In the early '90s, independent filmmaking burst onto the awards scene with poignant, thought-provoking features, proving you didn't need a titanic budget and A-list actors to create quality cinema. Join us as we look back at some of the small-budget masterpieces that won big at the Oscars.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s bloody masterpiece paved the way for independent films, becoming the first film on a $10 million budget to gross more than $100 million at the U.S. box office.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Despite the film's $11 million budget, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn turned in top-dollar performances. Sarandon won an Oscar for her portrayal as a nun who became a death row prisoner's spiritual advisor.
The Coen brothers' darkly funny masterpiece scored them a best screenplay Oscar, and Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her portrayal of a whip-smart pregnant police chief.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Before they became superstars, best friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon penned a little screenplay about a math-whiz janitor. 'Good Will Hunting' won them the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and Robin Williams won for Best Supporting Actor.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Indies shone at the Oscars in 1999, as this film starring Ralph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow took home Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress and four other Oscars.
Life is Beautiful (1998)
Set during the Holocaust, this film told the story of one man's wits and sacrifice to preserve his son's childhood innocence and turn a bleak and horrific time into a bearable one. The movie won Best Foreign Language film and Roberto Benigni took home the award for Best Actor.
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
A then-unknown Hilary Swank disappeared into the role of a transgender man, based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena. Swank won her first Best Actress award for this brave performance.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee's acclaimed film was known for its artfully choreographed fight scenes that have been mimicked in many films since. The film won the Best Foreign Language Oscar and also won for music and choreography.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for this film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two Americans who form an unlikely bond while visiting Japan.
This film about race relations and prejudice collected three Oscars, including a jaw-dropping win over the favored ‘Brokeback Mountain’ for Best Picture.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Joel and Ethan Coen refined their craft with this noir Western about a psychotic killer, earning them a Best Director Oscar. Also, Javier Bardem won for Best Supporting Actor and Worst Haircut in a Movie.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
A slum-dwelling Mumbai orphan overcame the odds to win back his lost love and the top prize on a game show. And a small indie overcame the odds to win Best Picture, Best Score and Best Song at the Oscars.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
Director Kathryn Bigelow took home an Oscar for her jarring take on the lives of an elite Army bomb squad unit, becoming the first woman to earn the Best Director trophy. In total the film won six Oscars and made a star of actor Jeremy Renner.
Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman won a Best Actress Oscar for her agonizing portrayal as a self-mutilating, psychologically disturbed professional ballet dancer.
The King's Speech (2010)
As Prince Albert, Colin Firth and his impeccable stutter won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The British historical drama also took home awards for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture.
The Artist (2011)
This black-and-white silent film (for the most part) beat out 'The Descendants' to win Best Picture and Best Actor for then-unknown French thespian Jean Dujardin.
Silver Linings Playbook (2011)
The Weinstein Co. film earned an Oscar nom in every major category. Although it lost the gold in most categories, Jennifer Lawrence continued her reign as Girl on Fire, taking home another Best Actress statue.
You think you’re attached to your smartphone? Well, Joaquin Phoenix has got it way worse as a man who falls in love with his computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Former music video director Spike Jonze won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Before Midnight (2013)
Although this third film in the 'Before' series didn’t take home an Oscar, it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, with writing credits going to stars Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater.
'Nebraska' racked up an impressive list of nominations, most notably for Bruce Dern as a befuddled faux-lottery winner and June Squibb as his spitfire wife. Although the film failed to win Best Picture or awards for its actors, director and screenplay, it breathed new life into Dern's career.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director and writer Steve McQueen's acclaimed drama won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and introduced us to scene stealer, fashion icon and Jared Leto's new BFF, Lupita Nyong'o