America’s Best, Most Important Independent Movies

The best American indie movies

IllustrationKarl Gustafson

What makes an independent film? The question has never been given a clear answer, and the cultural criteria that define an indie have changed over the decades. But overall, it’s always been something that couldn’t have been made within the Hollywood system. In our effort to compile a list of the most important American Indians, we’ve included works by misfits, film school graduates, and real outsiders; multi-million dollar productions and labor of love funded by part-time jobs; movies that played the arthouse, the grindhouse, or almost nowhere.

Some were huge blockbusters, while others remained in obscurity for decades. Not all our selections belong to the best American independent films ever made. Instead, the films on this list are the ones that have broken new ground, created genres, or introduced significant artistic voices and subjects to American cinema for the first time.

While there have always been independent filmmakers and independent films, for our purposes, the American indie movement began in the 1950s. That’s why we decided to start our list with Morris Engel’s Oscar-nominated milestone Little fugitive† We’ve also excluded documentaries (but not docu-fiction hybrids), fully experimental films, and any films directly funded with studio money (but not films subsequently distributed by major studios). And while the decisions were often difficult, we limited ourselves to just one film per director.

This list was last updated on July 1, 2022.

Leave a Comment