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The 10 best 90s movies ever that you need to stream now

No matter your age in the 90s, you need to see these films and experience the nostalgia

Clueless - Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone
Paramount / Everett Collection / Alamy

The nostalgia of the 90s is so ubiquitous that it’s become almost gauche. Endless reboots of popular 90s phenomena and an exhausting cycle of predictable retro fashion have inundated popular culture with an almost frightening lust for millennial childhood. No wonder so many have already moved on to glamorizing the early aughts!

It’s a shame that so much 90s ephemera has been poisoned by revisionist sentimentality, considering the actual artistic achievements of that decade were quite formidable. Sure, it’s easy to remember the romantic camp of Titanic with fondness — but there were actual astounding works of art being made at that time, too. In fact, 90s classics like The Fifth Element and Silence of the Lambs have already made it onto our lists of best sci-fi movies and best thriller films, respectively.

The 1990s are remembered for girl power and grunge as much as Clinton’s presidency and pan-global technological innovation. And despite or because of political triumph and social upheaval, 90s cinema was a time of wondrous experimentation and — less fortunately — a whole lot of cinematic kitsch (like You’ve Got Mail and Forrest Gump — as if!).

The danger with nostalgia is that it glosses over some of the unfortunate realities of the past — so let’s take off those rose-tinted glasses and have a more realistic look back at some of the best 90s movies and enjoy the achievements in 1990s cinema.

10. Showgirls (1995)

10. Showgirls
16%
5/10
131m
Genre
Drama
Stars
Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan
Directed by
Paul Verhoeven
Watch on Apple TV+
Paul Verhoeven had established himself as the king of ultra-violent excess with Robocop several years before the release of this schmaltzy ode to sleaze. Like most of the bizarro auteur’s well-known films, Showgirls walks a fine line between so-bad-it’s-genius and actually terrible — but cinephiles have attached themselves to this salacious movie nonetheless. Starring camp queens Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkely, Showgirls is an unparalleled sexual spectacle unlike any movie ever made before or after it.

9. Candyman (1992)

9. Candyman
61%
6.7/10
r
100m
Genre
Drama, Horror, Thriller
Stars
Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley
Directed by
Bernard Rose
Watch on Amazon
Horror fans have been eagerly awaiting Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta’s reboot of this socially aware supernatural movie, but it’ll be hard to top the original film’s demented vision. Although many wouldn’t expect highbrow aspirations in a film about a ghost that haunts a housing project, Phillip Glass’s score, Virginia Madsen’s acting, and artful direction by Bernard Rose elevate what could have easily been a schlocky story into something much more thoughtful. The eponymous spectre is a kind of vengeful genius loci of the hood — and the terror he incites acts as a frightening commentary on racial inequality in America.

8. Being John Malkovich (1999)

8. Being John Malkovich
90%
7.8/10
r
113m
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Stars
John Cusack, John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz
Directed by
Spike Jonze
Watch on Amazon
A movie as quirky and experimental as Being John Malkovich would have been unthinkable in a pre-90s cinema landscape; Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze teamed up for this truly strange and self-reflexive psychological fantasy in which real-life actor John Malkovich, playing himself, becomes a vessel for an aging cult of aristocrats looking for eternal life. Even that one-sentence description barely does justice to the film’s surreal world, in which a doorway discovered in a miniature office building acts as a supernatural entrance into the thespian’s mind before dumping various oneironauts (that’s someone who can travel consciously within a dream) into a pile of mud on the side of a highway. John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener are deliciously malicious antiheroes — and the movie’s unpredictable ending will surely make your skin crawl.

7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

7. Edward Scissorhands
74%
7.9/10
pg-13
105m
Genre
Fantasy, Drama, Romance
Stars
Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest
Directed by
Tim Burton
Watch on Disney+
Tim Burton’s gothic fairytale Edward Scissorhands might seem supremely goofy at first, but there’s a good chance you’ll be sobbing by the movie’s concluding moments. A bondage-clad, semi-sentient robot escapes from a cookie factory and is taken in by a kindhearted family. But how can someone with scissors for hands ever show love? It’s a magically real tragedy — and Burton’s idiosyncratic, expressionist depiction of the American suburbs is both jubilant and melancholic.
Edward Scissorhands (1990) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

6. Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996)

6. Welcome to the Dollhouse
83%
7.4/10
r
88m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Stars
Heather Matarazzo, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina
Directed by
Todd Solondz
Watch on Amazon
Director Todd Solandz explores the cruelty of the American suburbs in his darkly hilarious and deeply nihilistic film, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Starring the previously unknown Heather Matarazzo as the impossibly socially awkward Dawn Weiner, the film tracks the various indignities the socially ostracized child faces in her soul-crushingly normal New Jersey hometown. Although there’s plenty to laugh at (and some truly iconic fashion moments) throughout, Welcome to the Dollhouse is a heartbreaking portrait of loneliness in a decade that demanded a specific kind of normative conformity.

