Join us as our crew tries to select the most iconic film from each year in the 1990’s. There are many classic beloved films to choose from, which ones will make the cut?
The 1990’s were a time of change in the film industry. During this time, computer generated special effects rose to prominence, replacing many of the techniques that had been used since the founding of film nearly 100 years earlier. This opened up the doors to special effects laden action blockbusters unlike we had ever seen before. However, despite the proliferation of those types of films in the 1990’s, there was a resurgence of smaller to moderately-budgeted pictures which made lasting remarks and started the careers of up-and-coming filmmakers. In many ways the 1990’s was a changing of the guard in cinema.
When we look back at the 1990’s there are certain films which stand out. These are the films which have come to define the decade in film. They may not have always been the most popular at the time of their release, but have aged well enough so that we continue to enjoy them to this day. They are cult classics, Hollywood blockbusters, or anything in between which remain pop-culture staples almost 30 years later.
But what if we had to pick the ten films that best defined the 1990’s, one from each year? I posed this question to our team and this is what they came up with. Below we’ve listed the film we think stands out the best from each year of the 1990’s and provided comments on why we made that decision.
It is important to note that these films are the ones that we felt are the most iconic from each year, not necessarily the most popular or best films. These are the movies that had the largest impact on our appreciation of pop culture from the 1990’s, and also the course of the industry during that time. These are movies that made actors into movie stars and directors into industry titans. What films would you choose from each year?
Garrett’s Choice = Edward Scissorhands
While Tim Burton made his debut in the 80’s, I feel like this film is his finest and most cherished work. It would kick off the decade and would showcase the type of auteur filmmaking which would prove to be popular. It also kicked off the stardom of Johnny Depp, who would become one of the biggest movie stars in the 90’s and 2000’s.
Jordan’s Choice = Dick Tracy
Where Tim Burton’s Batman changed the game for comic book movies just the year before, and remains a staple of the genre…not enough love is thrown Dick Tracy’s way. On top of just being a damn fun film, it wholly embraces the cartoony source material from the 1930s comic strip in a way few films even today manage to accomplish.
Jess’s Choice = Pretty Woman
Pretty Woman skyrocketed Julia Roberts to mega stardom and into the hearts of a huge and diverse audience. Among lifelong fans of the film are my mom and I who continue to quote and reminisce about this film today. Despite it being a great lighthearted comedy, one of the most important takeaways from the film is not to judge people from different walks of life. That, as we know, is a “big mistake. Big. HUGE.”
Becky’s Choice = The Hunt for Red October
I know most people think of Harrison Ford when someone mentions a Jack Ryan movie, but for me personally the quintessential adaptation has always been Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. This movie came out at the tail end of the Cold War and is one of the few films I consider to be basically perfect. I’ve always loved how the film bounces back and forth between the Americans and Russians pursuing Ramius and the tension is ratcheted up beautifully so that you’re on the edge of your seat by the climax.
Garrett’s Choice = Silence of the Lambs
So much more than just the Oscar winner for best picture. This was a very popular film when it was released, and remains so today. From the incredible performances by the two lead characters to the chilling and memorable storyline, this is the type of timeless thriller which is never boring to watch.
Jordan’s Choice = Terminator 2: Judgment Day
There’s no shortage of good-to-great movie sequels throughout film’s history, but it’s hard to deny James Cameron’s epic Terminator sequel pretty much sets the standard for what great action follow-ups could/should be. Between an impressive story that not only expands on the original’s lore, but moves it forward in new ways, and action sequences that still take your breath away, it set a whole new bar from which all other sequels are judged.
Jess’s Choice = Beauty and the Beast
Securing Disney’s post-Walt renaissance, Beauty and the Beast won two Oscars: one for Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”) and one for Best Score. The story continues to be a huge hit among adults and children alike, and Disney Parks and Disney Princess collections across the globe would not be complete without Belle in the mix.
Becky’s Choice = Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Hear me out on this one. I know this isn’t people’s first choice when it comes to adaptations of Robin Hood but I’ve come to the conclusion that this film is horrifically underrated and doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit it deserves. Not only does it feature a memorable adventure with Robin in Sherwood Forest, it also features a memorable performance from the late, the great Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Rickman’s performance alone is enough for me to recommend people check this film out, it is not to be missed.
