You would think that the most famous movies are created by huge production companies with a massive budget. Well, there are blockbusters, and then there are indie films, which have a much tighter budget and are produced independently. When I hear the term indie film, I assume it’s a movie that premiered at some film festival by an aspiring director. What I didn’t realize is that some of the most classic movies out there are indie films.
Memorable movies from The Breakfast Club to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are indie films. Plus, some of the most famous and talented directors got their start in Hollywood with their indie films. Whether it’s a comedy, horror, thriller, rom-com, or drama, indie film films have a little something for everyone.
Check out some of the best movies out there that you didn’t know were independent films.
American Beauty (1999)
One of the many fantastic movies at the end of the ‘90s was American Beauty. Director Sam Mendes beautifully captures the struggles of the protagonist Lester Burnham, who is a father in the midst of a midlife crisis, his 16-year-old daughter Jane, who finds love, and her stunning and lonely best friend Angela, portrayed by the gorgeous Mena Suvari.
Jane suffers from low self-esteem, and her father is infatuated with Angela, Jane’s cheerleader friend, after watching her dance routine at a high-school basketball game. When everything falls apart, the characters begin to find beauty in the little things in life. The story is heavy, but it leaves you feeling appreciative and inspired.
“I don’t think there is anything worse than being ordinary.” – Angela
The Breakfast Club (1985)
When it comes to classic rom-coms from the ‘80s, The Breakfast Club certainly makes the list. If, for whatever reason, you never watched the film, here’s a summary. It’s about five high school students who couldn’t be more different, stuck spending Saturday together in detention. Despite their differences, the gang is able to set their differences apart and connect on a deeper level.
The five actors do an impressive job playing a cliché version of their characters before turning them into relatable human beings. No matter how old you are, everyone could learn a little something from these teenagers.
“When you grow up, your heart dies.” – Allison
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is based on the novel of the same name. It follows an emotionally unstable Charlie as he navigates his first year of high school. He quickly becomes friends with a cute girl named Sam and her gay half-brother Patrick. The siblings teach Charlie that it’s okay to forget his troubles every once in a while and enjoy life.
Starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, the film shows audiences that everyone has their own struggles in life. But there is an element of the movie that is heartwarming and inspiring and teaches viewers about music and real friendship.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Charlie
Factory Girl (2006)
This indie movie shows the life of fashion icon Edie Sedgwick, who was Andy Warhol’s muse. Edie travels to New York and leads a chaotic life in Warhol’s famous Factory where art, love, and lust all come together. The movie captures Edie’s sparkling spirit, but it’s her tragic downfall that will keep you hooked until the end of the movie.
Edie suffers from drug addiction, and her relationship with Andy dwindles as she becomes an outsider among the Factory crowd. The movie shows the effects drugs had on a former Vogue “it” girl. But I don’t want to spoil the movie for you.
“Divorced as many times as she married, she leaves only good wishes behind.” – Edie
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
If you’re a horror fan, chances are you saw The Blair Witch Project. What makes this movie so terrifying is the amateur filming, which makes it feel like a real story. Three aspiring moviemakers go out into the woods to produce a documentation of the Blair Witch myth. Three young filmmakers heading into the woods sounds like the start of any good horror film.
What the characters don’t know is that the Blair Witch is still alive and waiting for some new victims. If you’re like me and love these nightmare-producing movies, The Blair Witch Project is a must-watch.
“It’s not the same film, is it? I mean, you know it’s real, but it’s like looking through the lens gives you some sort of protection from what’s on the other side.” – Joshua
Ramen Girl (2008)
Brittany Murphy is a talented and beautiful actress who was taken away from the world far too soon. In one of her last films, she plays Abby, who follows her boyfriend to Tokyo only to get dumped! In her sadness, Abby realizes that she gave up on her own dreams, and she decides to set a new goal for herself.
In this indie film by Robert Allen Ackerman, Abby wants to become a ramen cook. The movie teaches you a lot about the Japanese culinary and spiritual world and shows how people find their strengths in their hardest times.
“Somewhere along the way, I just forgot what I wanted to do with my life.” – Abby
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction is a 1994 cult classic. Movie making genius, Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman is a hilarious gangster comedy. The movie had many brilliant long dialogues, and Tarantino puts all the plotlines together magnificently for an outstanding finale.
It’s the neo-noir, black comedy, crime film we never knew we needed. I’m sure most of you have seen this movie, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers just in case. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this movie, you should… right now! You’ll thank me later; trust me.
