This is my own personal list of the top films of the 90's. It includes my own views, as well as views from e-mails, other critics and websites. I tried to include films from all the main genres; including, war, horror, sci-fi, romance, kid's, etc. As well as movies that were groundbreaking from a technology point of view or changed the industry in some way. I did not include foreign films, although I did include a special category for them on my movie poll. The top films are placed in alphabetical order. Each are great in their own way and would be quite difficult to arrange in a 1-20 list. The movie titles are linked to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) which contains extra information on each film, including the cast and crew. To get back to my site from this link, you will need to use the "back" button. By viewing these 20 films, I believe you will have a great feel for what the American film was all about in the 90's.
I saw this film a few days after it came out in the summer of 1999 and fell in love with it. I was quite surprised when it made the final push for the Oscars and won. Most summer movies don't have that kind of lasting power. The story is a simple examination of the American Dream as it looks at a modern suburban family. The film touches on the materialistic ideas of the consumer society, as well as, drug use, adultry, homosexuality, murder, being yourself and living "your" dream. The entire cast is excellent (with Kevin Spacey winning an Oscar), but the dialogue makes this work on it's many levels, from humor, drama, and horror, without being too preachy.
This movie is important on so many levels, but mainly for helping to save the art of animation. Looking back before the 90's, the animated movie was dieing a slow death. Disney, the only major company still in the busy of animation, hadn't had a major hit in 25 years or more. In fact, the company was thinking about selling off or closing down this department all together. Under Eisner's new leadership, Disney tried to kickstart the department one last time. The late 80's saw a minor success in "The Little Mermaid", but it wasn't until this film that animation was back on the map. The classic fairy tale, tells of a charming young woman who is trapped in a castle by a ferocious beast. With the help of her new friends, humanized household items, she learns to see beyond the exterior and fall in love. There was inspirations from the classic Jean Cocteau, French film from 1946, but much of the success should go to the musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (both Oscar winners) who also brought many story ideas to the film as well. The movie would become the first animated film to ever be nominated for a best picture Oscar, and would go on to spawn a TV series, video sequels and a Broadway musical. More importantly, it gave Disney and other studios the courage to start or continue animation. Disney would later give us "Aladdin" and "The Lion King". By 1999, 5 studio (including some in Japan) would have major releases of great animated films.
When you watch this film, it's amazing to think that this is only Mel Gibson's second time as a director. This sweeping, epic film follows a 13th-century Scotsman as he builds a rebellion against the English King Edward I. The film grows in scale through a series of extremely violent and realistic battles. The movie may be a bit too long with its depressing ending, but it is a passionate, powerful and beautifully visual film to watch. The sequence of Mel Gibson, preparing his men for battle by shouting his emotional speech to the fighting warriors, dressed in their blue face paint, would cause even a chicken to run off into battle.
While it's a wonder that "Braveheart" was Mel Gibson's second directed film, it's even more astounishing that this film is Kevin Costner's first in the director's chair. An idealistic Civil War soldier asks to be stationed out in the west where he makes friends with a group of Sioux Indians. As he learns about their culture, he decides to leave his "normal" life and join the tribe. The film is eloquently told and beautifully filmed. The Buffalo stampede has an epic feel to it. It makes you wonder what the country was like when these animals roamed the range. The film would go on to win 7 Oscars and appear on AFI's (American Film Institute) top 100 movies of all time.
This is one of those movies that has grown on me. When I first saw it, I just didn't get what all the hype and critical praise was about. It is a murder, cops and robbers type of movie. But through the next year or two, as I began watching and renting similiar movies, I began to realize there isn't anything similiar about it. It truly is an orginal peice of storytelling in a genre that is very old. A genre that has little new added to it in decades, but this film is something different. The story centers around a somewhat timid car salesman who arranges for his wife to be kidnapped. His idea is to keep most of the ransom money, from her wealthy father, for himself. Things, of course, go drastically wrong. The story is funny, shocking, violent and intriguing. Francis McDormand won an Oscar for her wonderful portrayal of the female, pregnant, police officer.
Another one of those films that I saw before the hype hit and I must admit I helped to spread the hype. The second time I saw it, I couldn't figure out what I was thinking. Third time, I loved it. I'm starting to wane again. I think it's one of those films you really have to be in the mood for and get caught up in the story. Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a mentally challenged man who seems to get himself involved in just about every major social event of the late 50's, 60's and 70's. I must admit, the special effects (and there are many) are wonderfully done, as Gump is digitized into news reel footage of actual places and events. It starts losing it appeal as the story enters the 80's and becomes too fragmented, with Forrest going on a marathon around the country, happens to buy stock in Apple, and marries his girlfriend. But to know the 90's, you must see this film.
