Cinema in the 1990s was unlike any era of film. We’re talking about a decade of movies where accomplishments were achieved to never seen before boundaries that made movie to what they are today. Hollywood accomplished CGI special effects, Ingenious Dialog that makes our character act like everyday people, new (independent) directors that make a new era of filmmaking, and the famous Disney Renaissance that made us proud to grow up in. At the same time, movie in the 1990′s are a bit of a lackluster for over doing CGI at the point where it aged terribly, horrible trend of disaster flicks, and so many film makers that are obsessed with taking place in the 1960′s and 1970′s made this movie era inferior to the 1980′s movies (the best era of movies ever). No decade is perfect, however I have a habit of trying to watch all the movies from the 1990s because I’m from this era and it still is just an experience that I can relive again. That’s the power of nostalgia and for the past couple of months I’ve done a list of the best movies for each year of the 1990s, so if there are certain movies that didn’t make it on the list, be sure to see where did they got placed in each of these separate lists.
- Top 10 Movies of 1990
- Top 5 Movies of 1991
- Top 5 Movies of 1992
- Top 5 Movies of 1993
- Top 10 Movies of 1994
- Top 10 Movies of 1995
- Top 5 Movies of 1996
- Top 10 Movies of 1997
- Top 10 Movies of 1998
- Top 10 Movies of 1999
Few talk about the ’90s as a filmmaking renaissance on par with the late ’60s and early ’70s, but for many , it was the decade when we were coming of age as cinephiles and writers, and we remember it with considerable affection. Though I didn’t get to experience all of the 90s movies when they came out, I had so much curiosity to see the many movies I’ve missed out as a child. Many of them left me speechless, only wishing that I was older to experience them when I had the chance. Since these are the films that did come out in the 90s decade, it’s time for me to bring tribute and honor to this decade of film by counting down ten (in order) of the best films that I had pleasure of watching!
Number 10. – Clerks
Shot in black and white on a meager budget of $27,000, this is one of the best ‘a day in the life of’ or ‘slice of life’ films ever, and a quintessential part of 90s independent cinema, and the start of the remarkable career of writer/director/actor Kevin Smith. Indie movies are spectacular for being deep and relatable that created new stars and successful directors from low budget filmmaking. The simple plot follows two slackers in their early 20s who spend the day at their minimum wage jobs (a convenience store and an adjacent video store) dealing with a cadre of colorful customers and loiterers, chatting about pop culture, and riffing on their jobs, people (especially customers they dislike), and their own lackluster lives. The optimist in me would say that this adds to the charm, especially since I’m a fan of Gen X, slacker-related stuff, and dig on early 90s style and aesthetics. As a first feature, and given the limitations (mostly budgetary), I’d say Smith was pretty successful at making the most of what he had, despite the fact that some of the film is pretty rough around the edges, and a tad aimless and meandering once in a while. Its lack of quality is mostly its strong point, along with extremely sharp and witty dialogue. Clerks is so well written that I got it memorized like a preacher and his bible. You have to remember that when this film was released, this was the return of independent film-making with other indie films such as Quintin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” Richard Lanklater’s “Slacker,” Robert Rodriguez “El Meriachi,” Edward Burn’s “The Brothers McMullen” that all became huge success and got Hollywood’s attention in bringing them to their industry and look at them now; they’re some the biggest names in Hollywood! But Clerks isn’t just a film aimed towards to Generation X, but instead all generations of people who are bored with their lives and hopes that they can make a difference. This was the first film of the View Askewniverse series, still throwing in Jay and Silent Bob for good comedic relief, but because Kevin Smith was so desperate for success that he made a film that’s his catharsis I can easily say that this is his best movie. Even despite the large amount of adult content by the end of the film it has a lot of heart!
