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The best 90s movies: 50 fantastic films of the 1990s, ranked

The very best movies of the 90s - a glorious decade in film.

The best 90s movies: 50 fantastic films of the 1990s, ranked
Marc Chacksfield
08 November 2023

Was the 90s the best decade in film? Those were days before superheroes took over our cinema screens, pushing more interesting fare into the background.

Sure, the mega cineastes out there may argue the best 1990s films can’t compete with the best of the 1970s. However, for someone watching in 2024, the age factor may make films from the 90s more immediately palatable.

And, as our list of the best 90s movies shows, there was an awful lot of good stuff out in that decade.

From classic science fiction to historical dramas and action movies, the 90s gave us some of the most memorable big-screen moments of all time.

This is our list of the 50 best '90s movies, many of which are also the best movies on Netflix right now and some feature in our best Amazon Prime movies list, too.

Upvote your top picks. And if we've left out your film of the decade, let us know at the bottom of this article.

If the '90s wasn't your top era for film, don't worry. Check out this lists instead:

Best 90s films

Best 90s films

1. The Shawshank Redemption

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Year: 1994

One of many great adaptations of Stephen King works, this was the ultimate sleeper hit, only just recouping its cost at the box office but going on to become one of the biggest-selling videos and DVDs of all time: astonishingly, at one point, 1 in 5 UK households owned the title. Set in the Shawshank prison, it tells a story of two great friends and the effects of prison life upon them and their fellow inmates and featured towering performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, as Red, the film’s wise narrator. An enduring epic.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Best 90s films

2. Pulp Fiction

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Year: 1994

The second Tarantino movie to feature in this list is just as deserving of its place as the first. Pulp Fiction was thoroughly postmodern in composition, featuring a cut-up storyline, extreme violence juxtaposed with humour and extensive use of pop cultural references. It also managed the not-inconsiderable feat of revitalising John Travolta’s faltering career. Featuring a host of killer lines and great moments, it is no exaggeration to say that it changed cinema forever.

Image Credit: Miramax

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Best 90s films

3. Goodfellas

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Year: 1990

You can’t beat a classic gangster film - and this was one of the very best. Liotta, De Niro and Pesci excel under Scorsese’s direction, providing a fantastic exposition of the mob lifestyle - the downfalls and violence, but also the glamour. A critically-acclaimed movie, and the first in a trilogy of Scorsese crime epics: Goodfellas was later followed by Casino and The Departed. Also notable for containing the 11th-highest F-word count in movie history, with exactly 300.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Year: 1999

The Wachowskis went for epic in every sense of the word with The Matrix. An ambitious sci-fi plot involving religion, myths and philosophical thought experiments, together with cutting edge special effects - particularly the ultra-slow ‘bullet time’, it created, appropriately enough, its own distinctive world and style. And it also had a brilliant baddie, in the form of Hugo Weaving’s demented Agent Smith. Even two decades on, it’s a high point for action cinema.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Best 90s films

5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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Year: 1991

James Cameron’s epic cost an enormous $94m to make - 15 times the amount of its predecessor - but he spent it wisely, creating one of the all-time best Hollywood action blockbusters, and a more than worthy sequel. Schwarzenegger was again on top form, but it wasn’t just the action and the effects which made this film: as one critic put it, it was very much a ‘machine with a human heart’, after all, who’d have thought you’d be in tears at a robot disappearing into a vat of molten steel?

Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

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Best 90s films

6. The Silence Of The Lambs

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Year: 1991

The Silence of the Lambs was a landmark movie in the horror genre, becoming the first film of that type to win a Best Picture Oscar (in addition to taking the other four of the ‘top five’ categories). Featuring a claustrophobic atmosphere and a tight script, the film was dominated by the towering performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, who turned Hannibal Lecter into an iconic movie character despite just 16 minutes of screen time. A sleeper hit, it very soon became one of the most famous films of the decade.

Image Credit: Orion Pictures

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Best 90s films

7. Jurassic Park

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Year: 1993

Everyone holds a place in their heart for Jurassic Park. A critical and box-office smash alike, the movie took humankind’s eternal fascination with dinosaurs and allied it with a fantastic storyline and groundbreaking special effects. Under the watchful eye of Steven Spielberg, the movie took over from his own E.T. to become the highest grossing film worldwide at the time. The shaking glass of water followed by the T-Rex eye remains one of the most iconic movie moments ever created, with the Raptors in the kitchen scene not far behind. Watch this and you’ll be in T-Rexstacy.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Year: 1995

Seven (or, as it was often infuriatingly styled, Se7en), took the centuries-old idea of the seven deadly sins and created a masterpiece of a film, dripping with tension, suspense and gore. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed with aplomb by David Fincher, the film was a smash, helped in no small part by the superb chemistry between the two cops, played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, together with a truly stunning ending.

