Directors Who Were Nominated for an Oscar on Their First Try

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Regardless of who was going to win the Academy Award for Best Director this year, the winner was going to be a veteran filmmaker. There were no first-time nominees, so there was not going to be beginner’s luck this time around. However, in past years, over 93 Academy Awards presentations, some 24 filmmakers have earned a Best Director nomination for their directorial debut. (See who won the Oscar for best director every year since the Oscars began.)

To determine the first-time directors who were nominated for Oscars, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar database to find nominations for feature film directorial efforts categorized as “debut” by the Academy. Directors are ordered based on the year of their nomination. Data is complete through the 93rd Academy Awards, presented on April 25, 2021.

Gaining an Oscar nomination for Best Director fulfills the dreams for many in the film industry, who may have come up through the ranks as assistant directors, cinematographers, script writers, film editors, or sound editors, or gained their first directorial experience in theater or for television.

The list also includes five actors turned directors: Orson Welles, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Kenneth Branagh, and Kevin Costner. Redford won in 1981 with his directorial debut, “Ordinary People,” and Costner scored the Oscar ten years later for his “Dances With Wolves.” Beatty lost for his first effort at the helm, 1978’s “Heaven Can Wait,” co-directed with Buck Henry, but went on to win for his 1982 film “Reds. Branagh has another shot this year with his autobiographical film “Belfast.” (Here are 25 of the Oscars’ most egregious snubs.)

Five other first-time nominees for Best Director took home the golden statuette: Delbert Mann, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, James L. Brooks, and Sam Mendes.

Some directors on the list only got one shot at the Oscar and were never nominated again. The highly regarded Sidney Lumet had particularly bad luck. After receiving a nomination in his directorial debut for “12 Angry Men” (and losing to British director David Lean, who won for his epic “Bridge on the River Kwai”), Lumet was nominated four more times for Best Director but was denied each time.

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