One of the few story that made the move from television to the big screen a pleasure to watch. This wonderful update of the 1960's TV series follows a doctor who is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Dr. Kibbel escapes during an amazing train crash and is pursued by a Federal Marshal, an Oscar performance by Tommy Lee Jones, as he tries to find the real killer. The stories cat and mouse chase and near misses reminds me of Hitchcock's great films of the wrong man accused. The brillant performances by both Jones and Harrison Ford are what makes this so fun to watch. The director doesn't make one of them a bad guy. Both are doing what they have to do as each tries to outsmart the other.
I don't think I would put this as high as some would (It has no place being on the AFI top 100 of all time), but it should hold a place on a top 20 of the decade. Martin Scorsese brings us a story of a young boy growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood dreaming of becoming part of the mob. It shows a harsh reality of the day to day life of a mobster with some intense violence. Oscar winner, Joe Pesci is excellent and the sequence of him going to be "appointed", I had to rewind and watch a few times. De Niro is great and Ray Liotta holds his own, even the secondary characters are perfectly cast. I think the film drags on a little too long, with the bust at the end being nothing special, but the direction and cinematography are wonderful.
A big surprise of a movie, which may have helped the film. Instead of being marketed and hyped to death before it opened, it teased you enough to want you to see it. The makers created their own mythology for the entire Matrix universe like few other Sci-fi films from the 90's did. The art direction was wonderful and the special effects were amazing. Even beating out "Star Wars: Phantom Menace" for the technical Oscars from 99'. The story centers around a computer hacker named Neo, who is tracked down by a myterious group of black clad strangers. They believe he may be the human's messiah from the virtual reality nightmare that we are really living in, and they go off to do battle with the machines running the world. The opening sequence was jaw-dropping and magical with Catherine Moss jumping, kicking and flying through the air. It became a wonderful bookend with "Terminator 2" for the 90's decade.
Quentin Tarantino's masterpeice. A film telling the interconnected and overlapping stories of a variety of lowlifes in a non-linear fashion. This non-linear story telling, although not new, would soon be know in Hollywood as Tarantinasque. It revitalized John Travolta's career, who played a hitman along with Samuel L. Jackson, whose philosopical debates were a highlight. In fact all the dialogue was quite special with the film becoming one of the most recited from the 90's. The film deals with many violent and criminal themes, and is certainly not for everyone, but was a landmark in film history.
The first 20 minutes of Speilberg's film, showing the invasion of D-Day is one of the most realistic and horrific portrayals of war that has ever been filmed, and is an absolute masterpeice! If you saw it in the theater with THX sound, you would have swore bullets were flying all around you. The images, sound, editing, camera work, everything is perfect. The plot deals with a small group of soldiers who are sent behind enemy lines to bring back the only surviving brother of a family who has already lost 4 sons. Although, there are some interesting and moral issues raised, the middle of the film is a bit slow. Technically, the film is great and the color and tinting of the film makes it look like news reel fotage. But the first 20 mintue, along with "Schidler's List" should be mandatory viewing for all high school students!
Steven Speilberg's ultimate Masterpeice. The film follows the "true" story of Oscar Schindler, a war profiteer who initially prospers by sucking up to the Nazis, but eventually goes broke saving the lives of over 1000 Polish Jews in his factory. Filmed on location in Poland and shot almost entirely in black and white. Nothing could be changed to make this film better, everything is perfect. Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes all give outstanding performances. The cinematography is breathtaking and the music, by John Williams is sorrowful and haunting. It appeared on the AFI (American Film Intistute) Listed as the #9 movie of all time and it has been said that the holocaust will never be viewed in the same way.
I still remember seeing this film for the first time and how it haunted me for days. This is one of those films that really plays with your mind. If you ask anyone about the murders I'm sure you'll get a different answer from each person. Like Hitchcock's "Pyscho" that never showed the knife cutting anything in the shower scene, "Seven" shows very little. But the film is so moody and haunting in all aspects; visually, sound, lighting and music, and shows just enough that your mind fills in the blanks, many times worse than what could be shown on screen. The story follows one new and one old, about to retire, dectective on the trail of a serial killer. The murderer stages gruesome killings inspired by the seven deadly sins. Like Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs", the killer is so intellegent and plans his moves so far ahead the he makes everyone do or find just what he wants you to find. Amazing performances by Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey. Not for the faint of heart.
This was another one of those films that I was lucky enough to see on the first week it opened before the hype hit. It became my favorite film from 98', but was somewhat surprised of it's best Oscar win. The movie is a historical and realistic "looking" film set in Shakespearean England. It follows the trails of William Shakespeare as he gets writers block and tries to find inspiration through women to write his new play "Ethel, the Pirates Daughter." It becomes an intellegent, romantic and humorous fiction that examine "what might have happened" to this young playwrite. The film also gives an interesting view of the woman's place in this society. Gyenthe Paltrow gives a wonderful performance of a noble woman who yearns to be a player on stage, but must follow the rules and orders of her family and culture. The scenes from "Romeo and Juilet" are a wonderful recreation of what theater must have been like back then. A very enjoyable film.
