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The Best Independent Films Starring Huge Hollywood Actors

Updated June 14, 2019 965 votes 209 voters 26.1k views20 items

If you're an independent filmmaker, the best way to get people to see your film is to put a huge star in the leading role. Or to be sneaky and cast a major star in a tiny role and put them at the front of the billing. This list is all about independent films that feature major level talent. Not the films that stars appeared in when they were just starting out, but the films they had a burning desiring to make after finding success. Whether celebrity passion projects or just good indie films that made it to the top of the submissions pile, these movies were lucky enough to have a famous actor take note, and sign on.

Some stars return to the indie scene to regain a once lost credibility, some work on a "one for you, one for me" type of agreement with studios, while others just like to work - no matter what type of film they're appearing in. A lot of the independent movies on this list were made directly after the star in question appeared in a massive blockbuster film (usually involving giant robots blowing up Paris). These famous actors in indie roles took the time to make something they cared about, rather than just another superhero film, or formulaic romcom. 

On this list of A-List actors that appear in independent films, you'll find all your favorite leading men and leading ladies playing everything from mopey versions of themselves, mopey boxing enthusiasts, or even a mopey grocery store clerk. Throw on your horn rimmed glasses, dye your hair blue, and check out this list of indie films starring famous actors.

Which of these indie performances by Holllywood stars do you think was the best? Which other movie stars do you think should tackle an indie movie role? Let us know in the comments section!
  • In 1994, John Travolta was more known for disco dancing and doing the hand jive than being a serious actor, but all that changed when Quentin Tarantino chose him to play Vincent Vega in his magnum opus. Made for around $8 million and produced by the Weinsteins (who else?!), the film went on to win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and inspire generations of bad Halloween costumes.
    • Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
    • Actors: John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken
    • Released: 1994
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  • The film that launched a thousand shots of couples lying on the ground! Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind makes stars a bevy of A-List talent: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, and Elijah Wood all put in time on this indie film that explores the mystery of love and the effect of memory, while making us all swoon.
      
    • Directed by: Michel Gondry
    • Actors: Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Carrey, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood
    • Released: 2004
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  • It seems strange now, looking back on the success of Lost in Translation, a small film revolving around the impossible romance between Bill Murray and the then unknown Scarlett Johansson - but this movie was almost never made. Writer and director Sofia Coppola wrote the movie with Murray in mind and insisted that she wouldn't film it if he didn't accept the role. Murray never signed a contract, but at the last minute he showed up in Tokyo and hipster history was made. 
    • Directed by: Sofia Coppola
    • Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Hiromix
    • Released: 2003
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  • After appearing on Dawson's Creek for six years, Michelle Williams could have written her own paychecks in Hollywood, but instead she decided to appear in this quiet indie film about a community of unexpected friends figuring out what to do with their lives (it is an independent movie, after all). The film only cost $500,000 and was shot in just 20 days, making it one of the least expensively made films on this list. 

    And yeah, that's Peter Dinklage.
    • Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
    • Actors: Michelle Williams, Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, John Slattery, Paula Garcés
    • Released: 2003
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