Most Successful Independent Films of All Time

Pulp Fiction
Film making is a risky business,  especially for independent films producers. But once in a while, an independent film comes along and smashes expectations, proving they aren’t only made for the sake of art, but also for entertainment. To give recognition to the best indie films in history, we’ve compiled a list of the most successful independent films of all time:

15. Lost in Translation, $119 million

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Independent Films Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi and Giovanni Ribisi, is a comedic drama film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. The story centers on the aging actor Bob Harris, and the college graduate Charlotte. The movie star and the young woman form an unlikely rapport after crossing paths in a hotel in Tokyo. The film was a major critical success and earned four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The lead stars, Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, both won a BAFTA award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Leading Role. With a budget of only $4 million, the film was considered a commercial success. It grossed $119 million worldwide.

14. Midnight in Paris (2011), $151 million

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Independent Films Written and directed by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris tells the story of a screenwriter named Gil Pender, who is forced to face the shortcomings of his relationship with his materialistic partner. However, things become a bit exaggerated as he finds himself traveling back in time each time at midnight. The film stars Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody. It is produced by Mediapro, a Spanish group, and Allen’s Gravier Productions. The romantic comedy fantasy movie was a box office success, making over $151 million worldwide. It was also a critical acclaim, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay.

13. Paranormal Activity (2007), $193 million

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Independent Films Paranormal Activity, a film written, edited, co-produced and directed by Oren Peli, follows the story of a young couple, Katie and Micah, who lives in a house that is haunted by a supernatural presence. It is presented in a found footage style, where cameras are set up by the couple in an attempt to capture and document what is haunting them. Because of its success, the low-budget film, starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, got a parallel sequel, Paranormal Activity 2 and a prequel, Paranormal Activity 3. The film grossed almost $108 million at the US box office and $85 million internationally, summing up to $193 million worldwide. Also, it received a nomination for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards 2009.

12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), $213.5 million

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Independent Films Directed by Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a martial arts film, featuring an ensemble of Chinese actors, including Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Chang Chen and Zhang Ziyi. It is based on the fourth novel in a series by Wang Dulu, The Crane Iron Pentalogy about two warriors in search of a stolen sword and an infamous fugitive. Despite the budget of $17 million and Mandarin dialogues, the film became an international success, making over $213.5 million. It also won more than 40 awards, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in Taiwan, four BAFTA awards, two Golden Globes and three Academy Awards. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is named as one of the best and most influential foreign language films in the US and it has been praised for all its martial arts sequences, direction, cinematography and musical score.

11. Pulp Fiction (1994), $213.9 million

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The black comedy crime drama film, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, is known for its ironic mix of violence and humor and eclectic dialogue. It tells four stories about the lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster’s wife and a team of bandits. The film was a major success, helping John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, revitalized their careers. It won eight awards out of twenty-six nominations, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a BAFTA award for Best Actor, and a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. Against a budget of $8.5 million, Pulp Fiction grossed $213.9 million at the box office. It is the first indie film to make more than $100 million. Pulp Fiction is seen as an inspiration for many later movies because of its sweeping effect on the field of indie movies. In fact, it was considered by critics as one of the greatest films of all time.

10. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), $222.4 million

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Michael Moore’s documentary film, Independent Films Fahrenheit 9/11 tells a story about the reign of former president George W. Bush, the War on Terror and its extensive media coverage. When it debuted at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, it received a 20 minute standing ovation, which is among the longest standing ovations in the history of the festival. Also, it was awarded the Palme d’Or, the highest festival award. Despite the controversies it generated, the film is named as one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time. Its box-office revenues reached a total of $222.4 million.

9. Good Will Hunting (1997), $225.9 million

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Independent Films Directed by Gus Van Sant, the American drama movie Good Will Hunting stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard and Minnie Driver. It follows the life of a 20-year-old laborer named Will Hunting, who becomes a part of a deferred prosecution agreement. The film was a financial success, grossing more than $225 million worldwide with a budget of only $10 million. It received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. In 2014, the film ranked number 53 in The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 100 Favorite Films.

