There are blockbusters and then there are indie films which work with a limited budget and are produced independently. But let me tell you a secret: Indie films are often the better movies. Enjoy my ranking of the 40 world’s best independent films.
“I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary.” —Angela
American Beauty was one of the many fantastic movies of the 90s. Director Sam Mendes captures the struggles of Lester Burnham, a father caught in a serious midlife crisis, his daughter Jane, who finds love for the first time, and her beautiful yet lonely best friend Angela, played by the stunning Mena Suvari. When everything falls apart, the characters and the watchers start to find beauty in the little things.
“When you grow up, your heart dies.” —Allison
The Breakfast Club is an 80s classic. Five high school students who couldn’t be more different have to spend a Saturday detention session together. During this time they slowly find that apart from all their differences, they can connect on a deeper level. All five actors do a great job by first giving a cliché version of their characters and then turning them into human beings. Everyone—no matter what age—can learn something from these teenagers.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” —Charlie
Based on a novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows emotional unstable Charlie through his first high school year. He soon becomes friends with a pretty girl named Sam and her gay half-brother Patrick. They teach Charlie that it’s okay to enjoy life and to forget your troubles for a while. This book adaption is starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, and not only will you realize that we all struggle with life once in a while, you will also learn a lot about music and real friendship.
“Divorced as many times as she married, she leaves only good wishes behind.” —Edie
This indie film shows the life of fashion icon and Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick. Edie travels to New York and leads a turbulent life in Warhol’s famous factory where art, love and lust play hand-in-hand. The movie captures Edie’s sparkling spirit and her tragic downfall in a way that will keep you on your toes until the very last minute.
“It’s not the same on 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
This horror movie terrifies its watchers because of the amateur filming which makes it seem like a real story. Three young movie makers set out into the woods to produce a documentation of the myth of the Blair Witch. Little do they know that the legend is still alive and waiting for its next victims. If you’re a friend of breathtaking and nightmare-producing movies, The Blair Witch Project by directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez is your way to go.
“Somewhere along the way, I just forgot what I wanted to do with my life.” —Abby
In one of the last movies of the late Brittany Murphy, she portrays Abby who follows her boyfriend to Tokyo just to get dumped. In her crisis, Ally realizes that she has long given up going after her own dreams and decides to set herself a new goal: she wants to become a ramen cook. In this indie film by Robert Allen Ackerman. you can learn a lot about the Japanese culinary and spiritual world and see how it’s sometimes in your hardest times where you find your true strength.
“I remember when the future was a promise, now it’s like a threat.” —Ellie
This is a widely un-known little independent movie by Scott Coffey staring Naomi Watts. As a young wannabe actress in LA, Ellie has to deal with many job rejections and a disastrous love life. The movie portrays LA and the movie industry as a tough business which will make even the biggest blockbuster fans see their stars in a different way.
“Play with matches, you get burned.” —Vincent
This movie is a cult film. In Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman create a funny and exciting gangster comedy. The movie has many long dialogues, but Tarantino makes it work and ties all the different plot lines together for a spectacular finale. Seriously, if you have never watched this movie, do it now.
“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
This movie is guaranteed to make you laugh. Young Carl gets sent by his mother to live on a boat which hosts a pirate radio station. In the 60s, Rock’n’Roll was still frowned upon in Great Britain, which is why rock stations had to send from a secret frequency. On the Rock Boat live the funniest and craziest radio speakers who know how a lot about music and about having a good time.
“Who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?!” —Dr. Twardon
This is a movie for those of you who like it sexy. When Lee starts her new job as a secretary, little does she know that her boss will soon not only be interested in her but also has some rather exquisite tastes in sexual adventures. Steven Shainberg’s erotic romance combines pleasure and pain in a classy way.
“You’re the most beautiful girl in the world. You’re my dream.” —Harry
This famous indie film stars Jared Leto as a handsome but broken drug addict. Not only he but also his girlfriend, his best friend and his mother are caught in the downward spiral that is drug abuse. Requiem for a dream is a tough and often ugly but completely true movie. It will leave you with the need of never doing drugs.
“If everybody married someone from a different race, then in one generation there would be no prejudice.” —Tracy
Thirteen shows the life of normal but unhappy teenage girl, Tracy. When she meets the adventurous Evie, everything changes. For the first time in her life she is popular and cool and has fun. But her new lifestyle comes at a cost that will soon be to much for Tracy to pay.
“Some people are just born with tragedy in their blood.” —Gretchen
Donnie Darko is a classic which combines romance, growing up and mystery. This indie film will make you want to watch it again and again, which is what you have to do in order to make sense of all the ambiguous events and plot twists of this movie.
“Obviously, Doctor… you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.” —Cecelia
Based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides director Sophia Coppola made this story into a movie in 1999. The Lisbon daughters were raised as good catholic girls who were never allowed to live their lives like other teenagers do. The situation escalates when 14-year-old Lux stays away a whole night. The sisters are forbidden to leave the house and become more and more depressed until they make a tragic decision.
“No guys, man. I want to start an all-girls rock band.” —Joan
This 2010 american movie tells the story of the 80s girl-rock-band the Runaways. From fame, over music to drugs—the movie has everything a rock film should have. Kristen Stewart gives a great performance as rock-legend Joan Jett who became famous with her hit “I love Rock’n’Roll.”
“She might have been even more alone than I was.” —Silvie
One of Drew Barrymore’s many great movies tells the story of nice teenage girl Silvie. As soon as the wild girl Ivy enters her life, nothing is calm anymore but she finds herself caught in one big adventure.