“Play with matches, you get burned.” – Vincent
The Boat That Rocked (2009)
If you need a feel-good movie, The Boat That Rocked is sure to make you laugh. The movie focuses on young Carl, who was sent away by his mother to live on a boat which hosts a pirate radio station. Rock ‘n’ Roll was still frowned upon in Britain back in the ‘60s, which is why rock radio was more secretive. The Rock Boat live has the craziest radio speakers who know how to have a good time.
“Nothing important dies tonight, just a few ugly guys on a crappy ship. The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there’ll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play. But, believe you me, they will still be written, they will still be sung, and they will be the wonder of the world.” – The Count
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem from a Dream is another classic starring Jared Leto as an attractive but broken heroin addict. The story is focused on Leto’s character Harry, his mother Sara Goldfarb, his girlfriend Marion, and best friend Tyron, all of whom are on a treacherous downward spiral of drug abuse.
Requiem for a Dream might be a little bit hard to watch, but it shows the complete ugly truth of drugs and what they do to people. After watching this movie, I felt very content with my life and completely uninterested in drugs.
“You’re the most beautiful girl in the world. You’re my dream.” – Harry
Thirteen is a 2003 teen drama directed by Catherine Hardwicke and starring Evan Rachel Wood. The film depicts the life of an ordinary but unhappy teenager named Tracy. Then, she meets the fun, adventurous Evie (played by Nikki Reed), and everything changes. For the first time in her life, she feels popular, cool, and actually enjoys life.
It’s a classic movie reminding you of what it was like to be in high school. Tracey is introduced to drugs, sex, and crime after being influenced by her new friends. Sadly, her new lifestyle may have been a little too much for her to handle.
“If everybody married someone from a different race, then in one generation, there would be no prejudice.” – Tracy.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko is an outstanding psychological thriller written and directed by Richard Kelly. The classic movie starring Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal is a brilliant combination of romance, growing up, and mystery. My favorite part of this indie film is the time travel aspect.
This is one of those movies that you have to watch over and over again in order to make sense of it. Luckily, it’s so good that you’ll want to. With all the ambiguous events and plot twists, you’ll keep thinking about Donnie Darko long after you’ve watched it.
“Some people are just born with tragedy in their blood.” – Gretchen
500 Days of Summer (2009)
In this romantic comedy, Joseph-Gorden Levitt and Zooey Deschanel both give an outstanding performance as Tom and Summer. Contrary to most rom-coms, the two main characters don’t end up together. We watch their love story blossom from their first meeting to their last encounter.
After spending a few months together, both characters seem over the moon. However, this movie depicts what their romance is like after the honeymoon phase passes. Considering audiences are expecting them to end up together, the surprising twist makes for a much more relatable film.
“People don’t realize this. But loneliness is underrated.” – Tom
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain is a romantic drama directed by Ang Lee. The 2005 film is adapted from a 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx. The film’s star cast includes Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams. The story depicts a complex emotional and sexual relationship between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist.
The cult classic is one of the first gay romances that isn’t filled with cliches or stereotypes. Ennis and Jack flee to Brokeback Mountain in this epic love story because it’s the only way they could celebrate their romance.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack
The Terminator (1984)
This one may come as a bit of a surprise. That’s right, the series that made Arnold Schwarzenegger famous began as an indie film. The classic sci-fi was directed by James Cameron. Arnie portrays the Terminator, an assassin sent back in time from 2029-1984 to kill Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton.
With machines, wars, and strong men, this movie had all the ingredients to make it a smash box office hit. It remains a timeless masterpiece to this day.
“You seemed just a little sad. I used to always wonder what you were thinking at that moment. I memorized every line, every curve… I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have.” – Kyle
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine is a comedy-drama road film and the directorial debut of power couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The feel-good movie has a talented cast, including a young Abigail Breslin. Sheryl Hoover is an overworked mother who just took in her unemployed, gay brother Frank to live with her family after a scary suicide attempt.
I don’t want to give away too much of the movie, but after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, it became an instant, overwhelming box office success. It even won two of its four Academy Award nominations.
“Luck is the name losers give to their own failings.” – Richard
The Runaways (2010)
The Runaways is a biographical drama about the 1970s girl-rock-band of the same name. Kristen Stewart gives a beautiful performance as legend Joan Jett, who is famous for her hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” As usual, Dakota Fanning is outstanding in this film, portraying Cherie Currie, a Los Angeles Teen aspiring to become a rock star.
The relationship between Currie and Jett is the focal point of the movie until Curries leaves the band. The film grossed about $4.6 million and received pretty positive reviews from critics.
“No, guys, man. I want an all-girls rock band.” – Joan
Poison Ivy (1992)
One of the greatest erotic thrillers is Poison Ivy. Released in 1992, the movie tells the story of a sweet teenage girl named Sylvie Cooper. When wild-girl Ivy, played by Drew Barrymore, comes into her life, nothing stays calm anymore. Sylvie’s mundane life becomes one giant adventure.
