Any list of the most breakthrough independent films of the 21st century is bound to include some, if not all, of the following titles: “Boyhood,” “The Babadook,” “Frances Ha,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” The connection between these releases is IFC Films, the indie distributor now celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020. IFC Films has become one of the definitive indie film studios over its first two decades by supporting visions from the world's most beloved auteurs, including Richard Linklater, Jennifer Kent, Noah Baumbach, Olivier Assayas, Steve McQueen, the Safdie brothers, Lars von Trier, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Andrea Arnold, and Alfonso Cuarón.
IFC Films started its historic run with the December 2000 release of “Spring Forward,” the Tom Gilroy drama starring Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber as two parks department workers in New England who forge a friendship over a year working together. The early movies of IFC Films were similarly modest in design and performance, from the Dogme 95 entry “The King Is Alive” to the Marisa Tomei-Vincent D'Onofrio romance “Happy Accidents” and documentaries such as “Keep the River on Your Right” and “Go Tigers!” Then came 2002, an explosive year that put IFC Films on the map thanks to an out-of-nowhere rom-com blockbuster and a Mexican road film that dominated the international film circuit.
Explore the history of IFC Films with IndieWire's list of 20 films that define the first 20 years of the studio. Films are presented in chronological order below.
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“Y Tu Mamá También” 2001
One of the earliest titles to put IFC on the map was Alfonso Cuarón's 2001 road trip drama “Y Tu Mamá También,” starring Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, and Maribel Verdú. The studio picked up the film's North American distribution rights shortly after it set a record in Mexico for the country's biggest opening weekend gross. IFC released “Y Tu Mamá También” in October, a smart choice to build awards buzz that had already been growing since Cuarón took home the Best Screenplay prize at the Venice Film Festival the previous month. The drama ended up grossing $13 million in the U.S., a major feat not just for a foreign-language movie but also for a film released without a rating. IFC released the drama unrated to avoid the dreaded NC-17. On its way to landing an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, “Y Tu Mamá También” picked up Best Foreign Film trophies from the Indie Spirit Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Critics' Choice Awards.
“Y Tu Mamá También” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and Hybrid Partnerships 2001-2005
IFC exploded in the early 2000s thanks to three titles that were hybrid releases between the studio and partnering companies. By far the biggest was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” a landmark 2002 indie release that remains the biggest romantic comedy of all time with $241 million at the U.S. box office. “Greek Wedding” even landed an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Next up was the 2004 release of Michae Moore's Palme d'Or-winning documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” released through FLIC Distributors made up of IFC Films, Lionsgate, and Fellowship Adventure Group. The controversial release ended up becoming the highest-grossing documentary film in history. Then there was the success of “Transamerica,” a joint release between IFC and TWC that earned $9 million in the U.S. and scored Felicity Huffman a Golden Globe for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination in the same category.
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“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” 2007
IFC released back-to-back Palme d'Or winners in the mid-2000s, first handling Ken Loach's “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” in 2006 and then distributing Cristian Mungiu's devastating Romanian drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” in 2007. Mungiu's abortion drama remains one of the studio's most critically adored titles. Set in Communist Romania in the late 1980s, the film follows two university students who set out on a dangerous mission to obtain an illegal abortion. That IFC was able to crack the $1 million mark at the U.S. box office with such a hard-hitting look at abortion is no small feat.
“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“My Winnipeg” 2007
IFC's commitment to supporting filmmakers no matter how challenging or profitable the vision is summed up in the release of Guy Maddin's surrealist mockumentary “My Winnipeg,” which finds the director blending fact and fiction while exploring his Manitoba hometown. Maddin himself described the movie as “docu-fantasia,” which isn't exactly a selling point at the box office. “My Winnipeg” was hardly a box-office hit for IFC it failed to make back its $500,000 production budget, but it cemented the studio as a destination for cinephiles seeking uncompromised auteur visions.
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IFC is credited with bringing Steve McQueen into U.S. theaters as the distributor of the director's breakout debut “Hunger,” starring Michael Fassbender as IRA freedom fighter and hunger strike leader Bobby Sands. The film got its start at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Caméra d'Or for first-time filmmaking. Between “Hunger” and next year's “Fish Tank” see below, Fassbender fans have IFC to thank for helping the actor gain traction and acclaim in North America.
One of IFC FIlms' strengths is betting on debut directors see McQueen above, and the studio is responsible for introducing Josh and Benny Safdie to the U.S. as the distributor of their breakthrough second feature “Daddy Longlegs,” which centers on a New York City film projectionist Ronald Bronstein and his relationship with his two sons. “Daddy Longlegs” picked up buzz in the Directors' Fortnight section of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival before landing at Sundance in 2010 ahead of a summer theatrical release. Bronstein won the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor and the film was awarded the John Cassavetes Award at the Indie Spirit Awards, setting the Safdie brothers up for the major indie film career they have now.
