Looking Back on Some of the Best Sophomore Efforts in Cinema

This spring, we’ll see sophomore film debuts from myriad directors whose first features set the hooks in our film fancies and intrigued us as to what they would have up their sleeves next. For some, it’s taken half a decade or more for their second films to come to fruition and for others their successful first features carved the path for a speedy and welcome return. Between Shane Carruth’s shockingly brilliant Upstream Color, Antonio Campos’ hauntingly visceral Simon Killer, Zal Batmanglij’s audacious thriller The East, and a handful more, there are plenty of new films to look forward to from directors to get excited about. However, the second film is tricky territory.

Although a director’s third film may truly establish a particular autueristic style or cinematic language, the second illuminates their voice, allowing us to better gauge whether their first feature was nothing more than a one-off stroke of genius or a one-off misstep. I can say with confidence that the sophomore films debuting in the coming months—those that I have seen, anyway—more than live up to my expectations and it’s thrilled me to become infatuated with filmmakers on the cusp of something great. For even some of the most acclaimed and interesting directors haven’t always had the greatest sophomore efforts—there’s no definitive parallel necessarily. But for some, it’s their second film that established them in Hollywood as someone to watch and someone to admire, paving the way for a long career ahead. In honor of these fascinating new directors with films premiering soon, here’s a look at some of the best sophomore efforts in the history of cinema.

Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby

First film: The Landlord, Third Film: The Last Detail 

Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick

First Film: Badlands, Third Film: The Thin Red Line

Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson

First Film: Hard Eight, Third Film: Magnolia

Klute, Alan J. Pakula

First Film: The Sterile Cuckoo, Third Film: Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich

First Film: Targets, Third Film: What’s Up, Doc?

Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

First Film: Reservoir Dogs, Third Film: Jackie Brown

A Woman is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard

First Film: Breathless, Third Film: Vivre Sa Vie

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry

First Film: Human Nature, Third Film: The Science of Sleep

Se7en, David Fincher

First Film: Alien 3, Third Film: The Game

Trainspotting, Danny Boyle

First Film: Shallow Grave, Third Film: A Life Less Ordinary

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola

First Film: The Virgin Suicides, Third Film: Marie Antoinette

Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson

First Film: Head, Third Film: The King of Marvin Gardens

Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater

First Film: Slacker, Third Film: Before Sunrise

Safe, Todd Haynes

First Film: Poison, Third Fim: Velvet Goldmine

The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino

First Film: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Third Film: Heaven’s Gate

The Graduate, Mike Nichols

First Film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Third Film: Catch-22

Alien, Ridley Scott

First Film: Duellists, Third Film: Blade Runner

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