One of my personal favorites. This over 2 hour movie was actually inspired by a 15 page Stephen King short story. A straight-laced banker is accused of murdering his wife and her lover and sent to prison for life. The film follows his time in jail as he befriends a few fellow prisoners as well as the sadistic jail warden. The film pulls on many emotions and has a somewhat uplifting ending. The leads, played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, work so well together you can truly feel the friendship build over the decades that they are imprisoned. Although this film didn't do very well in it's initial film release, it began to get a huge following once it was available on video and is one of the highest ranked 90's movies on the Internet Movie Database.
One of the only "horror" movies to ever win any kind of recognition, let alone sweep the Oscars (with the top 5 awards; Picture, Actor, Actress, Director & Screenplay). The story centers around a female FBI trainee who seeks the help of a extremely intelligent mad man, "Hannibal" Lector, to help catch a serial killer. Although some of the scenes are extremely hard to watch because of the violence and intensity, the brilliant acting is what makes this so watchable and haunting. This film, and possibly the movie "Seven" (1995), are in a class all by themselves in the horror/suspense genre.
James Cameron directed this sequel to his 1984 film "Terminator". Although, it isn't necessary to have seen the first film, it helps set up one of the first surprises. A cyborg from the future is sent back to protect the soon to be savior of the world from another cyborg killer. Cameron continued to push the technology limits on this film. His use of computer images and morphing were state of the art at the time, and the surround sound was amazing. If you go into a store to purchase a surround sound system, this is still one of the movies they show. The scene showing a nuclear blast is one of the most horrific and haunting sequence in film.
The epic story of the first and only voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic. The director, James Cameron, combined the fictious love story of Rose and Jack with amazing special effects and elaborate details. The audience gets a real feel for what it must have been like to be on the imfamous oceanliner both before and while it was sinking. Actual footage of the wreckage is used to bookend the film with a modern day story of salvagers looking for missing treasure. Although the filming and release date were delayed months and the budget skyrocketed to the largest ever, the movie would go on to become the highest grossing film of all time, taking in over $500 million worldwide. It would make a star out of Leo DiCaprio and bring an Oscar nomination to Gloria Stuart (a leading lady from the 1930's).
Besides for being a great movie and producing a great sequel in 1999. This film will be known throughout film history as the first completely computerized, full length, animated film. The story follows a boy's favorite toy, a cowboy doll named Woody, who feels threaten by a new Birthday present, a spaceman named Buzz Lightyear, but Buzz doesn't realize he's a toy. They slowly becomes friends as they fight to save some toys from the evil next door neighbor. Like "Snow White and Seven Dwarves" (1937), the first full length animated film, it's amazing that the first of it's kind would be so good. There are a few reasons for this. One, the story is so thought out. If only live action films would have this much humor, feeling and poignance. Two, the film is littered with fun, likable characters. And Three, the Pixar studio created some incredible computer images. The body language and facial expressions from the two leads are amazing. The film would win a special Oscar for it's innovation.
One of those great movies, that after I saw it for the first time I just had to watch it again. The story centers around five career criminals that get picked up for a line-up. While in jail, they decide to work together to pull off a job. The partnership works for awhile until a big time crime figure asks them to work for him. Who is this crime figure? Figuring that out it the beauty of the story. The last 15 minutes is so jaw dropping....so "No way!", as the plot resolves itself. All the casting and performances are perfect, but it's the story (that won the Oscar) that makes the movie special.
These are those special moments from the movies that once you see them you will never forget them. The rest of the movie might not stay with you, but these shots or sequences are now emblazed in your psyche. It may be a special effect, or an actor or actress, or the cinematography, but these are the moments that movies were made for!
The First Sighting of Dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" (1993): One of those jaw dropping moments from the movies. When the jeep pulls up into a clearing and you see Sam Neill slowly stand up in awe, you wonder what's up. Then the camera cuts over to this enormous Dinosaur eating from the top of a tree. It was the most realistic Dinosaur we have ever seen and it was amazing. Only to be outdone by an T-Rex chasing Jeff Goldblum and us in a jeep.
I Can't Drive 55 (1994): "Speed" brought us the cool speeding bus that kept our hearts pumping, of course Sandra Bullock helped too.
The White House is Blown-Up by Aliens (1996): We were shown this image for the first time during the Super Bowl of 96' even though the film wasn't released until the Fourth of July. Although "Independence Day" was just an updated and great looking 'B' sci-fi movie from the 50's, this one image helped pack people into the theaters.
Tom Cruise as a Marionette (1996): Although "Mission Impossible" was somewhat confusing, the sequence of Tom Cruise breaking into a vault suspended from a few wires made our hearts stop.
The Swing Set (1996): The short lived but wonderful swing movement, helped out by a "money" cast, in "Swingers".