Number 9. – JFK
JFK is an amazing look at a possible conspiracy to kill the president. It is painstakingly well made. Anybody who complains about the running time did not watch the movie close enough. There is so much material in this film, I’m suprised it didn’t run 4 and a half hours. Just like Jim Garrison, the film never slows down. The film does open up a lot of ideas about what really happened, but the great thing about this movie is that it can be enjoyed no matter if you believe parts of what they are saying or not. The cast is absolutely amazing in this movie. It’s scene after scene of recognizable faces and big names. Costner, Jones, Oldman, Spacek, Pesci, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Grubbs, Jay O Sanders, Vincent D’Onorfio, John Candy, and Donald Sutherland, and the list goes on, but thats who I remember. It’s an amazingly well shot film and it won the Best Cinematography Oscar. It still remains as one of the best edited movies I’ve ever seen. Multiple times it pops to our leading character and the surroundings around them as there’s someone watching and a reminder of who were these American citizens that all together creates impeccable tone and emotion. Kevin Costner is electric in his role and his last speech during the trial of Clay Shaw is powerful and really well executed. The film shows us glaring faults in the investigation of JFK and then basically tells us to go find the truth. The film is dedicated to the young who seek the truth. This is Oliver Stones best film ever and the guy has made some really good movies; Platoon, Wall Street, Salvador, and the always overlooked Talk Radio, but JFK remained his strongest because it is his most passionate message to the world. The subject definitely deserves thought and this film gives us a point to start at. A conspiracy theorists dream, that may take some criticism for being hypothetical or one-sided but there’s no denying Stone’s bravery or his skill in encapsulating the paranoia and unrest at this time in history.
Number 8. – Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction
For this pick, we have a tie of two of Quentin Tarantino’s greatest films that both were a game changer in movie history. This shows that he had talent all along and still consistently makes great films to this very day.
Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s marvelous debut is not only a great heist film, it’s an incredibly satisfying low budget Indie that demonstrates Tarantino’s tremendous skill as a filmmaker. You never see the heist, but you don’t have to. The circling camera shot of eight men at a diner talking about everyday life before leaving for the job, followed by a post opening credit shot of Mr. Orange in the backseat of a car, screaming in pain from a gun shot wound, tells you all you need to know. This is a rich quality bank robber mystery movie that takes place after the robbery only guessing what happened behind that event and the rest of the robbers with flashbacks and puzzles that keeps the audience guessing. Reservoir Dogs is packed with suspense, brutal violence, & a plot that shifts through time with spectacular ingenuity.
Pulp Fiction skillfully blends the stories of Jules and Vincent, a pair of wise cracking hit-men and their stash of unidentified merchandise, Marsellus Wallace the criminal kingpin they work for, his coke snorting wife Mia, scheming prizefighter Butch Coolidge who double crosses him and a pair of small-time hold up artists. Upon the success of Reservoir Dogs, opinion was heavily divided as to Quentin’s merit as a film maker, many condemning him as nothing more than a plagiarist passing off the ideas of better film makers as his own. Pulp Fiction silenced these critics and scooped the Palm d’Or at Cannes and by rights should have won best picture at the Oscars of that year. As you can probably tell, there is enough material here to make three films, but Tarantino’s brilliantly economical script (hard) boils the constituent elements into a brilliant homage to exploitation flicks through the decades. The disjointed timeline works magnificently and the film constantly surprises on first viewing and consistently entertains thereafter. Many speak of memorable scenes and memorable lines from certain films, but every scene, every character and nearly every line in this film has become iconic. It boasts an unequalled ensemble cast of the coolest of the cool actors, a similarly iconic soundtrack and it captured the imagination of an entire generation. Since then, every screenwriter focuses more on dialog to make characters.
Both of these two films have equal quality and quantity of filmmaking and is still able to inspire many generations ahead of time. It has taken inspiration from older films into becoming inspiring to the masses. Tarantino has such a focused and subtle style that shows genre of music, certain camera angles, certain style of violence, similar (or the same) actors, and he even picks a certain style font and make it look masterful. He really has his own thing going and that makes all of his movies seem extremely fresh and new. That’s why they both are remembered as being some of the greatest movies that has ever been filmed!
