The 40 Best Movies of the 1990s
I started the 1990s as a boy and finished them as a taller boy that could vote and legally buy beer. For me, films from the 90s will always stand the test of time and have a spot on my Netflix favorites list. My number one movie of all time (The Usual Suspects), along with more than half my personal top 10 films were made in the 90s.
Below you’ll find the 40 best movies of the 90s presented in no particular order, covering everything from action and drama to comedy and horror. Apologies to all you romance fans, we just couldn’t fit them in.
1. Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater’s last day of school snapshot was released in 1993 and hasn’t aged a day. A bona fide cult classic, it launched the careers of many A-list stars (see if you can spot Renee Zellwegger downing a beer bong). The most famous of the bunch is this guy:
2. Blood In Blood Out
I’ll ride for Shea Serrano (an all-time good human and 3 time NYT best-selling author). This is his favorite film, a snapshot into West Coast Mexican gang and prison culture.
A movie dear to my own heart, I first picked it up at my local video store as a teenager and rented it until the VHS cassette wore out.
3. The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers have made some of the craziest movies in history. The Big Lebowski is amazing. I have a Walter Sobchak action figure, and a rug that really ties the room together.
4. The Crow
A gothic superhero tale based on the comic of the same name, The Crow became an underground hit that spawned three terrible sequels. Star Brandon Lee, who tragically passed away during the filming of The Crow, is magnetic, with his performance hinting at the greatness he could have achieved.
5. Boyz n The Hood
This movie took Ice Cube from NWA rap agitator to full-blown cultural force and introduced us to Cuba Gooding Jnr. and the late, great filmmaker John Singleton.
For the rest of the world, this was as close as anyone got to life in South Central LA. For teens like me on the other side of the world, it took us to another place but brought a clear message with it.
Honorable mention: Mallrats, The Fifth Element, Starship Troopers, LeHaine, Friday, Menace II Society, Necessary Roughness, Cruel Intentions, Wild Things, 10 Things I Hate About You, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
6. Leon: The Professional
Jean Reno is a hitman with a pet Ficus who takes an angsty Natalie Portman (aged 12) under his wing, while a truly sociopathic Gary Oldman tries to have her killed. What’s not to love?
Watch the clip below – it’s all you need. But just in case you aren’t sold, Michael Mann’s magnum opus is a cops and robbers tale starring heavyweights Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (the first time they’d shared the screen together), Val Kilmer with a ponytail and a cocaine addiction, Henry Rollins as an enforcer, and Jon Voight with the worst fake hair and moe combo ever seen on film.
8. The Matrix
CGI filmmaking changed with Jurassic Park, then The Matrix came along and tore up the playbook to redefine action films forever by combining the brilliance of Hong Kong Kung Fu action with big picture sci-fi themes. Would you follow the White Rabbit?
9. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The directorial debut of Guy Ritchie is still his best. Ritchie took music film-clip cool, Tarantino-esque dialogue, and proper English banter then turned it up to 11. He also turned a former soccer bad boy, Vinnie Jones, into the world’s most interesting standover man, although I’m not sure Vin was acting.
10. The Last Boy Scout
God mode Bruce Willis pairs with Damon Wayans to get revenge for Halle Berry? Sign me up! To be fair, it would be hard to make a movie with the main character this cynical in 2021, but the 1990s was a completely different time. You can populate a top 10 movie quotes list from this five minutes of madness alone:
Honorable Mention: Die Hard with A Vengeance, Desperado, Speed, The Rock, Face Off, True Lies, Mission: Impossible, The Fugitive, Goldeneye, Batman Returns, and Beverly Hills Cop III.
11. Terminator II: Judgement Day
I’ll just leave this here because quicksilver shit like this had NEVER happened in film history before Robert Patrick started hunting a kid named Edward Furlong. An absolute classic.
12. Con Air
The greatest ensemble cast ever assembled for an action film (until Sly dropped The Expendables in 2010), Con Air is one hell of a thrill ride.
This is Nic Cage at his peak mullet/overacting point in his career. All hail the King of GIFS.
13. Jurassic Park
Cloned dinosaurs take over an island and ruin Newman’s day. It’s simple: if Jurassic Park was never made we wouldn’t have Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We probably would still have the Wild Wild West, which is unfortunate.
The look on Sam Neill’s face watching these dinosaurs was replicated in virtually every cinema in the world, and Jurassic Park still holds up nearly three decades later despite Chris Pratt and his raptors re-booting the franchise.