Garrett’s Choice = Reservoir Dogs
1992 was choked full of impressive dramas, and had some decent blockbusters as well. However, to me the most influential and important film is Tarantino’s first. This was a ground-breaking approach to filmmaking by essentially taking cinematic classics and making them into pulp entertainment. Many filmmakers would follow a similar tactic in the future, but may not have hit the mark as squarely as QT.
Jordan’s Choice = A League of Their Own
Over the years, I’ve tried to pin down exactly why I love A League of Their Own so much…and I can’t honestly say I’ve come up with an answer. I’m not huge on biopics, or even sports films, and yet, this was a movie I remember watching constantly on VHS when I was a kid. To this day, if I see it on, I’ll stop what I’m doing to watch. Without question, it remains one of the best sports movies made.
Jess’s Choice = Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Forever and always one of the best vampire films, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an all-round favorite. It’s spooky, it’s romantic, its star-studded line up and their baby faces will always keep folks coming back. I still can’t believe some of my all-time favorites – Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Cary Elwes, Anthony Hopkins – all appear in such an iconic, timeless film. The story is an undeniable classic and the costumes and settings are to die for (get it?). Although some now-corny film transitions keep this film firmly in the ‘90s, it will continue to make my To-Watch List every Halloween.
Becky’s Choice = Alien 3
For a long time I never thought Alien 3 would make any of my favorite’s lists but I’ve recently come to better appreciate the third entry in the Alien saga. The story continues Ripley’s story arc in heartstopping fashion and brings it to a memorable conclusion (albeit one that ultimately didn’t last). While still not my favorite entry in the Alien franchise, I think it’s iconic enough to warrant a place on this list.
Garrett’s Choice = Jurassic Park
Speilberg made his mark in the 70’s and 80’s, but 1993 was his best year. While Schindler’s List is probably Spielberg’s best film, and was the best film of 1993, I went with his blockbuster Jurassic Park because it has the stronger legacy. This film showcased cutting edge special effects, but also helped to transition the blockbuster film into a new era.
Jordan’s Choice = Jurassic Park
I’ve been trying to pick things others have not, but for Jurassic Park, I simply cannot do it. There’s no question about the impact this film had, and continues to have decades later. Much like the original Star Wars trilogy before it, Jurassic Park set a new standard for visual effects and blockbusters in general. It literally never gets old, and continues to serve as a master class in action storytelling.
Jess’s Choice = Robin Hood: Men In Tights
I am so excited I get to mention Cary Elwes twice in one article, haha. I recall recording Robin Hood: Men In Tights onto VHS from television and watching it over and over, fast forwarding through the ads, until the VHS finally wouldn’t play anymore. Mel Brooks is always a good choice, but Men In Tights tops the Mel charts for me. The comedy is lighthearted, hilarious and fun. I don’t think a single bad casting choice was made in this film. While a lot of Cary’s fanbase consists of The Princess Bride fans, I hold the torch at its most high for Men In Tights (tight tights!).
Becky’s Choice = Jurassic Park
I know this has been mentioned twice already, but like Jordan I simply can’t help myself. I must pick Jurassic Park as the most iconic film for this year. Considering when it was made, the visual effects have aged exceedingly well, and indeed it could almost be argued that they haven’t aged at all. The iconic tale of man trying to play God by bringing dinosaurs back to life and the consequences that follow is one that will never get old for me and I feel everyone should see this film at least once.
Garrett’s Choice = The Shawshank Redemption
Shawshank Redemption is one of those films which everyone loves. It is endlessly rewatchable, and charming, even all these years later. We will never forget the performances or the story.
Jordan’s Choice = Dumb and Dumber
When we’re talking about iconic, the 90s gave us a ridiculous amount of classic comedy films. It was the heyday of Chris Farley and Adam Sandler’s earlier (and arguably best) outings. And yet, Dumb and Dumber manages to stand out among them. Its unique approach to ridiculous humor, expertly acted, manages to be just as hilarious today as it was when it first released. Not to mention it’s actually managed to age rather well and un-problematic.
Jess’s Choice = Interview with the Vampire
Steamy New Orleans nights, late 1700’s attire and Anne Rice. There is no way Interview with the Vampire wasn’t going to be an American gothic horror film long remembered. The film also saw Kirsten Dunst’s introduction to movies alongside some of the most famous actors of that time, including Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas. Definitely another one to add to a routine Halloween-Watch List.
