The sophomore slump can be a real thing. However, that isn’t always the case. Many filmmakers have made their second time out just as good as the first. Sometimes, they’ve even done significantly better. So, today we’re going to be looking at some of the best sophomore features to date.
To tie into this week’s release of Jordan Peele‘s second directorial effort “Us,” we’re running down the ten best sophomore features. Because there are so many to choose from, it’s going to be a two-part article, with this installment just looking at titles from before the year 2000. Next month we’ll get to the newer ones, but for now, we’re looking deeper into the past for some of the best second outings. It’s an embarrassment of riches too, as this list doesn’t even include the likes of “American Graffiti,” “Andrei Rublev,” “Days of Heaven,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Elephant Man,” “Harold & Maude,” “Night Shift,” “Rushmore,” “The Terminator,” and “Trainspotting.” You could make just as respectable a top ten with those movies, as opposed to the ones below. Plus, there’s also “Jaws,” which there’s a whole debate about, in terms of whether it’s actually Steven Spielberg‘s second or third feature.
dir: Alexander Payne
After making “Citizen Ruth” to start off his career, Alexander Payne had his first of many strong successes with “Election.” The satirical comedy has many of his hallmarks while remaining one of his best efforts. Reese Witherspoon broke through here, while Payne would go on to become an Academy darling. Two films in, his style were already clearly evident.
dir: Doug Liman
Doug Liman got put on to the cinematic landscape with his second film, the Jon Favreau vehicle “Swingers.” Favreau penned and starred in the comedy, one that deftly captured being a single guy in Los Angeles during the mid-1990s, but it was Liman who gave it a distinctive look. This would catapult him too much larger scale productions. It’s a classic case of a strong second independent film making a director into someone Hollywood wants to be in business with.
10“Cinema Paradiso” (1988)
dir: Giuseppe Tornatore
A love letter to cinema and projectionists, “Cinema Paradiso” rightly won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Feature. For director, Giuseppe Tornatore, this was a major step up from his debut “The Professor.” Here, he was introduced to Hollywood, though he would remain in Italy making films there. Regardless, this second time out for Tornatore is an all-time classic Italian movie.
9“The Matrix” (1999)
dir: Lana Wachowski and Lilli Wachoswki
The Wachowskis debuted with a bang when they made “Bound,” but their next effort really blew audiences and critics away. “The Matrix” changed the way action movies were made, including introducing “Bullet Time” to the world. The siblings made this into a franchise, but this first outing, only their second feature, is as accomplished a blockbuster as anyone on this list was able to craft.
dir: David Fincher
Coming off of the notoriously troubled “Alien 3” production, no one would have blamed David Fincher for retreating back to the world of music videos. Instead, he made a classic serial killer tale in “Se7en.” Fincher would go back to the well with serial killers, though his first crack at them was every bit the success that his debut wasn’t. Of everyone on this list, it’s arguable that he had the biggest leap from first outing to second, even if his debut can’t fully be accredited to him.
dir: Penny Marshall
Going from actress to a filmmaker, Penny Marshall started her directing career with “Jumping’ Jack Flash,” but it was her sophomore feature that cemented how great behind the camera she really was. “Big” matched her with a tremendously game Tom Hanks for a classic comedy that still holds up to this day. Her time as a comic star clearly gave her insight, which would lead her to help craft this immense hit.
6“The Graduate” (1967)
dir: Mike Nichols
After getting nominated for Best Director with his debut “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Mike Nichols went out and won that Oscar his next time out with “The Graduate.” That Academy Award-fueled start to his career is nearly unrivaled. Beyond all that, this sophomore feature from Nichols is a brilliant display of filmmaking. In taking a European aesthetic and bringing it stateside, he made an immediate mark on Hollywood from behind the camera.
dir: Ridley Scott
Can you believe this classic is only Ridley Scott‘s second feature? After debuting with “The Duelists,” “Alien” came along and launched a franchise. From the tagline “In space, no one can hear you scream” to the H.R. Giger designed xenomorph, this haunted-house-in-space tale instantly became iconic. Plus, Scott made a star out of Sigourney Weaver in the process.
4“Boogie Nights” (1997)
dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
“Hard Eight” was a promising debut, but “Boogie Nights” really launched Paul Thomas Anderson to new heights. A love letter to the works of Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, but also very much its own thing, Anderson quickly became a wunderkind. Oscar flirted with him then, but it was only a hint of the embrace, nomination-wise, that they’d be giving him years later. In terms of filmmaking panache and overall popularity, this is perhaps still his finest hour.
3“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
dir: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino made a splash with “Reservoir Dogs,” but it was “Pulp Fiction” that re-wrote the rules and made him a star, winning him the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in the process. Tarantino entered the cinematic stratosphere with this independent blockbuster, taking homage to new and previously unexplored levels of creativity. It launched dozens of indie ripoffs, essentially becoming its own sub-genre. This was when Tarantino first became the mythic figure he is today. It’s one of the best films ever made, so as a second film? It’s clearly topped.