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Top 10 Greatest Independent Films

Updated on November 5, 2015

#1 Billy Jack

The greatest independent film of all time... "Billy Jack". The 2nd and most popular installment in the Billy Jack film series. "Billy Jack" is the tale of a half breed Indian taking on racism and corruption in a small town. Tom Laughlin stars as Billy Jack, surprisingly he also wrote and directed this unexpected hit. The movie was also the 1st of the martial arts movies that would soon take off in America. "Billy Jack" remains one of the highest grossing movies in Independent film history, it was also one of the 1st movies to be played on hundreds of movie screens nation wide, which is now very common. Long live this Independent film God!

#2 The Toxic Avenger

The original Toxic Avenger, written and directed by the president of the longest running independent film company "Troma", Lloyd Kaufman. Lloyd Kaufman worked on the set of the blockbuster "Rocky", there he was inspired to make an underdog movie of his own. The Toxic Avenger would go on to become Troma's highest grossing film to be released in Theaters.

The movie is about a 98 pound nerd, named Melvin. Melvin is constantly bullied... the abuse continues until one day Melvin gets hurled out of a window into a barrel of toxic waste, thus transforming him into... THE TOXIC AVENGER! The Toxic Avenger, the first super-hero from New Jersey, fights crime in Tromaville. Killing those who hold up fast food restaurants and run over little kids for fun.

It's gore, sexuality, and cheesy effects would land it in the Cult movie hall of fame, merchandise (such as toxic avenger masks), and a cartoon spin off! Yes, "The Toxic Crusaders" was a short lived Saturday morning cartoon based on the Toxic Avenger. The Toxic Avenger also spawned a popular off Broadway musical entitled "Toxic Avenger The Musical!". The movie was also followed by 2 awful sequels, and one that may be (arguably) better than the original.

#3 Resevoir Dogs

Number three is Quentin Tarantino's Resevoir Dogs. Tarantino wrote the script in just two weeks, but it doesn't show in this perfectly scripted, acted, and shot crime, drama, mystery, thriller. The movie features amazing performances from Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), and Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink). The film has had an overwhelming effect on indpendent film making, despite it's less than amazing box office success. The film took off due to word of mouth and has become one of the greatest indie films of all time.

The movie is about a diamond heist gone wrong. It starts with six criminals, who are all given code names in the form of colors (Mr. White, Mr. Pink, ect.) and are given orders to carry out a diamond robbery. It's not long before the six are reduced to four, after a shoot out with the cops. The remaining four hide-out inside of a warehouse, where suspicions arise, that one of them may be an undercover cop. The film's events occur out of order, adding to some of the suspense of the movie.

#4 Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D

Sgt Kabukiman N.Y.P.D was another film made by the people at Troma. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz wanted to create another super hero movie like "The Toxic Avenger", but they had varied opinions on what the movie should be. Lloyd wanted another gore and sex filled riot, like his previous hit. Michael and the Japanese producers wanted a family friendly super hero movie. What was produced was the offspring of their contrasting ideas, a cheesy superhero movie filled with sex and violence. Sgt. Kabukiman was a box office failure, but an absolute cult classic.

The movie stars Rick Gianasi as Sgt. Harry Griswald, who begins to take on some serious changes after accidently coming between an evil plot to end all of humanity! Harry Griswald starts turning Japanese (literally!) and fighting crime with super powers such as projectile chopsticks and his computerized 8-bite sushi!

The movie should had skyrocketed the talented Rick Gianasi's movie career... but it didn't. In fact, the movie let Troma's high expectations down so badly, Michael Herz has not directed a movie since, but instead leaves Kaufman in charge as head director, while he handles Troma's marketing aspects. Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D is a movie that had box office potential, but due to creative conflict and budgetary problems (as evident towards the movie's ending), it's one of the lesser knowns of the super hero movie genre.

#5 Clerks

The movie takes place in one day, at one location, and centers around the life of two store workers (Dante and Randall), nonetheless it's one of the greatest independent flims ever made (It's also the most stolen film ever). The movie is filled with seemingly endless pop culture references, and humor that comes from the oh too real averageness of Dante and Randall's lives.

Clerks is also the first movie to feature Kevin Smith's characters "Jay and Silent Bob". They would show up in several other of Smith's movies, including "Clerks 2", "MallRats" and a movie of their own "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back".

