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. 

50. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021)

6.9

Country

Indonesia

Director

Edwin

Actors

Ayu Laksmi, Brilliana Desy Dwinawati, Cecep Arif Rahman, Christine Hakim

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Thrilling

The pulp and machismo that defined the ‘80s is very much present in Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, but instead of glorifying the era, Indonesian auteur Edwin smartly flips the script and puts the headstrong Iteung (Ladya Cheryl) front and center in this subversive and heady action film. As the anti-damsel-in-distress, Iteung expertly wrestles her way through love, all while retaining an endearing cheekiness and independence about her. 

Excellently choreographed, impeccably detailed, and skewed with enough of a feminist bent to keep it fresh, Vengeance Is Mine fittingly won the top prize at the 74th Locarno International Film Festival.

49. Paris, 13th District (2021)

7.0

Country

France

Director

Jacques Audiard

Actors

Carl Malapa, Fabienne Galula, Geneviève Doang, Jeanne Disson

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Emotional

When Émilie finds a new roommate in Camille, she also gains a friend and a lover. Still, the parameters of their relationship are never quite sure, causing a complicated chasm that both divides and arouses them. Eventually, they meet Nora, who brings her own desires and insecurities into the mix. Experimentation ensues as the film follows the trio coming into their own as sexual and human beings. 

Shot in rich black and white against the backdrop of Paris’ urban Les Olympiades neighborhood, Paris, 13th District is a finely balanced film that never overstays its welcome in the contrasting ideas it takes on. Classic love stories offset modern setups of romance, while fast-paced city life levels out the uncertainty of its inhabitants. Paris, 13th District is an engaging watch, not despite but because of its bold attempt to be many things at once. 

48. Retablo (2017)

7.0

Country

Germany, Norway, Peru

Director

Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L., Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio

Actors

Amiel Cayo, Claudia Solís, Coco Chiarella, Hermelinda Luján

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Fourteen-year-old Segundo dreams of being just like his father Noé, a revered tableau artist in their small Peruvian town. The teenage apprentice follows Noé’s every move and instruction, that is until one day, he discovers a shocking truth about Noé’s identity. Hurt, angered, and incredibly confused, Segundo starts detaching from his family, as well as from the life he thought he’d wanted to live. 

Retablo is a slow but vibrant film, set in Peruvian locales and spoken in the country’s indigenous tongue, Quechua. Its limited dialogue smartly reflects the people’s own silence when it comes to sex and gender ideas, although the movements themselves—from traditional parties to teenage fights—have a lot to say about masculinity, conservatism, and the dangers of their excess. Retablo might be a difficult watch for some, but it’s just as necessary and enlightening.

47. Pieces of a Woman (2020)

7.0

Country

Canada, Hungary, United States

Director

Kornél Mundruczó

Actors

Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Schorpion, Gayle Garfinkle

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

The movie follows Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a young wife who loses her baby in a failed home birth. She tries her best to trudge through the aftermath of loss, but her coping attempts prove to be near impossible, not least because her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and mother Liz (Ellen Burstyn) continually domineer every aspect of her life.

Pieces of a Woman is harrowing and heartbreaking, with the actors giving their all in this realistic and revealing drama. But it’s Kirby’s performance as the unraveled yet apathetic Martha that is the film’s immediate standout, rightfully earning her a Best Actress nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards.

46. American Girl (2021)

7.0

Country

Taiwan

Director

Female director, Feng-I Fiona Roan

Actors

Blaire Chang, Bowie Tsang, Caitlin Fang, Hsia Yu-chiao

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

American Girl follows 13-year-old Fen as she returns to Taiwan from the US and tries to make sense of a culture that’s supposedly her own. In addition to her awkward but relatable attempts to understand identity and adolescence, Fen also struggles to connect with her mother Lily, whose own problems further push her away from her teenage daughter. If you’ve seen Lady Bird, you may recognize a bit of Christine and Marion in Fen and Lily as they throw themselves into an endless tug-of-war of emotions. Their fights are genuinely frustrating, but only because of how true-to-life they are.

As painful as it sometimes is to see them clash, it’s their love-hate dynamic that charges much of the film’s emotional energy and makes it ultimately irresistible to watch. 