Number 7. – Princess Mononoke
No doubt, this is my favorite Miyazaki film because out of all the environmental messages he’s ever told, not only it’s his best one, but also this is the best environmental movies I’ve ever seen because it’s not preachy on the subject matter. Instead this film explores to both sides on man vs. nature like no other due to having enough time and opportunity of showing their good and evil. It’s so amazing that this rivalry between the wondrous forest and Iron Town to be this complex that it needed a prince named Ashitaka who can save both of them from destroying each other, even though he only came to cure the curse killing him that he carries from a demon-boar. Everything was at stake here because Ashitaka’s curse was killing him instantly, the citizens of Iron Town can’t live in the great forest because it’s too dangerous, the creatures want to protect its forest from the deforestation from the humans, and San (the protector of the forest) is doing everything she can to keep the creatures safe from the human and save the forest that she so loves. The reason why Princess Mononoke is one of my favorites (other than it avoid all the environmental preachy-ness) is that it has an environmental message that doesn’t talk down on either side, which this film successfully made the audience route for both sides of the conflict because they both struggles to survive and neither side is truly good or truly evil. This was the most expensive Japanese film ever created and the budget of this film just made the production value so epic. I still find this a landmark in the world of animation because they did scenes that I as an animation buff have never seen before. And to add a cherry on top is that it had one of the best English dubs I’ve ever seen translated from a Japanese animated film. So dense is the story and so large the ensemble of characters that it is sometimes difficult to decipher what exactly is going on. Then again, being forced to coast on the back of the dazzling and innovative hand-drawn visuals is hardly a chore. There’s nothing I can say or make any suggestions to make this film any better because this film just nailed perfection for me. As really fairytale-like this movie is, it’s very believable. I’ve seen this movie countless times and I don’t recall spotting a single flaw in this film. Every single second of watching Princess Mononoke always pulls me into the film because of the stellar animation quality and the fantastic fantasy story that never been this great.
Number 6. – Jurrassic Park
Words cannot describe how much I love this movie. It was one of the first films I ever saw in the cinema, and I remember that it scared me so badly that my father took me out of the theaters. But there’s something about Jurassic Park that is so damn special that kept in touch with my generation as a whole. You see, us kids in the 1990s were in love with dinosaurs and no vision of dinosaurs felt more real than Jurassic Park, since and after. Not only does it brilliantly entertain my love and fascination for dinosaurs, but it’s such a magical viewing experience, that I can watch it a hundred times over and never lose interest. Here’s just a few of the reasons why it’s made such a profound imprint on me: * Steven Spielberg’s Directing: Flawless, wonderful and perfectly paced. The craftmanship of a true genius and visionary. * The Special Effects: Monumental and groundbreaking for their time. Even now, almost 20 years later, they still stand firmly against contemporary CGI films. * John William’s Music Score: Only surpassed by his soundtrack for the Star Wars movies, this is some of the finest, most goosebump-inducing work he’s ever done. I still listen to its themes for inspiration, whenever I work on my own artistic projects. * The Cast: Every actor involved, even the youngest ones, does an applaud-worthy job in making the story fully believable. Their reactions and performances – impeccable without question.* The Story: One of the most exciting (and original at the time) to ever be put on screen. I loved the book by Michael Crichton, and in the hands of Spielberg, the story became even better. I could go on all day with this, but the point I’m trying to make here is that this is so much more than just a movie about dinosaurs running amok. That may be true for the sequels, but this ver film is nothing short of pure Hollywood magic. A spellbinding adventure story, that moves, entertains and invites you to a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen. So when I say that this is one of my all-time favourite movies, I really mean that with every fibre in my being.
