Directorial debuts of actors who’ve entered the world of filmmaking

From Bradley Cooper’s ‘A Star is Born’ and Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ to the recently-released ‘Madgaon Express’ by Kunal Kemmu, here’s a fabulous list of films, made by some of our favourite actors.

Harper's Bazaar India

In the history of cinema, Indian and international, there have been countless instances of actors stepping behind the camera and giving direction a try. And more often than not, they delivered impactful directorial debuts. Remember Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai or Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone? Their seamless transition from acting to directing showcased their versatility and left an indelible mark on the film industry. Here are some of our favourite directorial debuts by actors.

Aamir Khan, Taare Zameen Par (2007)

Known as the ‘perfectionist’ among his peers and in the industry, actor Aamir Khan’s first movie as director is moving and will make you break into tears every time you watch it. Hailed by audiences and critics alike, the film is about a child with learning disabilities, who has to go through emotional turmoil, thanks to people's little understanding about the subject. Khan, who plays the child's art teacher, stands out as he understands and empathises with challenges that the protagonist is going through. His narrative style as a director has been well-appreciated. While the movie may be about a child with dyslexia, Khan, with his simple yet striking visuals, encourages viewers to empathise with the family dynamics, the rigid school system, the verbal abuse towards these children. Khan’s messaging doesn’t just end here. He urges us to think about the many other children around us in our life who are trapped in similar situatuions. It’s a simple message, but a sincere one for an actor who couldn’t have chosen a better topic for his first film as director. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Yes, he is a brilliant actor, but Affleck as a director is a creative genius. This crime drama, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel about two Boston detectives’ search for a missing girl, was a critical success. Affleck, as the director and co-writer, extracted compelling performances from the cast that included his brother Casey, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, and Morgan Freeman. He earnestly highlights the lives of the working-class Boston community on the big screen. The only drawback though is that the movie addresses a host of moral issues but leaves it up to the audience to decide their stand. Over the years, the actor has given us directorial gems, including the 2013 film, Argo that won the Academy Award for Best Picture (he sadly didn’t win Best Director, a snub that people still talk about to this very day). 

Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird (2017)

While one might mainly associate her with her latest film Barbie, which broke box office records, it was Gerwig’s directorial debut that put her on the ‘directors to watch out for’ list. Focusing on the life of a high school senior who shares a turbulent relationship with her mother, this was a movie that made you think, laugh, love, and reflect on a lot of things. She shows the transition between the teenage years and adulthood in the most spectacular way and gives the audience characters they truly resonate with. When it comes to coming-of-age dramas, there’s more chance of things going wrong than right because the makers stick to the tropes that we’ve seen many times before. But Gerwig adds her signature elements too make it her own; think an emotional film peppered with humour. One might even feel that she’s taken some scenes right from her own life experiences. While the film did earn five nominations at the Academy Awards and didn’t end up winning any, it’s a fabulous first film by a director whose work we’ve only grown to love. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born (2018)

One always knew that Cooper was a very handsome and talented actor. He added the tag of ‘brilliant director’ to his resume with his very first film as a director—one that starred him and Lady Gaga in the lead. For a first-timer, it’s remarkable to see how confident and assured Cooper is with the pacing and staging of the film, for they drive the characters and narrative to stand out. Watching him switch effortlessly to scenes that are big and exciting to those that are small, yet intimate is a sign of the ease at which Cooper seemed to be in his very first film as director. While a lot has been said about his preparation for the role—a chemistry with Gaga that made one think that they’re a real-life couple, one realises how much Cooper has learnt about direction having worked with some of the best directors in cinema. 

Where to watch: JioCinema, Amazon Prime Video

Michael B Jordan, Creed III (2023)

Jordan’s dedication to direction and learning something new was so high that he ended up speaking to actors-turned-directors (Bradley Cooper, Denzel Washington, and Jon Favreau) on how to go about things in the world of multitasking as a filmmaker. Those conversations sure seemed to have worked wonders as his directorial debut ended up raking a resounding $100mn (₹832 crore) on its opening weekend. A movie in the sports genre is mostly an entertaining watch, but what makes this film better is that it’s less about boxing and more about the drama behind the sport. And there’s only one person to thank for that. With the actor all set to direct Creed IV as well, we can’t wait to see what’s in store. 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Kunal Kemmu, Madgaon Express (2024)

What happens when a Dil Chahta Hai-type-Goa trip goes horribly wrong? Audiences got the answer to this question thanks to this laugh riot of a comedy directed by Kunal Khemu. For all the times when you slapped your head watching comedy films that failed to even bring a smile to your face, here’s a film that is filled with LOL moments aplenty. A coked-out Pratik Gandhi is an absolute scene stealer with his pre and post-drug antics. While Avinash Tiwary and Divyenndu seem to be having a ball of a time, it’s Chhaya Kadam and Upendra Limaye who are the true icing on the cake. With its infectious energy and charm, this movie is a feel-good escape that will have you laughing until your sides ache. Whether you're watching alone or with friends, it's guaranteed to brighten your day and leave you wanting more. Directing your first film is never an easy job, even more so if it belongs to the comedy genre, but Kunal Khemu deserves all the credit for a fun-tastic film.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Image credit: Kunal Khemu | Instagram 

Also read: #SpoilerAlert: 'Barbie'—A picture perfect movie that lives up to the hype

Also read: The best 'Barbie' reactions on Twitter that’ll leave you in splits