John Cassavetes is commonly referred to as the Godfather of Independent Film. While independent filmmakers existed from the moment the medium was invented, Cassavetes pioneered the inside/outside model that became more common in later years—that model being, he made money by working within the Hollywood system and then used his own money to make films that experimented with form and catered to a more discerning audience.
I just stumbled across an old document on my computer, in which I was responding to a request from Filmmaker Magazine for a list of the “Top 10 American Indies.” The timestamp indicates that I wrote this in July of 1996, and I have no recollection of whether it actually ran in the magazine. However, I thought I would throw it up here and see if I can get a rise out of anyone.
I think the list holds up well, and the only film I would be tempted to add is “Pulp Fiction,” which I would characterize as the film that started the decline and eventual end to what we used to call American Independent Cinema.
For what it’s worth, here is the list. Feel free to comment with your own ideas.
These, in order, would be my choices for the top 10 most important (as in influential or breakthrough) American Independent Films: