The 10 Best Sundance Premieres as the Festival Hits 40th Anniversary

10 best sundance premieres

There are plenty of prestigious film festivals that we wait to hear about year-round, from TIFF to Cannes. Another favourite, The Sundance Film Festival, is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. Hosted by the Sundance Institute, it’s the largest independent film festival in the U.S. and has helped showcase some of the most creative films we know and love. In honour of their anniversary, we’ll be recapping our take on the 10 best Sundance premieres to celebrate its long history.

10 Best Sundance Premieres From The Film Festival

Thousands of films have premiered at the festival, making the 10 Best Sundance premieres no easy task to compile. Our picks are based on a variety of factors, including the film’s critical reception, awards wins, and, of course, a bit of personal taste. We’ll be listing them in no particular order because we love them all.

Little Miss Sunshine

Our list starts strong with one of the most heart-warming and funny films of the mid-2000s. The film follows the Hoover family as they take an 800-mile road trip so that the daughter, Olive, can compete in a Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant at a moment’s notice. An overworked mother, a failed life coach, a teenager taking a vow of silence, a foul-mouthed grandfather who is addicted to heroin, an unemployed scholar who was just released from the hospital for attempted suicide, and a pre-teen girl all pack themselves into a microbus and do their best to make it in time (and in one piece.)

Following the 2006 premiere at Sundance, the film was a box office hit. It earned over $100 million on an $8 million budget. Little Miss Sunshine was nominated for four Oscars (and took home the trophy for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.)

Little miss sunshine
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Get Out

Get Out feels like one of the most important contemporary horror films, and it’s hard to imagine a world before we saw it. Premiering at Sundance in 2017 and marking Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, the film follows a young Black man who goes to visit his girlfriend’s white family for the first time. Get Out provides a bold analysis of themes of neoliberalism, ignorance and arrogance, and the white saviour trope. I would never want to spoil the twist in this one, but if you haven’t seen it yet… Well, what are you waiting for?

The beloved film won plenty of accolades, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In addition to being a critical success, the film crushed it at the box office. It earned over $255 million on a $4.5 million budget, paving the way for Peele to become one of the most in-demand actors of the decade.

Image via Universal Pictures.


2014 brought us Whiplash and helped push writer and director Damien Chazelle to stardom. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons led the film, exploring themes of power, passion, and abusive mentors. Teller’s Andrew Neiman pursues a career as a jazz drummer through Shaffer Conservatory, where he meets instructor Terence Fletcher (Simmons.) He is pushed to his limits, walking the line between making and breaking it.

Simmons took home armfuls of trophies in the following awards season, including the Oscar. Whiplash showed up at all of the major awards shows and received nods for everything from editing to sound. It has become a favourite among fans of all genres and is worth a re-watch.

Image via Sony Pictures Classics.

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs had to make it on our list of the top 10 Sundance premieres. The 1992 movie marked legendary director Quentin Tarantino’s feature-length debut, bringing forth memorable performances and starting many fans’ love for the director. The plot sees a jewellery heist gone wrong, with the perpetrators forced to figure out which one of them blabbed to the police.

The film wasn’t an enormous financial success off the bat but has been regarded as a classic within its genre. It also helped put Tarantino on the map before Pulp Fiction came out two years later.

reservoir dogs
Image via Miramax Films.

American Psycho

American Psycho is a pretty controversial film (based on an even more controversial novel.) Nonetheless, it gave us the iconic character of Patrick Bateman, played by a never-better Christian Bale. Bateman, a young and successful investment banker, turns to killing innocent people. The film watches Bateman succumb to the pressures that he has brought upon himself while a private investigator (played by Willem Dafoe) tries to pin one of the murders on him.

The film had a modest financial success and was well-received at the time. Despite many of the controversies surrounding the violence and overall point of the film, it has earned a cult following that has grown since the 2000 premiere at Sundance. 

american psycho
Image via Lions Gate Films.

500 Days of Summer

This 2009 film is one of my personal favourites and the first film that I can remember that helped me fall in love with filmmaking. 500 Days of Summer tells a simple story about love and how we’re all capable of becoming unreliable narrators when it comes to relationships. Over 500 days and told in a non-linear fashion, we watch as Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls for Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) and deals with the consequences of mismatched expectations.