“Daddy Longlegs” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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IFC Films' long-running relationship with provocateur Lars von Trier started in 2005 with the release of “Manderlay,” a spiritual sequel to “Dogville” starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Willem Dafoe. But it was the next collaboration between the studio and the director, plus star Dafoe, that will always make IFC a special place for von Trier enthusiasts. Enter “Antichrist.” Von Trier's bleak psychological horror film stars Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a married couple spiraling into despair after the death of their child. Gainsbourg won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and von Trier's erotic and disturbing imagery plus the “chaos reigns” fox continue to make “Antichrist” one of the most definitive IFC releases. The studio would partner with the director for a third time in 2018 with “The House That Jack Built.”
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“Fish Tank” 2009
Widely regarded as a gold standard in the coming-of-age genre, Andrea Arnold's “Fish Tank” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the BAFTA Award for Best British Film. Arnold had previously directed the feature film “Red Road,” but it was IFC's release of “Fish Tank” that brought the director across the pond with a breakthrough drama that earned across-the-board raves from U.S. critics. “Fish Tank” stars Katie Jarvis as a volatile teenager who begins an affair with her mother's new boyfriend, played in a star-making role by Michael Fassbender.
“Fish Tank” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“The Human Centipede” 2009
Thanks to the release of Tom Six's “The Human Centipede,” IFC will always have a spot in the horror hall of fame, for better or worse. The infamous body horror movie stars Dieter Laser as a surgeon who tortures young adults by connecting them mouth to rectum. “The Human Centipede” was not a box-office hit, but it became a sensational cult favorite and launched a franchise for IFC Films that would continue with two sequels in 2011 and 2015, both of which managed to be more gruesome and more disturbing than the previous. Any list of controversial movies is bound to mention “The Human Centipede,” and the franchise remains IFC's most notorious.
“The Human Centipede” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“Certified Copy” 2010
IFC's history of success with foreign-language films dates back to “Y Tu Mamá También,” and it hit another crescendo with the 2010 opening ofAbbas Kiarostami's “Certified Copy.” The drama starsWilliam Shimell and Juliette Binoche as a writer and an antiques dealer whose blossoming relationship over the course of the day takes on the shape of an Escher optical illusion.Binoche won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and last year IndieWire named “Certified Copy” the third best movie of the decade. The film also broke the $1 million at the U.S. box office, a high point inKiarostami's career.
“Certified Copy” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“The Trip” 2010
If “The Human Centipede” is IFC's most notorious franchise, thenMichael Winterbottom's “The Trip” is the studio's most beloved series. The comedy franchise started with the eponymous original in 2010 and continued with “The Trip to Italy” 2014, “The Trip to Spain” 2016, and the forthcoming “The Trip to Greece” 2020. Each film centers around comediansSteve Coogan and Rob Brydon, starring as fictionalized versions of themselves, as they wine and dine their way around European countries. Every entry so far has been a hit at the indie box office, with “The Trip to Italy” getting as high as $2.8 million in the U.S.
“The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy,” and “The Trip to Spain” are now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“How To Survive A Plague” and IFC Docs 2012
IFC has as prestigious a pedigree in the documentary world as in the foreign-language film market. A list of acclaimed IFC documentaries include “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” “The Central Park Five,” “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” “Room 237,” “Finding Vivian Maier,” and “City of Ghosts.” Perhaps IFC's most definitive and acclaimed documentary is “How to Survive a Plague,” David France's 2012 look at the AIDS crisis in America and the efforts of activist groups ACT UP and TAG to suppress it. The film was nominated at the Oscars for Best Documentary Film and won that category at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
“How to Survive a Plague” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“Frances Ha” 2012
Greta Gerwig was already an IFC favorite thanks to the releases of Joe Swanberg's mumblecore indies “Hannah Takes the Stairs” 2007 and “Nights and Weekends” 2008, the latter of which Gerwig co-directed. But Gerwig became a full-blown indie movie darling with IFC's release of Noah Baumbach's “Frances Ha” in 2012. The black-and-white comedy was co-written by Gerwig and was an indie box office breakout with $4 million in the U.S. Gerwig stars as an aspiring dancer in New York City whose best efforts to avoid an aimless life crumble as her various relationships change. Gerwig landed a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, while the film picked up an Indie Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature.
