10 Actors Who Got Their Start in Indie Films

June 25, 2016

This list of independent films helped actors like George Clooney, Martin Sheen and Ellen Page launch their careers in Hollywood.

1. Robert PattinsonHow to Be (2008)

Robert Pattinson plays Art, who suffers from a midlife crisis about twenty years early.  He moves back in with his parents and tries to turn his life around with a self-help book and a Canadian therapist.  How to Be opened at the 2008 Strasbourg International Film Festival, where Pattinson received the Best Actor in a Feature Film award.

robert pattinson how to be, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of MTV.

2. Jesse EisenbergThe Squid and the Whale (2005)

This Wes Anderson production won the Best Dramatic Direction and Screenwriting awards at Sundance in 2005.  Jesse Eisenberg plays a son to Jeff Daniels, who is splitting up with his wife.  Eisenberg’s character has to choose sides. In this emotionally difficult time, he visits a psychologist who asks him about his fondest childhood memory.  This is when he recalls the squid and whale exhibit he visited as a child.

the squid and the whale, jesse eisenberg, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of Hot Flick.

3. Ellen PageHard Candy (2005)

Ellen Page plays a 14-year-old vigilante in a crime drama about a teenage girl who raids a man’s home because she suspects he is a pedophile.  Page won the Austin Film Critics Best Actress Award in 2007 for her role in Hard Candy.  The film also won the Catalonian International Film Festival’s Audience Award, Best Film, and Best Screenplay awards in 2005.

ellen page, hard candy, independent film, the audience awards

Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

4. Natasha LyonneSlums of Bevery Hills (1998)

Before she got her start in American Pie and was a star of Orange is the New Black, Natasha Lyonne starred in the coming-of-age comedy, Slums of Beverly Hills. Lyonne plays a teenage girl who just doesn’t want to be embarrassed by her parents while she moves from place to place in order to attend a prestigious high school. For her role as Vivian Abromowitz, Lyonne was nominated by the Chicago Film Critics Association for the Most Promising Actress award.

Natasha lyonne

Image courtesy of rmccurdy.

5. Vince VaughnSwingers (1996)

Vince Vaughn plays an unemployed sexy actor in this 1996 comedy-drama.  The young actor takes a spontaneous trip to Las Vegas with his new best friend, played by Jon Favreau.  They proceed to hit on women and barely avoid getting into fights.  Swingers won the MTV Best New Filmmaker Award in 1997 and the Florida Film Critics Circle Newcomer of the Year Award in 1997.

vince vaughn, the audience awards, independent films, swingers

Image courtesy of Derek Winnert.

6. Ewan McGregorShallow Grave (1994)

This dark comedy was the debut feature of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director, Danny Boyle.  Ewan McGregor stars as a British journalist in this dark comedy.  Shallow Grave won 14 awards, amongst them the Angers European First Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Screenplay and Liberation Advertisement awards.

ewan mcgregor, shallow grave, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of DivX Clasico.

7. Matthew McConaugheyDazed and Confused (1993)

This cult classic features Matthew McConaughey in a classic role.  He lights up a J at the 50-yard line and unapologetically hits on teenage girls.  While this film never won any awards (although it arguably should have), it provided breakthrough roles for not only McConaughey but also Ben Affleck.

matthew mcconaughey, dazed and confused, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of Pop Culture Blog Dallas News.

8. Jennifer AnistonLeprechaun (1993)

This film may be more appropriately considered a low-budget movie than an independent film, but nonetheless it’s funny to watch Jennifer Aniston run from a sadistic Leprechaun.

jennifer aniston, leprechaun, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of Damn Good Cup.

9. George ClooneyReturn to Horror High (1987)

George Clooney debuts as police officer Oliver in this ‘80s comedy-murder mystery. The murderer struck the Crippen High School, which was then abandoned.  Years later, a production company decides to make an on-location movie about the events.  The cast and crew of  the production then begin to disappear.

george clooney, return to horror high, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of She Knows.

10. Johnny DeppNightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this slasher horror film that borders on low budget, Johnny Depp debuts in his first cinematic teenage heartthrob role.  In A Nightmare on Elm Street, a child murderer stalks members of the young lynch mob that killed him.johnny depp, nightmare on elm street, independent films, the audience awards

Image courtesy of What Culture.


Which ones would you add? Let us know in the comments!

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