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The 50 Most Important American Independent Movies

When you are looking for recommendations of new movies (or movies new to you, that is) to watch, an esoteric list is more useful than a ranking of blockbusters. You already know about the blockbusters. Independent films are those made outside the Hollywood studio system, often on a shoestring budget.

In our attempt to assemble a list of the most important American indies, we have included works by mavericks, film school grads, and true outsiders; productions with multimillion-dollar budgets and labors of love financed through part-time jobs; movies that played the arthouse, the grindhouse, or barely anywhere at all.

Some were massive box office hits, while others languished in obscurity for decades. Not all of our selections would rank among the best American independent movies ever made. Instead, the films on this list are the ones that broke new ground, created genres, or first introduced important artistic voices and subjects into American film.

So while this list from the A.V. Club contains famous indie films you'd expect, like Night of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, and Clerks, it also has big films you might not have known were independents, like Dirty Dancing, Easy Rider, and Pulp Fiction. It also includes quite a few films that you have never heard of, but would be worth looking up and watching today.

(Image credit: Karl Gustafson)


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I've found that when you go back and watch some of these indie darlings and they're not nearly as good as we want to remember them. That could just be me. Lost in Translation is still good, but everything Bill Murray does ages well. Kids (1995) is unwatchable to the point of being poisonous, but maybe if I were more liberal I would feel differently. Original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was good the very first time I watched it, and terrible every time after. I think it's because the shock value got me at first. Now when I watch it, I spend the entire time thinking "why are they doing this, why would they go there, this is stupid". Passion of the Christ seems to have aged pretty well. Mel's stuff is generally high quality. Anyway just my thoughts.
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