5 of the Most Innovative Sundance Films

Published on February 1, 2019

The Sundance Film Festival, which happens annually in Park City, Utah, showcases dozens of the years hottest up and coming independent films. While some are, admittedly, duds, most of them go on to become major motion pictures in the coming months. Every now and then there comes a film to Sundance Film Festival that makes it into the canon of cult-classic favorites for years to come. Below we’ve listed some of Sundance’s top films over the course of the several decades that the festival has been in business, in no particular order.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

When Little Miss Sunshine broke into the indie film market at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival it really set the bar for future dramatic comedies. The touching, aesthetically pleasing film remains canonized as one of the most notable stories to this day. The film tells the story of a young girl who wishes to compete in beauty pageants. Despite not having access to the same level of wealth or standardized beauty as the other contestants, her family supports her and helps make her dream come true.

Along the way, the whole family learns a lot about each other and how to appreciate what they have. The film received critical acclaim at the festival and eventually went on to become a film industry phenomenon as a crowd favorite. Little Miss Sunshine stars Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, and Abigail Breslin.

Boyhood (2014)

The most ambitious coming of age drama in all of film history, Boyhood was an experimental project never before done in the film industry. Boyhood was shot over the course of a decade and a half, and follows a young boy named Mason as he grows up. The film feels very organic in that it was shot in small increments over the course of the casts life. Filming began in 2002 and wrapped up in 2014. Though Boyhood never quite made it into the mainstream in the same way that Little Miss Sunshine did, it did provide a touching, very realistic tale of a young boy growing up in a hectic world.

500 Days of Summer (2009)

It was the romantic comedy of the decade (and still may be). 500 Days of Summer stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young couple. The heartbreaking tale was structured and shot differently than most of its romantic comedy counterparts and provides a beautifully tragic look at a story of unrequited love.

Get Out (2017)

Get Out premiered as part of the midnight premieres in Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT category. Jordan Peele’s scathing critique of racial inequality in America went on to become one of the hottest movies of 2017. Starring Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out takes a look at common racial tropes we see in society today. It’s terrifying and shocking, which is precisely what made it so impactful when it was released to the public.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Lead actor Jon Heder was paid a shockingly low amount of $1000 to play Napoleon Dynamite. The film became a sleeper hit at the festival—and later on with a wide release. It was then solidified as a cult classic. The story follows Napoleon, a high school student living in rural Idaho with his brother, uncle, and grandmother. Napoleon falls in love, makes a friend, and even helps run a campaign for class president. The dry comedy film went on to profit over $40,000,000 in the US market alone.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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