Welcome back to one of the longest-running features of this blog. For twenty parts, the first theatrical films of many famous directors were explored, showing the emerging talents of some of the most famous filmmakers. In this post, the first theatrical films of F. Gary Gray, Zach Snyder, and Kathryn Bigelow will be explored.
F. Gary Grey is currently riding high on the success of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise, which had the largest worldwide box office debut ever. Other notable works by Grey include The Italian Job, The Negotiator, Straight Outta Compton, and the Friday series. Grey’s first movie was actually Friday, released in 1995. F. Gary Grey was an accomplished music video direct in the early 1990s, having directed videos for Ice Cube, Outkast, Dr. Dre, and Queen Latifah. Ice Cube had written a film based on his own experiences of “life in the hood,” where he wanted to portray the lighter, more fun side of it, rather than darker side is seen in films like Boyz in the Hood. Cube asked Grey, who at the time wanted to make his first short film and Grey accepted. Cube asked Grey because Grey had a similar experience growing up. The film Friday concerned one day in two friends’ lives, Craig Jones (Cube), who is recently unemployed, and Smoky, the latter of whom must find $200 for a drug dealer by midnight, with slice of life segments sprinkled throughout the day. Friday was released April 26, 1995, with a budget of $3.5 million. It was given a 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $27.5 million at the box office. The success of the movie spawned two sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next, neither of which were directed by F. Gary Grey.
Zach Snyder’s hyper-stylized movies bring in big money but divide critics. His most famous films include 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder had worked on music videos and other short subjects like commercials in the 1990s and early 2000s. Snyder’s first movie was a remake of George A. Romero’s zombie movie Dawn of the Dead, due to be released in 2004. Snyder’s most significant deviation from the original was to make the zombies fast and agile as opposed to slow and lumbering, seen in many zombie movies. The first half of the movie was shot in chronological order in Thornhill, Ontario. After test audiences complained about the sudden ending of the film, Snyder went to Universal Studio Hollywood to shoot more sequences on a boat and an “island.” In this version of Dawn of the Dead, a group of people (starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Jake Weber) take refuge in a Midwestern Shopping Mall to get away from flesh-eating zombies. Many fans of the original did object to Snyder’s take on the zombies. Dawn of the Dead was released on March 19, 2004, with a budget of $26 million. The movie was given generally positive reviews, with a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Dawn of the Dead grossed $102.4 million at the worldwide box office.
Kathryn Bigelow made a huge splash in 2010 when her movie, The Hurt Locker, won Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards. Other notable works by Bigelow include Zero Dark Thirty, K-19: The Widowmaker, and Point Break. In 1978, Bigelow had directed a short film titled The Set-Up. From there, she made her first full-length movie, which had two other titles (US 17 and Breakdown) but is currently under the name The Loveless. Bigelow used the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Study Center for help in developing the aesthetic of the film. Production started on September 22nd and lasted 22 days. Starring William Defoe in his first major role, he plays the leader of a biker gang which causes trouble when they enter a small town. The Loveless was released in March 1982 in the US and was also seen in Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Grey and Snyder’s success came after years of hard work in music videos and other projects. Bigelow’s first film likewise came after her short film was released. All three utilized their first film as a springboard to bigger and better projects.