10 Best Independent Feature Films Ever

Thursday, January 27 by Tom Gordon

The 10 best independent feature films ever include some early efforts by filmmakers who went onto greater heights with larger budgets. But it's always fun to see where they started and catches glimpses of their future greatness. Several of the movies on this list of the ten best independent feature films of all time sprang from the 80s and 90s, when independent films were considered cool and cutting edge.

  1. "Reservoir Dogs." Quentin Tarantino made his mark as a maverick independent filmmaker with this heist picture featuring some of Hollywood's best character actors, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, who would show up a few years later to open Tarantino's signature work, "Pulp Fiction," another independent classic.
  2. "Do The Right Thing." Spike Lee had already made two well-received independent films, "She's Gotta Have It" and "School Daze," by the time he made one the best movies of the 1980s. "Do The Right Thing," based on a real incident, remains one of the best films of Lee's career and and one of the finest films on racism in the U.S. ever made.
  3. "Clerks." Kevin Smith spent $25,000 to make a movie about guys talking about all kinds of shit. But because it was so funny and Smith seemed to have a knack for dialogue and characters, this little independent feature helped launch his career.
  4. "The Evil Dead." Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell knew little about moviemaking when they teamed up for this 1981 cult classic about an ill-fated trip to the woods by some friends who find zombies instead of a fun little getaway. The cleverness and fun is in how Raimi plays with horror movie conventions and tries to make the most of his miniscule budget.
  5. "The Life of Brian." The Monty Python gang was certainly well-established by 1979, but no big studios were anxious to take on a story that goofed on Christianity, politics and a little of every other institution available for ridicule. Up stepped ex-Beatle George Harrison and his Handmade Films production company and the result is a film that still makes us "Look on the Bright Side of Life…"
  6. "Swingers." Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn burst onto the scene as a mismatched pair of buddies who were slightly clueless, always trying and willing to do anything to seem like a couple of really cool swingers. This movie is "so money" and if you haven't seen it, grab a buddy, a few beers and check it out.
  7. "Blood Simple." The Coen Brothers' first film tells the story of a rich man who hires a private detective to kill his cheating wife and her lover. Naturally, things don't go according to plan. The way the 1984 movie was shot was just a preview of what to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen in the decades to follow. If you've never seen some of their early stuff, by all means, see "Blood Simple." It's a gem.
  8. "El Mariachi." With a buduget of around $7,000, Robert Rodriguez made a film that launches his career. He followed up "El Mariachi" with "Desperado" and "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" to complete the "Mariachi Trilogy." But the more you learn about the making of "El Mariachi" (check out the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD), the more you'll get a kick out of the final product.
  9. "Sex, Lies and Videotape." This 1989 Steven Soderbergh film sparked the great 1990s indie film movement as it won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.
  10. "Easy Rider." Dennis Hopper directed himself, Peter Fonda and a young Jack Nicholson in maybe the best counterculture film to emerge from the 1960s. It cost about $400,000 to make and made more than ten times that within a few years of its release.