Living in Oblivion (1995)
The Film: Indie cinema bites the hand that feeds it, as aspiring director Steve Buscemi's latest shoot falls apart amidst narcissist stars and angry dwarves.
Indie Cred: Every movie movement knows it has come of age when it gets its own piss-take. Watch it, and then imagine this is what happens behind the scenes of every other film on this list.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Things would have gone smoothly, because everybody knows nothing ever goes wrong on a Hollywood set. Right?
Roger Dodger (2002)
The Film: Campbell Scott plays a misogynist who attempts to corrupt his nephew (newcomer Jesse Eisenberg) in how to seduce and destroy.
Indie Cred: An exemplary example of the kind of two-hander indie cinema does so well, increasingly influential for introducing Eisenberg's geek chic to the movies.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Time for a boisterous American Pie -style sex farce.
The Film: Militarised killer fish run amok at a water park.
Indie Cred: Roger Corman had been making low-budget exploitation pics for years when he greenlit Joe Dante's bloody, funny cash-in on Jaws .
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They'd have used a shark. Duh.
American Splendor (2003)
The Film: Adaptation of Harvey Pekar's everyday spin on the comic book, about a grumpy, overweight Everyman who is the unlikely hero of his own life.
Indie Cred: An appropriately lo-fi antidote to Hollywood superheroes, and the breakout role of indie icon Paul Giamatti.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Harvey Pekar would have proper superpowers.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
The Film: Gawky teenager Napoleon lies about hunting wolverine and helps to get his best mate Pedro elected class president with the help of Jamiroquai.
Indie Cred: The kind of film built with its own cult immortality in mind, Jared Hess' debut lives on in a new animated spin-off.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Napoleon would be a hunk.
The Film: Two wannabe inventors accidentally invent a time machine that causes multiple new timelines to spring up.
Indie Cred: Shane Carruth’s physics-heavy debut is genuinely hard to follow, so much so that bloggers have invented diagrams to try to explain the plot.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Everything would be resolved with a big explosion.
The Film: Housewife Carol White (Julianne Moore) suffers from Twentieth-Century Disease, which gives her an allergic reaction to… well, pretty much everything.
Indie Cred: Maverick Todd Haynes flirted with linear narrative, only to produce something just as disconcerting as his earlier, weirder films.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Moore would have saved by the redemptive power of love.
Killer of Sheep (1977)
The Film: Charles Burnett’s documentary-style debut about an African-American slaughterhouse worker.
Indie Cred: Long revered as a ‘lost’ movie (it was buried for 30 years because Burnett hadn’t paid the music rights on his soundtrack of jazz classics), it was officially released in 2007.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The hero would have become a protector of sheep.
The Film: Up-the-duff teenager Juno MacGuff decides to put her unborn child up for adoption, only for her presence to drive a wedge between the prospective parents.
Indie Cred: Ellen Page became a boho It girl, but all eyes were on screenwriter and “ex-stripper” Diablo Cody
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They’d have removed the messy pregnancy plotline and given Juno a cat.
The Station Agent (2003)
The Film: Tom McCarthy’s Sundance-charming comedy about a grumpy dwarf with unusually friendly neighbours.
Indie Cred: The synopsis reads like your worst whimsical nightmare, but it’s McCarthy’s ability to make it feel real that makes this one a treat.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: “We love the story, but can ya lose the dwarf?”
The Film: Bored kids in tornado-struck Ohio go cat hunting. Er, that's about it.
Indie Cred: Harmony Korine was already one to watch after writing kids; his directorial debut upped the ante on presenting shocking material in the most meandering fashion possible.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It’d be a biopic of the real Gummo, the fifth Marx Brother.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
The Film: Narcoleptic rent boy River Phoenix falls in love with slumming posh boy Keanu Reeves. One for the unlikely Shakespeare adaptation pile, as it’s based on Henry IV, Part One .
Indie Cred: Gus Van Sant’s breezily counter-cultural odyssey that mixes Northwestern grunge fashion with unabashed gay sexuality.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Knowing Gus Van Sant, he’s probably directing a studio remake of the film right now.
The Film: Yet another family melodrama, albeit one defined by paedophilia and stalker neighbours.
Indie Cred: Todd Solondz’s acidic vision was perfect anti-entertainment for the cool kids, more so after Sundance refused to screen it.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They’d have remembered to put the happiness back in.