Image Credit: New Line Cinema

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Best 90s films

9. Schindler's List

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Year: 1993

Steven Spielberg spent ten years deliberating on whether to take on the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who turned from Nazi exploiter to a saver of lives, repeatedly offering it to fellow directors. Thankfully, for movie history, he went ahead and created a cinematic masterpiece which won seven Oscars and indelibly etched itself into the memory of everyone who saw it.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 90s films

10. Toy Story

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Year: 1995

You would have got long odds on the tale of a set of toys, their adventures, and their hopes and fears, produced by a company making its first film, becoming not only a landmark in film animation, but the first of what has been described as the greatest movie trilogy of all time, but that’s exactly what happened with Toy Story. The first full-length computer animated film, it turned Pixar - backed by Apple guru Steve Jobs - into a global brand and household name, and ushered in a new era of animation. But the story was the star, with a tale of friendship and heroism that appealed to adults and children alike.

Image Credit: Disney/Pixar

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Best 90s films

11. The Usual Suspects

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Year: 1995

Featuring fantastic performances, a densely packed and incredibly tight script, and twists aplenty - including one of the greatest of all time near the end - The Usual Suspects is a glorious romp of a movie. Despite a budget of just $6m, it was a box-office hit, rapturously received by the critics. In addition, almost by design, it rewarded multiple viewings and thus replicated its success on the home video market.

Image Credit: TriStar Film Distributors International

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Year: 1999

Like The Shawshank Redemption, this film went nowhere near to achieving box office smash status, but gained a lease of life upon DVD release, establishing it as a cult classic. Eliciting love and hate in equal measures from critics, the crucial attribute it had was that it elicited a reaction: Fight Club’s nihilism and violence meant that everyone had an opinion on its merits, and what it meant. We probably shouldn’t be writing this though; you all know what the first rule of Fight Club is…

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Best 90s films

13. Groundhog Day

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Year: 1993

A film so iconic that its name is now widely used as a description of a situation that repeats itself over and over again. A film so iconic that its name is now widely-used as a description of a situation that repeats itself over and over again. A film so iconic…where were we? Sorry, a deceptively simple idea, that creates a brilliant story, this is, without doubt, one of the best and most influential films of the 90s.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Best 90s films

14. Good Will Hunting

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From the minds of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck before they became Hollywood elite, Good Will Hunting is the story of a WIll Hunting (played by Damon) who is a caretaker at a high school but also turns out to be a genius mathematician. It features fantastic performances from Damon and Robin WIlliams, who co-stars. The movie was a huge hit with audiences, critics and award bodies alike, picking up the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Image Credit: Miramax

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Year: 1996

An instant classic, Fargo made the Coen Brothers household names and propelled character actors Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy to big-name status. But it’s Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand) who steals the film. One of the all-time greatest movie cops, she slowly pieces together the puzzle of a spate of killings in Minneapolis, before the film comes to a thrilling conclusion. *Warning: Contains inventive use of a woodchipping machine*

Image Credit: PolyGram

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Best 90s films

16. Reservoir Dogs

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Year: 1992

A bolt from the (Mr) blue, Reservoir Dogs brought writer-director Quentin Tarantino to the world’s attention, as well as a serious amount of swearing and violence. The story of the aftermath of a botched diamond heist and the subsequent search for answers and recriminations provided a gripping story, soundtracked by a series of classic tracks. We can never quite listen to ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ without feeling a slight throbbing in our ears. A cult classic that still retains its power to shock today.

Image Credit: Miramax Films

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Best 90s films

17. The Sixth Sense

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Year: 1999

A creepy, psychological thriller, The Sixth Sense was an enormous box office smash, and ensured that if anyone came up to you and saying “I see dead people”, you gave them a wry smile rather than running a mile. It’s quite hard to say much more about this film other than (a) it turns out Bruce Willis can act and (b) there is something of a twist towards the end…

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

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Year: 1994

Superbly stylish, effortlessly cool and French, Leon was an unusual tale. An orphaned 12-year-old girl - portrayed by a young Natalie Portman in a performance that catapulted her to fame - finds refuge with a loner hit-man, who gradually teaches her the ways of his world. Violent, graphic, but with heart and affection, Leon remains undoubtedly a classic of the decade.

