By Jesse Van Mouwerik

To celebrate this year’s Sundance Film Festival, we reminisce about mainstream actors in unlikely indie roles.

Nothing justifies January weather quite like a film festival. Better yet is seeing a famous face take on an acting role so unlike what you know them for that it blows your moviegoing mind. In that spirit, here are the stars with exciting new personas at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and some honorable mentions of other Hollywood names whose past indie roles have amazed us.

Paul Rudd & Selena Gomez: The Fundamentals of Caring

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Funny sidekick/romantic interest/tiny superhero Paul Rudd doesn’t seem a likely candidate for a dramatic role in an indie film, but that’s exactly what to expect from him and his equally unlikely costar, Selena Gomez, this Sundance season. Looks like spring break wasn’t forever after all.

Craig Robinson: Morris from America

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Craig Robinson, the comedic main man of Hot Tub Time Machine (and noted keyboard enthusiast), is also set to strike a more serious tone at Sundance. He stars in Morris from America, an intriguing tale about an American kid coming of age in Germany.

Jennifer Lawrence: Winter’s Bone, The Burning Plain

Jennifer Lawrence isn’t Sundancing this year, but it was her heroic performance in the indie Winter’s Bone, a story about an impoverished girl left by her parents to take care of her siblings, that led to her selection as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Go back to 2009 to discover an even-more-intense indie called The Burning Plain, in which Lawrence costarred with Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger.

Casey Affleck & Michelle Williams: Manchester by the Sea

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Neither Casey nor Michelle is a stranger to powerful stories, but Manchester by the Sea and the complex storyline it’s built around is going to require both of them to come a little bit out of the box — probably why they signed on in the first place.

Kristen Stewart & Michelle Williams: Certain Women

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Michelle Williams is having a prolific Sundance run this year. Maybe more surprising is Twilight star Kristen Stewart’s involvement in Certain Women, a story about how the complicated lives of three women intersect in a small American town — and no sparkling vampires come to help them.

James Franco: I am Michael

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When he’s not getting hacked by North Korea or playing himself in a movie about the end of the world, James Franco fanatically pursues every amazing story he can get his hands on. He’s a favorite at the Berlin Film Festival, where he’s so loved that the announcers sometimes even flirt with him (start video at 1:15).

Michael Shannon & Imogen Poots: Frank & Lola

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Michael Shannon’s badassery on Boardwalk Empire was a spectacle unto itself, but now he’s teaming up with 28 Weeks Later star Imogen Poots in Frank & Lola, a story said to involve sex, love, betrayal, revenge, and the cities of Paris and Las Vegas. It’s tempting to hope that they also get to kill a few zombies.

Oscar Isaac: Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis

Star Wars superstar and Golden Globe winner (for the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero) Oscar Isaac is another star who sadly isn’t a Sundancer this year. But he’s been in some mind-bogglingly unique independent projects, from the thrilling Ex Machina to the Coen brothers’ venture into the Greenwich Village bohemian-folk scene of the ’60s, Inside Llewyn Davis.

Viggo Mortensen: Captain Fantastic

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After having starred in a ton of hit movies since his days of endlessly rescuing Frodo, Viggo Mortensen is at it again with Captain Fantastic, a story about a man who, after 10 years of living in the wilderness with his family, is forced to reintegrate into modern society. Let’s hope no one shows him Twitter.

Colin Farrell & Rachel Weisz: The Lobster

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The Lobster premiered back in October, but will be screened at Sundance too. In maybe the most hilarious story to make our list, Colin Farrell finds himself in a surreal and dystopian dark comedy where if you are single for too long, you get turned into an animal. Farrell says if it comes down to that, he’d like to be a lobster. Why? You just have to watch and find out.

This article originally appeared on

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