Directorial acclaim never comes easy. When it hits, though, the results can be significant not only for the helmer but for cinema itself. We take a look back at the films that propelled some of today's most celebrated directors to prominence.
Steven Spielberg: The slew of television shows and short films directed by Ohio native Steven Spielberg was just a preview of things to come from a man who has become perhaps the most commercially successful director of all time. His first major directorial effort, "The Sugarland Express" (1974), an adventure comedy featuring
The film cast
Which isn't to say the film's production was simple. Nicknamed "Flaws" by disgruntled crew members, the film engendered a painfully slow production process. But the troubled development led to decisions that proved wise in retrospect -- the movie's main threat, the shark suggested by the title, remained largely hidden because of logistical issues. But that proved to heighten the suspense; as Spielberg put it, the decision offered more of a Hitchcock feel, making it a "the-less-you-see-the-more-you-get thriller."
James Cameron: The sci-fi thriller
Martin Scorsese: As a young boy Martin Scorsese had asthma, which prevented him from playing sports and many other activities with other children. So his parents and older brother would take him to movie theaters, where he developed his passion for cinema. Scorsese later attended film school in New York and made a handful of award-winning shorts, and even directed his first feature film there. Soon he was introduced to the "movie brats" of the 1970s, including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, eventually directing the Roger Corman-produced Depression-era drama "Boxcar Bertha." Tutelage from Corman helped Scorsese realize that he could create entertaining films with little money and time, and encouragement from actor-director John Cassavetes -- who believed Scorsese's talent didn't fully shine through in "Boxcar Bertha" -- pushed Scorsese to make films he was more passionate about.
This led to "Mean Streets" (1973), which gave him his breakthrough as a director. The crime drama cemented Scorsese's style, which includes sharp edits and bold musical choices, along with recurring themes of guilt, redemption, violence and machismo. The film also served as part of a group of unorthodox -- and landmark -- '70s pictures made by an emerging class of American directors. Scorsese would revisit the tone of "Mean Streets" in future work, including "Raging Bull" (1980), "Goodfellas" (1990) and "Gangs of New York" (2002).
Quentin Tarantino: When people ask Quentin Tarantino whether he went to film school, he often says he went to films instead. A stint as an employee at a video rental store also helped, enabling the pastiche of influences that he would incorporate into all his films. His signature style was evident in his debut, the heist thriller
Kathryn Bigelow: Before Kathryn Bigelow became a director known for her striking imagery and heart-pounding sequences she was an artist who studied painting in San Francisco. It was a skill she took interest in thanks to her father, a frustrated cartoonist. Having won a scholarship to study film, Bigelow then moved to
Peter Jackson: As a young man, New Zealand native Peter Jackson used his days off from work as a photographic lithographer to write and direct his first feature film, "Bad Taste" (1987), a comedy about flesh-eating aliens. The film featured his friends as the actors, and took four years to complete. With a little encouragement, Jackson submitted "Bad Taste" to the Cannes Film Festival and took home several prizes. Following the success of the film -- now a cult classic in its own right -- Jackson took a more serious turn with "Heavenly Creatures" (1994), based on a famous New Zealand matricide case from the 1950s. The success of the disturbing film attracted the attention of American company Miramax, and elevated Jackson to mainstream prominence.
Christopher Nolan: A master of unconventional storytelling and psychological depth, Christopher Nolan has proved that challenging narratives can work, and work well. Indeed, Nolan is credited with bridging the gap between art house and blockbuster films. He pictures a story as a maze, he said, and its characters shouldn't be watched from above that maze, but rather in the moment as they make each new turn.
Nolan took that philosophy and infused it in his first feature, "Following" (1998). The small-budget noir thriller about an isolated writer obsessed with following strangers caught the attention of the film world, which elevated Nolan's status as a director and helped him finance his next film
Clint Eastwood: Few can leap from actor to director like Eastwood did. The San Francisco native with signature rugged looks launched his career as an actor on the
Francis Ford Coppola: For Coppola it was his screenwriting talent that first grabbed the film industry's attention. His work on the World War II biopic
Woody Allen: Allen once tried his hand at stand-up comedy and television writing; he earned an Emmy nom for his work on
Steven Soderbergh: After Soderbergh graduated from high school in Baton Rouge, La., he moved to Hollywood, where he became a freelance film editor, and even, the story goes, a game-show scorer and cue-card holder. A concert film for the rock band Yes earned Soderbergh a Grammy nomination. It wasn't enough to keep him in Tinseltown, though. Soderbergh returned home, where he would conceive the film that would propel him to prominence. The 26-year-old Soderbergh wrote the script for "sex, lies and videotape" (1989), his dark story of sex and fidelity, in eight days; the film went on to win the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival, and made Soderbergh the youngest director to win the festival's top award. (It also helped that celebrated movie critic