Great film by directors under 25 are hard to come by. That’s why we found just nine.
#9: “The Evil Dead” (1981)
Sam Raimi was just 22 years old when he completed "The Evil Dead." He first made a short film for less than $2,000 called "Within the Woods" to entice Hollywood execs to "The Evil Dead." Raimi has said that he "begged" them to give him the $100,000 needed to make the low-budget film, and he eventually accumulated $90,000 from various investors. The rest is, of course, horror movie history, as an additional two sequels were made and an incredibly loyal cult following ensued. Raimi’s career skyrocketed since then, as he was the brains behind the first three original Spider-Man movies — the second one being a classic of the genre — and went on to make other great films, especially 1998’s "A Simple Plan."
#8: “El Mariachi” (1994)
If you’ve ever read the book "Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player," you know why much of "El Mariachi’s" legend derives from the fact that it was shot for just $7,000 with an all-amateur cast. The budget was so low that Robert Rodriguez shot the film without sound and only overdubbed it during post-production. Originally intended for Mexican home video, Columbia Pictures loved the movie so much that they bought the rights to it in 1994, much to the delight of 24-year-old Rodriguez, who was rejected by every Latino distributor and was about to give up on the film. His passion project became a success. "Mariachi" spawned two sequels and a cult following that reveled in watching guitar-loving gunmen shoot up the bad guys. Rodriguez’s career went full swing as he became a sought after action director, his greatest achievement being "Sin City" or "Desperado," depending on who you talk to.
#7: “Boyz ‘n the Hood” (1991)
While Raimi is the youngest director on this list, John Singleton outdid him by becoming the youngest director to ever get nominated for an Oscar at the young age of 23. His classic "hood" movie "Boyz ‘n the Hood" kickstarted an influx of Compton-influenced films that focused on the political and dynamic part of being black in America. "Do The Right Thing," of course, is the incendiary masterpiece of the genre — which came before "Boyz" — but Singleton changed the game. As Ice Cube recently explained, "When we first did the movie ‘Boyz ‘n the Hood,’ we felt like we was teaching America about a part of itself that they don’t see." It was a tremendously important movie, as it showed the country that characters like Dough Boy who, in the film, says that America "don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood," existed everywhere, and that their plight was just as important as any other American’s. It is unfortunately still a relevant movie to this day, almost 25 years later.
#6: “Clerks” (1994)
Kevin Smith was just 24 when he made his now-iconic Generation X movie. When it came out, many thought "Clerks" was a fluke and that Smith just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but he proved everyone wrong three years later with "Chasing Amy." However, "Clerks" was where it all began, and where Smith had the most freedom — so much so, that he had to re-cut the film in order to get the more commercially viable R rating after the original NC-17 rating by the MPAA. Shot for just $27,575, the film ended up grossing close to $3 million and moving the indie movement forward in the 1990s. The plot is deceptively simple, that of a 7-Eleven clerk who hates his job and fervently spews pop culture references left and right as customers come in and out of the store. Shot in black and white, Smith had to sell a large portion of his comic book collection, max out "8-10" credit cards, use a portion of his college fund and spend insurance money he received from a car that was lost in a flood, just to film the movie.
#5: “George Washington” (2000)
David Gordon Green was just a 24-year-old filmmaker when he made "George Washington" — one of the most important and impressive debuts of the 2000s. With a Terrence Malick-influenced narrative style, a mostly amateur cast of kids and a scant $42,000 budget, Green set out to make a movie about rural North Carolina kids who have to deal with a sudden tragedy. Roger Ebert put it on his top 10 list, as did many other film critics who were impressed by the visual ambition of the film. Green ended up making a career out of the film, following it with gems like "Pineapple Express," "All The Real Girls" and "Joe."
#4: “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975)
You are 24 years old, a female director and about to release a film in 1975. Good luck. Chantal Ackerman beat all the odds and made one of the defining feminist films of the last 100 years. The film is an absolutely surreal (and real) depiction of a middle-aged widow doing everyday chores, all in the while prostituting herself in a middle class Brussels neighborhood. Unexpectedly, Jeanne has an orgasm with one of her clients, which sets off an unpredictable set of events. The film was not released in the United States until 1983, but the impact was already felt in the rest of the world, where Ackerman’s legendary feminist movie already took shape as an incendiary classic. It is now considered not just an important cinematic event, but an important cultural event as well, paving the way for the manner in which female filmmakers can express themselves in their art.
#3: “Mommy” (2014)
Xavier Dolan was just 24 when he released "Mommy," which broke box office records in his native Quebec and got him the Jury Prize at Cannes, shared with Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language." "Mommy" is a terrific movie that features mother and son constantly, maddeningly talking over each other, with verbal fireworks that bring a rawness to a breathtakingly original film riskily shot in a squared 1:1 aspect ratio; a scene midway through the film brilliantly explains why it was shot that way. It’s been said before by many that we haven’t seen the best of Dolan just yet and that most directors hit their peak much later in life. Dolan’s film might be overlong and have some of the ambitious mistakes some rookie directors tend to make, but his ambitious vision more than makes up for it.
#2: “Citizen Kane” (1941)
The child prodigy that was Orson Welles. A theater genius who wowed everyone in his heyday, Welles was a hot commodity, turning down offer after offer in the ’30s until he was sent an offer he couldn’t refuse: Complete artistic control in acting, writing, directing and producing any feature film of his choice. "Citizen Kane" was the next step — a bracing movie that, to this day, is still heralded as the greatest ever made (although "Vertigo" is catching up). It is a film so innovative that it can probably be considered the most influential film of all time. The fact that Welles was just 25 years old when "Citizen Kane" premiered at the Palace theater in 1941 is staggering and almost unheard of for a film this revolutionary and iconic. The technical aspect of the film is what astounds most people, but the fact that it was released 74 years ago is even more mind-blowing.
#1: “Duel” (1971)
As a young man, Steven Spielberg was flirting with pursuing a career in television. He signed on to direct four movies for ABC, the first one an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s high-adrenaline novel "Duel," which was inspired by Matheson’s own terrifying experience on the road the night JFK was assassinated. Spielberg was just 24 years old when he took on the story about a psychotic truck driver who tries to chase a man (Dennis Weaver) off the road, which would later be the major influence for John Dahl’s underrated "Joy Ride" from 2001. He was asked to turn in something cheap and fast with a shooting schedule that would run just 13 days. The final result was so good that Universal picked up distribution, asked Spielberg to shoot a few more scenes, and then decided to release it in theaters overseas. "Duel" is an intense, taut and gripping thriller that delved deeply into the social conscious and dark face of America with such confident flair that you’d never guess the director was just 24 years of age.