The Film: Pervy boss James Spader likes to humiliate his assistant, and tart-with-a-typewriter Maggie Gyllenhall kinda likes it.
Indie Cred: Steven Shainberg’s kinky debut – S&M on the border between sexy and surreal – pretty much sells itself to indie audiences.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Any sex would be strictly missionary position.
The Film: Vince Vaughn (oh so money, baby) and Jon Favreau (less so) hit the singles bars.
Indie Cred: For all its movie buff nods to Scorsese and Tarantino, the real joy of Doug Liman’s debut was in creating a life – and a lingo – you’d want to be part of.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: With all those references to money in the script, at some point it would become a heist thriller. Nobody’s done Die Hard in a Nightclub before, have they?
Winters Bone (2010)
The Film: Jennifer Lawrence plays a poor Ozark teen whose parole-violating pa sparks a squirrel-shooting odyssey into the rural meth lab industry.
Indie Cred: A combustible combo of two classic indie trends – the authentic observation of a remote corner of America, allied to the arrival of a bona fide movie star.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Lawrence would tool up with firepower and go on a rip-roaring rampage of revenge.
Spanking The Monkey (1994)
The Film: Troubled teen Jeremy Davies is forced to look after his incapitated mom, only to find himself strangely attracted to her.
Indie Cred: Movies about incest, suicide and masturbation are ten-a-penny at Sundance, but few are as strangely endearing as David O. Russell’s debut.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It’d be a slapstick comedy about animal cruelty.
The Film: A bunch of kids fuck about, take drugs, and catch HIV.
Indie Cred: So controversial that Miramax, the indie brand of the decade, had to invent another company to distribute it against the wishes of owners Disney.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They’d all learn to get high naturally through the power of DANCE!
The Film: A day in the life of Austin, Texas. According to Richard Linklater, everybody’s mooching around, talking about philosophy and Madonna’s smear test.
Indie Cred: Alongside Douglas Coupland’s Generation X , this was the film that gave a generation a voice… and gave newspaper pundits a catch-all nickname for it.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The studios would have called in Robert McKee for some emergency rewrites.
Lone Star (1996)
The Film: A decades-straddling mosaic of life on the Tex-Mex border, as Sheriff Chris Cooper discovers the skeleton of his predecessor in the 1950s (Kris Kristofferson).
Indie Cred: John Sayles is one of the masters of indie cinema. With this, he actually achieved something of a hit, and earned a thoroughly deserved Oscar nomination.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: We’d never have seen one of the most casually taboo-busting endings in American cinema.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
The Film: An exercise in poor taste, as the filthiest person alive (Divine) keeps her crown via murder and eating a dog turd on camera.
Indie Cred: John Waters was a one-man merchant of trash; this is the masterpiece for the simple reason that it’s the hardest to watch without heaving.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They would have used a stunt double for the dog poo.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
The Film: Jim Jarmusch’s debut about self-styled hipsters bumming around New York and heading for Florida on a ramshackle road trip.
Indie Cred: Shot in B&W and starring a former member of Sonic Youth, this was achingly hip in the fashion-starved 80s.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They've have settled for Paradise and not bothered with the Strange.
The Film: The everyday adventures of a schizophrenic mathematician being chased by Hasidic Jews because the equations in his head are proof of God’s existence.
Indie Cred: Think that description is bonkers? Try watching Darren Aronofsky’s grainily-shot, techno-scored, hypnotically-edited debut.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Ever seen Nic Cage + numbers nonsense Knowing ? Something like that.
The Film: Renegade Robert Duvall flees an austere, white-void dystopia pursued by robot cops.
Indie Cred: Before he became a businessman, George Lucas was a hippie. You can tell because the heartless villains cut off the heroes’ hair.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Oh, you know. TIE Fighters, droids, lightsabers...
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The Film: Mel Gibson makes Jim Caviezel dies for our sins with such gusto you begin to wonder for his mental well-being.
Indie Cred: We’re not sure about ‘cred’ exactly, but the fact that Gibbo forked out his own cash on what is basically torture-porn, and then convinced evangelical Christians to pay for the privilege, is up there with the best money-making schemes.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It would have been PG-13.
Shes Gotta Have It (1986)
The Film: ‘She’ is Nola Darling, a New Yorker dating three very different men. ‘It’ you can work out for yourself.