“People don’t realize this. But loneliness is underrated.” —Tom
In this romantic comedy, Joseph-Gorden Levitt and Zoey Dechanel show a great performance. As Summer and Tom, they fall in love and spend a romantic few months together until things start to fall apart. Through this movie you can learn a lot about relationships as well as about commitment issues.
“I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” —Sam
At first sight you might think that Moonrise Kingdom is a children’s movie but I promise if you watch it you can learn a lot no matter how old you are. The movie shows the adventures at a scout summer camp and the beautiful friendship between Sam and Suzy.
“Man … probably the most mysterious specious on our planet.” —Narrator
This is a fast independent movie which shows different possible versions of how the story might take place which all involve a lot of running. Run Lola Run is a German movie by director Tom Tyker which has become a must-watch for many film lovers.
“Nobody’s looking for a puppeteer in today’s wintry economic climate.” —Craig
This movie combines fantasy, comedy and drama while telling the crazy story of its unemployed anti-hero Craig. The plot line is well-written and the cast including John Cusack and Cameron Diaz all do a fantastic job.
“It’s amusing to me, to torture a cop.” —Mr. Blonde
Reservoir Dogs is another great Quentin Tarantino film featuring a crime story and many interesting dialogues. It is very popular and was even named “Greatest independent film of all time” by Empire magazine.
“I have to believe in a world outside my own mind.” —Leonard
This psycho thriller is very popular in the independent film scene. Memento is a little disturbing but fascinating. Half of the movie is black-and-white and shown chronologically, while the other half is colored and shown in reverse order. In the end, both plot lines are combined.
“Hindu, Taoist, Mormon spill theirs just anywhere, But God loves those who treat their semen with more care.” —Mum
In this film, once again Monty Python captures the world in an honest though slightly confusing way. If you’re hoping to find answers to all of life’s big questions in this film, I have to disappoint you. But what you will find are a lot of laughter and sarcasm and a sense of the fact that even if life can be cruel, you should never take it too seriously.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.” -—Jack
This cult film is one of the first gay romances which is neither distasteful nor full of cliches. It tells the love story of Ennis and Jack, played by Heath Ledger and Jack Gyllenhaal, who flee to the lonely Brokeback Mountain because it’s the only place where they can celebrate their love.
“A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say: ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.'” —Sherrif Ed
This indie film is a western crime drama. The antagonist Anton is a serial murderer with mental issues. The conflicts between him and protagonist Sherrif Ed Tom Bell make the movie interesting. One thing you’ll learn from this movie is that nothing ever comes as you expect.
“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
Jesse and Celine meet each other on a train ride and decide to spend the night together in Vienna. They have a fun, crazy and romantic night but then have to go back to their own lives.
“Now I’m older and my problems are deeper, but I’m more equipped to handle them.” —Jesse
Also the second part of the heartbreaking love story is an ode to following your guts. Celine and Jesse meet each other for the first time in nine years and this time spend a day in Paris.
“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
This movie transforms the hard topic of teenage pregnancy into a funny and sweet experience. Regardless of the tough topic of the film, it leaves you with a warm feeling.
“I know who you are and you are nothing.” —Allen
Despite the title, this movie shows the lives of several pretty miserable people who sooner or later find some happiness even if it’s small and unconventional. I have to warn you. This movie is only suited for people with a dark humor.
“But had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected, nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day.” —Narrator
Also an independent movie, this film is nothing for people with weak nerves. Director Tobe Hooper’s classic slasher film is a raw and pure horror movie and ideal for a scary night with your friends.
“Sometimes I wish there was a film crew following my every move.” —Oliver
After Texas Chainsaw Massacre I recommend watching Submarine in order to calm your nerves before you go to sleep.
“Things will turn out the way you want, if you could just stop doubting that I love you.” —Stephanie
In this movie you can learn a lot about dreams. The main character Stephane’s dreams are so vivid that they interfere with his real life. This french fantasy story is a definite feel-good movie.
“My Japanese is getting better. We started speaking English.” —Bob
This film, starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johanson, is directed by Sofia Coppola. Charlotte has travelled with her husband to Tokyo but is soon left alone by him. A romance between Charlotte and Bob starts and the watcher gets an impression of Tokyo’s exciting and sometimes hilarious atmosphere.
“I’m the guy that’s gonna get you. I just wanted you to know that.” —Michael
The usual suspects is a crime thriller which shows how a bunch of elderly gangsters get along. This film is widely popular but started out as a little independent film.
“Always look on the bright side of life.” —Jesus
This is another Monty Python cult film which features in a humorous way the life of Jesus Christ. Though this movie will make most people laugh out loud, extremly religious people would do better if they stayed far away from it.
“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
You may not believe it but the series that made Arnold Schwatzenegger famous started as an indie film. So if you’re into machines and wars and strong guys, you should definitely try out Terminator.
“Luck is the name losers give to their own failings.” —Richard
Here is another feel-good movie. The movie of a funny road trip is the debut film of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. It quickly became popular.
“Don’t you know what’s goin’ on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!” —Ben
Night of the Living Dead is a plain and good zombie movie from the 60s. While the technology wasn’t that advanced back then, it still offers many good scares.
“I’m choking the alligator.” —Eva
Stranger than Paradise is a comedy from the 80s which revolves around Willie, Evy and Eddie and their crazy adventures in New York.
“I remember reading somewhere that men learn to love the person that they’re attracted to, and that women become more and more attracted to the person that they love.” —Graham
In this classic independent fill, all three aspects of the title are combined in a beautiful but also dramatic way. The movie was directed by Steven Sonderbergh and has won the Golden Palm at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.
Featured photo credit: Byong Wook via flickr.com