Number 5. – The Big Lebowski
Thank goodness that there are intelligent movie goers out there to make a cult following to a film like this one because nobody at the time gave a shit to The Big Lebowski as everyone were anticipating for it to be another Fargo from the Coen Brothers. As great as Fargo is, The Big Lebowski remains the best Coen Brothers film of all time! On the surface it is a comedy movie with a lot of complicated subplots, but when you dig deeper underneath the surface it is actually a multilayered movie! This is a movie about what exactly makes a man, and you have to look very closely for yourself because the film will not simply give you the message; only visualize it and give character such situations that are insane. The Coen Brothers (granted, they both wrote it but only Joel was the credited director) have crafted something of pure greatness, as well as all of their films that have followed. They both are very talented writers and with ‘Lebowski’, they have created the most quotable lines ever that become more funny after every viewing. Though Pulp Fiction opened doors to making great dialog in movie screenplays as the norm, The Big Lebowski uses such dialog in a comedic fashion that it also complex. The noir selections of this are well-intended and shot terrifically. The cast assembled here is perfectly picked and unbelievably charismatic. There is so much to say, but I’ll start with the obvious; this is Jeff Bridges greatest performance. Jeff is so magnificent in his portrayal of the bowler/slacker Jeff Lebowski, but everyone calls him “The Dude, His Dudeness, or El Duderino”. John Goodman stars as Walter Sobchak, a retired veteran whose mind is “stuck” in Vietnam. Goodman is extremely well casted, and knows how to deliver his angry lines like “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!,” but always seems to want to go bowling after all that happens throughout the film. Steve Buscemi plays Donnie, the innocent one, who according to Walter, needs to shut the fuck up. Donnie is apart of the bowling trio, and Buscemi is great, but his character isn’t very important until the third act. Julianne Moore is Maude Lebowski, offering yet another fantastic role from this film. Maude is a free spirit, as well as a sexually insane feminist. Come to think of it, John Turturro’s character Jesus had maybe five minutes or less of screen time, yet his name is on the poster. Being a very likable actor, there was no way that I wasn’t going to love Sam Elliot in this. Elliot is one of the funniest characters in the film delivering an intentional over the top performance as The Stranger who delivers one of the most important lines as a Narrator and comes in with the most unpredictable thoughts in his mind. All of these characters are ultimately met with pleasing results. As I mentioned, there is no real reason why this is one of my favorites of all time, it just clicks with me. It’s not expected that a small film about a case of mistaken identity would be this astounding and re-watchable, but it manages to be ridiculously fun. As I watch it over and over again, I realize how ridiculous and stupid ‘The Big Lebowski’ is, but you know what? I enjoy it each and every time. The dude abides.
Number 4. – First ½ of the Disney Renaissance
(The Little Mermad, Beaty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King)
From 1970 through to 1989, Disney struggled to produce a major cinematic hit. While their movies continued to perform acceptably at the box office, it was widely suggested that they were a studio in decline. That all changed entering the 1990s however when the studio entered into one of the most commercially successful periods in its history now known as ‘The Disney Renaissance’. I’m only picking four of these movies into one pick is because they share a lot of things in common but they all feel like a complete experience. These four animated musicals are the best part of growing up as a child because it was Disney’s time to finally get out of their horrid era into a brand new era for business. It all started with the Little Mermaid that began the Disney Renaissance that started in very late 1989 (so that counts as a 1990s film) that lasted an entire decade. However I can only put myself to put only these four films in this spot because Disney aren’t really good as good as they once were after The Lion King. This is considered as Disney’s best years because they all were so brilliantly integrated from the soundtracks, atmosphere, artistry, characters, charm and even appeal that I have seize to see any other era in animation to do the same.
These are the films are as good, if not, better than the original Disney classics. The stories and characters (though they were borrowed by other tales) had been better than they’ve had been in years, and there was a substantial philosophy change in which these films were approached. Rather than just making films with just songs in them, Disney started making broadway musicals that had the most relatable characters. The quality of storytelling has been changed drastically where they like to give a valuable lesson in the end, but it combines the fantastic to the everyday relatable. We still deal with love, magic, and whimsical worlds, but there’s a down to Earth and moral story being told in these four movies. Weather if a character wants to explore the world (Little Mermaid), make wishes to come true (Aladdin), open your heart to those who care about you (Beauty and the Beast), or grow up to take a father’s place (Lion King) they all have hit on something that we all can relate to; especially children. We’ve all been there and we can all feel what these characters are going through.
We, just like the character, want to break free from the mundane and be part of something better. If you watch these movies an adult you understand what this is like for all of these protagonists, but if you seen these films as a child, you’re already there! These four films are pulled off remarkably as we all feel like these situations at one time or the other. Because of the great animated visuals, music that has caught our attention, and storytelling that is so well told, we route for these characters more so than we normally do in watching any other animated movie. To tell you how exactly good these four films are, there’s no sense of reviewing or describing joy; Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King are truly amazing but can be experienced (or re-experienced) for yourself! The saddest part is that this has been Disney’s absolute best and that makes it hard to believe that can be pulled off once again.
