The Lost Daughter and 9 Other Great Female Director Debuts

Making a good movie is far from easy, but getting it right the first time is even harder. For every qualified director whose best film was his debut, there are ten others who had to direct several films before fully mastering the medium.

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Women are still vastly under-represented in cinema as a whole, and as a result, it is much more difficult for them to find funding for their first project without having already made a successful film, which creates an awkward paradox. But the few who have managed to conquer the studio system, or make their first film independently, show that there is still hope for the future of the industry.


The Lost Girl (2021)

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film, The lost girl, is based on the novel by Elena Ferrante. It stars Olivia Colman as Leda, a middle-aged woman whose scenic island vacation goes awry when she meets Nina, a struggling young mother whose story becomes intertwined with memories of her past. Leda.

The lost girl was released on Netflix to critical acclaim, with followers calling it one of Olivia Colman’s best roles and praising the sharp script. Gyllenhaal’s debut earned him a Best Director nomination at the Golden Globes and his screenplay won top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Mustang (2015)

Deniz Gamze Erguven Mustang is a Turkish drama about a group of five orphan sisters living with their grandmother, who places them under house arrest while she secretly arranges their wedding. It’s a gripping and heartbreaking drama that immediately won the hearts of critics and audiences when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ergüven received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for Mustang. She has since directed episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and Perry Mason.

A Girl Comes Home Alone at Night (2014)

A Girl Comes Home Alone at Night (2014)

Ana Lily Amirpour’s black and white horror film A girl walks home alone at night follows the interconnected inhabitants of an apocalyptic Iranian city known as “Bad City”, as a mysterious vampire makes his way through each of their lives. A dreamy, western-inspired, and incredibly original debut, the film was crowdfunded and won numerous awards at independent film festivals.

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Amirpour’s debut was also his big breakthrough, and his success allowed him to make his next films, The bad lot and Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. She has also signed on to direct a remake of thriller with Jason Momoa in the lead role.

Ratcatcher (1999)

James looks out the window at a wheat field in Ratcatcher

Legendary director Lynne Ramsay made her film debut in 1999 rat hunter, a drama set in mid-1970s Scotland. It follows a 12-year-old boy named James who struggles with guilt over his friend’s death while living in a run-down neighborhood from which he fears he will never escape.

Beautiful, bewitching and poetic, rat hunter is as good as an introduction to Ramsay’s work. She found wider success with the likes of We need to talk about Kevin and You were never really there, but his first film remains one of his most difficult and mystical works.

Girl Fight (2000)

The directorial debut of Karyn Kusama, A fight between girls, also marked the acting debut of Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez plays Diana Guzman, a young woman who constantly fights for respect as she discovers that boxing’s level playing field offers her a fair chance to challenge her peers.

Kusama spent several years trying to secure funding for a Latina-led sports drama, with several major production companies turning her down. After A fight between girls became a hit with critics and audiences, she went on to direct the cult classic horror-comedy Jennifer’s body and the thriller The invite.

The Suicide Virgins (1999)

by Sofia Coppola virgins who committed suicide is a psychological drama that follows the lives of five sisters seen through the eyes of a group of neighborhood boys who are perplexed by their mysterious nature. The sisters are isolated by their parents after the youngest attempts suicide, and their loneliness soon reaches a breaking point.

Coppola wowed audiences with this dreamy and subtle drama, ushering in a film career of endless promise. His next film, lost in translation, won him the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Cheryl Dunye and Guinevere Turner look each other in the eye in The Watermelon Woman

Cheryl Dunye wrote, directed and starred in watermelon woman, a semi-autobiographical drama that stays ahead of its time. The story follows an aspiring filmmaker who creates a documentary revealing the truth behind a first black actress whose identity has been obscured by time and history.

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As the first mainstream film directed by a black lesbian, watermelon woman is as revolutionary as it is authentic and serious. It remains Dunye’s best-known work, although she also directed episodes of Lovecraft Country and Dear Whites.

Love and Basketball (2000)

Monica Wright talks to a teammate in Love and Basketball

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball combines its two core businesses to create a decades-long tribute to passion and perseverance. It tells the story of Monica Wright and Quincy McCall, who started out as childhood friends with a shared dream of becoming basketball stars, and their increasingly complicated relationship in the years that followed.

Love & Basketball is a seminal sports film with a lot of heart and two splendid performances from its protagonists. Prince-Bythewood’s career continued to thrive with movies like Netflix’s The old guard, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Bound (1996)

Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly watch each other in Bound

Before The matrix, Lilly and Lana Wachowski made their joint feature debut with the neo-noir thriller Leap. The main character, Violet, plots to steal millions of mob money from her mobster boyfriend with the help of Corky, a resilient ex-con with whom she strikes up a relationship.

A jaw-droppingly over-the-top, stylized genre homage that would only serve as a sample of what the Wachowski sisters were capable of, Leap is one of the best thrillers of the 90s.

Lady Bird (2017)

Saoirse Ronan in front of a store in Lady Bird.

by Greta Gerwig lady bird is the most acclaimed debut feature in recent memory, and it fully deserves that status. A tender coming-of-age tale centered around the misadventures of spunky teenager Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson as she prepares for college, it’s bolstered by a powerful lead performance from Saoirse Ronan.

Gerwig’s directorial days are just beginning, but she’s already made another masterpiece: the witty period adaptation of Little woman. His next film is a Barbie adaptation starring Margot Robbie in the title role, alongside Ryan Gosling as Ken.

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