An indie movie i.e. independent movie is a short movie that is made outside the big film studio system, in addition to being made and distributed by entertainment companies that are also independent.

Indie movies are different by their style ad content, and also by the way in which the personal artistic vision of the filmmaker is realized.

Commonly, but not always, indie movies are produced with lower budgets in comparison to major studio films.


What Is An Indie Film?

A simple definition for indie, or independent, film would be a film produced and distributed by smaller, independent entertainment companies with a considerably lower budget and characterized by the artistic signature of the writers and directors.

A considerably lower budget than what?

A lower budget than major and well-known studios.

An ‘indie film’ is a movie that is mainly produced by people outside the mainstream film industry, usually without any involvement from major movie studios or television networks.

While it is often difficult to draw the exact line dividing ‘indie’ films from mainstream films, the term ‘independent film’ generally refers to movies made outside the studio system.


What Makes An Indie Movie…Indie – Is It All About The Marketing?

Generally speaking, the marketing of an indie movie is characterized by limited release at independent movie theaters, but at the same time, they might have wide release and major marketing campaigns.

Often, indie movies are screened at national, local, or international film festivals before their distribution which includes retail or theatrical release.

What Is An Indie Film

An independent movie production might compete with a mainstream film production if it has the necessary distribution and funding.

So, you can tell by the above stated that the term indie movie is used differently by different people.

For example, any rebellious low-budget short film is considered to be an indie film, while at the same time 12 Years of Slave by Steve McQueen swept The Independent Spirit Awards and won Best Picture at the Oscars in the year 2014.

And, yes, they both fall under the same category of being an indie movie.

what is an indie film

Indie Films – A Little History

Indie movies have been around as long as filmmaking has been around, that includes everything from the first rebellions of Charlie Chaplin against the studio system all the way to the blaxploitation movies of the beginning of the Seventies.

Speaking of Blaxploitation cinema, here’s our video guide to the movement:


The movement was defined in the Nineties when hits such as ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ made household names of their directors and stars.

These were challenging, creative movies which found mainstream audiences that led to the powerhouse studios hovering up indie movie companies.

However, the indie spirit is resilient when it comes to corporatization. The digital era in the 21st century actually democratized the process of making movies.

Now film-makers are able to shoot, market, and distribute their movies on budgets which would once barely have coved the film stock of a day.

Nowadays, they are completely free to experiment in so many ways which once was unthinkable.

what is an indie film

From Genre To Attitude

Today ‘independent movies’ are less a genre and more an attitude. They are an anti-corporate, independent approach to making films that tell stories in a way big studios won’t.

Often, this happens in ways big studios would never consider, and often the indie filmmaker is the one that proves that it may be done profitably.

This is because independent movies are fertile and sacred ground for creativity, free from the pressures of studio meddling and big budgets.

Where the narratives of Jon Favreau and Spike Lee percolate, the careers of Brie Larson are born, where high-level stars such as Robert Pattinson go to experiment.

Below you will see a list of some of the best indie movies and for sure you will be surprised if some of the movies there.

what is an indie film

List of Some Great Indie Movies

Here’s a list of some fantastic recent indie films.

1. Winter’s Bone (2010)

This is an adaptation of the novel Daniel Woodrell by the director Debra Granik. It’s an engrossing drama about Ree Dolly, 17-year-old, a character played by Jennifer Lawrence.

She is trying to hold her impoverished family together. This happens after her meth-manufacturing pop skips out on them.

Things get worse when she finds out the family home has been put up as part of his bail bond; therefore she decides to find him before everything is lost.

The movie won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance in the year 2010, and 4 Oscar nominations.

Winter's Bone
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Lauren Sweetser (Actors)
  • Debra Granik (Director) - Debra Granik (Writer) - Alix Madigan (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This was sci-fi, but the movie showed a procedure that allowed people to erase each other from their minds.

This procedure hit a nerve and gave all those who are heartbroken hope. Charlie Kaufman (known by the movie Being John Malkovich) wrote the script together with Michel Gondry who is a prolific music video director.

