What were the best 90s movies? When most people think back to the 1990s, they tend to focus on the fashion and the music. But let’s not forget — when it comes to the movies, the decade produced some of the most iconic and successful cinematic gems.
In fact, some of the best movies of all time came out of the era, whether we’re talking about swooning romances like Titanic, or classic teen movies like 10 Things I Hate About You. Oh, and let’s not forget — we can thank the ’90s for some of the best action movies, too. Let’s take a trip to the past.
15. Clueless (1995)
When it comes to adapting classic literature into teen comedies, Clueless isn’t alone on this list, but it’s probably the most original version of his trend. A retelling of the novel Emma, Clueless follows a ditsy but lovable Beverly Hills teen as she juggles popularity, school, and family, all while trying to fix other people’s problems, too.
The clothes are insane, yet they work. The characters are baffling, yet they work. The weird step-sibling romance is odd…but we’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. Above all else, Clueless easily earns the title of ‘most quotable’ movie on this list. (“Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘ensemble-y challenged’?”)
14. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
One of the best Christmas movies, whether you’re into The Muppets or not. We always remember this Michael Caine masterpiece as being older than it really is, but maybe that’s because it’s rewatched to the point of insanity. There are plenty of Christmas Carol retellings to pick from, but this one is special.
It never gets old, though. The lively music, the cozy look of the production, and Caine putting his everything into a film so many other actors might have phoned it in for… this is the heartwarming bowl of soup on a winter’s day that makes you feel full of warmth. Genuinely moving, chilling, and able to bring us to tears, this is a mighty fine Jim Henson production. Remember, now: sharing is caring!
13. Thelma & Louise (1991)
A road movie alive with tension, consequence, and gut-wrenching feminist commentary, Thelma & Louise is one of Ridley Scott’s absolute finest, even if people don’t often name it as such.
Callie Khouri’s screenplay has plenty of backbone and a spirited rage toward the underdog roles women are inherently born into. Aging like fine wine, it received a Criterion restoration recently that breathed new life into the authentic feminist classic it is.
The emotionally charged pacing makes you feel as if you’re in that car with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, hurtling forward to an inevitable end. Its brains and prowess are too often underrated, and the imperfect character drama imbues it with so much.
12. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood, not content with dominating the best Westerns, chose to completely reinvent them in the early ’90s, with the help of decorated Blade Runner screenwriter David Webb Peoples. Unforgiven follows Eastwood as a farmer who reluctantly takes on a job that returns him to his past as a violent outlaw and gunslinger.
The film skewers and twists the black-and-white morality of the Western into something hazy, grey, and completely fascinating. It’s no surprise that Eastwood immediately declared this would be his last traditional Western movie. The film went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and it was richly deserved.
11. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
There were some terrific rom-coms in the ’90s, but none come close to this anarchic twist on Shakespeare’s play ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Cameron, played by a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, wants to date classmate Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), but her dad won’t let her unless her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) abandons her misanthropic ways and does so too.
This brings Heath Ledger’s bad boy Patrick Verona into the mix, who agrees to date Kat for money. Obviously, the course of true love gets in the way of commerce. All of the performances in this film are magnificent and there’s something so deliciously ’90s about its style and humor. Unforgettable, and that’s not just for Ledger’s crooning musical number.
10. Ghost (1990)
It’s a close call on what Patrick Swayze’s ‘best’ movie is, but Ghost gives Dirty Dancing a run for its money. Starring a short-haired Demi Moore as the grieving heroine left behind by her murdered boyfriend, Swayze’s muscular Sam returns from beyond the grave, spins a potter’s wheel, and tries to find his killer while saving his beau from the same fate.
Ghost is so much more than one of the best ghost movies. Importantly, thanks to Whoopi Goldberg adding some much-needed comedy, Ghost served as a laugh-fest, tragic romance, and gripping thriller all at once. Let’s be honest though, everyone remembers Ghost for that iconic use of ‘Unchained Melody’.
9. Pulp Fiction (1994)
In terms of A-list casts, there are few better than Pulp Fiction — boasting a lineup that is largely unrivaled to this day. Jackson, Thurman, Travolta, Willis, Rhames…need we go on? It was here that Quentin Tarantino’s beloved union with many of the above all started. It’s still widely considered one of the best Quentin Tarantino movies, alongside its ’90s bedfellow Reservoir Dogs.
Intertwining the seedy lives of the Los Angeles underworld in a narrative that moves at breakneck speed, Pulp Fiction comes together like a rock and roll Spaghetti Western. If Reservoir Dogs was an understated heist movie, Pulp Fiction was its louder and more obnoxious little brother just two years later. If nothing else, Pulp Fiction gives you a novel place to hide a watch when in trouble.
8. GoldenEye (1995)
The ‘90s left us shaken and stirred with the welcome return of James Bond. After putting the franchise on ice following those lackluster ‘80s entries, GoldenEye reinvented the stagnant series with Remington Steele’s suave Pierce Brosnan nabbing the keys to the Aston for some of the franchise’s best spy movies.