Number 3. – The Sixth Sense
No matter how much M. Night Shyamalan continues to go downhill, this will continue to hold up as a one of the best thrillers. It is classic moviemaking at its finest, reminiscing on the old Alfred Hitchcock classics that Shyamalan love to compare himself to. This is the prime example of Shyamalan’s potential as an artist of cinema. Influenced by an old episode of the show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, this is an engrossing psychological thriller about a troubled child psychologist named Dr. Malcolm Crowe who begins to treat a gifted boy named Cole who confesses he has the ability to see the dead. Both Dr. Crowe and Cole are troubled, and share a sense of alienation, and while Crowe should be the one helping Cole, it seems that there could be a turning of the tables, with Cole being the one helping Dr. Crowe put his own demons to rest. Twist endings were nothing new when this film came out, but it seemingly resurrected the trend (for better or worse). Heck, the trend has continued through most of the rest of Shyamalan’s own work since then. It is a good twist, and it works, but I adore this film regardless of the twist. I mostly just like how well the twist works, and the point that it gives the film, making you realize it’s really about something other than you initially think it is. In general, this is just an extremely well crafted film. Everything is very deliberate, thought out, and expertly set up and executed. This is some great writing and direction, and it’s all highlighted by some excellent and evocative cinematography and camera work. At the core of the film though, and what really holds it all together are the two central performances from Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. Willis proved he can really excel at serious drama, and was even awarded an Oscar nod for his efforts. He’s great, but actually manages to get practically outshined by Osment. Most child actors are so-so at best, but this kid knocks it out of the park here, and it’s a shame he’s pretty well fallen into obscurity. These two have great chemistry with one another, and you really get drawn into their world and want to see them get through their situations. The other performers are also good, but mostly overshadowed by these two, A big exception would have to be the brief but memorable appearance of Donnie Wahlberg as a former patient of Dr. Crowe’s. It’s chillingly effective. Actually, ‘chillingly effective’ is a great way to sum of the whole film. It’s moody, atmospheric, eerie, and unforgettable, largely because of the things I’ve already mentioned, but also because of the terrific score as well. This film gets talked about a lot, and I doubt any of what I’ve said are new contributions, but trust this film’s reputation as great and go see it if you, for some reason, haven’t already.
Number 2. – Toy Story 2
Disney was incredible in the 1990s and they never got as high as they once were when they teamed up with Pixar and released Toy Story. Toy Story was a revelation. Despite being the first fully computer animated feature film, the movie refused to get bogged down in the technical innovations, preferring instead to create an amazing world with a fantastic story, memorable characters and challenging themes, especially for a children’s film. So it’s pretty easy to say that Toy Story 2 had quite something to live up to. There’s no suffrage of “sequelitis,” here because Toy Story 2 did a lot of things differently and creatively and also gave more characters much more to do than seen in the first film. In fact, this still is my favorite Pixar movie of all time and its the peak of the Disney Renaissance era! Toy Story 2 has all the self-referential, geeky asides that the first had and then some, and plenty of emotional value with it. The character development on display here is simply fantastic. Where the first dealt with Woody’s inability to be anything less than the most popular toy in the room, this film deals with his realisation of his own mortality; not dying specifically, more being used up or forgotten by his owner once Andy outgrows his sheriff. The highlight for the film for me is that we’re introduced to three new character that are some of the best recruiting characters ever seen in movies! Part of it is because Jessie, Bullseye, and Prospector are very charming and they develop as characters with the original cast reprising in the sequel. It’s touching, tragic, but most upsetting of all, recognizable that asks the question, when is Andy too old to play with his toys? The connection here isn’t just Jessie’s abandonment but the feeling that you may have been responsible for this as a kid. It’s a heartrending moment and establishes Jessie’s place in the audience’s hearts forever. This boldness exhibited by the writers who clearly believe that children can handle the tough stuff is a belief which has become something of a trademark for the Pixar brand, tackling complex issues, themes and relationships in all of their movies with the simplicity and sincerity which is exemplified here. It’s this ability to both connect and communicate which sets the Toy Story series apart in the animation world. As well as having the claim of being the first CG animation ever, the Toy Story series has managed to consecutively outdistance its competitors with heart and emotion combined with a rapier wit. This is, of course, disregarding the astounding innovations in the technical side of the film which, despite being potentially mind-blowing, are merely a medium for the story. One big reason why this film should be remembered as one of the best movies of all time is because it is a movie that’s made fore everyone for all ages. There are so much creativity, laughs, and references from the previous movie and other films that would make us geek out when we catch them. What could have been an excuse to indulge a novelty has become an integral part of countless childhoods and a landmark in animation.