I’m not going to lie, I hated Titanic and its questionable love story, but by any measurement, it’s one of the greatest films of all time. I love you, Kate Winslet, near, far, or wherever you are.
15. The Lion King
The most popular animated Disney film of all time (check out our gallery of Simba tattoos), The Lion King is filled with weighty issues, larger-than-life characters, and inspirational voice performances from James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, and Jeremy Irons.
I still love this film, and I’ve seen it 60 times in the last fortnight. Sing it with me!
Honorable Mention: Toy Story, Babe, Pretty Woman, Jerry Maguire, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Anaconda, Forrest Gump, Men in Black, Armageddon, and The Mummy.
16. The Silence of the Lambs
Hannibal Lecter. Clarice Starling. Buffalo Bill. Oscars galore. “It puts the lotion on the skin, or it gets the hose again.”
The Silence of the Lambs set the gold standard for films featuring a kick-ass serial killer, although it’s a hard film to pack up and put away the first time around. 30 years later and Clarice Starling has a show of her own.
Squarely in my top five favorite films of all time (along with the next entry), Se7en’s Director David Fincher took concepts made famous by The Silence of the Lambs, then re-invented them to create a confrontational masterpiece unseen at the time.
The uncredited Kevin Spacey (whose acting has now been overshadowed for being a sex pest) is pure evil (just like in real life), while Fincher takes a reasonably normal thriller and throws convention out of the window. The contrast between jaded cop Morgan Freeman and idealistic Brad Pitt is a masterstroke in casting chemistry.
What’s in the box?
18. The Usual Suspects
Spacey again, and another alleged Hollywood bastard Bryan Singer – in his directorial debut – are joined by an all-time great cast of character actors (Pete Postlethwaite, Gabriel Byrne, one of the Baldwins, Kevin Pollack, and Benicio del Toro) in this mind-numbing thriller. If you can separate the key contributor’s off-screen horrors from their on-screen work, films don’t get any better than this.
19. LA Confidential
A star-making vehicle headlined by a couple of Aussie upstarts in Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, LA Confidential brings 50s LA to life in a tight re-telling of the amazing novel by James Ellroy (who also brought us American Tabloid and the Black Dahlia, among others).
The official trailer is interesting because it cashes in on Kevin Spacey’s hot run of brilliant, Oscar-winning work. He only has a small but vital role in the film, something many of us have forgotten since he was canceled last year.
20. Fight Club
The only film responsible for more lost teeth in backyards around the world was Jackass. Fight Club tapped into something raw and primal then mixed it with devastating pop-culture satire from Chuck Pahlaniuk’s classic book.
I just can’t seem to remember the first rule of Fight Club.
Honorable Mention: Trainspotting, Fallen, Interview with A Vampire, Misery, the Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, Candyman, The Ring (Japanese version), The Game, Cape Fear, Kiss the Girls, the Bone Collector, 8MM, 12 Monkeys, and Basic Instinct
21. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
A movie so funny my high school banned it as a topic of conversation in classrooms for the sheer pandemonium it caused when somebody answered a teacher’s question with some ad-libbing of the titular character. The sequel sucked though.
22. Office Space
We wouldn’t have The Office without Michael Bolton and the Bobs. A hilarious look at the life of office workers with a fantastic ensemble cast.
23. Happy Gilmore
“You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?” This is still one of the most iconic lines in movie history. Happy Gilmore recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. After watching it again, it’s safe to say this is peak Adam Sandler. Love it.
24. American Pie
American Pie changed coming of age comedies. It was aimed squarely at teen boys unlikely to get laid on Prom night no matter the situation. It was crude, funny, and unbelievably eye-opening for parents of teens in a time long before social media.
25. Half Baked
Thank you for giving us, Dave Chappelle.
Honorable Mention: Friday, The Mask, Billy Madison, Groundhog Day, A Night at the Roxbury, There’s Something About Mary, Wayne’s World, Major Payne, Rush Hour, Clueless, and Spinal Tap.
26. The Shawshank Redemption
It’s interesting that the film regarded by IMDB as the greatest of all time failed commercially and was completely shut out of the Academy Awards by Forrest Gump.
If there was a re-do now, Pulp Fiction (who only got Best Original Screenplay) and Shawshank would reverse the results quite easily, and Frank Darabont would have definitely drawn at least a nomination for Best Director.
27. The Sixth Sense
You could say this is a horror, or maybe a thriller, but there’s plenty of drama in this movie about a boy who sees dead people. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis, but it works, while Toni Collete and Donnie Wahlberg offer great support.
