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The 10 best up-and-coming filmmakers to look out for in 2021


For all the ‘nearly’ directors, the ‘finally getting somewhere’ screenwriters and the ‘almost finished’ editors, 2020 came as a horrible surprise. Films were pushed back in their masses, sent packing to streaming services, or simply halted in uncertain limbo, For the film industry, coronavirus came as a seismic shock. 

Although, if there are any positives to take from such a year, particularly as a film enthusiast, it’s that all those films that would’ve been released in 2020 will now be released in 2021. Every patient filmmaker who may have had their deserved breakthrough last year, will with any luck, reap their rewards this year instead. 

It may not make up for a year of dread and uncertainty, but for filmmakers like Scott Cooper and even Denis Villeneuve whose careers are rapidly accelerating, getting their respective releases Antlers & Dune into theatres will come as a welcome relief. Though it was unlikely many would forget these significant filmmakers, what about all the best up-and-comers each vying for your attention this crowded cinematic year? From Chloé Zhao to Yann Demange.

Now though, let’s get to it.

The 10 best rising movie directors:

Julius Avery

After producing six short films in six years from 2002 to 2008, Julius Avery was deservedly given the chance at feature filmmaking in 2014 with the Ewan McGregor crime-drama Son of a Gun. This then allowed him to make Overlord four years later a surprisingly successful genre mash-up of WW2 drama and sticky sci-fi zombie horror. The film was an underground hit, particularly with younger film fans familiar with the popular Wolfenstein & Call of Duty: Zombies video game series, and was praised for breathing new life into a somewhat tired cinematic sub-genre. 

His latest film, Samaritan, scheduled for a summer 2021 release and looks to achieve a similar genre-defying tone, following a young boy who discovers that a world-famous superhero (played by Sylvestor Stalone) may in fact still be alive. Conceptually this idea sits on a knife-edge between ingenious and absurdity, but then again so does any great breakthrough genre film.

Quiara Alegría Hudes

Despite not having any films to her name as of yet, the screenwriter and playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes does have a bevvy of award-winning plays including In the Heights, soon to receive a cinematic adaptation in 2021 to much anticipation. The original play was co-written by Hamilton lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda who also has a writing credit here, and is helmed by Step up 2 & 3 director Jon M.Chu, the amalgamation of all this talent could easily lead to a kinetic cinematic frenzy.

Not only this but Quiara Alegría Hudes is also in the screenwriter’s chair for Sony Pictures animation’s first-ever musical feature ‘Vivo’, also to be released later this year. Described as an ‘epic adventure to gorgeous and vibrant locations never before seen in animation’, expect this to take over popular culture in late 2021.

Nia DaCosta

With a career on an accelerating trajectory coming into 2020 with a directing credit for 2018’s impressive Crossing the Line, as well as two significant episodes from Netflix’s excellent Top Boy, Candyman, a remake of the imperfect cult classic, was supposed to fire her into mainstream popularity. 

Co-written by Da Costa, Win Rosenfeld as well as Get Out’s Jordan Peele, Candyman was delayed until August 2021 but will look to capture the minds of audiences upon its late-summer release with a slick, smart refitting of the old tale. Not only this but DaCosta is also set to helm Disney’s Captain Marvel 2 as well as The Lincoln Conspiracy based on the book of the same name later in the future. Her success may come one year later, but 2021 should be her year. 

Yann Demange

Arguably Yann Demange is already a highly successful filmmaker, particularly more established than many of the names on this list. Having directed Charlie Brooker’s zombie series Dead Set, as well as the breakout series of the aforementioned Top Boy for channel 4, he later went on to be nominated for a BAFTA for ‘Outstanding British Debut’ for his work on the heart-thumping ‘71.

Having directed 2018’s White Boy Rick with leading man Matthew McConaughey, his career is growing substantially project-by-project, with his latest work ‘Exit West’ in early pre-production. Based on the novel by Mohsin Hamid the film stars man-of-the-moment Riz Ahmed and follows a young refugee couple who discover that doors in their city are portals to other destinations. It’s an exciting sci-fi concept from one of the most promising directors working today.