Number 1. – Terminator 2: Judgement Day
This is the best movie sequel of all time! It far surpasses The Terminator by a milestone. The first one, strange as it seems, was more B-horror-movie than action movie, a sort of slasher film with sci-fi trimmings. The second sees Cameron pull the same trick he did with Aliens, switching genre, upping the ante and producing something entirely different (the bad guy’s now the good guy!) while still feeling like part of the same franchise. This time around, a young and rebellious John Connor is pursued by the T-1000, a liquid-metal cyborg that can morph into anyone or anything it comes in contact with. In a surprise plot twist, the original Terminator (Arnold “Governator” Schwarzenegger) becomes the lovable hero, spitting out memorable lines like “Hasta la vista, baby” while protecting John and his mother Sarah Connor (also reprising her role from the first film). The movie, which marked the first time human motion was used for a computer-generated character, which is why our main villain, the T-1000 still looks so amazing to this very day. The T-1000 is a very intimidating villain; one of the most memorable in movie history and in my book he’s simply the best of all time. It seems the trend that sequels find a great villain or supporting character who steals the audience away from the protagonist the first film spent so much time exploring. Such is true of Terminator 2. I can’t imagine how hard it was for moviegoers in 1991 to believe anybody could top the Terminator, but Robert Patrick’s T-1000 not only instilled fear in the viewers, James Cameron’s CGI villain was unprecedented from an effects standpoint. Cold, calculating and relentless, the T-1000 still remains one of the coolest bad guys ever. But it isn’t the villain, or even the Arnold back as the T-800 that elevated T2 to glory. Instead, Sarah Connor is the essence of of the film. The scared-but-tough woman puts on the vest and provides the firepower of the film. There are endless amounts of toughness in this second installment, but it is somehow balanced with an uncanny amount of heart. I can list all the great things that made Terminator 2 just the best movie of all time – the epic opening, the future war scene, the reverse father-son-relationship between John and the Terminator, lighting and cinematography, the viaduct chase, the best biblical quotes Arnie has ever said, T-1000 transformation, it’s philosophical, the character development, tying up loose ends, intelligent action, dark humor, the best climatic ending, and hundred of reasons more! This is the best narrative, production, and experience I’ve ever had with a singular film. Everyone deserves to see this film! Terminator 2 impressed me so much that it became my most re-watched film ever. I lost count of all the times I’ve watched Terminator 2 and I still can’t get enough of it. Even with the Extended Cut version I still want more of Terminator 2 because it sucks so much ass that the sequels are so inferior to the original two films that makes wrapping your entire life obsessing Terminator 2 to feel so fulfilling. Terminator 2 was at its most insane with their effects, action, direction, and storytelling that the there is no other film that is marginally equivalent to its sheer level of awesomeness. By the end, no matter how tough and badass the characters and action really are, it can still make a grown man cry towards the end. Thumbs up to you Terminator 2 for being not only the best movie of the 1990s, but the best movie of all fucking time!!
The Top Listed Movies of the 1990s
10. 9. 8.
7. 6. 5.
3. 2. 1.
- Top 10 Movies of the 1980s
- Top 10 Movies of the 2000s
- Top 10 Disney Renaissance Movies
- Top 10 Cartoons of the 1990s
- Top 10 Video Games of the 1990s
- Top 10 Albums of the 1990s
- Top 10 Songs of the 1990s
- Top 10 Animes of the 1990s
- Top 10 Comic Books of the 1990s
- Top 10 Wrestling Matches of the 1990s
- Top 10 Worst Things of the 1990s
- Top 10 Best Things of the 1990s!