45. CODA (2021)

7.0

Country

France, United States, United States of America

Director

Female director, Sian Heder

Actors

Amy Forsyth, Armen Garo, Ayana Brown, Courtland Jones

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Feel-Good

CODA has all the trappings of a predictable, feel-good family drama. You’ll recognize immediately the talented teen, the family pulling her back, the cute love interest, the do-gooder mentor, and the swirl of coincidences that blend them all together in one sweet story. But CODA is so irresistibly heartfelt, well-acted, and vital (all the deaf characters are actually played by deaf actors), that you can’t help but be won by its charms. 

Aside from its big heart, the film’s decision to express itself mostly through ASL and music is an impressive technical feat as well. Altogether, these elements make for a refreshing, enjoyable, and simply heartwarming watch. 

44. The Daytrippers (1997)

7.0

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Greg Mottola

Actors

Anne Meara, Campbell Scott, Douglas McGrath, Hope Davis

Moods

Easy, Funny, Grown-up Comedy

By all appearances, Eliza and Louis have a charming marriage. They’re casual and good-humored in the morning and full of passion in the evening. So when Eliza finds a love note addressed to her husband one day, naturally, she freaks out. She enlists the help of her eccentric family and sets off to Manhattan, where they all try to get to the bottom of the affair; what follows is an endearingly awkward adventure around town.

Though the film often meanders both in plot and dialogue, the expert ensemble keeps things compelling with their convincing chemistry and wry, visual humor. Coupled with lush images of ‘90s New York and brilliantly droll writing, The Daytrippers is a joyride of a film, as unassuming as it is enthralling. 

43. Bagdad Café (1987)

7.0

Country

Germany, West Germany

Director

Percy Adlon

Actors

Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat, CCH Pounder, Christine Kaufmann

Moods

Easy, Funny

This quirky 1988 adventure drama is newly available on Amazon Prime. It’s the classic that never was, the story of a rundown gas station motel in the Southern US where a lonely West German lady called Jasmin Munchgstettner ends up by accident.

The owner of the operation, a short-tempered woman by the name of Brenda, doesn’t really take to Jasmin. However, the longer the West German guest stays at the motel, the more a friendship forms between the two.

42. On the Count of Three (2021)

7.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Jerrod Carmichael

Actors

Allison Busner, Christopher Abbott, Clyde Whitham, Craig Arnold

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Best friends Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) have had enough of living; desperate and depressed, they make an agreement to kill each other. On the last day of their lives, they set out on an unlikely journey tying up loose ends and meeting up with the people who’ve impacted them the most. 

Depicting suicide onscreen is already a scary gamble in itself, but to try to add some good-willed humor to it is an impossible task. Still, director and star Jerrod Carmichael pulls it off, thanks in large part to his empathetic know-how of the subject matter. Carmichael explores the nuances of his topic with impressive deft, touching on oft-overlooked factors such as mental health, class, and abuse in plain and realistic terms. What he captures most effectively is the anger that comes with this strong and sometimes irrepressible urge. Abbot is explosive and Carmichael is subtle; both turn in rich performances and, together, concoct a delicate two-hander oozing with chemistry, empathy, and thrill. 

41. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2019)

7.1

Country

Bhutan, China

Director

Pawo Choyning Dorji

Actors

Kelden Lhamo Gurung, Kunzang Wangdi, Sherab Dorji, Ugyen Norbu Lhendup

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

On his first day of class in the remote village of Lunana, the city teacher Ugyen asks his students what they want to be when they grow up. One of the children, a young boy named Sangay, answers that he aspires to be a teacher “because a teacher touches the future.” Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, however, subverts this thematic by spending most of its runtime showing how the villagers touch Ugyen’s heart through genuine acts of kindness, forcing him to rethink his long-term dream of becoming a singer in Australia.

Not only does Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom succeed in its heartfelt dramatization of a Gen Z finding his place in the highlands, it also serves as a propagandistic validation of Bhutan’s “happiest country in the world” epithet. In doing so, the film presents the Bhutanese mountains in as breathtakingly picturesque a manner as possible, limning a paradise through the grassy meadows and children’s faces.

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