ever with Misty–a film that has lost none of its thrill or bite in 40 years. (I wish we saw more of Jessica Walter nowadays.) I do agree with your assessment of Malick, who seems utterly incapable of producing anything short of brilliant; and Days of Heaven remains my favorite (at least, potentially, until Sunday, when I finally have the chance to see Tree of Life, which for me is like attending the premiere of a Beethoven symphony!) Scorsese is an interesting case of a director really ramping up over the course of several films. Even though Mean Streets (his third feature) was excellent, it was his fifth, Taxi Driver, where he really attained the status of a master and mostly just kept getting better from that point on. (Hitchcock, of course, took decades to reach full flower, in his films of the 50s and early 60s). The one addition I’d really like to make, though, is Peter Bogdanovich. Targets, for its rawness, is an amazing film, particularly for a first-timer. (It’s particularly interesting to see the way Bogdanovich’s precocity and brilliance as a director stubbornly pokes through the tight, Roger Corman-dictated budget.) But of course, his follow-up, The Last Picture Show, is the best thing he ever did, and a masterpiece for all time.

    • Haha, this list was originally much longer but I decided to get rid of some of the more obvious choices (such as P.T. Anderson) in favor of less obvious ones.

      I haven’t seen much Bogdanovich but I’ve had my eye on Targets for some time and of course I’ve seen The Last Picture Show.

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