Becky’s Choice = The Lion King
I was wondering how far I could make it into this decade without mentioning a film from the Disney Renaissance. Then I reached 1994 and realized I would have to mention The Lion King. I still remember watching this film in movie theaters and being utterly enthralled as the story played out. And yes, I was one of those who was completely messed up by the death of Mufasa for years afterward. If you’re going to mention iconic films, you have to add the original Lion King to the mix.
Garrett’s Choice = Toy Story
Pixar had been trying to make a CGI-animated film since the 1970’s. 1995 was the year they finally pulled it off, and it was a smash hit. It ushered in a new era of animated feature films, an arena in which every studio would race to compete in. Toy Story put Pixar on the map and established them as the best at what they do – and they haven’t relinquished that spot yet.
Jordan’s Choice = Waterworld
Fuck it, I love Waterworld. The film gets way too much hate, and I will happily argue that it is good, actually. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but the film does such an impressive amount of world-building and character development, that it’s hard not to be engrossed. It was a big-budget EPIC that took a big swing, which is always fun to see.
Jess’s Choice = Batman Forever
I maintain that Val Kilmer is my favorite Batman. Batman Forever is an underrated gem, though it has some tough competition given the caliber of Batman films to date. I think I always had a soft spot for the cast (Val, Chris O’Donnell, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Drew Barrymore) but it is also such a simple, straightforward, classically alluring Batman story. There doesn’t need to be any super sensationalized effects or groundbreaking writing or costumes because a good Batman story holds its own, especially in such capable hands as Joel Schumacher (director) and Tim Burton (producer). This one is a secure forever favorite.
Becky’s Choice = Apollo 13
I simply could not go through a list of iconic 90s films without mentioning Apollo 13. I have loved this film for years and James Horner’s score for the film has everything to do with the reason why. I will maintain for the rest of my life that Horner should have won the Oscar for this score because it helps elevate this film to the iconic status it so richly deserves. The film’s story is so incredible because it’s true and that’s another reason why it’s one of my favorites.
Garrett’s Choice = Independence Day
I’ve written about how Independence Day represents the crossover between blockbusters using practical effects and relying on CGI. It accomplished something similar to Jurassic Park, but on a larger (and more effects-driven scale). It would open the floodgates to a slew of new disaster movies over the next few years, and spark a renewed interest in science fiction which would explode in the following decade.
Jordan’s Choice = Twister
Disaster movies have always been among my favorite genres, and 1996 just so happened to give us two of the best to ever to it. There’s the aforementioned Independence Day, but Twister can’t be left out of the conversation. On top of bringing impressive visual effects for the time, it managed to pull together a cast/story that remains intensely fun to watch. Sure, so much of it doesn’t make sense, but the fun factor is undeniable and still holds up. It set a new standard for natural disaster films that’s rarely been matched.
Jess’s Choice = Romeo + Juliet
I don’t think many people my age weren’t in some way shaped or influenced by Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. What a marvelous and ballsy interpretation of a Shakespeare classic, and so beautifully executed. I always felt that even those who weren’t Shakespeare fans could get behind this film purely for its visuals: characters, costumes, setting and delivery. The music is also unforgettable. I played Des’ree’s “Kissing You” at my wedding. This film definitely makes a mark.
Becky’s Choice = Mission: Impossible
The Mission Impossible franchise has been around for so long that I wonder how many people remember that it started in the mid-1990s. While the cast of the original TV series largely disowned this movie, it’s eye-opening Act I twist helped spawn five sequels with two more on the way. What continually impresses me about this film is how, despite being the oldest in the series and by default features the oldest technology, it’s aged quite well and doesn’t feel too dated. Every once in a while I like to rewatch this film to remind myself where it all began.
Garrett’s Choice = Titanic
What else can be said about Titanic that hasn’t already been said? This was a big-budget cutting-edge blockbuster disaster movie, but also a heartbreaking drama. It was big-ticket entertainment you didn’t want to miss, and even though we kind of make fun of it today, it was a very important and influential film.
Jordan’s Choice = The Fifth Element
Hard to think of a Sci-Fi film that goes as balls to the wall as Fifth Element. Bringing together a story that’s at once familiar, while putting a fresh spin on things, the film combined impressive world-building and visuals to deliver something unforgettable. Before George Lucas launched the Prequels, Fifth Element set the stage for what bustling, big-budget Sci-Fi should look like. For my money, it’s still among Bruce Willis’ best performances.
