When Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider was released, it was meant to be a secret indie subversion that sneaked its way into theaters. Not only did it make a huge amount of money, but it changed all of filmmaking culture for nearly a decade.
Mad Max was a low-budget Ozploitation flick that didn't enjoy a big American release. At least not at first. It became a cult hit, and spawned several sequels, one of which was nominated for Best Picture just last year. It more or less invented the post-apocalypse genre as we know it.
Few talk about this one anymore, but in 1996, it was a big deal. A little film about John Travolta gaining super mental powers for a short while became a darling in the indie circuit, then the mainstream circuit.
The Farrelly Bros. rules late '90s comedy with a fluid-soaked fist, thanks to the slow roll-out of this unexpectedly large gross-out comedy/romance. This film birthed a subgenre that lasted for the next six or seven years.
Made for a budget of $5 (well, actually, it was $60,000), this found-footage horror movie shook the world with its bracing aesthetic, and became one of the highest grossing films of all time in terms of cost-to-earnings ratio.
M. Night Who? This tale of a young boy who can see ghosts also had a slow roll-out in 1999, and word of mouth turned it into a juggernaut. It was eventually nominated for Best Picture.
A success story for the ages, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a shabby-but-charming little indie flick that managed to stay in theaters for many, many months, eventually gaining a huge amount of money and cultural goodwill.
Shabby, silly, and fitfully funny, Napoleon Dynamite quickly became a cult hit for its oddball characters and wry sense of humor. In 2004, this was the film to see. To this day, you can get Napoleon Dynamite merchandise. And odd thing for a little indie flick.
Thanks to a sonorous narration from Morgan Freeman, and a brilliant preview that featured Braveheart-type music, a documentary about freaking penguins took the world by storm. It ended up getting an Oscar for Best Documentary.
Oh my gosh! Movies about women make money! This was the constant exclamation from a shocked public when Paul Fieg's dirty comedy struck gold in May of 2011. Yes, it turns out we like movies with women in them. This film also cemented Melissa McCarthy as a talent to look out for. She hasn't matched this film since.