By Miranda Hazrati @mirandahazrati
The indie film scene has been steadily growing since the 1960s, feeding the public’s desire for something more than the standard formula offered up by the main film studios. A huge boom in independent film-making came during the ‘80s led by trailblazing directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, David Lynch, the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino, who soon became a household name as his films enjoyed huge box office success. No longer seen as art-house, niche releases, hundreds of indie films are made every year, with many smashing all expectations and competing alongside Hollywood blockbusters for both accolades and turnover.
1. Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s stylish Oscar-winning comedy-thriller masterpiece ‘Pulp Fiction’ relaunched the career of John Travolta and catapulted co-star Uma Thurman to international stardom. Tarantino’s tale of violence and redemption, with its iconic dialogue, black comedy and cool soundtrack is regarded as one of the most influential films of the ‘90s. The $8 million production went on to gross over $200 million worldwide, transforming independent distributor Miramax into a major player. Besides its phenomenal box office success, the film and its legendary Jack Rabbit Slims dance contest and overdose scenes have enjoyed cult status ever since the movie’s release in 1994.
2. The Breakfast Club
‘The Breakfast Club’ is a coming of age comedy drama film released in 1985 by young new director John Hughes with a budget of just $1 million and starring Brat packers Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald. Five high school students, from different cliques who have never met before are placed in detention, bare their souls and find their lives changed forever, as they realize they have much more in common than they’d ever have known. The story still resonates with audiences today and the film was digitally remastered and re-released in cinemas in March to celebrate its 30 year anniversary along with a special anniversary edition DVD and Blu Ray. The soundtrack to the film featured ‘Don’t you (forget about me)’ by UK ‘80s band Simple Minds.
The film went on to be a major box office success, grossing over $51 million worldwide, while the now-legendary Hughes went on to release further cult favourites including ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Pretty In Pink’.
- Good Will Hunting
‘Good Will Hunting’ is the film that launched the careers of both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – two up and coming actors who slept on each other’s’ couches, wrote the screenplay and won Academy awards for their efforts. Damon stars as Will Hunting, a wayward teen with a sky-high IQ working as a janitor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is taken under the wing of kind-hearted psychologist Sean Mcguire (Robin Williams) who attempts to give life some direction. Williams earned an Oscar for his performance and the park bench in Boston Park where Dr Mcguire and Hunting have their crucial rendez-vous has since become a memorial to Williams since his death last year. The film directed by Gus Van Sant grossed $225 million worldwide.
4. Kill Bill
After her success in Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman returned in another stylish, brutally violent Tarantino offering in 2003 as a former assassin, who wakes from a coma four years after her jealous ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) attempted to murder her on her wedding day. After devising a hit list, The Bride sets out to wreak her revenge leaving a trail of carnage in her wake. ‘Kill Bill’ was originally planned as a single theatrical release with a running time of over four hours, but was divided instead into two volumes. With Tarantino’s trademark blend of comic-strip violence and slick dialogue, Kill Bill 1 took a whopping $180 million at the box office, with its follow up Kill Bill 2 released in 2004 making $150 million.
Released in 1983 by the legendary director Francis Ford Coppola and Zoetrope Studios, ‘The Outsiders’ marked the start of the Brat Pack genre with its host of soon-to-be-very famous actors including Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze and Matt Dillon. In this stylish, brooding and highly atmospheric film, gang rivalry between the wealthy Socs and The Greasers hots up when one gang member is killed by a rival. The film is based on the eponymous book by S.E. Hinton (who also wrote the novel behind Coppola’s follow-up film ‘Rumblefish’) and features oft-quoted poem ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ by Robert Frost.
A Canadian-American comedy-drama independent film, Juno was directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. Juno stars Ellen Page as a feisty teenager coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy. The film’s quirky, thoughtful yet comic treatment of this subject won it widespread critical acclaim when it premiered at the Toronto Film festival in 2007. Though initially on a very limited release, Juno went on to enjoy huge mainstream global success, raking in over $230 million.
UK black comedy Trainspotting directed by Danny Boyle in 1996 follows the exploits of a group of miscreant heroin addicts in Edinburgh starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle and based on the book by Scottish author Irvine Welch. Shot on a low budget of just $2.5 million in under two months, most of the scenes were filmed in just one take, which adds to the movie’s grungy nature. Tapping into the UK youth subculture of the time, the film became the UK’s top grossing film that year (over $19 million) and $72 million internationally.
8. Blue Velvet
David Lynch’s 1986 stylish film noir mystery thriller is often hailed by critics as one of the best films of the decade. One of the finest examples of American surrealism, ‘Blue Velvet’ won Lynch an Academy award for best director and helped relaunch the career of Dennis Hopper. The film which also starred Laura Dern and Kyle Maclachlan also made a celebrity of Isabella Rossellini. When the script was first passed round in the late ‘70s, it was declined by many of the major studios because of its strong sexual and violent content. Independent studio De Laurentis Entertainment finally agreed to finance and produce the film. Set in North Carolina, ‘Blue Velvet’ unveils the dark, sinister world which lurks beneath its suburban veneer, as the discovery of a severed ear in a field leads a young man on an investigation centred around a beautiful club singer and a gang of psychopathic criminals who have kidnapped her child.
This off-the-wall 2006 comedy drama starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell tells the story of dysfunctional family who, determined to get their daughter, Olive, into the finals of beauty pageant, embark on an epic and crazy journey across the States in a VW camper van. Produced on a budget of $8 million, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where its distribution rights were bought by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film went on to gross $100.5 million internationally, won two Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Screenplay – Michael Arndt).
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star in Sofia Coppola’s subtle romantic comedy with Murray as an ageing actor who meets college graduate Johansson in a Tokyo hotel. The beautifully-shot film won Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2003, while Murray and Johansson both won Baftas for their roles. Filmed on a budget of just $4 million, using free-form, almost documentary style techniques, with many scenes shot at night, the film was a huge commercial success, grossing almost $120 million internationally.