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Top 5 Second Films

Here’s a nice high concept one for you. Next week’s Annihilation will be just the second film ever directed by screenwriter-novelist Alex Garland, after 2015’s Ex Machina. Which is almost enough to get us excited, but second features tend to be difficult: for every one that lives up to the promise of the maker’s debut, there are a dozen sodden misfires. Next Monday, we’re going to do our best to separate the wheat from the chaff, with our picks for the best directorial sophomore efforts ever. Share your picks for a chance to win a free Amazon movie rental!

21 Responses so far.

  1. Zev Burrows says:

    1. Pinocchio (1940; Disney Animation)
    2. La Belle et La Bete (1946; Cocteau)
    3. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962; Varda)
    4. Jaws (1975; Spielberg) if we’re going by theatrical releases
    5. Last Year at Marienbad (1961; Resnais)

    Most ashamed to have left off the list:

    Battleship Potemkin (1925; Eisenstein)
    The Magnificent Ambersons (1942; Welles)
    Pulp Fiction (1994; Tarantino)
    Days of Heaven (1978; Malick)

  2. Tyler "Bio" Rodriguez says:

    I didn’t think much of Rushmore the first time I saw it. But I’ve grown to quite love it, one of my favorite Wes Anderson films no doubt.

  3. Ohh, this is a good idea.

    The Magnificent Ambersons (butchered ending and all, I love it so)
    Vive L’Amour
    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
    Days of Heaven

    I really need to see Andrei Rublev.

  4. WBTN says:

    Okay, I’ll try to go with my gut, but I’m still pedantic enough to separate this into categories (mostly so it wasn’t comprised of just horror and action movies; I may be a pretentious arthouse snob, but I know what I want to watch when I’m in a bad mood).

    Horror – Quite a few ringers, actually, from The Innocents to The Evil Dead (yes, I’m counting Raimi’s student film It’s Murder!) all the way to The Devil’s Rejects. But really, it comes down to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or Alien, and much as I love both of them, Alien is – to put it lightly – an easier sit.

    Action – Okay, The Terminator or The Road Warrior would be better, even on the level of pure favoritism. Buuut I’m letting my inner John Carpenter stan take over, so Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) it is.

    New Hollywood – Too many options! Days of Heaven, Cabaret, and The Deer Hunter strike me as perfect choices, but you know what I’d rather watch over all of them? Harold and Maude.

    ‘90s Indie Brat – Similarly, Pulp Fiction is probably the incontestable winner here (or actually Reservoir Dogs, since the world has found out about My Best Friend’s Birthday, Mr. Tarantino *tsk tsk*), but either way, I’d rather revisit Rushmore. Why, no, the banner did not influence this decision, why do you ask?

    Wild Card – Battleship Potemkin? The Magnificent Ambersons? Morvern Callar? No, I think I’ll go with sexy ramen comedy Tampopo, mostly because I watched it last summer and it’s still fresh in my memory. Also, it’s really fucking funny.

    NB: I’m counting TV movies, so Jaws doesn’t ‘count’.

  5. Not counting short films, student films, or co-director credits, here’s what I’ve got:


    That’s also a pretty direct line right through the exact things that I love.

  6. CRD says:

    I honestly had no idea that so many canonical classics were the second works of their respective directors.

    1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
    2. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
    3. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
    4. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
    5. Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960)

    Honorable Mentions: Battleship Potemkin (1925), The Graduate (1967), Repulsion (1965)

    • Cannon Kruk says:

      Technically, Jaws is not his 2nd. Duel was not only feature length but, eventually, released in theaters. So by any general definition it should count, thus making aforesaid ‘shark movie’ his 3rd (see below).

  7. Cannon Kruk says:

    5. The Sugarland Express
    4. The Terminator
    3. Predator
    2. Lost in Translation
    1. Alien

  8. Matthew says:

    Can’t believe no one’s mentioned Boogie Nights! The Elephant Man is good too.

  9. You got me looking up my favorite directors on IMDB in order to find a best “2nd!” La La Land is a good choice (Chazelle), but I prefer Whiplash because of its pacing. Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a great 2nd! The Incredibles (Brad Bird) is another one (but nothing tops the Iron Giant for me). Should the best “2nd” films be better than the directorial debuts?

  10. Yourself says:

    I watch films by director frequently, but watch films by director exhaustively and in chronological order never (I feel like you need to be in the 300+ a year club for that not to limit your taste), so I have no concept of what makes a good second film. So this can be a horrible chore of looking up every film I ever liked and checking if it was a second film, or it can just be a guess-and-check of films I like from directors I like which seem like they came early in their career. It’s the second one.

    1.) A Fistful of Dollars
    2.) Assault on Precinct 13
    3.) The Terminator, bet no one else has that one

    You know, these are all really obvious and I’m too bored by myself to finish.

  11. CalumH says:

    Memento, Se7en, Trainspotting, Wall-E (ignoring that Stanton co-directed A Bug’s Life) and Eternal Sunshine are other ones I’ve either remembered are second features or found out they were when I looked them up. My top five would probably consist of the last three of those and two of WBTN’s choices, Pulp Fiction and Harold and Maude – thanks for giving the latter a shout out, that film doesn’t get nearly enough love!

  12. Jaiden says:

    1. Rushmore
    2. Life of Brian
    3. Pulp Fiction
    4. Pinocchio
    5. The Graduate

    If Pinocchio doesn’t technically count then wack Adaptation or The Incredibles in there. Toy Story 2, Raising Arizona, Alien, Upstream Color, The Little Mermaid, Airplane! and Near Dark are also all excllent choices.

  13. Aaron Neron says:

    Two not previously mentioned that I’d definitely go to the mat for are:
    “Repulsion” (Polanski)
    “Ride The High Country” (Peckinpah)
    If I’m feeling generous, I might even nominate “Klute” (Pakula)

  14. Aaron Neron says:

    Oh shit… and “Point Blank” (Boorman). Not sure how I forgot that one.

  15. victor says:

    I’m not counting short films or TV movies, just second feature films.

    4./5. “The Avengers” / “Much Ado About Nothing” (Joss Whedon)
    3. “The Dark Crystal” (Jim Henson)
    2. “The Incredibles” (Brad Bird)
    1. “WALL-E” (Andrew Stanton)

  16. Alex Frith says:

    I’ve gone with ‘all-time favourite films that happen to be a Director’s second feature-length, actually shown in cinemas films’:

    5. The Matrix
    4. The Descent
    3. Repulsion
    2. The Breakfast Club
    1. The Graduate

  17. Liz Norris says:

    I excluded co-directing credits unless they were working with one or more directors who were also only making their second film (sorry, Gene Kelly).

    1. Lore (Cate Shortland)
    2. Dead Again (Kenneth Branagh)
    3. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
    4. The Terminator (James Cameron)
    5. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)

  18. Max says:

    Sophomore efforts are tough, but here goes. I tried to limit mine to flicks that could credibly be regarded as the director’s best — the opposite of the “sophomore slump.”

    1. Stranger than Paradise (technically Jim Jarmusch’s second, if we count “Permanent Vacation,” and I don’t know why we wouldn’t)
    2. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
    3. The Driver (Walter Hill)
    4. The Terminator (James Cameron)
    5. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter)

    Honorable mentions: Magnificent Ambersons, Memento, Thief, Boogie Nights, Se7en

  19. Brigdh says:

    Man, this was a hard topic to come up with answers for.

    1. The Descent
    2. Wall-E
    3. Shaun of the Dead
    4. Memento
    5. A Fistful of Dollars


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