28. The Truman Show
Who knew The Truman Show would predict the future? Jim Carrey plays it straight as a man brought up on a television set who eventually realizes his world isn’t real. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might even stop watching reality tv after viewing this 90s classic.
I love Joe Pesci. For all the plaudits director Martin Scorcese and actors Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta get for this film, it’s all about Pesci. His Tommy DeVitto is a ruthless mafioso with a short temper and an itchy trigger finger. Spider is one of the all-time great performances too.
30. Romeo + Juliet
Baz Lurhman transforms Willy Shakespeare’s tale of forbidden love into a visually stunning masterpiece. Not only does this film look amazing, but the cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Clare Danes, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, John Leguizamo, M. Emmet Walsh, and more) is also incredible, and the soundtrack (Garbage, Everclear, The Cardigans, Radiohead, and more) off the charts.
Honorable mentions: Before Sunrise, Malcolm X, Wild At Heart, Trainspotting, Lost Highway, Magnolia, My Own Private Idaho, Fargo, The Bodyguard, My Girl, and Empire Records.
31. Good Will Hunting
Who would have thought two young upstarts from Boston who wrote a screenplay about a gifted janitor with emotional problems would go on to become two of the biggest stars in the world. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck get the chance to flex their acting chops (more so Damon) while Robin Williams has never been better.
32. Pulp Fiction
How good was 1994? Forrest Gump sure was good, but it wasn’t as good as the previously mentioned The Usual Suspects and The Shawshank Redemption, or Four Weddings and a Funeral. Or Pulp Fiction. Tarantino was coming off the critical success of Reservoir Dogs when he changed filmmaking with Pulp Fiction.
While Reservoir Dogs was tight and tense, Pulp Fiction mixed the director’s encyclopedic knowledge of film to create a new take on noir. In the process, he helped re-launch the careers of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and to a lesser extent, Bruce Willis.
Check out the work of Jules and Vincent right here:
33. Schindler’s List
Just watch Schindler’s List. It’s terrible, brilliant, and necessary. So much so the trailer still gives me goosebumps.
34. Saving Private Ryan
Nothing captures the horrors of World War II like the first 17 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. You could argue it’s the best cinema of its type, bar none.
Loosely based on a true story, Saving Private Ryan lacks the cynicism of Vietnam films Apocalypse Now and Platoon (the only war movies as good), with Steven Spielberg turning this straightforward hero story into an amazing film truly highlighting the horrors of war like never before.
In one of the all-time worst decisions, it lost out on the Best Picture Academy Award to Shakespeare in Love, despite getting the Golden Globe and every other award.
35. Forrest Gump
You just can’t have a category for Award Winners and not include Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks has never been better as the mentally challenged Gump, who manages to be involved in some of the biggest events in history. A heartwarming Oscar winner with a stellar cast that’s an easy re-watch.
Honorable Mention: American Beauty, The Green Mile, Life is Beautiful, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, Braveheart, Reservoir Dogs, Tombstone, Dances with Wolves, Awakenings, Boys Don’t Cry, and Apollo 13.
Wes Craven’s Scream took the tired, repetitive horror genre and flipped the script, playing on tropes and stereotypes to get laughs, while managing to scare the shit out of everybody at the same time. A generation of teenage girls now tell their Riverdale-watching daughters about the loveliness of Skeet Ulrich.
37. Event Horizon
This is one fucked up film. A group of astronauts set out to find the lost spaceship, the Event Horizon, and upon finding it, discover it’s now a portal to hell. There’s lots of blood and gore, some wicked special effects, and a great cast headlined by Sam Neil and Laurence Fishburne.
38. The Blair Witch Project
While it might not hold up, the hysteria surrounding The Blair Witch Project makes it worth a mention. Released at a time when the Internet was in its infancy, many actually believed this film to be real.
A great example to young filmmakers on how to create an engaging movie on a shoe-string budget.
Say his name three times in the mirror and prepare to meet your end. An iconic slasher film getting the reboot treatment this year, it’s hard to go past the original for 90s scare factor.
40. Deep Blue Sea
Not technically a horror, this is still a monster movie, so it deserves its place under the horror banner. The best shark movie since Jaws finds a research station besieged by killer sharks with big brains. It’s a heap of fun and gave us this incredible scene:
Honorable mentions: Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Ring, Leprechaun, Ravenous, Fallen, Wishmaster, The Devil’s Advocate, Stir Of Echos, The Faculty, and Sleepwalkers.