The Best Directorial Debuts by Famous Actors

This was a big week for actors we never thought would venture into the directing pool. Keanu Reeves will debut Man of Tai Chi in China this summer, honoring his Matrix martial arts trainer, Tiger Hu Chen. Michael Cera’s short film Brazzaville Teen-Ager, starring “Milkshake” singer Kelis and Charles Grodin, saw its YouTube premiere. Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock was just a little hasty when he recommended that all actors should be treated like cattle.

Acclaimed for their antics under the glare of the kino-eye, film’s performers do occasionally vault the fourth wall to take up the directorial reins — with no little success. Hollywood A-listers such as Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner have reaped critical and cash plaudits for their blockbusting efforts, but there are numerous others whose contributions have helped to pioneer cinema, both as art form and independent business. Here are ten stars whose stellar cinematic debuts have irrefutably enriched the medium — if not always the box office.


Charles Laughton — The Night of the Hunter

When Charles Laughton directed the outstanding Robert Mitchum singing a haunting lullaby in The Night of the Hunter, he was already a prolific stage actor and director. He had also appeared in a series of wide-ranging Hollywood roles, and cut his teeth behind the camera in pal Burgess Meredith’s 1949 film, The Man on the Eiffel Tower. Laughton shot the scenes in which Meredith appeared. Night of the Hunter became Laughton’s biggest success — sadly, after his death. His mesmerizing use of expressionistic shadows and clever camerawork created a taut, emotional nightmare that felt like a page from a child’s twisted fairy tale. The 1955 film was a commercial failure, which disappointed Laughton so much that he vowed to never direct again. The film has since been hailed as a southern gothic masterpiece.