“Frances Ha” isnow streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“Blue Is the Warmest Color” 2013
Another high point in IFC's history of foreign-language film releases is “Blue Is the Warmest Color,”Abdellatif Kechiche's controversialPalme d'Or winner starringAdèle Exarchopoulos as a French teenager who discovers her sexuality after befriending and falling in love with an older art student Lea Seydoux. “Blue” won Cannes in a unanimous vote and its Palme win was historic in that it was shared amongKechiche and his two actresses. Even with an NC-17 rating in the U.S., “Blue” still managed to gross just over $2 million thanks to the strength of IFC's marketing in the competitive awards season. The drama earned Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Foreign Language Film.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” will begin streaming on IFC Films Unlimited beginning September 1, 2020.
If any film is the crown jewel of IFC Films' first 20 years, it's Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.” He famously shot the coming-of-age classic over 12 years, gathering the cast and crew for film shoots each year so that his characters would age in real time over the course of the movie. The end result was one of the decade's most iconic indie film releases. The list of “Boyhood” awards include the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, the BAFTA prizes for Best Film and Best Director, the Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama, and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette. “Boyhood” competed for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Best of all, “Boyhood” grossed $25 million in the U.S. to become IFC's biggest film since “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The movie was also one of several partnerships between IFC and actor Ethan Hawke, others being “Born to Be Blue” and Hawke's directorial effort “Blaze.”
“Boyhood” and “Born to Be Blue” are now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“The Babadook” 2014
Any list of the best horror films of the 21st century is bound to include Jennifer Kent's “The Babadook,” released by IFC in November 2014 after it broke out at the Sundance Film Festival at the start of the year. Kent adapted her 2005 short film “Mother” into the beloved genre classic, which stars Essie Davis as a single mom losing her sanity while trying to protect her six-year-old son from a malevolent boogeyman. While the film was not a box office hit at the time of release, it has since emerged as a classic of the horror genre and a social media touchstone thanks to all those “Babadook is a gay icon” memes. IFC would collaborate with Kent for a second time on the 2019 release of “The Nightingale.”
“The Babadook” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
The relationship between IFC Films and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne began with the 2011 release of “The Kid with a Bike” and also includes the 2016 mystery drama “The Unknown Girl,” but it's “Two Days, One Night” that remains the centerpiece of this partnership. The 2014 drama stars Marion Cotillard as a factory worker who is forced to convince her fellow employees to give up financial bonuses in order for her to keep her job. Cotillard was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, one of over a dozen acting nominations she received during the 2014-15 awards season. The drama was another foreign-language success for IFC with over $1 million at the U.S. box office.
“Two Days, One Night” and “The Kid with a Bike” are now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“Clouds of Sils Maria” 2014
Perhaps the strongest director collaboration IFC Films has is with French master Olivier Assayas. The two joined forces to release Assayas' 2008 drama “Summer Hours,” a breakthrough for the director in the U.S. as the winner of countless Best Foreign Language Film prizes NYFCC, LAFCA, NSFC, etc., and re-teamedto great effect in 2010 with “Carlos” and 2014 for the release of “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Juliette Binoche stars as an actress in crisis and Kristen Stewart plays her trusted assistant. Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar Award thanks to her performance. “Clouds” grossed nearly $2 million in the U.S., another foreign hit for IFC. The studio and Assayas had similar success with the Stewart-starring “Personal Shopper” in in 2016, and they worked together last year on the summer release of “Non-Fiction.”
“Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Summer Hours,” “The Unknown Girl,” and “Personal Shopper” are streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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“Sleeping With Other People” 2015
Earlier this year, IndieWire named Leslye Headland's “Sleeping With Other People” one of the best romantic-comedies ever made. The IFC release was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival before opening theatrically in September 2015. Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie play friends who lost their virginity together and meet again years later at a sex addict therpay group. That IFC would release one of the best rom-coms of the last decade is fitting, as it was also behind blockbuster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in its early days.
“Sleeping With Other People” is now streaming on IFC Films Unlimited.
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IFC's ability to launch first-time filmmakers paid off once more with “Wildlife,” the directorial debut of actor and indie favorite Paul Dano. Carey Mulligan gives a towering performance as a 1960s housewife struggling to raise her child breakout Ed Oxenbould after her husband Jake Gyllenhaal abandons them to fight fires in the Montana wilderness. IndieWire named “Wildlife” one of the best films of 2018 and it remains home to one of Mulligan's strongest acting performances.
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“Greener Grass,” “Swallow,” and a Bright Future
Most recently, IFC has knocked it out of the park with genre releases such as “Greener Grass” and “Swallow,” the former released under the studio's IFC Midnight banner. The good news is that the future remains bright for the studio as it makes its way through its 20th year thanks to upcoming releases such as “The Nest” from “Martha Marcy May Marlene” director Sean Durkin, and “The True History of the Kelly Gang” from “Macbeth” helmer Justin Kurzel. Throw in festival favorites “Babyteeth,” “The Painted Bird,” and “Undine,” and IFC should have no problem continuing to be one of independent film's defining studios.