Welcome to the tenth edition of the first theatrical movies of famous directors. This time we are tackling the feel-good Frank Capra, the weird and otherworldly Guillermo del Toro, and the twist-reliant M. Night Shyamalan. But what were their first movies? What was their first theatrical release, the first movie that they tried to make a mark in the world?
Frank Capra’s movies tend toward comedy or feel-good drama, such as his most famous movies It Happened One Night, YouCan’t Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s A Wonderful Life (which, incidentally, was not a success on first release). But Frank Capra was a prolific director all the way back to the silent era. He made shorts and documentary shorts in the early 1920s. At the time, he was also a prolific writer, and he started writing for silent comedian Harry Langdon, helping him create Langdon’s signature character. When Langdon moved to First National Studios, he brought along Capra and after Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, which Capra co-directed, they made together Capra’s first theatrical release in 1926, a silent comedy called The Strong Man. Langdon plays Belgian immigrant Paul Bergot, who is searching for a blind woman named Mary Brown, who he was pen-pals with during the Great War. The movie was released on September 19, 1926, and ran for 75 minutes. Langdon and Capra made one more film together, Long Pants before they went their separate ways.
Guillermo del Toro’s most famous works include The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy I and II, and Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro was born in Mexico and from a young child had an interest in film-making. He made 10 short films before being given the chance to direct his first feature, a vampire horror film called Cronos, released in 1993. This movie was also his first collaboration with Argentinean Federico Lippi and American Ron Pearlman, who made several subsequent releases with del Toro. Lippi plays Jesus Gris, an older man who finds a device under a hollow archangel statue. When he sets it off, a needle stabs him and he becomes more youthful, but with a taste for human blood. Meanwhile, the nephew of the millionaire Dieter de la Guardia, Angel (Pearlman) is sent by his uncle to buy the archangel because Dieter knows about the powers of the device. What follows is a battle between Jesus, Angel, and Dieter for control of the device. The movie went over budget to $2 million and Pearlman agreed to a salary cut. It was released on May 3, 1993, at the Cannes Film Festival and December 3, 1993, in Mexico. The movie was submitted as the Mexican entry for the foreign language film for the Academy Awards (but it did not get a nomination). It made $621,392 at the box office.
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are well known, but only his early movies are critical and box office hits (with the exception of the recent movie The Visit). He is best known for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and The Happening (each of which has a “twist ending” to them), and the critically mangled big budget movies The Last Airbender and After Earth. But in the early 1990s, Shyamalan was a student at NYU to parents from South India. Like several other first time directors, he borrowed from family and friends for his first production. M. Night Shyamalan wrote, directed, produced and starred in his first movie, called Praying with Anger. Shyamalan plays Dev Raman, an Indian American living in the US who is encouraged to make a trip to India by his mother. Once there, he struggles with adjusting the culture in India and his friend Sanjay and prays to the Hindu pantheon with anger. The movie played at film festivals and made $1.4 million at the box office. It was since become a cult hit, with its exploration of the clash of Western (American) values with Indian life.
All of these directors had to start somewhere. Capra’s and del Toro’s collaborations helped secure their first theatrical success, while Shyamalan, like many on the list before him (Peter Jackson, for example), oversaw almost all aspects of production in order to get the film made. Each of these directors went on to bigger and better things after their first film. Check out these first theatrical releases from famous directors.