As we march on through the 21st century and the world advances into a new technological age, we all look back on the 1990s with a sense of nostalgia. It was a simpler time and yet it paved the way for everything we have today. With the birth of the internet and social media, the 90s were the decade that started it all.
The 90s were also an important time for the movie business. With established and legendary filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and James Cameron making some of the most memorable and important films of their careers, the 90s sparked up new directors like Quentin Tarantino who exploded onto the scene and redefined our movie watching experience. Dramatic changes and advances in technology allowed an entire new dimension in special effects, and CGI soon elevated the movie industry onto a platform it had never seen before.
There are many people who say that the 90s was the last decade that the world was truly happy, and that’s reflected in the entertainment of the time; especially the movies we watched. So with that in mind, here are 15 movies from the 90s that we can all get nostalgic about.
15. Jurassic Park (1993)
Computer technology wasn’t the only advancing technology 1990s. Science, and in particular genetics, made a huge leap forward. With the recent ability to identify and replicate DNA on an individual level, the science world’s imaginations overflowed with endless possibilities. Suddenly the idea of cloning wasn’t just a possibility, it was a reality. This subject sparked the juices of every creative person as a steady flow of cloning-based stories hit the shelves.
None took the public by storm more than the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. The book became a smash hit and the giant of movie making Stephen Spielberg took it upon himself to make the film. With giant leaps in computer graphics, it was now possible to create the perfect dinosaur without the use of puppets, models or such techniques as stop motion or animation. The result is that Jurassic Park was a thrilling and exciting movie and had dinosaurs that looked so real, audiences were left to wonder if Spielberg had actually cloned a T-Rex himself. The graphics may look slightly dated by today’s standards but the adventure and experience of this film still grips audiences today.
14. Unforgiven (1992)
As the 90s kicked in and CGI took over, there was one genre of the film industry that looked to be dead and buried, and that’s the classic western. However, in 1992 the western legend himself, Clint Eastwood, decided to rescue the western genre from the grave. Unforgiven starts with the traditional and somewhat cliched good cowboys vs bad Indians stereotype, but it also brings that tale up to date with a realistic and more gritty view of the world and the Old West.
Eastwood directs and stars in this movie about a retired and reformed gunslinger who gave his life of violence and sin when he married his late wife. However, when a young gunman comes to ask his help to collect a bounty from some prostitutes who were maimed by cowboys, he decides to take one last job. With a great character-driven story, plus a truly great supporting cast; with the likes of Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris, the film became an instant classic. On top of that, Unforgiven managed to win four Oscars including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
13. Good Will Hunting (1997)
It’s almost unheard of these days for an unknown person to not only write a hit move, but have the chance to star in it as well. This is the case with Good Will Hunting. Written by and starring the unknown but up and coming Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, this film was a surprise hit and spring-boarded the careers of Damon and Affleck.
Good Will Hunting takes the tried and tested “working-class boy does good” theme and breathes new life into it. The story is simple enough; when a low class student discovers he’s a genius, he tries to use this to escape the trappings of his downtrodden life. With the help of a professor/therapist/father figure, this becomes possible.
While the story maybe a little predictable, the movie is remembered and enjoyed for its performances. As well as Damen and Affleck, a stand out performance comes from Robin Williams as the professor. His mesmerizing performance adds authenticity to the film and elevates it onto another level. Williams himself won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Affleck and Damon shared another for Best Original Screenplay. This movie also established the late, great Williams as a serious actor and not just the clown we all knew him to be.
12. Forrest Gump (1994)
Director Robert Zemeckis couldn’t have timed his adaptation of Winston Groom’s novel Forrest Gump more perfectly if he tried. In the early 90s the world was changing faster than it ever had before. The Berlin Wall had been pulled down which caused The Iron Curtain to finally fall, thus ending the Cold War. The world wide web exploded into people’s homes and started the age of the information super highway. It was an exhilarating time to be alive.
