50 Greatest American Independent Films

Move over mainstream! Live life in the leftfield

Martha Marcy May Maylene (2011)

The Film: Elizabeth Olsen made an instant impression - and escaped the shadow of her celebrity sisters - in Sean Durkin's intense drama about an escapee from a cult.

Only In America: If the movies are to be believed, there are crazy cults in every secluded forest across the States.

Hannah Takes The Stairs (2007)

The Film: Unheralded at the time, but Joe Swanberg's mumblecore drama - starring the movement's fellow directors Andrew Bujalski and Mark Duplass alongside Greta Gerwig - looks like the genre's archetypal movie.

Only In America: In a society where filmmaking is so ingrained, it was probably inevitable that eventually the Americans would create a style that simply involved actors and a cameraman turning up on the day.

Kids (1995)

The Film: Photographer Larry Clark's film debut, about a bunch of predatory boys deflowering underage girls despite the risk of HIV, presented a grimy, unsanitised vision of teenage life. Disney, it ain't.

Only In America: Proof that 'indie' could still raise hackles, the film's provocative look at teenage sex proved so controversial that Harvey Weinstein had to release it uncertified and through a bespoke distribution label rather than his usual Miramax.

Meek's Cutoff (2010)

The Film: Kelly Reichardt's deliberately uneventful anti-Western drops its cast, like its characters, into the Oregon wilderness to see how they react. The budget was so low the actors didn't even have a change of costume.

Only In America: Print the legend? Not any more, as Reichardt's film systematically dismantles decades of 'wagon train' movie iconography.

Primer (2004)

The Film: Shane Carruth's head-scratcher makes a virtue of a tiny budget (its time machine is, literally, a box) to deliver what is probably cinema's most authentic - as in, totally confusing - exploration of time travel.

Only In America: Beneath the hardcore geekery, Carruth's film is a sober, satirical dissection of two entrepreneurs' American dream.

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

The Film: There are two Gus Van Sants. One makes Oscar-winning hits like Good Will Hunting and Milk . The other fashions laidback hymns to the counterculture like this story of over-the-counter drug addicts.

Only In America: This is what happens when you don't have free healthcare.

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999)

The Film: Jim Jarmusch was one of the pioneers of modern American indie, and rarely flirted with the mainstream. His take on the gangster movie is probably his most accessible movie, albeit oddball by everybody else's standards.

Only In America: The 'melting pot' in action - an African-American into Japanese culture, and an Italian Mafioso obsessed with hip-hop.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

The Film: In the 1990s, you could throw a stone and hit a Tarantino clone. Writer/star John Cusack's off-grid masterpiece about a hitman going back to school is what you'd hit if you were aiming for the bullseye.

Only In America: A clash of two great American themes - the high school reunion, and the Reaganite dream of conscience-less private enterprise.

Lone Star (1996)

The Film: Veteran John Sayles was indie before the term really existed. By the time complex Western Lone Star came along, he was an elder statesman capable of old-school classicism on a tight budget.

Only In America: A redneck border-town sheriff is murdered for his racist views.

THX-1138 (1971)

The Film: In which George Lucas satiated his art-house fix so he could get on with being mainstream... but still managed to make a cool sci-fi film with robots.

Only In America: Sex is banned, pre-empting the outcry over Janet Jackson's Superbowl nipple by over three decades.

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