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Best Indie Films of all Time

10 Best Indie Films of all Time [You Need To Watch]

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So what are the best indie films of all time? We break down our top 10 most famous and underrated indie movies by looking at budget, awards and box office success.

The best indie films cover a range of topics and genres. They challenge their audience with new viewpoints, humour and cinematic techniques. The only thing they have in common is their lack of funding from major film studios.

An indie film is any film made without a studio or big production company. Because of this, their budget might be in the few thousand to a few million. So we created a list of popular and underrated indie movies with various budgets that we think you will love.

Without further ado, here is our list of best indie movies of all time!

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead - underrated indie movies

The first film on our list is by horror director George A. Romero. Night of the Living Dead was one of the first successful indie films. To sum up, the story follows seven people trapped in a farmhouse during a zombie apocalypse. Romero co-founded his own film company with friends after he saw a gap in the B-movie market. 

The original budget was only $6,000, but Romero managed to secure funding from private investors to bring it up to $144,000. The film was groundbreaking for the 1960s because it combined horror gore with social issues. In particular, the film cast a black actor (Duane Jones) in its lead role. It is known as one of the best indie films in the horror genre.

2. Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper’s debut feature film was a surprise success. Easy Rider is a road movie that follows two bikers from LA to New Orleans. The film explored themes such as drugs and sex that were rarely on screen in the late 60s. It also launched the New Hollywood era of the 1970s.

The original budget for Easy Rider was $400,000. However, additional funding was sourced later for music rights. As a result, the film made $60 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful films on our list.

3. Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead - Best Indie Films of all Time

David Lynch’s debut feature film Eraserhead is in the horror genre. Lynch wrote, directed, edited and also created the music score. In brief, the film tells the story of a man looking after his child in a strange world. Lynch said his fear of fatherhood and his experience living in a troubled neighbourhood inspired the film.

This film is one of the most underrated indie movies. Surprisingly it had a very low budget of only $10,000, and it took over five years to make. The film made over $7 million at the box office. It is now part of the library of congress’s list of important films of American culture.

4. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)

Sex, Lies and Videotape

Steven Soderbergh wrote and directed Sex, Lies and Videotape when he was only 26 years old. To sum up, it tells the story of a man who videotapes a woman discussing her fantasies on camera. It is a drama film that only took only eight days to write. Soderbergh found funding from a straight-to-video home movie company and did not expect box office success. 

Sex, lies and videotape is one of the best indie films of all time. It was shot on a budget of $1.2 million and grossed over $36 million worldwide. The film premiered at Canne and won a Palme d’Or. Like Easy Rider, this film showed that a low-budget indie film could compete with Hollywood studio movies.

5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs is one of the best indie movies of all time. It is a crime film with a star cast including Harvey Keitel, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen. To sum up, the story follows a group of thieves who rob a jewellery store. Significantly the film is known for its heavy dialogue and a 70s soundtrack.

Empire magazine named it one of ‘the best indie movies of all time’. The film had an overall budget of $1.5 million and premiered at the Sundance film festival. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do so well at the box office. But when Tarrantino’s next film Pulp Fiction won awards, it became a cult hit.

6. Run Lola Run (1998)

Run Lola Run - Best Indie Films of all Time

Run Lola Run is a German action thriller by writer and director Tom Tykwer. The story follows Lola, who needs to obtain 100,000 Dutch marks in twenty minutes to save the life of her boyfriend Manni. The film was a surprise hit that proved that non-English films could compete at the box office.

The film uses a mix of colourful graphics, film and digital video. Its overall budget was $1.7 million and it made $22.9 during its opening year. This film is also one of the most underrated indie movies and is worth a watch.

7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project - underrated indie movies

Next is a found footage horror film directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. In short, The Blair Witch Project follows three filmmaking students on a hiking trip to make a video. During the film’s marketing, fake missing person posters caused the film to go viral.

The Blair Witch Project had a budget of only $60,000. Still, the film premiered at the Sundance film festival and received great reviews. It is known as one of the best indie films and grossed nearly $250 million worldwide. Making it the most profitable indie film of all time.

8. Memento (2000)

Memento

The best indie movies of all time come in different genres and budgets. Christopher Nolan’s Mystery Thriller Memento stars Guy Pearce as a man suffering from short term memory loss. The film uses reverse storytelling, jump cuts and colour film effects to tell the story.

In contrast to our other indie films, it has a higher budget of $9 million. The funding came from an independent deal with a theatre company. Regardless of the larger budget, Momento earned $40 million at the box office. The film’s unlikely success propelled Nolan’s career, who went on to make studio films.

9. Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash - Best Indie Films of all Time

You can find the best indie films throughout the past fifty years of cinema. Whiplash is a drama film directed by Damien Chazelle and starring J.K Simmons. In short, the story follows an ambitious music student and his abusive teacher.

Chazelle originally made a short version of the film. Then through the short film’s success, he convinced an independent company to produce it for £3.3 million. The film had a shooting schedule of only 17 days and went on to make $49 million at the box office.

10. The Florida Project (2017)

The Florida Project - underrated indie movies

The Florida Project is a coming of age drama film. To sum up, the story follows a six year old girl living with her mother at a motel. The film touches upon social issues that promoted debate upon its release. It is director Sean Baker’s 5th low-budget feature film and his most successful.

It’s also one of the most underrated indie movies on our list. Made with a budget of $2 million the film received $11.2 million at the box office. Baker shot the film on 35mm and with a bare minimum crew. The film also won numerous awards at the Canne film festival, BAFTA and Oscars.

Best Indie Movies Of All Time – Wrapping Up

In short, the best indie films take risks and stand out from their competition. Because they don’t have a Hollywood studio behind them, the filmmakers have creative freedom. However, this also means that they have a much lower budget.

All of the films on our list have had considerable box office success. They also have great reviews and launched the director’s careers. So, we hope this list has helped inspire you to make your own indie films. Even without studio support and a low budget, it’s still possible to make a great film!

Amy Clarke
Amy Clarke
I blog about Careers in the Film Industry. Former Script Supervisor.
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