They cast 2 mega stars – Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet and they had roles like never before and that’s how the magic was made.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Kate Winslet (Actors)
  • Michel Gondry (Director) - Michel Gondry (Writer) - Steve Golin (Producer)
  • Spanish, English (Playback Language)
  • Spanish, English (Subtitles)

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This is a story about a dysfunctional family, and such stories do well because they are relatable. This movie was nominated for Oscar for Best Picture.

The story is about a young girl who is determined to get into finals, with the help of her family but the thing is that she’s not the usual beauty pageant material.

This turned out to be the breakout role for the adorable Abigail Breslin.

Little Miss Sunshine
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell (Actors)
  • Jonathan Dayton (Director) - Michael Arndt (Writer) - Marc Turtletaub (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. Lost In Translation (2003)

This was the first original feature screenplay of Sofia Coppola. And this was what set her apart from her father as an auteur, particularly after the movie won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

The story follows the connection between a young woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, whose partner is a bit of a douchebag and drags her around the world with him, and a faded film star, played by Bill Murray.

With a backdrop of stunning Tokyo, the movie is a fantasy that anyone who’s ever felt alone can relate to.

Lost in Translation
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi (Actors)
  • Sofia Coppola (Director) - Sofia Coppola (Writer) - Ross Katz (Producer)
  • English, Spanish (Playback Language)
  • English, Spanish (Subtitles)

5. Parasite (2019)

The story is about a poor family known by the name the Kims, who fraudulently enter the service of the Perks, a wealthy family. Director Bong Joon Ho’s black comedy was one of the most talked-about movies in the year 2019.

It was a known movie for its shocking portrayal of wealth disparity in the society of South Korea, and also because it became the first foreign-language movie to win Oscar for Best Picture.

The effect of the Oscars was considerable since before the win in its opening weekend in the US it made under $400,000 and it was only shown in 3 theatres, while after the win it went on to over $100m worldwide and $53.4m in the US.

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Kang Ho Song, Sun Kyun Lee, Yeo Jeong Cho (Actors)
  • Joon Ho Bong (Director) - Joon Ho Bong (Writer) - Joon Ho Bong (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Cinema History & The Rise of Indie Films

There is not a clearly defined point in history where cinema, as an artistic medium was born.

However, in 1895 the Lumière brothers, who were photography equipment manufacturers, became known for their Cinématographe motion picture system and the short films they produced for the decade that followed.

Although they did not invent the initial device, they purchased the rights to it, further improved on it and it was later patented by them.

Their technology and timing were the two important factors that catapulted them to international fame.

Inspired by their example, a lot of film production companies and studios were built in the following years worldwide. The first years of motion pictures were characterized by films less than a minute long, without any sound and of course, black and white.

what is an indie film

Around the same time, the Motion Picture Patents Company was founded and included all the big names of the film industry, creating a cartel that enforced the presence of U.S. film making but hindered the entry of new studios.

These studios became known as the “independent” film companies and had to face significant competition and legal issues from the big names of the industry which hogged the limelight and monopolized the market.

The monopoly of the Motion Picture Patents Company came to a halt when the Supreme Court banned their patents and independent filmmaking was legalized.

Therefore, the new epicenter became the glamorous Hollywood hills, and this attracted a lot of up-and-coming and promising studio producers and filmmakers.

While the Edison Trust had built the raw film empire in New York, a few independent film companies had fled to Southern California to escape the reach of MPPC and went on establishing the operations and the studio system of the classical Hollywood cinema.

From 1930 to 1950 the classical Hollywood cinema held the reigns, releasing 600 to 800 films per year following the same superannuated storylines and narrative style.

So, after World War II there was a need for something fresh, authentic, and more realistic in the film industry.

New movements such as the Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave made their marks in the international scene because they created independent films with raw and rough looks, documentary realism, real-life locations, non-professional actors, and natural lighting.

Success Stories

A few of the independent films which became some of the biggest box office successes and beloved by the American audience are:

1. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

This American classic was heavily inspired by the French New Wave and was created by the Warner Brothers.

Movies like this marked the beginning of a new era of American filmmaking with an idiosyncratic and unique touch.

