The 50 Best Indie Movies of All-Time

The 50 Best Indie Movies of All-Time

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agoodmovietowatch is a platform that recommends little-known but acclaimed movies – films you haven’t yet seen that you are likely to enjoy. Naturally, many indie movies fall in this category. 

“Indie” used to refer to the way the film was made, a comment about its low-budget or lack of association with big studios. But recently, it has morphed into its own genre. Calling a movie “indie” is like saying it is a comedy, it means that it has very specific characteristics. 

The genre has been overexploited, but many new releases still stand out every year. So, looking back at the evolution of the genre, here are the 50 best indie movies of all-time as ranked by our staff. 

30. Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

7.3

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Todd Solondz

Actors

Angela Pietropinto, Bill Buell, Brendan Sexton III, Christina Brucato

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

Welcome to the Dollhouse tells the story of Dawn, an unpopular seventh-grader mercilessly bullied at school and ignored at home. Her day-to-day is painful to watch; her classmates make fun of her, her teachers never believe her, and her parents punish her, blatantly favoring her other siblings over her. But all this she puts up with, as if going through the murky in-between stage that is adolescence isn’t confusing enough. Dawn finds no respite elsewhere, except perhaps in her friend Ralphy (another target of bullying) and her crush, the high schooler Steve.  

A Sundance jury winner back in ’96, Welcome to the Dollhouse is as darkly funny as it is grim. It takes on a deadpan approach in handling its more serious topics; it doesn’t make fun of them so much as it shines them in a new and blinding light. It’s difficult to look away from this frank and well-balanced film; a sure good watch for anyone curious to know what it’s really like to be a teenage loner.

29. Love and Basketball (2000)

7.3

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Female director, Gina Prince-Bythewood

Actors

Al Foster, Alfre Woodard, Boris Kodjoe, Chick Hearn

Moods

Lighthearted, Lovely, Sunday

The title says it all: this is a story of love and basketball, one where the two intertwine and excitedly inform one another. Two childhood friends with a passion for ball develop deep feelings for one another. They have ambitions to go pro, but as Monica discovers how uneven the playing field really is for female athletes, and as Quincy grapples with his own needs and career, they reconsider their relationship both to each other and to the game they so love. 

Love & Basketball is a beautiful and sensitive movie that breaks stereotypes about Black love, which exists here as soft and nuanced as any other expertly drawn pairings in movies, and about Black women; Monica gets angry, but also vulnerable, hardworking, and loving. The sports component of the movie is just as finely detailed, with the energy of the matches bouncing off the screen walls. Clearly ahead of its time, Love & Basketball gets at the core of the game without losing sight of its talented players. 

 

28. Red Rocket (2021)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Sean Baker

Actors

Bree Elrod, Karren Karagulian, Shih-Ching Tsou, Simon Rex

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Dramatic

When Mikey Saber’s porn career takes a dip in California, he returns to an estranged wife in Texas, where he meets new and old friends alike and attempts to rebuild his life through a couple of odd jobs. Though Mikey eventually earns his keep, his vanity and eagerness to succeed at all costs threaten to get the best of him.

All this happens against a vibrant backdrop of local sights, beautifully lit and framed by director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine). Quaint, naturalistic, and ever-so-subtly political, Red Rocket is another great entry into Baker’s impressions of the vexed American Dream.

27. Dear Ex (2018)

7.4

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chih-Yen Hsu, Female director

Actors

Ai-Lun Kao, Clover Kao, Danny Liang, Fang Wan

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Emotional

Dear Ex is a family drama that explores LGBT+ issues in contemporary Taiwan. As much as it is a movie about how people cope with loss, it’s a powerful, heartwarming, and intimate portrait of the relationship between Jay and Song Zhengyuan and all the obstacles they face.

While the themes of Dear Ex are heavy, the director makes the viewing experience easier for the audience thanks to humorous and witty dialogue. Meanwhile, the history between Jay and Song Zhengyuan’s relationship unfolds in a very beautiful, almost poetic way, and by the end of the movie, we understand that everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness. The way the characters effortlessly show that love is something beyond genders is admirable, and it is great to see how everyone gets their own kind of forgiveness whether it’s from themselves or from others by the end of the movie.

26. Microhabitat (2017)

7.4

Country

South Korea

Director

Female director, Jeon Go-woon

Actors

Ahn Jae-hong, Cho Soo-hyang, Choi Deok-moon, Esom

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Dramatic

Miso may be living day to day on her meager earnings as a cleaner, but she is decidedly content. She insists that all she needs to get by are cigarettes, whiskey, and time with her boyfriend, so when a spike in rent and prices invites her to reassess her priorities, she doesn’t budge. Instead of forgoing these luxuries, she gives up her tiny place and couch surfs with her old bandmates. What follows is a reunion of sorts, where darkly humorous epiphanies are had on both ends about adulthood, responsibilities, and what it really means to be happy in an increasingly indifferent, profit-oriented world.  

