10 Best Indie Films of All Time

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10 Best Indie Films of All Time

Elaine Chung

Today’s connotation of an “indie” flick is often something along the lines of: “Offbeat, small-town story starring Ellen Page with a soundtrack of mostly Vampire Weekend songs.” Even though at least part of that description is likely a safe bet, the technical understanding of what puts the “indie” in independent cinema is often forgotten.

Since the advent of Hollywood, independent cinema has existed on the outskirts of the film industry as a subversive sphere of boundary-pushing, unbridled creativity. Simply put, an indie movie is just any film that isn’t financially backed by a major studio. Independent films are something like a high-level lemon stand with a lot more cigarette smokers loitering around. On set, one might find a gold mine of undiscovered talent—or, industry veterans looking to break out of the mainstream.

Nevertheless, the typically bold byproducts of these ventures have come to be known as a genre in itself. Independent cinema is where filmmakers go to tell the stories that fall outside of the cookie cutter. It’s where actors go to take risks and push their limits. And, though most budgets don’t allow for any special effects or other big-budget tricks, independent cinema is where “movie magic” takes on a whole new meaning.

So, stick it to the man and get weird with these beloved indie darlings.

Pulp Fiction

The indie movie that paved the way for all modern indie movies, Pulp Fiction is the early masterpiece of director Quentin Tarantino. Made on a minuscule $8 million budget, the film went on to gross $213 million at the box office, starting a late ’90s trend of young and seasoned filmmakers looking to capture the zeitgeist of pop culture without the backing of major Hollywood studios.

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Requiem for a Dream

Black Swan director Darren Aronofksy’s Requiem for a Dream is an unforgettably raw and inventive exploration of drug addiction and the human condition. Told through four characters’ perspectives, the film balances the hyper-real with the hyper-surreal as it depicts the high-to-crash trajectory of drug usage in a whole new light.

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She’s Gotta Have It

The first feature-length joint from the legendary Spike Lee, She’s Gotta Have It is a true embodiment of the power of independent cinema. Created by Lee through tireless fundraising and production efforts, the film has since become an all-time classic about one Brooklyn woman’s struggle to decide between three suitors.

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Little Miss Sunshine

A classic Sundance sweetheart, Little Miss Sunshine is a heartwarming dark comedy about one dysfunctional family’s road trip to California for their daughter’s beauty pageant. With a VW bus filled by the likes of Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, and Abigail Breslin, the performances behind this character-driven story keep the journey fueled with a full tank and a running start.

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Good Time

Before Uncut Gems, there was Good Time. Directed by the increasingly acclaimed Safdie Brother duo, Good Time stars Robert Pattinson as a bank robber on his quest to rescue his developmentally challenged brother (played by Ben Safdie) from jail.

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Memento

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Memento follows one man’s mission to avenge his wife by tracking down the people who attacked him and ultimately killed her. The trouble is, though, his injuries have left him incapable of forming new memories, causing him to rely on physical reminders of his trail of evidence as his guide.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Quvenzhane Wallis stars as Hushpuppy, a six-year-old living in poverty with an ailing father, in this quest for order among chaos. Residing in the near-New Orleans “Bathtub,” a community isolated by levees, Hushpuppy’s means for survival are soon challenged by an incoming storm.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Nothing says indie like a sci-fi romance penned by Charlie Kaufman, starring a disheveled Jim Carrey and blue-haired “manic pixie dream girl” Kate Winslet. The nonlinear film unravels itself as it tracks the trajectory of one couple who, upon falling in love and breaking up, both opt to undergo a procedure in which their memories are erased of one another.

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Frances Ha

Before Lady Bird and Little Women, Greta Gerwig was the queen of mumblecore, letting her acting chops shine in the low-budget flick, Frances Ha. A stylized black-and-white gem from Noah Baumbach, the comedy-drama follows a 27-year-old dancer in New York City, full of stage fright and a fear of adulthood.

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Donnie Darko

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an outcast teenager whose life gains new meaning when his sleepwalking leads him to a doomsday revelation from the guidance of a giant, monstrous rabbit. With 28 days before the world’s end, Donnie Darko must grapple with his newly distorted reality in his quest to save it.

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