Top 50 Best American Independent Films You Must Watch Before You Die

Top 50 Best American Independent Films You Must Watch Before You Die

Sure, blockbusters are great, with their big budgets, fiery explosions, and expensive sets. As an audience, we are programmed to believe that the bigger the budget, the better the movie, and by doing so, we miss out on some great independent films. Yes, independent films are not as fancy as your typical blockbuster but where they lack in budget, they make up with great storylines and some stellar performances. So, without further adieu,

Here’s our list of top 50 independent films of all time!

1. Reservoir Dogs

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, this film offers a lot of blood, gore, violence and an engaging storyline. Fun fact: The script was written in only two weeks!

2. Bottle Rocket (1996)

This Wes Anderson film revolves around three friends who plan to pull off a simple robbery. Sounds like a great plan. The only problem? They don’t have a clue about heists.

3. Martha Marcy May Maylene (2011)

Elizabeth Olsen outshines any of her sisters performances in this drama about a young woman who escapes a cult.

4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This movie about a quirky family on a road trip to get their daughter to a beauty pageant is all sorts of funny and adorable at the same time.


5. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Ann and John are tired of their unhappy marriage, when a stranger with an unusual fetish enters their lives and changes everything. Starring James Spader in the lead role.

6. Donnie Darko (2001)

This supernatural thriller about a teenager with special abilities will leave you with a number of questions that you will probably spend countless hours reading fan theories on. Needless to say, this is a film that will stay with you long after it’s done.

7. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator franchise might seem like a big studio production right now, but let’s not forget where it all started. With a shoestring budget and a first time directorial debut by James Cameron.

8. Before Sunrise (1995)

Richard Linklater might be the one of the finest indie film maker’s Hollywood’s ever had, and Before Sunrise is surely one of his finest works. This movie is filled with beautiful dialogues that make up for the absence of a solid plotline.

9. Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007)

Hannah, an intern, is out on a search to find her Mr. Right in this romantic comedy written and directed by Joe Swanberg.

10. Rushmore’ (1998)

After Bottle Rocket, this movie starring Bill Murray is where Wes Anderson established his signature style of melancholic love stories, colorful sets and comical characters.


11. Blood Simple (1984)

This movie was an introduction into the Coen’s brother universe of dark comedy and darker storylines. Though this is their first film, it still stands strong as one of their best films yet.

12. Annie Hall (1977)

A Woody Allen signature film about awkward romance that focuses on the small everyday aspects of life rather than grand gestures.

13. Kids (1995)

A risky and controversial debut by Harmony Korine, this movie is about 24 hours of the lives of Manhattan teenagers, whose lives are filled with skating, sex, and drugs.

14. King Jack (2016)

King Jack is a debut film by writer-director Felix Thompson. It’s a story about coming-of-age and struggling with masculinity. The film clocks at 76 minutes, and is worth every single one of them.

15. The Usual Suspects (1995)

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. ” The devil is in the details, and this movie is just the right example of that. Five criminals meet in a lock-up, and plan the biggest heist yet.


16. Lost In Translation (2003)

Isolation and desperation are two of the main themes of this movie about two unlikely souls who meet by chance in a hotel they’re staying in, in Japan.

17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This isn’t your average rom-com. Director Michel Gondry takes us on an eccentric adventure with Joel and Clementine, who meet on a train and start falling for each other, only to realize that they were together before and erased each other from their memories.

18. Mean Streets (1973)

When you have Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro working together on a film, you’re guaranteed to have a good film. The story is about how Charlie, played by de Niro, is torn between his two lives, the dangerous criminal one, and the other one where the love of his life is.

19. Black Swan (2010)

You might not have even realized that this is an indie film because of it’s many Oscar nominations, but this proves exactly that indie films can be just as good as any blockbuster, and that’s what earned Natalie Portman her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

20. Little Men (2016)

A heart-wrenchingly beautiful coming of age story about friendship and family, this indie flick will definitely touch your soul. Catch it on Netflix today.

21. Friday the 13th (1980)

This iconic indie horror film and its antagonist became famous for years to come, and only made people more frightened than superstitious of this dreadful day.

22. Gummo (1997)

Another film by Harmony Korine, though this time he takes us up close and personal into the real lives of people living in the not-so-glamorous part of America and shows us a side of the country we haven’t seen before.

23. Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Gosling’s role as a teacher fighting a drug addiction who befriends one of his student’s got him an Oscar nomination.


24. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Tarantino brought indie cinema to a much wider mainstream audience with this crime drama. This is also the first indie to cross the $100 million mark.

