Top 20 Most Financially Successful Sundance Films

January 13, 2008

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival first began in 1978 (as the U.S. Film Festival) and now we're days away from kicking off the 30th Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this coming Thursday. The fest has debuted some of the greatest independent films ever and has undoubtedly changed cinema and Hollywood forever. In anticipation of the upcoming fest, I've decided to look back at some of the most successful films, according to box office rankings, in the festival's history. This is a good reminder of the power of films that originate at Sundance and is a glimmer of hope for those budding filmmakers looking to one day debut at Sundance.

Films that did not officially premiere for the very first time at Sundance have not been included, as this list is looking at the Sundance successes only. Box office stats courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

1. The Blair Witch Project (Debuted in 1999) - $140.5M
2. Little Miss Sunshine (Debuted in 2006) - $59.9M
3. Saw (Debuted in 2004) - $55.2M
4. New Jack City (Debuted in 1991) - $47.6M
5. 28 Days Later (Debuted in 2003) - $45.1M
6. Napoleon Dynamite (Debuted in 2004) - $44.5M
7. In the Bedroom (Debuted in 2001) - $35.9M
8. Shine (Debuted in 1996) - $35.9M
9. One Hour Photo (Debuted in 2002) - $31.6M
10. Love & Basketball (Debuted in 2000) - $27.5M
11. Garden State (Debuted in 2004) - $26.8M
12. House Party (Debuted in 1990) - $26.4M
13. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Debuted in 1989) - $24.7M
14. The Usual Suspects (Debuted in 1995) - $23.3M
15. Hustle & Flow (Debuted in 2005) - $22.2M
16. Waitress (Debuted in 2007) - $19.1M
17. The Upside of Anger (Debuted in 2005) - $18.8M
18. Super Troopers (Debuted in 2001) - $18.5M
19. Empire (Debuted in 2002) - $17.5M
20. Boiler Room (Debuted in 2000) - $16.9M

Although films like Bottle Rocket, Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Donnie Darko, and other now classic films have all debuted at Sundance, none of them hit it big until they were out on DVD. It's considerably interesting to compare what most refer to as the big hitters or industry changers from Sundance and the films that were actually financially successful. Thankfully, Peter from SlashFilm has also put up his (currently unavailable) 10 Sundance Movies that Changed Film History article, which is a great counterpart to this one.

I'm definitely looking forward to quite a few of the films in 2008's line-up, and I really hope a few have as vast of an impact as most of the films mentioned above. Last year's Waitress made it onto the list as number 16, and it was only one of the many fantastic films I saw there (check out my full list from 2007). If only more of the movies that showed were even as remotely successful as the 20 listed above, this world would certainly be a different place. Unfortunately, too many great movies go unseen from Sundance, but that doesn't mean what does make it big still isn't great.

For all you budding filmmakers out there, this is the list you want to look up to. Hopefully your film will be on there somewhere years down the line! But don't forget there is a big difference between financial success and memorable success. For everyone else, this is a list that will hopefully remind you of the many great movies that have originated at Sundance and thus a reminder to follow our coverage starting next week. Sundance here we come!

Find more posts: Cool Stuff, Editorial, Sundance 08



I would say that those films became popular, by good word of mouth, long before DVD's were available. They might not have been as widely known as they're now, but they might have been successful in a different way.

Zach D. on Jan 13, 2008


Well, judging by the trend, look for a good horror film because 3 out of the top 5 are horrors.

Ryan on Jan 14, 2008


Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Pulp Fiction gross something along the lines of 215 million?

Thaddeus Madrid on Jan 15, 2008


So you're right about how much Pulp Fiction made: But it did not show at Sundance, only at Cannes. Tarantino is a bigger fan of Cannes than Sundance... Here are the release dates for Pulp Fiction: But interestingly, Tarantino is going to be at Sundance this year! We tried to get an interview but were shot down... Damn them!

Alex Billington on Jan 15, 2008


I'm making a low budget movie and hopefully i can make it big at the sundance festival. If you have any advice then pleae contact me via email.

Josh on Jun 15, 2008

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