Jess’s Choice = Life is Beautiful
Possibly the most heartbreakingly beautiful film I have ever seen, Italian comedy drama Life is Beautiful is haunting and unforgettable. After a fairytale beginning, a Jewish family is taken to a concentration camp during World War II. Guido employs a playful mixture of humor, imagination and sheer will to prevent his son from being fearful of their situation. If you have not seen this film, please do.
Becky’s Choice = Titanic
I know it’s been mentioned before but I also needed to include Titanic on my list. This is the quintessential 90s blockbuster drama made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that you know how it’s going to end for most of the characters before the film even starts. Add in James Horner’s Oscar-winning score and you have a heartbreaking epic that should probably remain the definitive story about Titanic, as I don’t feel it could ever be surpassed.
Garrett’s Choice = The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers made their mark with some very excellent films in the 1990’s, and none has become as much of a cult hit as this one. For every overblown blockbuster screening in theaters, it seemed like the 90’s had a quirky misunderstood drama-comedy. This is one of those films which not only showed an auteur type approach that was growing in popularity, but it found a happy medium between artistic and entertaining.
Jordan’s Choice = Dark City
Though it didn’t exactly light up the box office, Dark City quickly became a cult classic. The noir-style story, combined with heavy science fiction elements (even a dash of fantasy), makes for a powerful combo that keeps audiences engaged throughout no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
Jess’s Choice = Ever After
Ever After is my favorite film of all time. It is a perfect Cinderella story so dreamily executed by Drew Barrymore as Danielle de Barbarac. I first saw it when my mom hired it for me from a video store (definitely showing my age) when I was home sick from school. I couldn’t have known that it would be so special, despite it being premised on a classic fairytale told and retold in many charming adaptations over time. When Danielle and Prince Henry get stranded in the woods and gypsies try to steal from them, Danielle proposes that she at least be permitted to keep “whatever she can carry.” The gypsies agree and she proceeds to pick up Henry and carries him over her shoulders to the amusement of everyone around her. Isn’t that just a fabulous image? What “princess” does that?
Becky’s Choice = Star Trek: Insurrection
I know the general consensus is that First Contact is the best of the Next Generation films, but I feel that view doesn’t give Star Trek: Insurrection nearly enough credit. The plot where the Enterprise has to save the small population of a remote planet from being forcibly removed “for the greater good” is pure Star Trek at its finest and it’s remained one of my favorite Star Trek stories ever since it came out.
Garrett’s Choice = Fight Club
Part of the 90’s obsession with the reemergence of auteur cinema was the variety in perspectives it offered, and some of those could be considered subversive. David Fincher brought his background of making music videos to feature films (showing the impact of MTV), and his slick but dark approach was unlike anything audiences had seen before. Se7en paved the way, but Fight Club ultimately became the more popular film.
Jordan’s Choice = The Matrix
Where Dark City’s heady Sci-Fi story didn’t click with audiences the year before, The Matrix came in and took everyone’s breath away. It’s a stunning film, and despite having a Star Wars movie to pick from this year (The Phantom Menace) it’s hard to argue Matrix had the bigger impact. It completely changed how action films were made, paving the way for a new style of martial arts film, while also proving thought-provoking science fiction can be as thrilling as anything else.
Jess’s Choice = The Mummy
Wow, this has been so hard to pick one film for each year – what an epic movie decade!
The Mummy is a reliable, high energy, action-packed film; one that you can watch in almost anyone’s company – by yourself, with a friend, a lover, a family member, a child – and all audience members are likely to enjoy it. It is also a film that you can immerse yourself in or, if you have seen it as many times as I have, just play it in the background as exciting swashbuckling company. The pace, writing, humor and effects are still impressive to this day and Jonathan’s antics (hilariously portrayed by John Hannah) will never not make me laugh.
Becky’s Choice = The Mummy
Remember how I said at the beginning of this list that I had a very small list of films that I considered perfect? The Mummy is also part of that list because this film is, from top to bottom, completely and utterly perfect. It’s got everything: an amazing cast, a mesmerizing story, not to mention a gorgeous score from Jerry Goldsmith that sounds like it came straight out of old Hollywood. The Mummy is that rare example of a remake that actually surpasses the original and I will never get tired of singing this film’s praises.
Want more iconic movies? Check out:
The Most Iconic Movie From Every Year of the 1980’s