South by Southwest at 25
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the South by Southwest Film Festival. The Austin, Texas-based fest, which arrives annually just before spring officially starts, has been home to more than just breakfast tacos and Lone Star beers over the years. Filmmakers such as Lena Dunham, Barry Jenkins, and Greta Gerwig are among the directors who have gotten a start at SXSW, while high-profile blockbusters like Knocked Up and Furious 7 premiered in the Texas city before finding box office success. Ahead, 30 films and television shows to remember from 25 years of SXSW.
Considered the first breakout film to premiere at South by Southwest, Jeff Blitz’s documentary about eight competitors at the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee was nominated in the best documentary category at the Academy Awards and also won an Emmy.
Cabin Fever (2003)
South by Southwest is known for featuring up-and-coming horror filmmakers. Case in point: Two years before becoming a torture-porn provocateur with Hostel, director Eli Roth premiered his debut film in Austin.
Newly minted Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro has a long history with SXSW, including showing an early screening of his cult favorite Hellboy there in 2004.
Knocked Up (2007)
The first of what would become a long line of R-rated comedies to debut at SXSW, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up turned Seth Rogen into a bonafide leading man. The mid-budget comedy remains Apatow’s biggest box office hit.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Partially based on Jason Segel’s own relationship with Linda Cardellini following the pair’s success on Freaks and Geeks, Forgetting Sarah Marshall helped introduce American audiences to Russell Brand and led to the spin-off film, Get Him to the Greek, with Brand and Sarah Marshall costar Jonah Hill (playing an entirely different character).
Medicine for Melancholy (2008)
South by Southwest was home to Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ debut film, starring Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins. Like many SXSW alum, Jenkins will return to the festival this year as a keynote speaker.
Nights and Weekends (2008)
Before Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig acted as co-director on Joe Swanberg’s Nights and Weekends, which debuted in Austin the same year as Jenkins’ first film.
The Hurt Locker (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow’s best picture winner debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 before heading to North America for the Toronto International Film Festival that same year. But the film wouldn’t arrive in theaters until 2009. Its U.S. debut occurred in Austin, launching the second phase of the feature’s release before it went on to defeat Avatar at the 2010 Oscars ceremony.
Tiny Furniture (2010)
Lena Dunham is another beloved SXSW alum. After her first film, Creative Nonfiction, debuted there in 2009, Dunham returned to Austin with Tiny Furniture, her directorial breakout. The movie won Best Narrative Feature at South by Southwest and later scored Dunham an Indie Spirit Award for best first screenplay.
Matthew Vaughn’s ultra-violent and subversive Kick-Ass was an R-rated comic book adaptation before R-rated comic book adaptations became cool. SXSW proved a perfect landing spot for the film’s premiere, which introduced audiences to Chloe Grace Moretz’s foul-mouthed and pint-sized Hit-Girl.
The feature-length adaptation of the Saturday Night Live sketches has become a cult favorite thanks to its outlandish jokes and over-the-top punchlines. Like many R-rated comedies before, it got its feet wet with SXSW audiences first.
The documentary about the Manassas High School football program in North Memphis debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2011 before being picked up by The Weinstein Company and turned into an Oscar-winner.
Attack the Block (2011)
Executive produced by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block is a lo-fi alien invasion movie that starred not just future Doctor Who star Jodie Whittaker but also Finn himself, John Boyega.
A work-in-progress cut of Paul Feig’s comedy made waves at South by Southwest in 2011 with a raucous screening. That response was validated two months later when Bridesmaids became a blockbuster hit.
Dunham returned to SXSW in 2012 with the first three episodes of her HBO series Girls, which wowed audiences and turned the writer, director, and star into a burgeoning icon.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill dressed as cops for the premiere of 21 Jump Street, yet another R-rated blockbuster that started its successful run in Austin.
Spring Breakers (2012)
Harmony Korine’s sleazy, dayglow indie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. But its late-night screening in Austin’s Paramount Theatre, the U.S. debut for the film, brought the house down and gave upstart studio A24 (which later won Oscars for Moonlight and Room, among others) its first hit.
Sequin Raze (2012)
Lifetime’s hit series UnREAL actually started as a short film called Sequin Raze, which premiered at SXSW in 2012 and starred Anna Camp and Ashley Williams.
Short Term 12 (2012)
Future best actress winner Brie Larson broke big at SXSW in 2012 with Short Term 12, which also introduced audiences to Atlanta star Lakeith Stanfield.
A rain-soaked crowd blew the roof off the Paramount Theatre in 2014 for the premiere of Neighbors, which continued the festival’s prosperous relationship with Seth Rogen.
Silicon Valley (2014)
Austin favorite Mike Judge premiered his popular HBO series Silicon Valley at SXSW in 2014.
Veronica Mars (2014)
Marshmallows united at SXSW in 2014 for the long-awaited Veronica Mars movie premiere.
SXSW has a way of introducing stars to audiences — see previous breakouts from Russell Brand and Lena Dunham as examples — and 2015’s Trainwreck was no different. The Amy Schumer comedy (written by Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow) would open later that year and gross more than $100 million at the box office.
Before the moody, underseen It Comes at Night, Trey Edward Shults directed Krisha, the 2015 SXSW audience award winner and Grand Jury Prize winner.
Furious 7 (2015)
Paul Walker’s final ride in the Fast and Furious franchise started with a surprise and emotional midnight screening in Austin, introduced by producer Neal Moritz and series head cheerleader Tyrese.
One year before storming Hollywood with Get Out, Jordan Peele was at SXSW costarring with Keegan-Michael Key in Keanu, an action comedy about an adorable kitten. Speaking of breakouts, take note of Peele’s other costar: Girls Trip scene-stealer Tiffany Haddish.
Vice Principals (2016)
Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have a long history with Austin, and the pair debuted the HBO series Vice Principals there in 2016.
Baby Driver (2017)
Before Baby Driver became one of the summer’s sleeper hits, it sped away with the affections of SXSW attendees, who sat in awe of Edgar Wright’s movie at the Paramount Theatre.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Unlike film festivals in Toronto, Telluride, and Park City, SXSW is appreciative of genre efforts like Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Atomic Blonde.
The Disaster Artist (2017)
Oh hi, Mark. The work-in-progress premiere of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist scored a standing ovation from the Austin crowd last year and helped launch the comedy about Tommy Wiseau’s The Room into the awards conversation months ahead of its official debut. (The film landed a nomination for adapted screenplay at the Oscars.)