10 Best Directorial Debuts By Popular Actors, According To Ranker

There have been many A-list actors who have turned to direct, with the recent announcement from Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe regarding his intention to become a director. Stars like Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks have taken their talents behind the camera to great results and audiences have appreciated their efforts.

Fans on Ranker have voted on the movies where actors made directorial debuts. This includes everyone from comedians Danny DeVito to Jordan Peele, along with martial artists like Bruce Lee. It’s interesting to see how their first movies rank according to viewers.

Ben Affleck

Gone Baby Gone (2007) – Stream On HBO Max

Casey Affleck standing by the pier in Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck’s career was experiencing something of a turn with the releases of Man About Town and Jersey Girlbut the actor revitalized it through his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. The story, which Affleck had also written, is about a private detective taking on a case of a young girl’s mysterious disappearance that has everyone stumped.


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Gone Baby Gone was a massive critical success and a hit with audiences as well. The performance of Casey Affleck was lauded in the lead role, with praise directed toward Ben Affleck for creating an environment for the protagonist to shine. He’s followed it up with bigger movies in The Town and Argoand Gone Baby Gone was the perfect platform to launch from.

Billy Bob Thornton

Sling Blade (1996) – Not Currently Available To Stream

Sling Blade Billy Bob Thornton won the Oscar Award for Best Screenplay, with Thornton also directing and starring in the film. It’s about Karl, a man with mental health issues who is released from the hospital years after killing his cruel mother and becomes a father figure to another child suffering from the same problem.

The movie was praised for how it handled a sensitive subject matter and a very morally ambiguous protagonist. Thornton’s direction was well-received mainly for the way he managed to make viewers see things from Karl’s point of view, which was an incredibly difficult task given the character’s backstory.

Bradley Cooper

A Star Is Born (2018) – Rent On AMC On Demand

Among the most popular romance movies of the last decade, Bradley Cooper made his directorial debut in a remake of the classic movie. A Star Is Born is about singer-songwriter Jack Maine who falls in love with struggling singer Ally and helps her become a star; although his personal demons prove to be a major hurdle for both.

A Star Is Born was lauded for the way Bradley Cooper incorporated music into the story, with a number of songs reflecting the protagonists’ emotions. Cooper also received praise for bringing the best out of Lady Gaga, who was primarily known as a singer at the time but shined in the lead role.

Kevin Costner

Dances With Wolves (1990) – Stream On HBO Max

Kevin Costner kneeling in the Wild West in Dances with Wolves.

Kevin Costner set the benchmark for actors who made directorial debuts with Dances with Wolves, an epic western film set in the sprawling landscape of the American Frontier. The film is about Lieutenant John J. Dunbar who is accepted by the native Lakota people and aids them against Union soldiers intending to take their land.

Dances with Wolves turned out to be a huge commercial success due to the good reviews and Kevin Costner’s star power. Audiences were pleasantly surprised by his direction which focused on the cinematography of the environment to make viewers feel the landscape the protagonist becomes a part of.

Danny DeVito

Throw Momma From The Train (1987) – Stream On The Roku Channel

Billy Crystal and Danny Devito sitting at a table in Throw Momma From The Train

Danny DeVito had directed the short film The Selling of Vince D’Angelo and the TV film The Ratings Gamebut his feature film debut was with Throw Momma from the Train. It’s a dark comedy about two hapless writers who conspire to kill the other’s wife and mother but are hilariously inept at it.

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Throw Momma from the Train didn’t set the critics on fire but turned out to be well-received by viewers. Fans liked DeVito’s trademark performance as a man with a short fuse while Billy Crystal’s meek character served as a good balancing act. The film also set the stage for many other similar dark comedies to follow in the ensuing years.

Jordan Peele

Get Out (2017) – Rent On AMC On Demand

Get Out Daniel Kaluuya

Jordan Peele took the world by storm with his first movie, which went on to garner him the Oscar Award for Best Screenplay. Fans have been fascinated by the many hidden details in Get Out, which is a horror movie about a young black man’s abduction by white people who intend to transplant their brain into his body.

Jordan Peele was widely known as a comedian prior to Get Out and many were shocked by how scary Get Out turned out to be. The movie’s success helped him to transition from acting to directing horrors in what is a career turn that few would have seen coming.

Harold Ramis

Caddyshack (1980) – Stream On HBO Max

Bill Murray in Caddyshack

Harold Ramis was known for starring in the sketch comedy Second City Television before his directorial debut with Caddyshack, and has since been widely known for appearing in Ghostbusters. Caddyshack is considered a classic in the comedy genre and is about a group of kooky golfers who resort to freakish ways to win a golf tournament.

Ramis’ direction received more praise from viewers than critics, as audiences are generally thrilled by the slapstick comedy to be found in Caddyshack. It’s a film that can’t be taken seriously and is bolstered by the presence of comedians like Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray.

Orson Welles

Citizen Kane (1941) – Stream On HBO Max

Kane and a man look down in Citizen Kane.

Orson Welles is an interesting case because the actor’s debut was also the first film he directed. Usually seen by critics as the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane is about the rise and fall of tycoon Charles Foster Kane, looking into the life he had leading up to his death and why he uttered the word “Rosebud” in his final moments.

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The film is a rarity for the way it’s stood the test of time and impressed audiences for nearly a century by now. Fans admire the dedication of Welles in making this a sprawling story set across decades, along with creating an authentic atmosphere through make-up and impressive set design.

Tom Hanks

That Thing You Do! (1996) – Stream On Starz

Amos White is a Tom Hanks role people rarely talk about because the actor doesn’t play the lead, as White is the manager of The Wonders band. That Thing You Do!on the other hand, is a movie many are familiar with for the Oscar-nominated song of the same name and the feel-good story of a one-hit-wonder band.

Hanks was already a household name due to his superstar acting status and impressed many with this thoroughly entertaining music-based film. The actor has since only returned once to directing with 2011’s Larry Crowneso That Thing You Do! remains popular for being Hanks’ creative turn behind the scenes.

Bruce Lee

The Way Of The Dragon (1972) – Not Currently Available To Stream

Bruce Lee fighting with nunchucks in Return Of The Dragon

Bruce Lee directed two movies in his lifetime, but the second one was never completed due to his sudden death. The actor and martial artist’s first was a megahit, with The Way of the Dragon His iconic fight with Chuck Norris that propelled the latter into the public in his debut role.

Released as Return of the Dragon in the US, the movie is notable for bringing a comedic style to Lee’s performance which most weren’t used to. It has superb action sequences that are entertaining to watch to this day. Lee’s star value is evident in the way he delivers a movie packed with the combat-based direction of the highest quality.

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