The cast of characters in the opening sequence of Reservoir Dogs, the debut film by Quentin Tarantino.

It Begins With a Crime: Why So Many Directors Start With Crime Films

From Quentin Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs to Christopher Nolan and Following, the history of American cinema is filled with directors who got their start by making crime films. But why do so many first-time filmmakers debut with a crime flick?

Crime Flicks Can be Filmed for Cheap

Yes, crime movies can have lavish set pieces, choreographed car chases, and explosive shootouts. But, they don’t always need to. Because many crime stories can be told without these expensive parts, they’re often less expensive to make than sci-fi, action, or fantasy movies.

A major strength for crime stories is that they can be made without many practical or digital effects. As long as the screenplay is well-written, the scenes are well-directed, and the characters are well-acted, the story can be as captivating, and often more timeless, than any big-budget blockbuster.

The Scene of the Crime Can be Easy to Come by

Though crime films often build vivid worlds, the scenery doesn’t need to look much different than your own. Especially for street level movies like The Panic in Needle Park and Boondock Saints, the locations can be mostly apartments, street corners, and alleyways.

While a restaurant or store can add to the production quality, it’s often easier to secure those locations than it is to build a futuristic city or travel around the world like many sci-fi and action movies do.

Many classic crime films, such as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men, take place in pretty much just one location, which makes scouting and filming even more affordable.

The Unusual Suspects Can Be Inexpensive to Hire

I’ll admit it. My favorite crime films have large, legendary casts. Goodfellas, The Godfather, and, well, The Usual Suspects, make a great case for an ensemble of top-tier actors, but movies like Wheelman and Panic Room prove a good crime film can be made with limited characters.

On the other hand, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels shows that if a large cast is needed, it could be made up of unknown actors as long as they’re right for the part. In the case of Guy Ritchie’s first feature film, he famously casted numerous ex-cons, which lent authenticity to the film without spending a large chunk of the budget on established actors.

But What About Big Budget Crime Films?

Of course, these benefits of crime stories are just generalizations. Films like Scarface and Once Upon a Time in America certainly spent money on dramatic set pieces and international travel. Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street are highly stylized in settings, wardrobe, and cinematography. And all of these aspects require bigger budgets to execute properly. But for a first-time director that loves these kinds of movies, crime is the perfect genre for a debut feature.

Know any other reasons why so many directors get started making crime films? Let us know in the comments below.

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