Sylvie is a rich private school student who meets a poor, trashy but street-smart girl when she witnesses Ivy mercy-killing a heavily wounded and suffering dog. The girls couldn’t be more different, but they become fast friends. Before they know it, Ivy wins over Sylvie’s entire family and practically moves in.
“She might have been even more alone than I was.” – Sylvie
Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation is another classic romantic comedy-drama. Directed by Sofia Coppola, the movie stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as Bob Harris and Charlotte. Harris is a fading movie star who arrives in Tokyo to be featured in ads to promote Suntory whiskey.
As his romance with Charlotte begins, audiences get a glimpse into the hilarious and exciting Tokyo atmosphere. This one needs to be added to your must-watch list if you haven’t already seen it. The movie premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2003 and was a critical and commercial success.
“My Japanese is getting better. We started speaking English.” – Bob
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Unusual Suspects is a 1995 crime thriller directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. The film depicts an elderly group of crime gangsters with an all-star cast, including Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey.
What many people don’t know about this award-winning movie is that it started off as an indie film. If you like action and mystery, chances are you already saw this. If not, I highly recommend it.
“After that, my guess is that you will never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.” – Verbal
I remember when Juno came out in 2007, it was all everyone at school was yapping about! That’s why it may come as a surprise that this coming-of-age comedy-drama is an independent film. Despite the heavy topic of teenage pregnancy, the movie leaves you with a warm feeling.
The light-hearted film brings a funny and sweet element into the story of an independent-minded high school student dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
“Can’t we just like kick this old school? You know, like I stick the baby in a basket, send it your way, like Moses and the reeds?” – Juno
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Moonrise Kingdom is about a 12-year-old orphan named Sam Shakusky attending Camp Ivanhoe, a summer camp led by Scout Master Randy Ward. Another 12-year-old named Suzy Bishop lives on the island with her mom Laura and dad Walt, both attorneys, and her three little brothers in a home called Summer’s End.
At first glance, Moonrise Kingdom may seem like a children’s movie, but if you give it a fair chance, you’ll realize you could learn a lot from the film, no matter how old you are. The essence of the movie is the lovely friendship between Sam and Suzy.
“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” – Sam
Run Lola Run (1999)
Run Lola Run was written and directed by Tom Tykwer and released in 1999 as a German experimental thriller film. It tells the story of a woman who needs to obtain $100,000 to save her boyfriend Manni’s life. The movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it competed for the Golden Lion.
The fast-paced movie features various different versions of how the story could turn out… each version involves a lot of running. This intense film is certainly a must-watch for movie lovers out there.
“Man… probably the most mysterious specious on our planet.” – Narrator
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman as their feature film debut, Being John Malkovich combines fantasy, comedy, and drama while telling the tale of the unemployed anti-hero, Craig. Craig is living in New York City, stuck in an unhappy marriage with a pet-obsessed wife, Lotte.
When he finds a new job as a file clerk, Craig discovers a crawl tunnel that may or may not be a portal. Without giving too much away, the plotline is really well-written, and the all-star cast includes John Cusack and Cameron Diaz.
“Nobody’s looking for a puppeteer in today’s wintry economic climate.” – Craig
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs is Quentin Tarantino’s feature-length debut. The crime story stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, and Quentin Tarantino himself as diamond thieves whose plan to rob a jewelry store goes terribly wrong, to say the least.
The movie features fabulous dialogue and certainly knows how to keep the audience hooked. The popular film was even dubbed the “greatest independent film of all time” by Empire magazine. Wow! That’s quite the honor!
“It’s amusing to me, to torture a cop.” – Mr. Blonde
Memento is a neo-noir psychological thriller that is popular in the independent film scene. The movie was directed by Christopher Nolan and was released in 2000 based on a pitch by Jonathan Nolan. Guy Pearce stars as a man with anterograde amnesia who lost his ability to create new memories. His new memories are forgotten after about 15 minutes.
The topic is a little heavy, and the movie can be disturbing yet extremely fascinating. I mean, who doesn’t love a good memory loss movie? Half of the movie is in black and white and chronological. The other half is colored and shown in reverse. In the end, the plot lines are combined beautifully.
“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind.” – Leonard
The Meaning of Life (1983)
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is also simply called The Meaning of life. The 1983 sketch comedy was directed by Terry Jones and written and performed by the Monty Python troupe. In this film, Monty Python once again captures the world in an honest yet confusing way.
