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5 movies you didn't know came out of Sundance

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Jan 23rd, 2013 @ 2:07pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Sundance Film Festival is well under way, with dozens of independent filmmakers hoping their movie will be the next big thing. Hollywood watches out for potential sleeper hits, and every once in a while, we get one that becomes so mainstream, people forget Sundance was its origin. Here are five:

Super Size Me (PG-13)

Morgan Spurlock's 2004 film follows the director on a 30-day journey to document the effects of a fast-food diet on his body. Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month in 2003. He ate at the restaurant three times a day, eating every item on the menu at least once and consuming an average of 5,000 calories a day.

Spurlock, 32, gained about 24 pounds during the experiment and saw negative effects in other areas of his health. He used the film as an opportunity to examine the lifestyle's effect on his body and mind, as well as to explore the influence in America of the fast-food industry.

The documentary premiered at Sundance in 2004, and Spurlock won the Grand Jury Prize for directing the film. The film would go on to gross more than $20.6 million worldwide, making it the 12th-highest-grossing documentary in history. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93 percent.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13)

Benh Zeitlin directs the 2012 feature film that follows a 6-year-old called Hushpuppy on a journey in search of her mother.

A father's fading health and environmental changes that lead to ancient creatures being released in the child's Delta community serve as the impetus for Hushpuppy's departure. Zeitlin's unapologetic take on the girl's relationship with her father combined with a breathtaking score makes it no surprise the movie won the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Feature at Sundance.

The film grossed $11.2 million at the box office, more than six times its $1.8 million budget, and has a rating of 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Brave Little Toaster (NR)

Although it received only limited theatrical release, Millennials and their parents will most likely remember "The Brave Little Toaster," the 1987 animated story of a toaster and other household appliances that have the ability to move and talk, but pretend to be lifeless in front of humans.

The film follows five appliances — a toaster, a desk lamp, an electric blanket, a radio and a vacuum cleaner — on their search to find their original owner. It first premiered in 1987 at the Los Angeles International Animation Celebration, but received increased exposure when it was shown in 1988 at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film was shown mainly at art house facilities over the following years, and was released to home video by Disney in 1991. It enjoyed popularity throughout the '90s and won a Parent's Choice Award. It was also nominated for an Emmy for Best Animated Program in 1988 and has seen two sequels: "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars" and "The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue." The film has a 75-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

(500) Days of Summer (PG-13)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in this nonlinear film that documents a relationship from its tentative beginnings to its complete dissolution. The film jumps between various days within the 500-day span that Tom Hansen interacts with Summer Finn. The relationship doesn't last for 500 days, but viewers know that going in:

"This is a story of boy meets girl," the opening narration says. "But before they do, you should know up front, this is not a love story."

The movie debuted at Sundance in 2009, receiving standing ovations from festival crowds and being picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution. Labeled the "breakout indie hit of the summer," it grossed $60.7 million at the box office on a $7.5 million budget. It was nominated for two Golden Globes and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 87 percent.

Man on Wire (PG-13)

The 2008 British documentary chronicles Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. The film shows rare footage of the preparation for the walk, still photographs of the walk and includes interviews with the participants and reenactments.

"Man on Wire" won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Documentary and World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The film was only the sixth in Sundance history to pick up both awards, and the first foreign film to do so.

The documentary won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and with a 100-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is the second-best reviewed film on the website.

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