The film was a successful sleeper hit, praised for its incredible soundtrack and honest performances. It’s a movie that gets better with each re-watch as we become more critical of the protagonist’s actions. So, if it’s been a while since you’ve put it on, we recommend another stream.

500 days of summer
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Before Sunrise

Though I’m more partial toward its sequel, Before Sunrise is one of the most memorable films to come out of Sundance’s 40 years of films. This minimalistic film shares an intimate night between two strangers who meet on a train as they throw caution to the wind and navigate Vienna together in a single evening. This is a film where very little plot happens. Everything is about the relationship that builds between the two characters, Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.) It has left us wondering what would happen if we had the same bravery and if we’ve ever missed the potential for a deep connection to another person we’ve passed by.

The film turned into a trilogy that shares the story of Jesse and Celine as they embark on a life-long journey together and is often regarded as one of the best romantic films of all time. Despite not being a huge commercial or critical success at the time, we think Sundance struck gold with this film.

Before Sunrise
Image via Columbia Pictures.


Sundance marked the end of Memento’s premiere tour rather than the start of it. Though, it’s such a monumental film that we couldn’t leave it off this list on a technicality.

Nowadays, everybody knows the name Christopher Nolan. He may even be getting his long overdue first directing Oscar in the coming months for his most recent film, Oppenheimer. But in 2000, he was busy promoting his sophomore film, Memento. It’s a frustratingly intriguing film about a man who must track down who murdered his wife, all while he deals with severe memory loss. He must rely on notes and photos to help him piece together the mystery while the audience watches along through a non-linear narrative.

The film was an immediate success and helped cement Nolan’s position as an important up-and-coming director. He was especially praised for his nonlinear storytelling. Memento has gone on to be featured in the National Film Registry and maintains its cult following.

Memento, top 10 sundance premieres
Image via Summit Entertainment.


Boyhood is easily one of the most ambitious films in the coming-of-age genre. Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the film was created between 2002 and 2013. Without a complete script, they started filming a young set of characters and watched them grow up in real time, making the character development feel more genuine than most films can ever hope to achieve.

The admiration over the time it took to craft such a special film was the source of much of its love and accolades. It earned six Oscar nominations (including a win for Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette) and took many critic’s top movie spots for 2014.

Image via IFC Films.

Call Me By Your Name

I’m ending this list with my personal favourite Sundance premiere and one of my favourite films of all time (my cat is even named after the main character.) Call Me By Your Name premiered at the festival in 2017. Adapted from Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, it tells the story of 17-year-old Elio Perlman as he spends a usual summer in Northern Italy. The coming-of-age film looks at romance, desire, identity, and family dynamics in a soft and beautiful way, and we see young love flourish between Elio and Oliver, a graduate student visiting for the summer.

The film went on to earn significant accolades, especially for Timothee Chalamet’s portrayal of Elio. Screenplay writer James Ivory won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

call me by your name
Image via Sony Pictures Classics.

What Sundance Thinks

We aren’t the only ones compiling our list of top 10 best premieres from Sundance. The Sundance Institute themselves have also been taking a trip down memory lane! In honour of their 40th anniversary, the institute released its list of the all-time top ten films selected by the filmmaking community. Their list has plenty of crossover with ours, with a few other special inclusions. Here is a look at their list:

  • 10. Blood Simple (1985), Joel and Ethan Coen
  • 9. Y tu mamá también (2002), Alfonso Cuarón
  • 8. Boyhood (2014), Richard Linklater
  • 7. Before Sunrise (1995), Richard Linklater
  • 6. sex, lies and videotape (1989), Steven Soderbergh
  • 5. Memento (2001), Christopher Nolan
  • 4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
  • 3. Get Out (2017), Jordan Peele
  • 2. Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino
  • 1. Whiplash (2014), Damien Chazelle

The 10 Best Sundance Premieres Will Keep Growing

This year’s festival is taking place between January 18th to the 28th. In the Summers, written and directed by Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio, won the grand jury prize in the festival’s competition. The film features two daughters coming of age and coming to New Mexico for yearly visits to their father’s home.

Our top 10 Sundance premieres show that they are keen on taking on a variety of genres and that it is a festival that can catapult plenty of films to success. We have a lot of favourites, but we also want to hear yours. If you had to make a list of the top 10 best Sundance premieres, what would they be? Drop your opinions in the comments below!

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About Meghan

Film & Television & Fanfiction Writer | Mental Health Worker | Cat Mom