Bonnie and Clyde
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael Pollard (Actors)
  • Arthur Penn (Director) - David Newman (Writer) - Warren Beatty (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg directed this indie movie during the “New Hollywood Cinema” era, which had unexpected success.

Jaws and Star Wars (1977) were the first summer blockbusters, which attracted multi-national companies to purchase studios and expanded the film industry to a great degree.

This era came to an end in 1980 because the corporate culture and the constant pressure for blockbusters changed the balance and the fabric of the cinema.

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss (Actors)
  • Steven Spielberg (Director) - Peter Benchley (Writer) - Richard D. Zanuck (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)

The neo-noir black comedy crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino is a striking example of how sometimes a smaller production and an independent studio can revive a career- in this case, the career of John Travolta.

Pulp Fiction
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman (Actors)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Director) - Quentin Tarantino (Writer) - Lawrence Bender (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

5 Pointers About Indie Films

Let’s look at a few key points about indie films.

1. Often Go Under The Radar Then Receive High Praise

There are a lot of movies out there, done by not the glamorous and distinguished big-shot producers, which received high praise from cinephiles across the globe

Want a few examples?

  • American Beauty,
  • The Breakfast Club,
  • Juno,
  • Memento,
  • Little Miss Sunshine,
  • Terminator.

2. Often Unrated

Indie films are very often unrated. However, this is not an issue because classifying a movie is only voluntary and up to the production.

3. Big Stars Turn Their Hands To Indie

Big stars of Hollywood are up for starring in independent films.

Famous actors may have a lot of time in between productions, so they take up an indie project which might even boost their careers more than they imagine.

Take John Travolta, for example. The revenue of Pulp Fiction surpassed $200 million. Not bad for a little indie movie!

4. It’s a Profitable Business

The independent film industry has turned into a big profitable business. The state of Georgia had 320 productions in 2017 alone and revenue of a whopping $2,7 billion!

It became the number one place for Film and Television productions the biggest hit produced there is the TV series “Walking Dead”.

5. Indie Films Go Ultra Creative!

Independent studios know the struggle when it comes to funding but can get creative about it.

While the major studios spend $70-90 million on average, independent production is usually made with less than $2 million. However, this doesn’t mean that they all struggle with their sales.

The Blair Witch Project, starting with just a $60,000 budget and 8 days of shooting, astonished everyone when it grossed nearly $250 million worldwide and was named the 37th most profitable horror film and the fifth highest-earning independent film of all time.

Despite the seemingly amateur shooting, shaky camera footage, and poor focusing, the director’s brilliant approach to promotion got the film seen by millions of people within weeks of release. And the filmmakers made a career fortune with the film!

Long before the movie was even released, a website confirmed that the storyline was actually true, and the urban legend became the talk of the town.

Once the seed was planted and the movie started getting hype, the “real-life” mystery and the psychological games with the suspense of anticipating the next move.

This is considered a great example of how the artistic freedom of an independent production can create a cultural phenomenon.

What Is An Indie Film – Wrapping Up

What is an indie film? That question could be answered in several ways. The simple answer would be to say that it’s a film produced outside of the traditional studio system.

But, if you are not from Hollywood, that may not be much of an answer.

Perhaps, instead of asking what is an indie film, you should consider what makes it an indie film.

Indie films are like a breath of fresh air compared to Hollywood blockbusters. These filmmakers are unbridled by budgets and rely on their creativity rather than CG effects.

Yes, indie films can be great. But they’re not just for film snobs and pretentious film majors. Indie films are often more authentic, moving, and intimate than Hollywood blockbusters.

As we’re discovered, the term ‘indie film’ is often used to refer to any low-budget, independently-produced motion picture. Usually, but not always, produced without the benefit of studio backing.

And although it’s true that indie film financing comes with a major disadvantage when compared to Hollywood standards – you can’t raise a lot of money – this kind of budgeting can be liberating. And it does keep the Hollywood moguls’ hands off your work!

We sincerely hope you’ve found this article on what is an indie film useful. Are you an indie filmmaker? Let us know in the comments section just below this article.