Top 10 Independent Filmmakers

Script written by Niki Neptune. Their passion is their art, and their art is too cool for the mainstream: some filmmakers more than others take great care to ensure their films are anything but formulaic, instead opting for careful storytelling that goes against (or even changes) mainstream conventions. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 independent filmmakers. For this list, we’re looking at those filmmakers who have dominated the indie scene with their creative films and captivating style, even if they went on to become mainstream Hollywood successes later in their career. Special thanks to our users jkellis and Henners250 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Niki Neptune.

Top 10 Independent Filmmakers


Their passion is their art, and their art is too cool for the mainstream. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 independent filmmakers.

For this list, we’re looking at those filmmakers who have dominated the indie scene with their creative films and captivating style, even if they went on to become mainstream Hollywood successes later in their career.

#10: David Lynch

Renowned for his “surrealist” approach to filmmaking, Lynch’s movies have always been indie delights. While he’s been nominated for four Academy Awards, the bulk of his films have existed on the fringe of the mainstream. He may have slowed down with filmmaking in recent years, but his classics such as “Mulholland Drive” and “Elephant Man” will go down in movie history.

#9: Michel Gondry

This French transplant got his start making music videos before he broke on the scene with his second film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The film earned him an Academy Award, and he followed it with “The Science of Sleep,” a film that continued his playful and moody style as introduced in “Eternal Sunshine.” With a slew of short films and documentaries under his belt, Gondry is a true indie darling.

#8: Nicholas Winding Refn

He’s probably best known for his indie hit, “Drive,” but the Danish ex-pat director has been making films for decades. His gritty and dark movies are underscored by themes of violence and transformation. His work, including “Valhalla Rising” and “Bronson,” has garnered him a cult following worthy of the most seasoned indie filmmaker. The awesome soundtracks for his films don’t hurt, either.

#7: Gus Van Sant

With films such as “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Good Will Hunting” under his belt, Van Sant’s position as an indie figurehead is secure. His poetic portrayals of the downtrodden and marginalized often give voice to those most overlooked. His slew of awards and nominations, including two Oscar nods for best director, pretty much speak for themselves.

#6: Jim Jarmusch

Quoted as saying that he’d “rather make a movie about a guy walking his dog than about the emperor of China,” Jarmusch is all about his characters. His 1980s’ film “Stranger than Paradise” was widely regarded as a game-changer in independent filmmaking. His focus on mood and character development helped shape the narrative voice of independent films and usher in a new generation of minimalist, “urban cool” filmmaking.

#5: Kevin Smith

He’s the geek who gave us Jay and Silent Bob. He also gave us some really good independent films that helped define the ‘90s generation. Smith’s “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” were critical successes on the indie circuit and quickly entered the lexicon of indie classics. Plus, being buddies with Ben Affleck means you can put him in 80 percent of your films.

#4: Sofia Coppola

Being the daughter of an Oscar-winning director probably didn’t hurt Coppola’s directing aspirations. But it was her first feature film, “The Virgin Suicides,” followed by “Lost in Translation” that set her apart as an indie film standout. Her muted and introspective style make her an art house audience favorite.

#3: Quentin Tarantino

Before experiencing massive mainstream success in movies like “Kill Bill” and “Inlgourious Basterds”, Tarantino earned his indie filmmaker bona fides with classics like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.” That film’s critical and commercial success propelled Tarantino into mainstream view, and the dialogue, violence and heavy themes he used there translated into his later projects.

#2: The Coen Brothers

The tag team directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen is widely recognized for their films’ distinct style and subtle, nuanced humor. With a penchant for film noir and dark comedy, the Coens got their start running with “Blood Simple,” followed by critically acclaimed movies such as “Barton Fink“ and “Fargo.” Their immense success as independent filmmakers eventually led to their domination of the mainstream market with multiple award nominated hits.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Charlie Kaufman
- John Cassavetes
- Wes Anderson
- Christopher Nolan
- Spike Lee

#1: Paul Thomas Anderson

Although Anderson had already released one critically acclaimed feature film, it wasn’t until 1997’s “Boogie Nights” that he set the indie circuit on fire. Anderson followed up the success of that smash with “Magnolia,” but he remained in the indie limelight. His reign was culminated by the immense indie success of “There Will Be Blood,” which is now considered one of the best movies of the 2000s.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite American independent filmmaker? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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