Sundance, Started by Robert Redford, Turns 40 This Year Plus 12 of the Best Breakout Movies

181016 01: Robert Redford poses for a picture at the Sundance Film Festival January 21, 1994 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Redford is master of ceremony at the festival which promotes the best in independent filmmaking.
Tom Smart/Liaison

The Sundance Film Festival happens each year and aims to find the best new movies and brightest stars. Actor Robert Redford had the idea for Sundance in the early 1980s when his career was really hot and this year, it celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer John Nein said, “There was really an effort to really develop a group of independent storytellers through the lab process, through advisors and through honing the development of films. Something that didn’t really have an outlet outside of the Hollywood system.” It was a way for more independent filmmakers to have support from someone in Hollywood without going through studios, who often fought with filmmakers and changed their direction.

EL NORTE, poster art, 1983,

Cinecom Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

In 1981, 10 emerging filmmakers were invited and worked with actors, writers, and directors on their projects. The very first film produced through these labs was 1983’s El Norte. In 1985, the Sundance Institute took over the U.S. Film Festival and started to become more well-known, with audiences wanting their spot at the festival. Now, it is the largest film festival in the United States with thousands attending each year.

Sundance is responsible for launching the careers of filmmakers who are now some of the best in the biz including Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Steven Soderbergh. It has also debuted some of the most famous movies of all time, many of which became cult classics including Clerks and The Blair Witch Project. Fun fact, many of the films nominated around award season made their debuts at Sundance.

Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart during 1999 Sundance Film Festival - "Jawbreaker" Portraits at Outside Zoom Restaurant on Main Street in Park City, Utah, United States.

Randall Michelson/WireImage

Stars of Jawbreaker Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart during 1999 Sundance Film Festival


This year, the Sundance Film Festival takes place from January 18 to January 28 in Park City, Utah. It will feature new films Love Me, Love Machina, Sujo, Out of My Mind, and many more. Now, let’s revisit some of the best, most nostalgic films to come out of Sundance:

Blood Simple (1984)

BLOOD SIMPLE, Frances McDormand, John Getz, 1984

Everett Collection

A jealous bar owner hires a malevolent private detective to kill his straying wife and her lover.

Directed by: Cohen Brothers

Stars: Frances McDormand, John Getz

Heathers (1989)

HEATHERS, Winona Ryder, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk, Shannen Doherty, 1988.

New World Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Quirky teen lovers topple a trio of too-cool Heathers at Westerburg High.

Directed by: Michael Lehmann

Stars: Winona Ryder, Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk and Shannen Doherty

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, key art, from left: Peter Gallagher, Laura San Ciacomo, Andie MacDowell, James Spader, 1989.

Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection

An impotent man with a video camera visits a yuppie lawyer who has both a wife and a lover.

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Peter Gallagher, Laura San Ciacomo, Andie MacDowell and James Spader

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

RESERVOIR DOGS, Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, 1992.

Miramax Films/Courtesy Everett Collection.

When a simple jewelry heist goes horribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, from left: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Bower, Simon Callow, Charlotte Coleman (seated), John Hannah, 1994,

Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Over the course of five social occasions, a committed bachelor must consider the notion that he may have discovered love.

Directed by:Mike Newell

Stars: Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Bower, Simon Callow, Charlotte Coleman (seated) and John Hannah

The Usual Suspects (1995)

THE USUAL SUSPECTS, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, 1995.

Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

A detective questions a con man about his relationships with assorted criminals and an explosion.

Directed by:Bryan Singer

Stars: Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Spacey

Big Night (1996)

BIG NIGHT, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Marc Anthony, 1996

Samuel Goldwyn/courtesy Everett Collection

Two Italian brothers hope to save their failing New Jersey restaurant by serving Louis Prima.

Directed by: Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott

Stars: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Marc Anthony, Allison Janney and Liev Schreiber

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Heather Donahue, 1999.

Artisan Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection

Found video footage tells the tale of three film students who travel to a small town to collect documentary footage about a legendary local murderer.

Directed by: Jared Hess

American Psycho (2000)

AMERICAN PSYCHO, Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, 2000

Everett Collection

In New York City in 1987, a handsome, young urban professional, Patrick Bateman, lives a second life as a gruesome serial killer by night.

Directed by: Mary Harron

Stars: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Samantha Mathis and Matt Ross

Memento (2001)

MEMENTO, Carrie-Anne Moss, Guy Pearce, 2000

Everett Collection

A man who is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife suffers from a rare form of short-term memory loss.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Carrie-Anne Moss, Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, Jon Gries, Jon Heder, Aaron Ruell, 2004,

Fox Searchlight/courtesy Everett Collection

In small Idaho town, a gawky teen, Napoleon, befriends the new kid, Pedro, and helps him run for class president.

Directed by: Jared Lawrence Hess

Stars: Jon Gries, Jon Heder and Aaron Ruell

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette, 2006.

Fox Searchlight/courtesy Everett Collection

A dysfunctional family takes a road trip to enter a daughter in a children’s beauty pageant.

Directed by:Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Stars: Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin and Toni Collette


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