Julia Ducournau

One of 2016’s most impressive and exciting debuts, Julia Ducournau’s Raw was a powerful coming-of-age tale disguised as a gorgeously gruesome cannibalistic horror. Her latest film titled Titane, possibly coming out at the end of this year follows a missing child who reappears with a bruised face in an airport 10 years after his disappearance. All whilst this is happening a string of murders are reported across the French region, ensue murder, mystery, and horror. 

Ducournau’s latest film translated into English is Titanium, a possible clue to the mystery of the highly anticipated film that admittedly means absolutely nothing for the time being. 

Bryan Fogel

Quality documentary filmmakers are hard to come by, though after Bryan Fogel’s impressive 2017 sporting exposé Icarus, following his studies into blood doping, the director certainly has a promising future in the field. 

Not to mention that his latest project The Dissident, released in late 2020 and currently being rolled out across the world, has been released to rave reviews. Tracking the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the documentary follows Fogel, his fiancée, and dissidents around the world as they each help to uncover a global scandal. This looks to be a fascinating political study that we can’t wait to get our teeth into. 

Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Wife of fellow filmmaker and experimental pioneer Gaspar Noé, Lucile Hadzihalilovic has helped on several of her husband’s projects, helping to co-write 2009’s Enter the Void and edit 1998’s I Stand Alone. Though in 2015 she embarked on a directorial career of her own directing Evolution, a strange fable following a sea-side town and the hospitalisation of the young male population. 

She follows this up with Earwig, based on the novel by Brian Catling, which looks to follow in this unusual tone, telling the story of a man and a young girl his care who requires regular replacement of her ‘ice dentures’ before a voice on a telephone requests the girls release from her solitary existence. If the body horror aspects of Hadzihalilovic’s previous film, and if the grisly horror elements of Catling’s book are anything to go by, this will be one to watch, albeit through the gaps between your fingers.

David Lowery

Lowery may have stacks of short film experience under his belt, along with feature film success at Sundance and SXSW with films like 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and 2017’s A Ghost Story but we think this may be the year where David Lowey puts himself among the list of the most exciting contemporary filmmakers. 

His most exciting future project would without a doubt be The Green Knight, a fantasy re-telling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) who embarks on a dangerous quest to confront the ‘Green Knight’. The trailer branded itself onto the retinas of every fantasy-fiction fan when it debuted early last year with its stunning visual style and dark tone, but we’ll have to wait until summer 2021 to watch it. 

Not only this, but David Lowery will also be working on another fantasy trip to Neverland when he directs the latest Peter Pan adaptation in the coming years. Keep your eyes and retinas firmly peeled.

Debbie Tucker Green

Second Coming, Debbie Tucker Green’s cinematic debut in 2014 was a soft, gentle, and equally hard-hitting British drama about a woman living in London who believes she may be about to give birth to the second coming of Christ. What could’ve been a difficult concept to pin down and make plausible in the hands of the wrong director, Debbie Tucker Green sculpts the script with such careful attention to detail forming a harrowing, gripping tale in the process. 

This makes us understandably excited for her second feature film Ear For Eye which follows black British and American characters of different generations, as they each navigate their way through today’s complicated society. Starring British talents such as Lashana Lynch and Danny Sapani, Ear for eye looks to be an incredibly important film at a crucial time to tackle these issues in contemporary life. 

Chloé Zhao

Recently winning a Golden Globe for her directorial efforts on Nomadland, Chloe Zhao is quickly establishing herself as one of Hollywood’s most important contemporary directors.

Following on from her 2015 film Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017’s The Rider, Zhao’s Nomadland is in good stead for more significant awards success as the BAFTA and Academy Awards quickly approach. Based on the book by Jessica Bruder, but written for the screen by Zhao, Nomadland follows a woman (Frances McDormand) who after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West. 

Exciting critical acclaim will hopefully be joined by commercial success too with 2021’s delayed release of MARVEL’s The Eternals, an exciting new property following a race of immortal beings who have shaped Earth for civilisations. Let’s hope it’s a welcome refresh from years of Avengers triumph.