8. Juno (2007), $231.4 million

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Juno is a comedy drama film written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. It stars Ellen Page, who takes the role of a teenager confronted by an unwanted pregnancy. Along the way, she is confronted by various events putting pressure on her life as an adult. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. It also received three Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress. In twenty days, Juno earned back its initial budget of $6.5 million. As it continued its theatrical release, it went on to $231 million. It received positive reviews from critics and was praised by members of communities for its treatment of abortion.

7. Silver Linings Playbook (2012), $236 million

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Written and directed by David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook is a film adaptation of the novel by Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook. It stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jackie Weaver and Julia Stiles. The plot centers on the former teacher Pat Solitano, who moves back with his parents and tries to patch up things with his ex-wife after spending time in a mental institution. However, things become more complicated when he meets Tiffany. The film earned numerous achievements and was a major critical success. It received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Also, it received four Golden Globe Award nominations, three BAFTA nominations and four Screen Actors Guild nominations. Silver Linings Playbook was a box office hit. It grossed more than $236 million worldwide, which is eleven times its actual budget.

6. The Blair Witch Project (1999), $248.6 million

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The Blair Witch Project, written, edited and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, tells the story of three young filmmakers, who disappeared in the Burkittsville, Maryland. The horror film documentary relates to the local legend known as The Blair Witch. The film received several nominations and won awards, including Best Film and Best Screenplay. It earned generally positive reviews from critics and grossed over $248 million worldwide. As of now, the film is among the most successful independent movies of all time.

5. The Full Monty (1997), $250 million

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Directed by Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty is a comedy drama film starring Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Steve Huison, William Snape, Tom Wilkinson, Hugo Speer and Paul Barber. Set in Sheffield, England, the film follows the story of six unemployed steel workers, who form a male striptease act in order to get enough money and go somewhere else. Gaz, the main character, declares that the show would be better if they will go “the full monty,” which means stripping all the way. Though the film is a comedy, it touches other serious matters, including unemployment, depression, homosexuality, obesity, suicide and father’s rights. It was also a major critical success, grossing over $250 million from a budget of $4.5 million. The Full Monty was the highest grossing film in the UK unit Titanic came. It received nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Music Score and Best Original Screenplay.

4. Shakespeare in Love (1998), $289.3 million

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Shakespeare in Love is a romantic comedy drama film depicting an imaginary love story between Viola de Lesseps, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and William Shakespeare, portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. The film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Music and Best Supporting Actress. Also, it was among 1999’s box office number-one films in the United Kingdom, grossing over $289 million.

3. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), $368.7 million

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding, directed by Joel Zwick, centers on the story of a lower middle class Greek-American woman, Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos, who falls in love with an upper middle class Anglo-Saxon protestant, Ian Miller. The film received generally positive reviews and received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 75th Academy Awards. Despite never really landing the top spot at the box office, it became the highest-grossing romantic comedy film of all time. It grossed more than $368 million worldwide, covering the production cost of $6 million. It is also one of the top romantic films of the 21st century.

2. Slumdog Millionaire (2008), $377.9 million

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Slumdog Millionaire is an adaptation of the novel Q & A by Indian author Vikas Swarup. It is directed by Danny Boyle, produced by Christian Colson and written by Simon Beaufoy. It follows the life of a young man from the slums of Mumbai, Jamal Malik, who appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He surprisingly exceeds the expectations of people. He is then suspected of cheating, but he remembers how he knows the answer to each question through a flashback. Each is connected to a major event in his life. The film earned international acclaim and was praised for its soundtrack, plot and direction. It also received ten Academy Award nominations in 2009, winning eight of them, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Besides that, it won seven BAFTA awards, four Golden Globes and five Critic’s Choice Awards.

1. The Passion of the Christ, $611.9 million

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Mel Gibson’s epic biblical drama film, The Passion of the Christ depicts the Passion of Jesus based on the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Luke, John and Mark and other devotional writings such as the Fridays of Sorrows. The film shows the final 12 hours of Jesus, starting with the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and ending with a short depiction of his resurrection. Also, it covers flashback scenes of Jesus as a child, him giving the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper. The Passion of the Christ received mixed positive reviews. Despite the film’s theme of extreme violence, it was a major success, grossing more than $600 million during its theatrical run. It became the highest grossing R-rated film in the history of the United States and the highest grossing non-English language film of all time. This list of the most successful independent films of all time only proves that in the movie industry, you don’t necessarily need big budgets to get bigger returns.