So with all these changes happening at once, the world was on the brink of something fast paced and exciting. Enter slow and naive Forrest Gump. This gentle dimwit provided a touchstone to simpler times, and his repeated and accidental influence on major world events provided a humorous and safe explanation for the difficulties the world faced, from the tumultuous sixties to the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. With raciest equality, civil rights and even Watergate, Forrest Gump was in the middle of it all. Tom Hanks’ performance as the lovable idiot navigating war, politics, love, and tragedy provided just the nostalgic air a world in flux needed to breathe. This movie elevated Hanks into the most bankable movie star in Hollywood. The A-lister also scored his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar award for the role.
11. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
In this sequel to 1984’s Terminator, James Cameron revisits the present day attempt to prevent a future robot controlled dystopia. Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his career-making role as a Terminator cyborg sent back from the future. In the first film, his role was to kill the young John Connor and prevent a future resistance to Skynet’s robot rule over humans.
In this instalment, Robert Patrick plays the T-1000; a next-generation Terminator sent by Skynet to complete the mission the old Terminator failed to do. The original Terminator has been changed by this resistance, and sent back to protect the young John Connor. While the new Terminator has the ability to change its appearance at will, for which the special effects used were far ahead of their time in 1991, the original Cyborg proves not so easy to destroy. This film is full of one line catch phrases that came to define Schwarzenegger’s career. “Hasta la vista, baby!” and “I’ll be back” are probably the most quoted movie lines ever.
10. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix was of the last movies to come out of the 90s and possibly one of the most important. Using the very latest in CGI and movie making techniques, The Matrix became a benchmark for a new way of film making and the Wachowski brothers lead the way.
When a computer hacker, played by Keanu Reeves, is approached by a mysterious woman, his journey into a dystopian reality begins. Having “woken up” from a reality that he thought was real, the simulated reality known as The Matrix, Reeves learns the truth about what has happened to humanity and how they have become enslaved by sentient machines. Making a stand with the rest of the rebels, Reeves and co. set about destroying the simulated reality we’ve all come to believe is real.
With some of the greatest and most stunning cinematography and choreography even seen on film; including slow motion bullets and gravity-defying Kung-Fu, The Matrix still holds up today as one of the most exciting movies of all time.
9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Adapted from a Stephen King short story, The Shawshank Redemption is a master class in life, dignity and even what it means to be alive and free. Driven by truly inspiring performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption follows the relationship of two convicts in prison and how their relationship and lives change over the decades.
After Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, is imprisoned for murdering his wife and her lover, he meets Red. The prison’s go-to guy and inmate elder. Always claiming he is innocent, Dufresne, with the help of Red, must learn the harsh realities of being in prison. That is until he breaks free. With a little help from Rita Hayworth of course.
Although it wasn’t a box office smash, critics could praise this movie highly, as it received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Audiences agreed and the movie is often voted as one of the greatest films of all time.
8. American Beauty (1999)
Best Picture Oscar winner American Beauty is both a disturbing and beautiful movie. Taking a look at middle class suburban America, American Beauty follows a bored middle aged man as he goes through a mid-life crises. Tackling the very essence of life; such as beauty, love, sexuality, materialism and even redemption, American Beauty is both subtle and obvious. The movie is littered with truly stunning scenes and camera work; the empty bag floating in the breeze is still haunting and visually pleasing no matter how many times we’ve seen this film.
Oscars went to Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening for their performances as well as director Sam Mendes. However, it is Chris Cooper that stole the movie. His performance as a conservative, abusive military father who is unable to accept his suspicions of a gay son and is dealing with his own closeted homosexuality, is still difficult and uncomfortable to watch twenty years later.
7. Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story is the only children’s movie on our list and it’s arguably the best of the lot. For many reasons, Toy Story is a groundbreaking film. The first fully computer-animated feature film, it broke the mold for every animated film that came after it. It also launched Pixar into the world with huge success. The only down side some might say is that this movie pretty much killed the hand-animated films the likes of Disney had been producing for so many years.
The story centers around a child’s bedroom and what the toys get up to when there are no humans around. The leader of the Toys is Woody the cowboy. Loved by his owner Andy, Woody is played with and almost worshiped as the number one toy. That is until Andy’s birthday comes and he gets the latest toy; Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger with flashing lights and wings. Woody, thinking that Buzz will replace him, tries to get rid of his rival.