If you’re hoping this film will get you closer to understanding the meaning of life, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But you will find sarcasm, laughter, and the fact that you shouldn’t take life too seriously, no matter how tough things might get.
“Hindu, Taoist, Mormon spill theirs just anywhere, but God loves those who treat their semen with more care.” – Mum
No Country for Old Men (2007)
If you’re into Western, crime, and thriller films, No Country for Old Men is perfect for you. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and released in 2007, this story has a little bit of something for everyone. The movie follows a Texan welder and veteran, based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name.
The movie’s antagonist is a mentally unstable serial murderer named Anton. His conflicts with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, the protagonist, is what keeps audiences on their toes.
“A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say: ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.’” –Sheriff Ed.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunshine is a romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater and released in 1995. It tells the story of a young American man named Jesse and a young French woman named Celine. After the two meet on a train ride, they decided to spend the night together in Vienna. They have a crazy, fun night full of romance, but, eventually, they have to go back to their own lives. If you need a good love story, I highly recommend this one.
“If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but… who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.” –Celine
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Sunset is the sequel to Before Sunrise, and it came out in 2004, nine years after the first film. Part two of this heartbreaking love story shows what it means to follow your gut. Jesse and Celine meet each other for the first time in nine years, but this time, they spend a day in Paris together.
In this movie, Jesse had written a best-selling book titled “This Time,” based on his experience in Vienna with Celine. I don’t want to give away too much, but the film received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Oscar.
“Now I’m older, and my problems are deeper, but I’m more equipped to handle them.” –Jesse
Directed by Todd Solondz, Happiness is a 1998 black comedy-drama that portrays the lives of three sisters, their families, and loved ones. The movie was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for “it’s bold tracking of controversial contemporary themes, richly-layered subtext, and remarkable fluidity of visual style.”
Despite the title of the film, the movie depicts the lives of miserable people who eventually find happiness, even if it’s small and unconventional. This one is only for movie-lovers who are into dark humor.
“I know who you are, and you are nothing.” – Allen
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic horror movie. Released in 1974, the slasher film was directed by Tobe Hooper and follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals. This movie is only for the brave ones! Otherwise, expect to have nightmares.
The movie is actually banned in several countries because of its violence. But luckily, it’s legal in America. If you are a horror fan like me, this is ideal for a spooky night with your friends.
“But had they lived very, very long lives, they could have expected, nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day.” –Narrator
Submarine is a 2010 film written and directed by Richard Ayoade. The coming of age comedy-drama is based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel of the same name, and it stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, and Sally Hawkins. The movie focuses on Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old unpopular kid who has a crush on a girl in his class named Jordana.
Oliver and Jordana meet secretly after school, and she snaps a picture hoping to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. His reaction is to put Oliver in a headlock. Ah, young love.
“Sometimes I wish there was a film crew following my every move.” –Oliver
The Science of Sleep (2006)
The Science of Sleep is a 2006 surrealistic science-fantasy film. The movie is based on a bedtime story written by Sam Mounier (who was 10 years old at the time). Gael Garcia Bernal’s character, Stephanie Miroux, is a shy young boy whose vivid dreams interfere with reality.
My favorite part about this movie is that you learn a lot about dreams. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say that this French fantasy is a definite feel-good film.
“Things will turn out the way you want if you could just stop doubting that I love you.” –Stephanie
Life of Brian (1979)
This is another Monty Python cult classic. This one humorously features the life of Jesus Christ. The movie focuses on a boy named Brian Cohen, a young Jewish boy played by Graham Chapman. Since he was born on the same day as Jesus Christ and lived right next door to him, Brian is mistaken for the Messiah.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian is definitely a 1979 classic. The movie is hysterical and will make most people laugh out loud. But I will say, extremely religious people may want to steer clear of this one.
“Always look on the bright side of life.” –Jesus
If you like to keep it sexy, this one is for you. The 2002 erotic/ romantic drama-comedy is based on the short story by Mary Gaitskill, which was directed by Steven Shainberg. This classic indie film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, exploring a dominant lawyer and his submissive secretary.
When Lee begins her job as a secretary, she has no idea that she and her boss happen to have similar tastes in sexual adventures. The movie manages to capture plain and pleasure in a classy way.
“Who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?!” –Dr. Twardon
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
The Virgin Suicides is a 1999 drama film written and directed by Sophia Coppola based on the novel by Jeffery Eugenides. The story focuses on the Lisbon daughters who grew up as good Catholic girls who were never able to live their own lives as other teenagers do.
But everything gets worse when 14-year-old Lux sneaks out all night. The sisters aren’t allowed to leave the house and become more and more depressed until they make a tragic decision.
“Obviously, Doctor… you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.” –Cecelia