Indie Cred: The biggest breakthrough in black American cinema for some years, Spike Lee's debut defied blackkploitation clichés with a romantic New York vibe comparable to Woody Allen.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Sad to say, but we doubt the characters would have been African-American.
Lost in Translation (2003)
The Film: Jaded movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray), stuck in Tokyo, strikes up an unlikely friendship with equally bored hipster Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson)
Indie Cred: Sofia Coppola’s swooning not-quite romance that defied occasional lapses in taste to become a modern love story. Also: brownie points for getting Kevin Shields off his arse to do the music.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: We’d have heard Bob’s final words to Charlotte, and they’d be banal greeting card platitudes.
The Last Seduction (1994)
The Film: Linda Fiorentino excels as conniving bitch Bridget Gregory, who runs rings around every man who meets her in order to scarper with a bag of dollars.
Indie Cred: John Dahl’s neo-noir was so unheralded it debuted in America on HBO, thereby disqualifying Fiorentino from a likely Oscar nomination.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: No way Fiorentino would be allowed to be so naughty. For starters, she’d be played by Sharon Stone.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
The Film: That old chestnut about the professional killer who attends his high school reunion.
Indie Cred: Star John Cusack clubbed together with mates to pen a screenplay that satirises his heritage as 1980s high school hero through the prism of po-mo 1990s cool.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Split into two films, one about a killer who goes killing, the other (who has a normal job) attends the reunion.
El Mariachi (1992)
The Film: One-man film crew Robert Rodriguez turns a guitar player into a gun-toting hero.
Indie Cred: An action movie on a $7,000 shoestring, with added kudos for Rodriguez selling his body to medical science in order to fund it.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: We’d be tempted to say, it'd be Desperado , except that Rodriguez’s sequel is still small change by Hollywood standards.
A Woman Under The Influence (1974)
The Film: Gena Rowlands and the late Peter Falk play a married couple undone by hubby’s perception that his wife is crazy.
Indie Cred: John Cassavetes single-handedly defined indie in the decades before the term was understood. This is as good an introduction as any, not least because he financed it by mortgaging his own home.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It would have been a comedy.
The Film: Mates Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church get sozzled on a wine tasting stag do.
Indie Cred: Alexander Payne was already one of the most acclaimed indie auteurs around, but none of his previous films was responsible in a sudden drop in sales for merlot.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The hesitant ending would have been a full-blown sentimental snog-a-thon.
The Evil Dead (1981)
The Film: A remote cabin, a Satanic book, and a perverted tree. Cue the screaming.
Indie Cred: Horror afficiandos were getting used to being shocked – but nobody expected to laugh as much as they shuddered at Sam Raimi's splatstick debut.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Bruce Campbell’s career would never have got off the ground, and we’d all have a void in our lives.
The Film: Deadpan shenanigans at a prestigious private school as over-committed/under-achieving pupil Max Fischer initiates a love triangle with his teacher and a parent.
Indie Cred: Wes Anderson’s second film perfected a self-contained world of arch wit, stylised tableaux and Futura Bold captions. Some film geeks haven’t been the same since.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: There's gotta be an inspiration teacher in there somewhere. Does anyone have Robin Williams' phone number?
The Film: Dante Hicks has a bad day at work, and he’s not even supposed to be there today.
Indie Cred: Talk about living the dream! Kevin Smith broke free of shiftwork drudgery by actually making a movie in his workplace.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The Quick Stop convenience store would be upgraded to Tiffany’s. And Dante would be played by Julia Roberts.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
The Film: A puppeteer finds a portal into John Malkovich’s head while working on the seventh-and-a-half floor premises of LesterCorp. Yes, really.
Indie Cred: Essentially, the fact that this got made at all. Spike Jonze’s maverick filming of Charlie Kaufman’s singular sensibility still feels like the movies got mugged by a very elaborate prank.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Being Tom Hanks doesn’t have the same ring.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Film: A bunch of kids unwisely investigate a creepy Texan homestead. Scooby Doo was never this scary.
Indie Cred: The exploitation pic marketing for Tobe Hooper's landmark horror was effective enough - but the real coup was to make the on-screen violence blunt and bludgeoning.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The words 'Chainsaw' and 'Massacre' would be first to go. Whether 'Texas' stays is 50:50.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Film: Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie pull off the cinematic heist of the decade, with a little help from Keyser Soze.
