7 Beloved Movies You Didn't Know Debuted At Sundance

by Zach Seemayer 12:49 AM PST, January 23, 2015

The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah has always been a place for independent spirit, unique storytelling and movies that challenge the so-called "rules" of film making.

Often, this translates to weird, unmarketable character studies that either never see the light of day or are shoved off onto VOD platforms without so much as a single advertisement. But this isn't always the case. In fact, some of the most beloved, iconic films of the last 20 years got their start in the many hallowed screens scattered across the small snow-covered city.

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Here are seven hugely popular films that you'd never guess came out of the Sundance Film Festival.


Reservoir Dogs: Quentin Tarantino's debut feature – about the aftermath of a botched diamond heist and the paranoia that grows between the culprits when it's revealed that one of them is secretly a cop – premiered at Sundance in 1992, where it quickly became a festival hit. Miramax picked the film up for distribution not long after.


The Usual Suspects: While this wasn't exactly the kind of indie movie that Sundance is known for, this star-studded crime classic from director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie screened – although not in competition – at the 1995 Sundance Festival. The film – which follows both the twisted chain of events following a heist and a sinister crime lord named Keyser Soze – went on to launch the careers of both Singer and McQuarrie.

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The Blair Witch Project: While it wasn't technically the first found footage horror movie, it was far and away the most successful. In fact, this micro-budget horror flick, from directors Daniel Murick and Eduardo Sanchez, has gone down as one of the most profitable indie movies ever made. Reportedly shot for $35,000, Artisan Entertainment bought the film when it premiered at Sundance in 1999 for $1.1 million. Once released, it went on to earn a worldwide gross of over $248 million. Then, it went on to inspire approximately $300 million* other found footage-style horror films over the last 16 years.
*That number is just a rough estimate.


American Psycho - Christian Bale's tour de force performance as the eponymous lunatic was enjoyed by audiences in Park City before the rest of the world was given the opportunity to see director Mary Harron's masterpiece. The film premiered at the festival in 2000, where it reportedly was received with equal parts adoration and disgust.

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Memento: Before Christopher Nolan was blowing up Gotham City, exploring dream worlds and sending Matthew McConaughey through intergalactic wormholes, he was telling the complex, experimental story of a man with short-term memory loss who is hunting down the men who killed his wife. This Guy Pearce-lead non-linear thriller screened at Sundance in 2001 where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.


Saw: Director James Wan's gory slasher classic, which follows the intricate machinations of the serial killer known as Jigsaw and spawned six sequels, was picked up by Lionsgate before it even premiered at Sundance in 2004. The film played in Park City on three different nights, and was famously packed at every screening.


Hustle and Flow: Made on a relatively small budget ($2.8 million), director Craig Brewer's gritty tale of a pimp (Terrance Howard) who tries to become a successful hip-hop emcee, went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song, and get Terrance Howard his only Oscar nomination so far. Before that, the film debuted in Park City in 2005 where it went on to win Sundance's Audience Award, the Cinematography Award, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.

VIDEO: 12 Movie Sequels We Can't Wait to See in 2015

There are some pretty great films to look forward to at Sundance this year – not to mention a slew of exciting offerings hitting theaters in 2015. Check out the video below to look at the upcoming films we're most excited to watch this year.

You can follow Zach Seemayer on Twitter @ZachSeemayer for more Sundance commentary and fun movie news.