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Another entry and another Tom Hanks movie. Yep, Hanks pretty much ruled the 1990s. With this movie Hanks teamed up with director Steven Spielberg to tackle World War II. What they ended up with is what many would agree to be a masterpiece. The clever use of cinematography and handheld cameras brought the audience directly into the action and made us feel as if we were being shot at. It was a very real and graphic portrayal of war.
The movie sees Hanks and his squadron go behind enemy lines in order to find Private James Ryan and deliver the bad news that his brothers have been killed in action. The movie became an instant war classic and yet somehow – we still really don’t know how this happened – Saving Private Ryan didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar. Beaten by the period romantic comedy, Shakespeare in Love, this is probably one of the greatest movie travesties that has happened.
5. The Usual Suspects (1995)
The movie that has the most famous plot twist of them all. A twist so brilliant and integral to the story that it’s difficult to explain the brilliance of this movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Without giving away spoilers for those who have never seen it (although we’re not sure how that could possibly happen) The Usual Suspects sees petty criminal Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint being the only survivor of a criminal massacre. Being questioned by the police, Kint tells his tale of how the criminals met, what happened on the night in question and where crime boss Keyser Soze fits into it all. Using flashbacks and excellent narration, The Usual Suspects spins its complex and compelling story and the ending will leave you stunned!
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
This was Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature film, and what a great film to start a career with. Reservoir Dogs was ahead of its time in many ways, in particular with its razor sharp script and different way of storytelling. These things have become synonymous with “classic” Tarantino, along with extreme violence. However, his first major movie didn’t actually have a lot of violence in it. Although it managed to keep its intensity and dangerous edge, the violence was never actually seen. The infamous ear cutting scene which many will describe in great detail, was never seen and the camera actually pulls away.
Shot in real time, Reservoir Dogs is about a group of criminals who hide in a warehouse after a crime. One of them however, is an undercover cop. But which one?
With great performances by who would become Tarantino’s go-to actors, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi suck us into that warehouse as we struggle and panic with them. Add a retro soundtrack and look to the movie, and an instant classic is born.
3. Fight Club (1999)
Another movie of the 90s that is all about the massive plot twist. Once again, no spoilers here! Fight Club is arguably the movie that made Brad Pitt and Edward Norton serious actors and bankable box office stars.
Norton, staring as the narrator and unnamed everyman, becomes disconnected from his life and job. Looking to re-connect with the world, he joins a number of support groups in order to feel something. He meets a woman and this inadvertently leads him to Tyler Durden (played by Pitt). Together they form a Fight Club, a way for other disconnected men to come together and, well, fight. Throw in an unhealthy relationship and even some terrorism and you have the makings of something great.
The dark and chaotic world that this movie shows didn’t sit well with critics at first but the audience went crazy for this bleak view of the world. The critics soon came around and the movie is still relevant today.
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
This was the second movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and a movie that will always be associated with the 1990s, almost defining the entire decade. Unlike its predecessor, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp fiction was full of violence and wasn’t afraid to show it.
Not only did this movie ooze cool, mainly for its eclectic cast which saved John Travolta‘s career and propelled the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis and Tim Roth into Hollywood stardom, it also paved the way for a new kind of storytelling, telling different stories all intricately woven together as well as smashing the traditional three act beginning, middle and end plot. Pulp Fiction, with its cool cast, multiple characters, edgy script and more violence than we thought possible, became the new standard that all movies that followed would have to look up to.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Number one on our list is also one of the first movies of the decade. Apart from The Godfather movies, there is no better mafia/gangster movie than Goodfellas.
Focusing on the rise of a group of mobsters from the mid 1950s till the late 1980s, Goodfellas, which is based on true events, shows us the lives of these mobsters and how the impact and need for this life of crime takes its toll. With the superb cast of Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and a crazy, mentally unstable and scene stealing Joe Pesci, the movie has it all. Martin Scorsese is on top of his game as a director with this movie, giving it an authentic look and feel that transports us instantly into the crime world.
There will be many that disagree, but we feel that with the cast, story and general look of Goodfellas, it’s not just the best movie of the 1990s but an absolute masterpiece.
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