Image Credit: Gaumont Buena Vista Internationa

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Best 90s films

19. The Lion King

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A true coming-of-age adventure if ever there was one, The Lion King follows the story of Simba, a lion cub who is set to become king of the pride-land, as he searches for his destiny. Featuring one of the greatest soundtracks around - Circle of Life, anyone? - The Lion King was first released in 1994 and became an instant classic for children (and adults) the world over. It makes you laugh, cry, hide behind the sofa as the hyenas approach and, more importantly, sing your lungs out.

Image Credit: Disney

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Best 90s films

20. L.A. Confidential

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Year: 1997

A stylish, seductive and smart film based on the bestselling novel by James Ellroy, LA Confidential took the relatively unknown Antipodeans Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, and catapulted them to fame. Murder, corruption and ambition abound as three concurrent stories intertwine and unravel in a beautifully detailed rendering of 1950s LA. Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her performance as a Veronica Lake lookalike sex worker in this pitch-perfect, cerebral noir.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Year: 1995

Michael Mann spent fifteen years trying to get Heat made, including making what was essentially a simplified TV version, L.A. Takedown, in a bid to get the project noticed. Tense, eloquent, sleek and thoughtful, it not only brought Pacino and De Niro together on-screen for the first time, it was also thought to have inspired several real-life shootouts.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Best 90s films

22. The Big Lebowski

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Year: 1998

The second Coen Brothers film on the list, this is a very different kettle of fish to Fargo. Endlessly quotable and packed with memorable characters, it’s the most cultish of cult classics, a profane, rambling, hilarious shaggy-dog story of a movie anchored by an instantly iconic central performance by Jeff Bridges as The Dude. Anyway, enough analysis, let’s go bowling.

Image Credit: Polygram

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Year: 1990

This Christmas comedy classic sees 8-year-old Kevin McCallister, played by Macauley Culkin, accidentally left home alone by his family after acting out and being ordered to sleep in the attic the night before their holiday to Paris. McCallister finds himself defending the family home from two burglars as his family battle to make it back to Illinois, setting all manner of traps to catch the dastardly duo.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Year: 1994

Sometimes all you need is a straightforward plot, and a whole load of tension and action. Speed was an exhilarating rollercoaster of a movie based on a simple idea of a bomb going off on a bus if it dropped below 50mph. The breakneck action never stops, while Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper are absolutely perfectly cast. Plus who can ever forget Alan Ruck’s scene-stealing performance as an out-of-his-depth tourist? “Oh darn.”

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Best 90s films

25. Trainspotting

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Year: 1996

One of the most iconic British films of all time, let alone simply of the 90s, Trainspotting’s place in this list is beyond questioning. Director Danny Boyle created a fast-paced, fantastically black comedy in the grimmest of circumstances: the bleak surroundings of a group of heroin addicts. Featuring strong performances throughout and an absolutely killer soundtrack, the film was a cultural touchstone for a generation. No trains in it though.

Image Credit: PolyGram

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Best 90s films

26. The Truman Show

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Year: 1998

There can’t be many films that are so influential that they have a syndrome named after them - but this is one of them. Joel Gold, a psychiatrist revealed that, by 2008, he had met 5 patients that believed their lives were reality television shows, and thus “The Truman Show delusion” was created. Released a year before Big Brother smashed reality TV into the mainstream, this was a brilliantly clever, profound and prescient exploration of what ‘reality’ really is, with a masterful turn from Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the unwitting star of his own TV show.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

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The tragic love story that never was - yes, that's right (spoiler alert) Rose and Jack were never actually aboard the real Titanic - Titanic tells the tale of the ill-fated steam liner that sunk on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Hitting an iceberg mid-voyage, the pair of lovers are faced with a tough decision, as Jack remains locked below deck and Rose is swept along by first class passengers.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Best 90s films

28. Boyz N The Hood

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Year: 1991

Astonishingly, John Singleton was just 23 when he directed this classic and hard-hitting account of life on the LA streets of South Central. With rapper Ice Cube, from the notorious group NWA - themselves from that area - starring, the movie had the necessary authenticity, and realness, to gain respect from the critics and the people on the streets that it profiled. The cinematic counterpart to that era’s gangster rap musical movement, this is an undoubted classic of the genre.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Best 90s films

29. Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump was the 90s meme film decades before internet memes were a thing. Tom Hanks plays Forrest, who has been called dumb all his life. The film tracks through events in his life, held together by a charming performance by Hanks that in no way would happen in 2023. This must be one of the lowest-ranked films on our list by Rotten Tomatoes standards, 71% fresh, but you can't say you've truly delved into mainstream 90s cinema without watching it.

