How big of a career-maker is Sundance?
Well, three of this year's Director Guild of America nominees -- Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, and David O. Russell -- got their first break at Sundance, as did one of the biggest directing heavyweights in the biz, namely Quentin Tarantino, who hit it huge at the fest with the game-changing 'Reservoir Dogs' in 1992.
And long before most casting directors (not to mention the Academy) got wind of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling, and Amy Adams, they were stars at Sundance.
Read on to see which actors and directors had the most life-changing trips to Park City.
15. Morgan Spurlock, 'Super Size Me' (2004)
Before Sundance: Spurlock was already an award-winning playwright and had created the gross-out 'I Bet You Will' series for MTV in 2000.
At Sundance: 'Super Size Me' first premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, where Morgan Spurlock won the Grand Jury Prize. The film grossed $20 million worldwide and was nominated for an Academy Award. The pop-culture impact was so extreme that McDonald's ended its Super Size menu -- although they claimed it had nothing to do with Spurlock's scathing exposé.
Since Sundance: Spurlock went on to direct 'Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?' 'Freakonomics,' and the '3-D! On Ice!' 20th anniversary special of 'The Simpsons.'
14. Michelle Rodriguez, 'Girlfight' (2000)
Before Sundance: Rodriguez briefly attended business school before quitting to pursue a career in acting. Smart call. At the open casting call for 'Girlfight' -- her first-ever audition -- she beat out 350 other hopefuls.
At Sundance: The movie won the Director's Award and the Grand Jury Prize, and Rodriguez became that year's "It Girl" for her performance as troubled-teen-turned-boxer, Diana Guzman. Rodriguez won several awards and nominations for the role, including at the Deauville Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards.
Since Sundance: Rodriguez has starred in 'The Fast and the Furious' franchise, 'Resident Evil,' Avatar' and 'Machete,' and did a stint on 'Lost.'
13. David O. Russell, 'Spanking the Monkey' (1994)
Before Sundance: Russell had directed two short films, 'Hairway to Stars' and 'Bingo Inferno.'
At Sundance: 'Spanking the Monkey,' (starring Jeremy Davies as a guy who ends up sleeping with his own mother) won the Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.
Since Sundance: He's become as famous for his clashes with stars (notably run-ins with George Clooney and Lily Tomlin) as for his wildly diverse films: 'Flirting With Disaster,' 'Three Kings,' and 'I Heart Huckabees.' He just scored his first Golden Globe and Directors Guild nominations for 'The Fighter,' which also leaves him poised for his first Oscar nomination.
12. Hugh Grant, 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' (1994)
Before Sundance: Grant's adorable stammer and floppy hair had been employed in several TV productions and British films such as 'Maurice' and 'Impromptu.'
At Sundance: 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' hardly seems like the typical Sundance film, but that was the moment when the film -- and its charming leading man -- caught on. Grant went on to win a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and was named "Most Promising Actor" by Chicago Film Critics.
Since Sundance: Grant went on to become the go-to romcom guy of the '90s and early '00s, and is the favorite alter ego of director/writer Richard Curtis. His infamous 1995 arrest did little to slow down his career; he could probably parlay his role as a popular prime minister in Curtis' 'Love Actually' into an actual job, if he were so inclined.
11. Richard Linklater, 'Slacker' (1991)
Before Sundance: In 1982, he dropped out of college to work on an offshore oil rig, then began making movies (his first was called 'It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books') in Austin, Texas.
At Sundance: 'Slacker' was already a local sensation, but that wasn't surprising: It stars half of Austin! At Sundance, 'Slacker' was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and became the talk of the festival, proving that its rambling appeal reached beyond the Austin city limits.
Since Sundance: Linklater's next film, 'Dazed and Confused,' became an instant indie sensation, with a "who's about to be who" cast that includes Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Milla Jovovich. He hit more commercial veins with 'School of Rock' and 'The Bad News Bears,' but stayed true to his experimental roots and started a Rotoscope craze with 'Waking Life' and 'A Scanner Darkly,' and put Hollywood romances to shame with the beloved 'Before Sunrise.'