With ludicrous characters like Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp and Alan Cummings’ Boris, the comedy of Bond married beautifully with a much more serious affair. Couple this with a death-defying dam leap, a villainous turn from Sean Bean, and Judi Dench sticking a middle finger to the patriarchy, it meant Bond was back staring down the barrel of a Walther PPK.
7. Forrest Gump (1994)
Dishing up one of the most misquoted lines of all time, Forrest Gump taught us that life was like a box of chocolates. The first of Tom Hanks’ entries to this list cast the star as a kind-hearted man from Alabama with a mission to make the world a better place.
Unfolding over a number of decades, this Oscar-winning outing saw the titular Forrest inadvertently influence some of the biggest events in history and cross paths with everyone from Elvis to J.F.K. While Forrest Gump is billed as one of the best feel-good movies, cancer, war, and AIDS make it a sometimes tough watch. It was a simple premise from a simple character that won the hearts of us all.
6. Titanic (1997)
Adapting something as harrowing as the disastrous sinking of the Titanic was never going to be an easy feat, however, James Cameron took this iceberg-sized challenge in his stride and delivered one of the best romance movies for the ages. Even though Titanic was rooted in fact, Cameron told his own tale with the star-crossed lovers of Jack and Rose. You can check out our in-depth thoughts in our Titanic review.
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio put in Oscar-worthy performances, while the effects were nothing short of breathtaking. The budget alone threatened to sink Titanic before it even hit cinemas, but thankfully, it went on to become the first movie ever to cross the $1 billion mark.
5. The Matrix (1999)
The immortal question of whether you should take the red pill or the blue pill is one that’s haunted us since 1999. Celebrating the turn of the Millennium, The Matrix’s last-minute inclusion as one of the best ‘90s movies comes largely from its pioneering special effects.
Although the ‘90s are packed with epic movies, The Matrix arguably takes the crown thanks to its unique premise and the fact it’ll leave you questioning your own tenuous existence. Plus, the sometimes hammy yet cool dialogue certainly helped add to creating the art of the Keanu Reeves one-liner.
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
With an appetite for the macabre, Jonathan Demme adapted Thomas Harris’ Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter for the silver screen once again. Swapping Manhunter’s Brian Cox for Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs was a psychologically charged addition to the canon of the best thriller movies that had everyone on the edge of their seats.
Aside from the unhinged Doctor Lecter, Jodie Foster’s seemingly meek Clarice Starling proved more than a match for the bloodthirsty psychiatrist. Demme created one of the best movie villains of all time, but still, it’s baffling to think Hopkins’ chilling cannibal was only in The Silence of the Lambs for just under 25 minutes.
3. Toy Story (1995)
Tom Hanks saddled up as a rootin’ tootin’ toy plucked straight from Andy’s bedroom. Before Pixar was churning out blockbusters, Toy Story was a relatively humble start. Prompting a generation of kids to think toys actually come alive when they aren’t looking, Toy Story introduced a memorable cast of rag-tag playthings.
As a milestone movie, Toy Story was the first to be entirely computer-animated. It was a major gamble for the small Disney subsidiary, but paid off and rightly earned Toy Story three Academy Award nominations. All these years later, the merchandise and movies keep on coming — proving we’ll always have a friend in Toy Story.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)
In 1993, life, uh, found a way with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Opening the gates to Michael Crichton’s sci-fi favorite, the terrific trio of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum helped Jurassic Park become the icon it is. As one of his most outlandish projects, it’s also one of the best Steven Spielberg movies to exist.
With ground-breaking digital effects and more grisly deaths than a Jaws movie, Jurassic Park spun off into a franchise that’s still going strong to this day. Much like Dr. Ellie Sattler, our jaws were on the floor. The science behind cloning dinosaurs might’ve been a little shaky, but that didn’t stop us from holding onto our butts as Jurassic Park soared to the top of the box office.
1. The Lion King (1994)
Finally, The Lion King roared into our lives in 1994 and joined the Disney Renaissance in a big way as one of its best animated movies. Loosely adapting Shakespeare’s Hamlet for modern audiences, the sometimes stuffy play was spruced up by cackling hyenas, a pompous hornbill, and some serious daddy issues.
Alongside the all-star cast of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, and Jeremy Irons, Elton John’s immortal soundtrack is worthy of inclusion on this list alone. The best Disney movies are known for their dark undercurrent, but The Lion King’s crowning achievement was balancing its grim source material with a colorful cast of cartoon critters. This anthem of birth and death is ’90s Disney at its very best.
For more throwbacks, why not take a look at our lists of the best ’80s movies and best 2000s movies? Or, to see what’s new, we’ve got you covered on all the releases coming soon, including the Dune 2 release date, the Avatar 3 release date, and the Wonka release date.
We’ve also got plenty more fun tidbits on the movies above, including why Jurassic Park isn’t a horror movie, the ways Spielberg made Sam Neill’s life a nightmare on set, and why Titanic is secretly a time travel movie. Alternatively, visit the small screen as we look back at the best ’90s TV shows.