Indie Movies That Made Stars, Stars

Jeremy Renner in 'The Hurt Locker'
Thank goodness for Jeremy Renner’s pitch-perfect performance in 2008’s ‘The Hurt Locker.’ His portrayal of Sergeant First Class William James was a game-changer, and caught the attention of Oscar. And now? He’s practically in every new movie coming out. (Now, where’s the same treatment for the very talented Anthony Mackie?)
Anna Kendrick in 'Up in the Air'
Sure, Anna Kendrick is mostly known by tweens for her work as Bella Swan’s friend in the ‘Twilight’ saga, but her star really broke in 2009 when she played opposite George Clooney in ‘Up in the Air,’ which transformed her into a household name outside Edward-plastered bedrooms.
Jesse Eisenberg in 'The Squid and The Whale'
You know what’s cooler than a million dollars? A breakout performance that guarantees a career of major successes, of course. Watching Eisenberg’s character cope with his parents' divorce in the 2005 film was emotionally honest, heartfelt, and funny — showing the potential that made him become the Oscar-nominated star that he is today.
Carey Mulligan in 'An Education'
Mulligan’s turn in the brilliant ‘An Education’ proved that this lovely Brit was more than just a pretty face (or, at the time, Shia LaBeouf’s girlfriend). Her nuanced and vulnerable performance opposite Peter Sarsgaard in the 2009 film was a stunning way to portray a coming-of-age story, and one that rocketed Carey into up-and-coming superstar status.
Donald Glover in 'Mystery Team'
Before his stint as Troy on ‘Community’ — and before Glover worked as a writer on ’30 Rock’ — one of our favorite new comedian-slash-rappers got his start starring alongside his buddies in the 2009 indie flick ‘Mystery Team,’ which showcased his talent and unique way of looking at things. It’s easy to see why his career, as Magnitude would say, pop popped!
Elizabeth Olsen in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'
The Secret Olsen (Bonus Olsen? Attic Olsen?) came out of seemingly nowhere to wow us all with her riveting performance in 2011’s ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene,’ guaranteeing her a career that will — in the very least — rival that of her sisters’, if not supersede them. Her performance in this film showed that Olsen had big-time potential.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in 'Good Will Hunting'
Hard to believe these headliners were ever no-names. Damon and Affleck have arguably THE indie rag-to-riches breakout story of the past 20 years. The duo wrote and starred in 1997’s ‘Good Will Hunting,’ which turned them into the ultra-mega-superstars that they have become.
Ellen Page in 'Juno'
Has an indie film ever become as popular and well-loved as ‘Juno’ has in the past five years? And thanks to Ellen Page’s star-making turn as a pregnant and precocious teen in the 2007 film, it also made her a household name. We have ‘Juno’ to thank for plenty of pop culture references (the burger phone!) and witty repartee, but giving us Ellen Page was its biggest accomplishment, homeskillet.
Guy Pearce in 'Memento'
Guy Pearce starred in the cult favorite ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,’ but his real star-making turn came in the form of the mind-bending 2000 Christopher Nolan flick, ‘Memento.’ His deft handling of the short-term memory loss-afflicted main character Leonard Shelby cannot, fittingly, be forgotten.
Felicity Jones in 'Like Crazy'
Felicity Jones’ performance in ‘Like Crazy’ was gut-wrenching and devastating in the best possible way. The movie, which was largely improvised (aside from some plot points and general direction from the director), showed how emotionally vulnerable Felicity could make herself — making her one of the breakout stars of 2011. We’re, like, crazy over her too.
Greta Gerwig in 'Hannah Takes the Stairs'
Greta Gerwig enjoyed considerable of buzz for her turn in the 2007 indie film ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs,’ which she co-wrote and starred in. Her understated acting and real portrayal of twentysomething life, which undoubtedly got her a pretty sweet gig starring against Ben Stiller in ‘Greenberg,’ launched Greta into on-the-rise it-girl status. Her natural comfort in front of the camera made her a full-out star to watch — and though she has yet to catapult into superstardom, we’re still keeping an eye out.
Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Donnie Darko'
Yes, Gyllenhaal had a lead role in non-indie ‘October Sky’ before ‘Donnie Darko,’ but the 2001 cult favorite all but demanded that audiences recognize the actor for more than just his baby blues. His brooding performance showed an impressive range — after all, this was the same man who starred in the “comedy” ‘Bubble Boy’ the same year.
Scarlett Johansson in 'Ghost World'
Johansson played the perfect counterpoint to Thora Birch’s Enid in the 2001 film, paving the way for her star turn in ‘Lost in Translation.’ ‘Ghost World’ showed off the actress’ ability to play a misfit — and allowed audiences to learn that Johansson is more than just a pretty face.
Quentin Tarantino in 'Reservoir Dogs'
Quentin Tarantino took on triple duty in his big 1992 debut — both as the director, writer AND actor — and showed the world that Quentin was a force to be reckoned with. Critics and audiences took notice of his highly stylized first feature-length film, and, just two years later, gobbled up the Oscar-nominated ‘Pulp Fiction’ like it was a Royale with Cheese. Now, if only we could fast-forward our lives to December to see Tarantino’s highly anticipated ‘Django Unchained.’
Viola Davis in 'Doubt'
Primarily a stage actress prior to her breakout role in 2008’s ‘Doubt,’ her Mrs. Miller left Hollywood — not to mention the Academy — little, well, doubt as to her immense talent. Follow that success with another Oscar-nominated turn in 2011’s ‘The Help,’ and it’s easy to imagine that Davis will soon take her place at the podium.
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