Roger and Me

Roger and Me
1990 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Michael Moore
Budget: $140,000
Box Office: $7.7 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Other films at Sundance that year: The KillerSweetie

I can’t even imagine what the evolution of documentary films might have looked like without Michael Moore. Roger and Me was his feature film directing debut, and took a look at the filmmaker’s home town of Flint Michigan, which had suffered a huge economic blow thanks to General Motors CEO Roger Smith closing several auto plants  costing 30,000 people their jobs at the time. The film became the most successful documentary in American history when it was released, earning many multiples more than the previous highest grossing non-musical documentary. In 2013 the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


1991 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Budget: $23,000
Box Office: $1.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Other films at Sundance that year: American Dream, City of Hope

This two-day, two-part series might be called “The Best Movies Of Sundance Film Festival History” but it should be titled “How Richard Linklater Became The King of Park City.” Slacker was Linklater’s feature film debut, and you will see his films many times as we work our way to present day. Slacker was unlike any film most had ever seen at the time of its premiere.  Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, “Slacker is a movie with an appeal almost impossible to describe, although the method of the director, Richard Linklater, is as clear as day. He wants to show us a certain strata of campus life at the present time”. Slacker was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the festival.

This is another one of the key films that is pointed to for its significant impact on the independent film movement of the 1990s. Many filmmakers were inspired by this movie, notably Kevin Smith, who you will find later in our Sundance journey. This is another film which was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs
1992 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Budget: $1.2 million
Box Office: $22 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Other films at Sundance that year: Errol Morris’ A Brief History of Time, Brother’s Keeper, The Waterdance

Quentin Tarantino exploded onto the scene with his feature film debut Reservoir Dogs, which made its world premiere at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. It was the  most talked-about film of that year’s festival and was quickly picked up for distribution. Well received critically now ranked in the top 100 films of all time on various lists, the film was a huge box office success for an independent film. This film, like the previous few on this list, inspired a generation of filmmakers.

Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled
1993 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: John Woo
Budget: $4.5 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Other films at Sundance that year: Robert Rodriguez’s debut El MariachiLike Water For Chocolate

The story follows a “tough-as-nails cop teams up with an undercover agent to shut down a sinister mobster and his crew.” This 1992 Hong Kong action film didn’t premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, but the Sundance screening helped John Woo to find an American audience. In fact, this was his last Hong Kong-produced film before he went to Hollywood to make American action movies. Hard Boiled was also more well-received in the US than it was in Hong Kong. Many film critics believe Hard Boiled‘s action scenes as some of the best ever filmed.


1994 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Kevin Smith
Won: Filmmaker Trophy Dramatic
Budget: $$27,575
Box Office: $3.15 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Other films at Sundance that year: Hoop Dreams, David O. Russell’s debut Spanking the Monkey, Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites, My Crazy Life

This is the feature film debut of writer/filmmaker Kevin Smith, whose name for many years was almost synonymous with Sundance. The story of Kevin Smith’s rise has been told over and over. After seeing Linklater’s Slacker, Smith became inspired to make his own movie. He sold a large portion of his comic book collection and maxed out ten credit cards to fund this black and white 16mm film, which was produced for only $27,575. Smith worked in the convenience store during the day and shot the film at night when it was closed. Miramax head Harvey Weinstein quickly purchased the film at Park City, paying for a cool rock soundtrack.

I do want to spotlight that the 1994 Sundance Film Festival also saw the premiere of the amazing documentary Hoop Dreams, and David O. Russell’s debut Spanking the Monkey, but I picked Clerks as I think the film had a more significant impact on independent film and pop culture.

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