25. Slacker (1991)

This was Richard Linklater’s debut film, in which he takes us on a tour of the lives of the people in Austin. Once again, this is a Linklater signature focusing more on conversations than plotlines.

26. Mediterranea (2015)

A story of migrants who are heading from Burkina Faso to Italy in search of a better life, this is the first film by American director Jonas Carpignano.

27. Memento (2000)

This is considered to be of Christopher Nolan’s best works yet, originally written by brother Jonathan Nolan. The narrative is told in a unique way, as it shuffles between the past and present telling a story of a man suffering from short-term memory loss, on a vengeful hunt for his wife’s murderer.

28. Eraserhead (1977)

This fantasy thriller is as inexplicable as any other David Lynch film. It took five long years and a shoestring budget to complete filming this movie.

29. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky, this movie tells the story of four people whose lives are affected by the different types of drug abuse. With clever use of camera tricks and movements, Aronofsky almost transports the viewer into the universe of the characters.

30. Swingers (1996)

A warm romantic comedy that shows that budget isn’t an issue if you have a good idea. This movie was what paved the way for future stardom for actor Vince Vaughn.

31. Naz and Maalik (2015)

This movie portrays how difficult life can be for a black homosexual man in today’s America.

32. Run Lola Run (1998)

The title doesn’t disappoint, a large chunk of the film involves Lola running. When her boyfriend gets into trouble, he calls her to the rescue, and the film shows us three possible outcomes of the scenario.

33. Being John Malkovich (1999)

An unemployed puppeteer takes up a new job, where he finds a secret portal that takes him inside the mind of actor John Malkovich, and that’s not even the strangest thing about this movie, that will leave you as confused at the end as you were in the beginning.

34. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Willie and his sidekick Eddie are too good-for-nothing lazy guys who live on beer and TV dinners, until one day Willie’s cousin sister, enters their lives.

35. Pi (1998)

Paranoia and obsession are the central themes of this artistically haunting film by Darren Aronofsky.

36. Swingers (1996)

This is a hilarious and painfully relatable comedy-drama about a Trent played by Vince Vaughn, attempts to cheer his heartbroken friend up by taking him to the towns most happening places.

37. Sideways (2004)

Mike is a writer, who takes his soon to be married friend on a road trip through Santa Ynez Valley wine country for his bachelor party, a sure recipe for disaster.

38. The Last House on the Left (1972)

This is the original movie, of which multiple remakes have been made in the later years, this is a horror/torture film about a vacation gone wrong.


39. Paranormal Activity (2007)

This CCTV style indie film gave many people weeks of sleepless nights, with audiences still debating over the credibility of this film.

40. Blue Valentine (2010)

Dean and Cynthia, who are both products of dysfunctional families are struggling to make sense of their relationship and save their marriage, for the sake of their daughter.

41. Winter’s Bone (2010)

Another indie flick which shows us the not seen before parts of urban America. Directed by Debra Granik and starring Jennifer Lawrence.

42. The Evil Dead (1981)

This film directed by Sam Raimi is for all those people who enjoy horror with a slight twist of comedy.

43. Other people (2016)

Jesse Plemons plays David, a struggling writer who after a break-up, moves back to her hometown to take care of her mother, played by Molly Shannon, who has been diagnosed with cancer.

44. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Before directing Oscar-winning films like Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro made this dark fantasy drama about a girl who at nights is guided by a fairy to a different world where she has to complete various tasks to prove her royalty.


45. Blue Velvet (1986)

After discovering a severed ear in the garden of his home, Jeffrey joins hands with the daughter of a police detective to solve the mystery of who the ear belonged to.

46. Dazed and Confused (1993)

This is probably the best and most genuine coming-of-age story ever, also marking the debut of actor Matthew McConaughey. The movies shows us the real side of high school students in the 70’s.

47. Drive (2011)

Drive is a indie thriller that sets guidelines as to how a good film should be. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role.

48. Fargo (1996)

We may know Fargo now as the TV show, but back in 1996, the Coen brothers directed the original dark comedy film with a similar storyline starring Oscar-winner Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi.

49. Queen of Earth (2015)

The plot follows Catherine, played by Elizabeth Moss, an actress, who starts losing her mind while on vacation with her best friend Ginny.


50. Short Cuts (1993)

This movies tells us the stories of many residents of Los Angeles, mostly sad and alone, whose lives are loosely interconnected with each other.

There you go, next time you’re searching for a good movie to watch, don’t just search for the blockbusters and give these Indie classics a try.

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