10. Darren Aronofsky, 'Pi' (1998)
Before Sundance: At Harvard, he won several awards for his senior thesis film, 'Supermarket Sweep.'
At Sundance: Aronofsky's first of many mind-bending movies, 'Pi,' earned him Sundance's Directing Award and he became one of the hottest young talents behind the camera.
Since Sundance: Aronofsky has continued to make challenging but commercially viable art films, ones that net his actors, like Jennifer Connelly, Eileen Brennan and Mickey Rourke, major award kudos. He's just scored his first DGA nomination and is very likely to see Oscar nods for himself, his film 'Black Swan,' and its star, Natalie Portman.
9. Amy Adams, 'Junebug' (2005)
Before Sundance: Adams had trained to be a ballerina, but a pulled muscle led to her auditioning for 'Drop Dead Gorgeous,' which was filming nearby. Despite landing a pivotal part opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Catch Me With You Can,' she didn't work for a year afterward.
At Sundance: Adams' career got the boost it needed with 'Junebug,' which first premiered at Sundance. The festival jury awarded her a special prize for acting, which got the ball rolling for her Independent Spirit Award win and her first Academy Award nomination.
Since Sundance: How many of today's actresses get to play a Disney princess and star opposite Meryl Streep? Adams is set to play Janis Joplin in the long-awaited biopic and will likely earn her third Oscar nomination for her performance in 'The Fighter.'
8. Kevin Smith, 'Clerks' (1994)
Before Sundance: Smith was just another comic-book-obsessed convenience store clerk until he filmed a now-classic indie in the store where he worked.
At Sundance: 'Clerks' won Smith a Filmmakers Trophy and a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Miramax snapped up the film and gave it a limited release, which led to a then more-than-respectable $3 million gross.
Since Sundance: Smith has mostly continued to mine his geek cred with films like 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,' and having Ben Affleck as his frequent leading man hasn't hurt. His last directorial effort was the Bruce Willis comedy, 'Cop Out,' a gig he presumably landed while acting with Willis in 'Live Free or Die Hard.'
7. Ryan Gosling, 'The Believer' (2001)
Before Sundance: Gosling shared screen time with future superstars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake as a Mousketeer. Instead of becoming an international pop sensation, he kept acting, with roles in the 'Young Hercules' series and opposite Denzel Washington in 'Remember the Titans.'
At Sundance: The surest way for a former child star to get acting cred? Become the talk of Sundance for your turn as a scary skinhead in a movie like 'The Believer,' which won the Grand Jury Prize in 2001.
Since Sundance: Gosling was in danger of becoming typecast as the psycho-next-door in films like 'Murder by Numbers,' until 'The Notebook' proved he had plenty of marquee appeal. He scored his first Oscar nomination for 2006's 'Half Nelson' when he was just 26. His current film, 'Blue Valentine,' was another Sundance hit and earned him his second Golden Globe nomination.
6. Robert Rodriguez, 'El Mariachi' (1992)
Before Sundance: Inspired by the movie 'Escape From New York,' he started making Super-8 movies at age 12, with his numerous siblings as his stars and crew. He attended the University of Texas at Austin on a scholarship; despite not being accepted into their film program, made his first film, 'Bedhead,' in 16mm.
At Sundance: His ultra low-budget film (made for $7,000 in just 20 days), soon became a legend in independent filmmaking circles. It won the Audience Award and went on to win an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.
Since Sundance: With support from fellow maverick Tarantino, Rodriguez took Hollywood by storm, although he mostly managed to do it from his own Troublemaker Studios in Austin. He remade 'El Mariachi' as the much-bigger-budgeted 'Desperado,' and scored hits with 'The Faculty, 'The Spy Kids' series, 'Sin City' and 'Machete.'
5. Steven Soderbergh, 'sex, lies, and videotape' (1989)
Before Sundance: While still in high school, Soderbergh took a class at the nearby university and began making 16mm shorts with second-hand equipment. In 1986, the band Yes hired him to shoot a full-length concert film, 'Yes: 90125 Live,' which earned him a Grammy nomination. His next project, a short named 'Winston,' would later become 'sex, lies, and videotape.'