Indie Cred: No other film of the Nineties quite stole Tarantino’s thunder on his home turf of the post-modern crime flick.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: This film acts like a blockbuster anyway, but it’s hard to see studio interference doing anything but ruin the ending with blunt exposition.
The Film: One night, one killer, no mercy. And a huge return on a relatively tiny investment.
Indie Cred: No indie director had quite a success rate as John Carpenter in the 70s. Even so, nobody expected him to follow Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 with this short, sharp shock.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: If? Its DNA has been cloned so many times it’s easier to find a horror movie not based on Carpenter’s slasher aesthetic.
Donnie Darko (2001)
The Film: Richard Kelly’s genre-warping cult classic about time travel, 80s nostalgia and scary rabbits.
Indie Cred: Dependent on the original release's refusal to explain what’s going on, as anybody who’s seen the Director’s Cut will know.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: Frank would be an angel, and the whole thing would be a tale of Christian redemption rather than an emo manifesto.
Blood Simple (1984)
The Film: The Coen Brothers arrive fully-formed with a Texan neo-noir full of violence, virtuoso camerawork and deadpan LOLZ.
Indie Cred: On a sliding scale, depending on how quickly you discovered the Coens.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: At the very least, an ending where somebody explains to hapless heroine Frances McDormand what’s actually happened.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Film: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s experimental horror flick, in which they send a bunch of actors into the woods with cameras (but no phones) and then start freaking them out.
Indie Cred: The DIY aesthetic extended to marketing but, by winning the stomachs and minds of web-savvy hipsters, the Blair boys caught the Zeitgeist better than Lucas’ Phantom Menace .
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It’d have looked like Blair Witch sequel Book of Shadows .
The Terminator (1984)
The Film: James Cameron dragged a killer robot back from the future in a failed bid to rid the world of bad hair.
Indie Cred: A B-movie with state-of-the-art FX? Now you’re talking.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It’d have been the biggest hit of the year. As indeed the sequel was.
Mean Streets (1973)
The Film: Nice Catholic boy Harvey Keitel gets guilty about his uncle’s Mafia business, tries to keep pal Bobby De Niro out of trouble, and gets called a mook.
Indie Cred: Martin Scorsese bailed on making exploitation flicks for Roger Corman to make something more personal. He was so successful many still think this was his debut.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: A Sting -style caper/bromance about two wise-talking but essentially decent hoodlums.
The Film: A shock-haired man in a creepy industrial building gets stuck looking after his deformed baby, while being serenaded by The Lady In The Radiator.
Indie Cred: David Lynch beavered away for years outside the mainstream, unleashing a nightmarish vision that pushed film into avant-garde art.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: You’re joking, right?
The Film: Christopher Nolan’s Stateside calling card about an amnesiac detective (Guy Pearce) piecing together his wife’s murder using tattoos and Polaroids.
Indie Cred: Woah, the story is told backwards!
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: They’d put it back in the right order. And add a car chase, probably.
sex, lies and videotape (1989)
The Film: Steven Soderbergh’s debut about infidelity, VHS and the possibility that Andie McDowell can act after all.
Indie Cred: Soderbergh stormed Sundance and then bagged the Palme D’Or at Cannes, while it provided the Weinstein Brothers with the hit on which indie would later go mainstream.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster : No small-s sex, but capital letter SEX!
Easy Rider (1969)
The Film: Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda hit the roads on a cross-country voyage into the counter-culture.
Indie Cred: The proof the kids had been waiting for, that their tunes, their drugs, their stars (including a breakthrough Jack Nicholson) were poised to take over.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: It would have been a musical. Starring Elvis.
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
The Film: George A. Romero and a bunch of entrepreneurial mates spent their budget on zombie make-up and entrails, and started chomping.
Indie Cred: The template for modern horror – pessimistic, allegorical, gory – has never been hotter. Everybody nowadays, it seems, is writing a zombie screenplay.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: The black hero Ben would be Chuck Heston. And he’d live.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The Film: Quentin Tarantino’s debut, the lightning rod that made indie into a cool – and commodifiable – brand.
Indie Cred: Through the roof. This is the film that spawned a thousand bedsit posters, persuaded us that putting dialogue onto the soundtrack album was cool, and reminded supposedly has-been stars that there’s always room for a comeback chez Quentin.
If It Had Been A Blockbuster: We’d have seen the heist.