Some of Sundance’s most successful films

Over the years, the Sundance Film Festival has showcased a wealth of films that went on to widespread critical and commercial success. These success stories have bolstered Sundance’s status as one of the premiere film festivals in the United States.

Take a look at some of the Sundance films that have left the biggest imprint. (There are definitely more, but we narrowed it.)

“Napoleon Dynamite”: Created by locals Jared and Jerusha Hess, “Napoleon Dynamite” became one of the most unlikely Sundance success stories. Made on a budget of only $400,000, the film went on to make nearly $45 million, launching the careers of the Hesses as well as Jon Heder, who played Napoleon. Flippin’ sweet!

“Super Size Me”: Debuting at Sundance in 2004, “Super Size Me” famously put McDonald’s on blast, as director Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for an entire month. Spurlock’s physical transformation, and his investigation into the fast food company’s culinary and marketing tactics, had a major impact not only the public consciousness, but on McDonald’s itself: The company has since tried to change its image and, to an extent, its menu.

“Four Weddings and a Funeral”: The 1994 romantic comedy starring Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant began cementing Sundance’s mainstream potential. Not only did it earn more nearly $250 million at the box office — becoming history’s highest grossing British film at the time — but it was nominated for Best Picture at the 1995 Academy Awards. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” also made Grant a star.

“The Blair Witch Project”: Made on a budget of $25,000, “The Blair Witch Project” took the world by storm after its 1999 Sundance debut, making $248 million worldwide. Its spooky, faux-documentary style spurned an entire sub-genre that still persists today.

“Hoop Dreams”: Considered the most critically acclaimed documentary of all time, “Hoop Dreams” follows two young inner-city basketball players for five years, showing the myriad obstacles between them and their NBA aspirations.

“The Usual Suspects”: Later winning Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Spacey), “The Usual Suspects” is one of the best noir crime thrillers of the past few decades. Director Bryan Singer went on to direct “Apt Pupil,” “Valkyrie” and most of the “X-Men” movies.

“Reservoir Dogs”: While we’re discussing noir crime thrillers, we can’t leave out “Reservoir Dogs.” Quentin Tarantino made his directorial debut here, showing the kind of incisive dialogue, brutal violence and madcap genius that would define his oeuvre.

“When We Were Kings”: When it comes to sports documentaries — heck, even documentaries in general — it doesn’t get much better than “When We Were Kings.” The documentary chronicles the 1974 title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Held in Africa, “The Rumble in the Jungle” became a worldwide cultural extravaganza with no lack of high drama. The documentary expertly captures the frenzy and suspense.

“500 Days of Summer”: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are a match made in romantic comedy heaven, even if their characters here are purposely ill-suited for each other. Inventive direction, charming performances and a unique storytelling structure made “500 Days of Summer” an engaging, insightful portrait of unrequited love.


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