RANKED! Our 20 Favorite Indie Films of the Last 20 Years
Everyone loves a big box-office blockbuster, but when you want to be challenged intellectually and moved emotionally, you watch indie films. The smaller budgets, passionate actors, and unconventional storytelling stimulate us in ways cookie-cutter entertainment can’t. The last 20 years have seen a boom in independent filmmaking as the old-fashioned forms of viewing fall by the wayside and streaming services open doors for more filmmakers. As we look back over the past two decades, some movies stand out as exceptional while others hold a special place in our pasts because they shaped us. Either way, they’re worth seeing again and again. These are our 20 favorite indie films of the last 20 years, ranked!
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20. 'Frances Ha' (2012)
This black-and-white Noah Baumbach film follows a New York 20-something (Greta Gerwig) who simply wants to find her place in the world.
19. '500 Days of Summer' (2009)
This relatable and endearing film about the events preceding a couple's breakup set a new standard for the rom-com.
18. 'Lady Bird' (2017)
A Catholic high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) dreams of leaving ho-hum Sacramento for the cultured East Coast in this coming-of-age comedy.
17. 'Juno' (2007)
Diablo Cody's screenwriting debut gave us this comedic gem about a teenage girl's (Ellen Page) unexpected pregnancy and her decision to give the baby up for adoption.
16. 'Napoleon Dynamite' (2004)
An awkward Idaho nerd (Jon Heder) helps the new kid at high school (Efren Ramirez) run for president in this fan favorite comedy.
15. 'The Wrestler' (2008)
Mickey Rourke reemerged on screen in this award-winning drama about a professional wrestler who reluctantly enters retirement only to find he can't quite hack regular life or relationships.
14. 'Memento' (2000)
A man suffering from memory loss (Guy Pearce) attempts to find his wife's rapist and murder in this psychological thriller.
13. 'Swingers' (1996)
A Los Angeles smooth-talker (Vince Vaughn) teaches his seduction tricks to a transplant from New York in this comedy that launched Vaughn's career.
12. 'Call Me By Your Name' (2017)
A 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet) falls for his father's intern (Armie Hammer) over a languorous summer in Italy in this sexy drama.
11. 'Before Sunset' (2004)
The first film of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy introduced audiences to an American man (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman (Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Vienna and have limited time to fall in sweet yet cynical love before having to return to their respective homelands.
10. 'Blue Valentine' (2010)
This devastating film unpacks the breakdown of a marriage and asks if the couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) can rekindle the love they once shared.
9. 'Get Out' (2017)
Jordan Peele's directorial debut was this horror film that blew audiences away with its terrifying plot.
8. 'Dallas Buyers Club' (2013)
An HIV+ patient (Matthew McConaughey) smuggles life-saving drugs into the U.S. to help others treat the disease.
7. 'Shame' (2011)
A sex addict (Michael Fassbender) suffers the consequences when his addiction proves unsustainable.
6. 'Requiem for a Dream' (2000)
This brutal cautionary tale explores the effects of drug abuse through four characters whose lives intertwine.
5. 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (2004)
This quirky film ponders what life would be like if we could medically erase memories of our exes from our minds.
4. 'Being John Malkovich' (1999)
This cult comedy follows puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), who discovers a portal into actor John Malkovich's mind at his day job and decides, with the help of his office mate crush Maxine (Catherine Keener), to monetize it. Complicating matters is Schwartz's animal-loving girlfriend (Cameron Diaz), who falls for both the portal experience and Maxine.
3. 'Adaptation' (2002)
This critically-acclaimed crime drama blends fiction and reality as anxious screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (a real writer played by Nicolas Cage) attempts to write a film adaption of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (a real author played by Meryl Streep). When Kaufman fails to produce, he recruits his overzealous screenwriting twin brother Donald (also Nicolas Cage) to help. And this is when the film becomes stranger than fiction.
2. 'Lost in Translation' (2003)
Two Americans (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) in unfulfilling marriages find solace (and a few laughs) when their paths cross in Japan in this unforgettable film by Sofia Coppola.
1. 'Secretary' (2002)
After a stint in a mental hospital, a young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is hired as a secretary for a demanding attorney (James Spader) but their relationship soon veers into unprofessional (and S&M) territory in this erotic drama.