Microhabitat treads on very grave themes, and the images it conjures can be unsettling. But it is also surprisingly light on its feet, displaying sharp satire and sweet empathy for its unyielding protagonist. Miso is portrayed with a smartness and softness that evades rational judgment, and this endearment makes the story, especially the ending, all the more painfulul, poignant, and impactful.

25. Beanpole (2019)

7.4

Country

Russia

Director

Kantemir Balagov

Actors

Alyona Kuchkova, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Intense

This heartbreaking Russian drama takes place in Leningrad six months after the end of the war. A boy is asked to do an impression of an animal, any animal, but the boy stands still. “Just do a dog then”, one person says, to which another remarks “he’s never seen one, they’ve all been eaten.”

In this bleak context, two friends meet again and try to restart their lives. Masha is a soldier who has just come back from the war in Berlin, and Iya, a tall woman nicknamed “Beanpole”, is a nurse who suffers from PTSD episodes that freeze her body. Both characters, so brilliantly acted, personify the thin line between desperation and hopefulness in this difficult but incredibly well-made drama.

24. The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Schwartz, Tyler Nilson

Actors

Ann Owens, Aurelian Smith Jr., Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson

Moods

A-list actors, No-brainer, True-crime

This buddies-on-the-road drama was the highest-grossing independent film of 2019, which tells you everything you need to know about it: it’s familiar, but it’s not overblown.

A fisherman (Shia LaBeouf) has to flee after vandalizing the property of a rival fishing group who bully him. On the way, he meets a man with Down syndrome, who, unexpectedly, is on a journey to become a pro wrestler.

23. Rocks (2019)

7.5

Country

Germany, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sarah Gavron

Actors

Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow, Bukky Bakray, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Heart-warming

It’s rare now to hear the phrase “girl power” without being immediately suspicious of its intentions, reduced as it were to cheesy adspeak and empty platitudes. But in the case of Rocks—a movie helmed by a predominantly female crew and co-written by the teenage cast themselves—the slogan fits. There is power in this type of girlhood: open, collaborative, and supportive, and that’s just what happens off-screen. 

On-screen, what unfolds is even more complex and beautiful. As Rocks struggles to take care of her younger brother all on her own, as she’s forced to grow up and face ethical dilemmas normally reserved for adults, she is backed unwaveringly by her friends Sumaya, Agnes, Yawa, Khadijah, and Sabina. It’s their specific bond, unsentimental but deeply considerate and loyal, that keeps the film as solid and grounded as the title suggests.

22. A Cop Movie (2021)

7.5

Country

Mexico

Director

Alonso Ruizpalacios

Actors

Leonardo Alonso, Mónica Del Carmen, Raúl Briones

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

In the Mexican film A Cop Movie, director Alonso Ruizpalacios mixes fact and fiction, documentary and narrative, to tell the tale of Teresa and Montoya, two police officers whose dreams are dashed by the corruption of their trade and who, eventually, find love and comfort in each other.

Ruizpalacios takes thrilling risks in structuring this genre-bending story—cutting stories into parts, jumping back and forth between the harrowingly real and captivatingly non-real. For all the experimental maneuvers he makes, however, the through-line is always Teresa and Montoya: particularly, their love for each other and for an institution that should have, in an ideal world, supported them and the people they vowed to protect. 

To its credit, instead of merely humanizing the controversial police force, A Cop Movie adds some much-needed nuance to the big picture. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other underpaid laborers working desperately to make end meets. A Cop Movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the police, like so many other workers, are stuck in a rotten system that’s long overdue for a major overhauling. 

21. C’mon C’mon (2021)

7.5

Country

United States, United States of America, US

Director

Mike Mills

Actors

Brandon Rush, Callan Farris, Deborah Strang, Elaine Kagan

Moods

A-list actors, Dark, Heart-warming

Mike Mills has always had an obsession with childhood and parenthood, often honing in on the beautiful, frustrating, and inevitable mess that comes with them. C’mon C’mon is no exception, but here, Mills blurs the lines between the two even more. Sometimes the kid acts more like an adult, and the adult more like a kid; sometimes the uncle acts as a surrogate mother, and the mother (unsurprisingly) takes on the role of an everywoman, attempting to be breadwinner, caretaker, and friend all at once. 

C’mon C’mon has no allegiances; it simply shows us the dynamics between one family and mirrors what we already know about ours. Shot in black and white, grounded in simple conversations, and interwoven with moving essay excerpts and real interviews, C’mon C’mon feels at once personal and universal; a moving feat of a film.

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