One of the go-to movie-nerd trivia flexes is to make sport of naming all of the much-hyped Sundance Film Festival titles that withered into obscurity once they were released into the real world: Grace Is Gone! The Myth Of Fingerprints! The Spitfire Grill, for god’s sake, The Spitfire Grill! But the truth is, Sundance has maintained an impressively high hit rate—not always in terms of box office, but in terms of movies that have found some kind of lasting audience, whether in theaters, on DVD, or through streaming. It’s especially notable just how many stars had a major career breakthrough at the festival—so many, in fact, that it was a challenge keeping this list to just 20.
As we’ll note in multiple entries, these aren’t always first appearances, or even first starring roles (though many of them are). But they’re all well-known stars who reached the next level in their careers after a week in Park City. Think of this also as a Sundance history primer, because every single one of these movies is at least worth a curiosity watch. In some cases, they’re downright essential—especially for fans of the stars in question.