#6 Born Losers

Born losers was the first Billy Jack movie and was used to raise money and to popularize the Billy Jack character for his second (and most popular) film... and it did a great job in doing so. The movie did amazingly well for being a low budget independent film, and paved the way for 3 more Billy Jack movies.

The story centers around a girl who is raped by a biker gang. Afraid the girl may testify against them in court, the gang hunts down the girl to make sure she'll keep quiet. Billy Jack happens to be there when the bikers find the girl. He fights off the bikers and puts her under his protection. The movie is rich with plot, good writing, an amazing cast, and one of the greatest movie climaxes of its decade.

#7 Boondock Saints

The movie with 246 F#&$'s... but who's counting? Boondock Saints is an Indie hit, it's got everything that a great movie should have and more. Not one of the firsts of the vigilante film, but one of the bests.

After killing two mafia thugs, brothers Connor and Murphey turn themselves in. While in prison they have a revelation, that they should be ridding the world of the scum, that is human evil. Soon recruiting their friend Rocco, the 3 set out, killing drug dealers and members of the mafia. With a brilliant detective (Willem Dafoe) on their trail, and the mafia catching on to their "good deeds" the 3 find themselves facing more than they can handle.

#8 Donnie Darko

Donnie is just your average teenage boy... who happens to be stalked by a time traveling rabbit... the film features Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze in minor roles (still not bad for an independent film). Donnie Darko is an extremely deep, dark, and fun to watch movie. Although somewhat depressing, the movie is a must see, and was voted #9 in the "50 films to see before you die" list.

After having a near death experience, Donnie receives a disturbing vision that the world will end in 28 days. With the help of various characters, including a 6 foot rabbit called Frank, he begins to uncover the mysterious physical and metaphysical laws that govern his life and that will lead up to the end of the world.

#9 Sideways

Sideways is a comedy... that really isn't that funny. Sure it has its moments (Miles' objection to drinking Merlot), but the movie is too deep to be the laugh riot everyone expects when they first watch the movie. The movie centers around two friends (who are border line total oposites) as they take a wine tasting trip... they find 2 girls, they find themselves, they find each other, and they find some very decent Pinot.

The film won 94 awards and set Paul Giamatti up for several more starring roles. Keeping in tradition with independent film fashion, the movie is depressing... but also uplifting at the same time. By the ending, you're not sure whether to feel happy or sad, there's a conflicting feeling in your stomach, a very rare experience. A meaningful movie, with beautiful scenery, and Miles, a character who isn't aftraid to compare his life to Pinot. Did I mention the movie is based off of a book?

#10 Combat Shock

Combat Shock is like riding a roller coaster in the dark. As you're being pulled uphill slowly, you're excited and have no idea what to expect, then you take off with no warning, the ride speeds up and slows down... and just when you get to the end of it... the track collapses and you plummet straight to the ground. You will feel heavier after watching it... heavier because you know you'll have to carry what you have just watched along with you for the rest of your life...

Combat Shock is about a Vietnam veteran who has developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was exposed to Orthro Orange, and had a deformed son all as a result of being a US soldier. This movie is not for the faint of heart... or for people living in a dream world in which they are convinced that the US government is fair and just to everyone, and that the army has always treated its soldiers with respect and fairness... This movie is a must see.

Honorable Mentions

If you love independent films, I'm sure you do not agree with the top 10 list I composed. I welcome you to post you favorites as well.

Movies not on the list, but not forgotten: Poultrygeist "Night of the Chicken Dead", The Toxic Avenger IV "Citizen Toxie", The Evil Dead, The Life of Brian, Pink Flamingos, Drugstore Cowboy, The Blaire Witch Project, Grosse Point Blank, Mad Max, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cube, Troma's War, Tromeo and Juliet, Class of Nuke 'Em High, American History X, and Pulp Fiction.... WHY THE HELL WASN'T PULP FICTION ON THE LIST?... well I guess one Tarantino film is good enough.

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    • JamieHGarrett profile image


      4 years ago from North Carolina

      Great list! Now I have some new films to track down.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      My favorite troma picture is Troma's War. Born Losers was made to raise money for the Billy Jack film. I watched Donnie Darko and S. Darko. I don't understand either one.

    • sparksfiend profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Fun fact, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D also was going to have a cartoon series, but the pilot was never picked up.


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