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Year: 1995

Braveheart is an epic historical film that’s powerful and a major tear-jerker. It’s directed by Mel Gibson and he stars in the leading role as William Wallace, a man who rallies his fellow Scots to fight for independence from English rule. It’s a tragic story about heroic struggle, love and loss, ending with the legendary Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox


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Best 90s films

31. Total Recall

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Year: 1990

A 1990 film that feels more like it belongs in our best 80s movies round-up, Total Recall is a pulpy sci-fi action fest that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is based on a story by Philip K Dick, in which a man goes to have memories of a trip to Mars implanted in his brain. But in doing so, he realises what he thought was his real life is in fact a fabrication.

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Best 90s films

32. Gattaca

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Year: 1997

This one has flown under a lot of radars. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law star in Gattaca, a classy and moody sci-fi film set in a society where the population is graded by their genetic superiority. But Vincent Freeman (Hawke) spoofs someone else’s identity in order to join the space programme. Gattaca was a flop, making just $12 in the US despite a production budget of $36 million, but its cache has risen over the years since.

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A stealth Jane Austen adaptation and one of the most perfect romcoms ever, there's more to Clueless than its frothy outside suggests. It's not about being smart, or having hidden depths. The timing, the pacing, the performances and the music cues are all pristine. Plus it gets bonus points for featuring one of the highlights of Paul Rudd's early career.

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Best 90s films

34. Barton Fink

Year: 1991

What do you do when you have writer’s block? If you are the Coen Brothers, you make a movie masterpiece about a screenwriter suffering from the affliction after he is asked to write a movie about wrestling and moves from the world of Broadway to Los Angeles. John Turturro is mesmerising as Barton Fink and while the movie wasn’t a box office success, it’s now regarded as one of the best from the filmmaking duo.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Best 90s films

35. Four Weddings and a Funeral

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Year: 1994

The scripts of 90s comedies often raise eyebrows these days, but Four Weddings and a Funeral retains the core charm that made it such a hit in 1994. And cemented Richard Curtis’s reputation as a premier writer of romantic comedies. The exceptional part here is the quality of the ensemble cast, and the believability of the writing underneath it.

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Best 90s films

36. The Iron Giant

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Year: 1999

A giant robot crash lands in small town America, and is discovered by a young boy. The two become friends, and have to evade the government agencies out to capture the iron giant. This film is based on a children's book by Ted Hughes, and by plenty of people's estimations it dukes it out with The Lion King as one of the best animated features of the decade. It was Brad Bird's first directing credit, and he would go on to become a key figure in Pixar, directing the Incredibles films and Ratatouille.

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Best 90s films

37. Office Space

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Just sneaking into the 90s, 1999's Office Space is an all-time-classic comedy based on Mike Judge’s Milton shorts made almost a decade earlier. It’s about the drudgery of an office job and wanting to escape from it, the thematic precursor to The Office, the UK version of which would be broadcast two years later.

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Best 90s films

38. Princess Mononoke

Year: 1997

Hayao Miyazaki is a genius when it comes to making animations that stay with you for years. Princess Mononoke is one such gem. It feels strange putting Princess Mononoke into a best 90s movies list, but that’s only because it has that timeless quality to it. It’s a fairy tale of sorts, about a medieval warrior Princess Ashitaka who tries to protect the nature of his kingdom from iron age profiteers. To do this he teams up with myriad spirits and gods. The film has similar eco concerns that James Cameron’s Avatar has, while offering up majesty in each and every frame.

Image Credit: Studio Ghibli / Toho

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Best 90s films

39. Wayne's World

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A 90s icon for all who grew up in the era, Wayne’s World is one of the classic character comedies of the decade. It also helped reawaken the world’s love for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate. Mike Myers and Dana Carvey are a rock-loving double act lured into signing a commercial contract to take their home-brew cable show into the big leagues.

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Best 90s films

40. Romeo + Juliet

Year: 1996

Romeo + Juliet, with its modern-day twist on Shakespeare, brought a whole new legion of fans to the Bard’s work, while catapulting stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes to superstardom. Hyper-realised and just plain hyper, there’s beauty and brutality at work throughout this adaptation. Director Baz Luhrman’s visual flourishes and lavish soundtrack make this a must watch but it’s the use of the original text that really makes this one stand out.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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Best 90s films

41. Magnolia

Year: 1999

A subtle nod in 2022’s Glass Onion to how Tom Cruise dresses in Magnolia proves that this is a film that still resonates with many, some 20-something years after it was released. Paul Thomas Anderson was 29 when he directed Magnolia, a staggeringly young age made even more staggering that he had already helmed Boogie Nights and Hard Eight before it. It’s an interconnected tale about loss and randomness, following the day in the life of a number of people in the San Fernando Valley. Throughout Magnolia multiple plot lines weave around each other until a number of coincidences bring them together.