5. Good Will Hunting (1997)

5. Good Will Hunting
127m
Genre
Drama
Stars
Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck
Directed by
Gus Van Sant
Watch on Amazon
Good Will Hunting tells the story of Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon), a young man with a hidden genius for mathematics. Will works as a janitor at MIT despite possessing an incredible mind. He secretly solves a challenging math problem left on the board by a professor, showcasing his brilliance. Professor Lambeau, impressed by Will’s talent, offers him a chance to reach his potential. However, Will gets into trouble and is forced to see a therapist, Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams), as a condition of probation. The film explores Will’s journey of self-discovery. He grapples with questions about his future, his relationships, and what truly matters in life. Good Will Hunting captures the casual yet grunge-influenced style of the 90s. Flannel shirts, baggy jeans, and bomber jackets are all on display, reflecting the era’s fashion trends. The soundtrack features alternative rock and hip-hop artists who were popular in the 90s, like Elliott Smith, Lisa Loeb, and The Allman Brothers Band. The movie depicts a time before cell phones were ubiquitous. Characters rely on payphones, landlines, and face-to-face interactions, a stark contrast to our hyper-connected world.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

4. Eyes Wide Shut
68%
7.5/10
159m
Genre
Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Stars
Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Directed by
Stanley Kubrick
Watch on Amazon
Stanley Kubrick’s final feature-length film explored psychosexual depravity in a tightly wound thriller with spooky, satanic overtones. Nicole Kidman, and the imminently unlikeable Tom Cruise (at that point a real-life couple) are hauntingly desperate in their intertwining searches for sexual satisfaction that lead both into the darkest corners of desire. Although Eyes Wide Shut is less remembered than Kubrick’s most famous films, it might be the best in his entire oeuvre. 

3. The Doom Generation (1995)

3. The Doom Generation
48%
6/10
83m
Genre
Comedy, Crime, Drama, Romance
Stars
Rose McGowan, James Duval, Johnathon Schaech
Directed by
Gregg Araki
Watch on Amazon
While the 90s are often remembered as a time of economic upturn and social hopefulness, a certain faction of disenfranchised teens were thrashing, moshing, grumbling, and endlessly complaining in the underground. Gregg Araki’s Doom Generation is a showcase of proto-Millennial angst, featuring a delightfully dispassionate Rose McGowan as an ultra-apathetic dream girl caught in a truly bizarre love triangle. There’s plenty of outre object styling and highly aesthetic costume designs that embody the decade’s attitude in this movie, but the film’s dark conclusion says something serious about the violence that lurked underneath all that 90s optimism.

2. Scream (1996)

2. Scream
65%
7.4/10
112m
Genre
Crime, Horror, Mystery
Stars
David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox
Directed by
Wes Craven
Watch on Hulu
This movie is so groundbreaking and influential that horror films can essentially be sorted as pre- or post-Scream. Wes Craven’s postmodern masterpiece broke the rules of the genre by saying them aloud, making for a twist-filled journey into and beyond the cliches of scary cinema. The film’s main antagonist, who would later be nicknamed Ghostface by fans, has since become an icon of the 90s, but also of various goth and punk subcultures. Through Scream, starlet Neve Campbell ascended as the Final Girl par excellence.

1. Clueless (1995)

1. Clueless
68%
6.9/10
97m
Genre
Comedy, Romance, Drama
Stars
Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy
Directed by
Amy Heckerling
Watch on Amazon
We’ve only recently learned all the challenges that director Amy Heckerling faced to get this movie made — the 90s were such a sexist decade that studio execs assumed no one would want to watch a story about a young girl, especially one directed by a woman! They were, of course, laughably wrong about that — and Clueless has since come to epitomize 90s style, aesthetics, lingo, music, and storytelling. It’s hard to emphasize how truly influential this catchphrase-generating movie really was and continues to be: Despite what at first appears to be a superficial story about vapid, wealthy teens, Clueless laid the blueprint for a specific kind of “girl power” feminism that has manifested in a full-fledged movement for women’s empowerment. Besides that, it’s also probably one of the most fashionable movies ever made.

Movie images and data from:
Eric Shorey
Eric Shorey is a freelance pop culture blogger whose work has appeared in Nylon, Vice, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and MTV. He…
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