5 Films That Kicked Off Award-Winning Directors' Careers


Everyone has seen the “standards” from major, award-winning directors, but if you want the upper hand at your next trivia night, add these under-the-radar but equally impressive films to your queue and start watching for free on SnagFilms.  Sign up to watch these gems and other great movies in seconds.

1. The Grifters

Stephen Frears achieved mainstream success with High Fidelty and The Queen (not to mention directing Helen Mirren to her Oscar win), but in 1990 he directed his way to his first Academy Award nomination with The Grifters. A neo-noir thriller starring John Cusack and Angelica Huston, The Grifters answers what happens when three con-artists try to outfox each other. You can watch this and other great films in seconds by signing up for SnagFilms…you know you want to.

Fun Fact: Martin Scorsese was originally attached to direct the film, but brought on Frears and subsequently produced the film.

2. The Brother from Another Planet

John Sayles earned Oscar nominations for Lone Star and Passion Fish, but he earned his place in the cult classic hall of fame with The Brother from Another Planet. The story of a three-toed mutant alien who escapes to Harlem, The Brother from Another Planet exemplifies Sayles’ quirky sensibilities. Sign up for SnagFilms now and watch instantly.

Fun Fact: Sayles partially funded the film with earnings from a MacArthur Fellowship.

3. The Cruise

You might never have imagined that the man who directed Capote and Moneyball got his start making documentaries, but Bennett Miller’s directorial debut was the Toronto Film Festival favorite The Cruise. A profile of Timothy “Speed” Levitch, one of New York’s most unconventional tour guides, Miller finessed his ability to capture the inner lives of rich characters that has defined his narrative work. You won’t want to miss this offbeat character, and guess what: he’s on SnagFilms.

Fun Fact: Levitch capitalized off of his film debut and in 2012 landed his own show called “Up to Speed” on Hulu.

4. Il Grido

Michelangelo Antonioni, considered one of the greatest directors ever with a resume boasting Blow Up and L’avventura, began racking in the awards with his 1957 classic Il Grido.  A key transitional film from his neo-realist documentary roots to the elliptical, aimless structure of his later masterpieces, Il Grido follows a man as he drifts from town to town, away from the woman he loved. Come on, we dare you—watch on SnagFilms now.

Fun Fact: Antonioni, who was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1995, is noted in Oscar lore with the shortest acceptance speech ever: “Grazie.”

5. Benny’s Video

Although American audiences might know Michael Haneke after his most recent, stunning Academy Award winner Amour, his first major directorial work packed just as much of a punch. With Benny’s Video, which is centered on a disturbed young teenager who views his life as distilled video images, Haneke began to develop his signature, static style. Watch the horror-of-personality classic on SnagFilms by signing up now.

Fun Fact: Haneke worked in television for over 20 years before he tried his hand at film. Looks like it worked out for him.
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Before They Were Stars: 7 Early Films Featuring Hollywood Royalty

Hollywood A-listers usually don’t come out of thin air—many, like Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon, worked steadily before becoming major fixtures in both movie theaters and the tabloids. Yet their star power was palpable from the start. From Ryan Gosling as a misunderstood, dreamy high school football player to Helena Bonham Carter as one of literature’s spunkiest leading ladies, find these undiscovered gems and many more for free on

1. Wildflower: Reese Witherspoon

Before she snagged an Oscar and the title of America’s Sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon got one of her earliest starts in the film Wildflower. Featuring co-stars Beau Bridges and Patricia Arquette, Witherspoon proved that she could hang in the big leagues at an early age.

Fun Fact: We all know that Diane Keaton is a one-of-a-kind actress, but did you know that she also has tried her hand at directing? Wildflower is one of her first directorial efforts.

2. Too Young to Die?: Brad Pitt

Thelma and Louise may have put Brad Pitt on the map, but before he played the deceptive cowboy J.D., Pitt starred in the riveting drama Too Young To Die? Centered on a controversial trial with the death penalty in the balance, Pitt demonstrated from a young age that he is more than just a pretty face.

Fun Fact: Costar Juliette Lewis dated Pitt for nearly four years; they met on the Too Young to Die? set.

3. The Slaughter Rule: Ryan Gosling

There are entire blogs devoted to Ryan Gosling during his tenure on the Disney Channel, but one of his first transitions to the big screen was his starring role in the football drama The Slaughter Rule. In this Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance, critics could already detect that Gosling had “major star material,” and, hey, girl…we all know what happened there.

Fun Fact: Gosling might be the single most prolific meme-generator ever, with nearly three-dozen Tumblrs devoted to his quirky charm. 

4. A Room with a View: Helena Bonham Carter

Long before she became partner Tim Burton’s defacto “kooky” leading lady, Helena Bonham Carter began her career as one of literature’s most beloved heroines in A Room with a View. Boasting an impressive who's who of almost every major British actor, including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Daniel Day-Lewis, Bonham Carter proved she could work with the best despite just entering the industry.

Fun Fact: Funnily enough, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench’s characters discuss E.M. Forster’s other Italian novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Bonham Carter subsequently starred in the novel’s film adaptation in 1991.

5. Little Shop of Horrors: Jack Nicholson

One of the first times the incomparable Jack Nicholson graced the silver screen was in the Roger Corman cult classic Little Shop of Horrors. One of many collaborations between Corman and Nicholson, Little Shop put Nicholson and his over-the-top eccentricities on the map.

Fun Fact: Legend has it that the film’s principal photography was shot in two days, after Corman made a bet that he could shoot a movie in under 72 hours.

6. Deadly Blessing: Sharon Stone

Deadly Blessing was the first film in which the character Sharon Stone played actually had a name. In this Wes Craven horror flick, Stone plays Lana Marcus, a young woman haunted by a strange religious sect that may be responsible for her friend’s murder.

Fun Fact: In one pivotal scene, the production crew dropped a real spider into Stone’s mouth. She only agreed to participate in the scene after the spider was defanged.

7. Visioneers: Zach Galifianakis


Zach Galifianakis primarily cut his teeth in TV on programs like Reno 911!, but he secured a few outstanding film roles before he became a household name after The Hangover. In the dark comedy Visioneers, Galifianakis stars as George, a disgruntled worker bee in the dystopian future where he “suffers from dreams.” Paired with Judy Geer, hilarity naturally ensues.

Fun Fact: Zach Galifianakis' big break could have come after he was hired as a writer for SNL; however, he only lasted two weeks.

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