Image Credit: New Line Cinema

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Best 90s films

42. Rushmore

Year: 1998

Wes Anderson has not been shy about keeping to his iconic style throughout his movies, with his latest films doubling down on that look. One movie in his back catalogue that relies more on substance than looks, though, is Rushmore - a film about a teenager and a magnate (Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray respectively) who become the strangest of friends, thanks to their admiration of a teacher. This acting triumvirate is superb and makes for one of Anderson’s best.

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

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Best 90s films

43. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

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Can you picture a film where Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce play a trio of drag performers? If not, you clearly haven't seen The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The quabblesome trio set off across Australia in Priscilla, a clapped out camper van. It sits alongside Muriel's Wedding as one of the must-watch Australian films of the 90s.

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Best 90s films

44. Out Of Sight

Year: 1998

Steven Soderbergh evokes the coolness of the ‘70s with his tale of a bank robber who gets out of jail, only to fall in love with a US Marshal that’s assigned to look after him. George Clooney is the bank robber and his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez’s arshal sizzles on screen. David Holmes tops the coolness off with a sublime soundtrack, while Soderbergh style sets the scene for the Oceans movies he would go on to direct, with Clooney starring.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 90s films

45. Being John Malkovich

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Year: 1999

Being John Malkovich may have been released at the beginning of the year 2000, but it's a 1999 movie officially, so it'll make the list. Just. This quirky fantasy-meets-comedy has a fantastic cast with John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener, as well as John Malkovich and Charlie Sheen playing themselves. It's hard to tell you much about this movie without giving away some of the best twists and turns, but it's about a strange office and a strange tunnel that's behind a filing cabinet. The rest you can maybe guess from the title.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 90s films

46. Three Colours: Blue

Year: 1993

There’s a certain amount of pretension that comes with recommending a film like Three Colors: Blue, but it had such an impact on us that it needs to be in this best 90s movies list. Krzysztof Kieślowski Three Colours trilogy, this is the first film that sets the scene and deals with the ‘liberty’ aspect of the French flag on which the name is based. Liberty comes at a price, though, as Julie (Juliette Binoche) finds herself being free after a horrific car crash kills both her husband and son. Visually it’s the most standout of the trilogy (but all the movies are a must watch) and its story and acting will resonate with you for years to come.

Image Credit: MK2 Diffusion

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Best 90s films

47. Hoop Dreams

Year: 1994

One of the greatest documentaries ever made, Hoop Dreams over the course of some three hours follows two teenagers as they try and make it big in college basketball and have a shot at the NBA. As with the best sports documentaries, this is as much about the sociological situation of stars Arthur Agee and William Gates who grew up in Chicago, touching on the role poverty, crime, drugs and family plays in upbringing as much as the talent the two boys possess. In 2021, the pair made Hoop Dreams The Podcast which is a must listen.

Image Credit: Fine Line Features

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Best 90s films

48. Chungking Express

Year: 1994

While it may have been the 2000s that cemented director Wong Kar-wai - with the release of In The Mood For Love and 2046 - his ‘90s feature Chungking Express is a stunning, sophisticated love story which follows two separate stories about policemen falling for someone, one a waitress the other a drug smuggler. It’s a smaller film compared to his others but the power in the storytelling and the visuals is riveting.

Image Credit: Ocean Shores Video

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Best 90s films

49. Eyes Wide Shut

Year: 1999

Stanley Kubrick’s take on erotica is as cold as they come with Eyes Wide Shut. His final film - which was completed but released after his death - is a psycho drama that plays on the idea of identity, infidelity and inhumanity. Told through the eyes of Bill (Tom Cruise) who, after hearing his partner Alice (Nicole Kidman) nearly had an affair, goes on a self-destructive tour of his psyche, revealing a seedy underworld comprising high society orgies and cover-ups. It’s a film that Freud would unpick for days and one you can lose yourself in for a few hours.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Best 90s films

50. The Thin Red Line

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Year: 1998

At 170 minutes long, Terrence Malick’s war movie undoubtedly counts as an epic. Featuring a huge cast of big names - some of whom became bigger names after starring in what would be Malick’s first film after a 20-year hiatus - and it was a huge undertaking for all involved. Despite turning none of its seven Oscar nominations into awards, it’s still one to add to your list the next time you have a spare three hours.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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