At Sundance: The movie won an Audience Award, became one of the festival's first breakout hits and was a pivotal "get" for then-fledgling Miramax. It went on to win the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes and an Academy Award nomination for Soderbergh's screenplay.
Since Sundance: His follow-up films ('King of the Hill,' 'Kafka') flopped and it wasn't until 1998's 'Out of Sight,' that Soderbergh really hit his stride as a director. He'd go on to start a new Rat Pack with 'Ocean's Eleven' and win a Best Director Oscar for 2000's 'Traffic.'
4. Maggie Gyllenhaal, 'Secretary,' (2002)
Before Sundance: Born into a showbiz family, she made her acting debut in her father's 1992 film, 'Waterland,' and hit Sundance in 2001 with little brother Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Donnie Darko.'
At Sundance: In her challenging role as the masoschistic Lee, Gyllenhaal quickly distinguished herself as one of the most interesting actresses of her generation. Although she received a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award nomination, the film was perhaps too daring for the Academy, which didn't recognize her until 2009's 'Crazy Heart.'
Since Sundance: Since her breakthrough in 'Secretary,' her resumé highlights include the intense indie 'SherryBaby' and, most famously, replacing Katie Holmes in the blockbuster 'The Dark Knight.'
3. Christopher Nolan, 'Memento' (2001)
Before Sundance: Nolan's first film was a twisted short called 'Following,' which hinted at all the great cinema he was shortly to deliver.
At Sundance: 'Memento' had already screened at several international film fests, including Venice in 2000, where it received a standing ovation. Its reception at Sundance was equally positive, as it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Even after it was championed by Steven Soderbergh, no studios wanted to gamble on such a tricky, hard-to-follow film. Luckily, Newmarket decided to distribute the film itself; it racked up $25 million and scored nominations from the DGA and Independent Spirit Awards. Nolan, who rocketed to the top of the filmmakers-to-watch list, was also nominated (along with his co-writer brother) for a Best Original Screenplay at that year's Oscars.
Since Sundance: Nolan has become the thinking-man's action director; after reinventing the Batman series and blowing our minds with 'Inception,' we can't wait to see what he does next. A directing Oscar nomination has eluded him so far, but his fellow directors have nominated him three times for the DGA prize.
2. Quentin Tarantino, 'Reservoir Dogs' (1992)
Before Sundance: Video store clerk (like you didn't already know that).
At Sundance: New York Daily News film critic Jami Bernard compared the impact of 'Reservoir Dogs' to that of an infamous 1895 silent film (in which a train merely arrives at a station) that sent audiences fleeing in terror. "People were not ready for it," she wrote.
Since Sundance: Tarantino became the most-imitated filmmaker of our time, with his hits like 'Pulp Fiction' spawning dozens of ultraviolent indie films about philosophical hit men. 'Pulp Fiction' earned Tarantino a Best Original Screenplay Oscar; he single-handedly revived the careers of John Travolta and Robert Forster and launched Austrian star Christoph Waltz to a thriving Hollywood career and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 'Inglourious Basterds.'
1. The Coen Brothers, 'Blood Simple' (1985)
Before Sundance: As a boy, Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Super 8 camera, then used it remake movies he'd seen on television with his brother. Joel studied film at New York University, while Ethan went to Princeton and -- this explains a lot -- earned a degree in philosophy.
At Sundance: As the Sundance Institute site puts it, "When Joel and Ethan Coen arrived at the 1985 United States Film Festival with 'Blood Simple,' nobody had ever heard of them. When they left a week later with the Grand Jury Prize, genre film would never be the same."
Since Sundance: It's hard to imagine the American film landscape without the Coen Brotheres taking up a good chunk of the map, whether it's a zany comedy ('Raising Arizona'), violent bloodbath ('No Country for Old Men') or something halfway between ('Fargo'). As with this year's bold (and acclaimed) remake of the John Wayne classic 'True Grit,' their films have borrowed heavily from the past but are always steeped in their trademark, quirkily dark sensibility.