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The Maltese Falcon (1941)

John (son of Walter) Huston never looked back after this hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett adaptation. Falcon made a star of Bogart, and its blend of city cynicism and expressionist imagery gave birth to the whole film- noir genre.

Citizen Kane (1941)

The mother of all movie debuts, Orson Welles' all-American classic bombed on release and incensed press-baron William Randolph Hearst. Post-Kane, its wonderkid creator was chiefly relegated to the role of star for hire; grubbing around for the money to fund his baroque filmic visions.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Actor Charles Laughton felt little pressure to follow up his "nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale". This debut feature flopped with critics and public alike but has since come to be regarded as a classic. Laughton, however, never made another film.

The 400 Blows (1959)

Teen delinquent turned film critic Francois Truffaut married both experiences in this mesmeric portrait of wayward youth and teenage angst. Alongside Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, this film kick-started the French New Wave.

Badlands (1973)

Former philosophy scholar Terrence Malick provided one of the finest pictures of the Seventies in this trippy, love-on-the-run saga. In the 26 years since, he's made only two films.

Shadows (1959)

Pieced together from improvised workshops, Shadows pointed the way forward for low-budget, do-it-yourself cinema. To fund his film debut - a gritty New York drama, shot on 16mm - John Cassavetes used the cash he'd earned playing TV detective Johnny Staccato.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Quentin Tarantino's video-store job proved a neat training ground for this film-savvy, heist-gone-wrong favourite. Dogs cannabilized the tapes on the crime-rack and spun them into box-office gold.