Skip to main content

The 10 Best 90’s Movies Ever

90’s nostalgia is so ubiquitous that it’s become almost gauche. Endless reboots of popular 90’s phenomenon 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 90’s 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, 90’s classics like The Fifth Element and Silence of the Lambs have already made it onto our lists of best sci-fi movies and best thrillers, respectively.

The 1990’s 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, 90’s 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 greatest achievements in 90’s cinema.

10. Showgirls (1995)

10. Showgirls
16 %
r 131m
Genre Drama
Stars Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven had established himself as the king of ultra-violent excess with Robocop several years before the release of this schmaltzy ode to sleeze. 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 — or porno — ever made before or after it.

9. Candyman (1992)

9. Candyman
61 %
r 100m
Genre Drama, Horror, Thriller
Stars Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley
Directed by Bernard Rose
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 elevates 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 %
r 113m
Genre Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Stars John Cusack, John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz
Directed by Spike Jonze
A movie as quirky and experimental as Being John Malkovich would have been unthinkable in a pre-90’s 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 anti-heroes — and the movie’s unpredictable ending will surely make your skin crawl.

7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

7. Edward Scissorhands
74 %
pg-13 105m
Genre Fantasy, Drama, Romance
Stars Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest
Directed by Tim Burton
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 %
r 88m
Genre Comedy, Drama
Stars Heather Matarazzo, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina
Directed by Todd Solondz
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. Princess Mononoke (1997)

5. Princess Mononoke
76 %
pg-13 134m
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Animation
Stars Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The kinds of ultra-popular high-fantasy escapades that moviegoers flock to en masse these days are exceedingly droll compared to the colorful worlds created by Japanese animator Hayoa Miyazaki. Princess Mononoke is one of the director’s greatest achievements and is masterfully drawn and conceptualized. In the 1990’s, Miyazaki was ahead of the game in predicting our current climate crisis and his whimsical stories acted as an early warning sign about the dire situation caused by man-made destruction. There are plenty of fun characters and magical moments aside from the political messaging, and the action sequences are all absolutely jaw dropping.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

4. Eyes Wide Shut
68 %
r 159m
Genre Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
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 %
r 80m
Genre Action, Comedy, Crime, Drama
Stars Rose McGowan, James Duval, Johnathon Schaech
Directed by Gregg Araki
While the 90’s 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 90’s optimism.

2. Scream (1996)

2. Scream
65 %
r 112m
Genre Crime, Horror, Mystery
Stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox
Directed by Wes Craven
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 90’s 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 %
pg-13 97m
Genre Comedy, Romance
Stars Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy
Directed by Amy Heckerling
We’ve only recently learned all the challenges that director Amy Heckerling faced to get this movie made — the 90’s 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 90’s 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.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
The best George Clooney movies of all time
Our top picks: The greatest George Clooney movies
George Clooney in Michael Clayton.

George Clooney was born with a leg up. There's no point in denying his good looks and charisma, which were more than enough to make him a TV star. What made him a matinee idol of the kind we rarely see anymore, though, was his ability to break out of the shell that his good looks could have boxed him into. George Clooney can be whatever he needs to be. He can be a sexy, sly criminal, a lawyer who's dead inside, or a bumbling oaf trying to find his way home.

All of these roles work on Clooney, because he fits well in both comedies and dramas. The peak of Clooney's powers are likely behind us at this point, but as he proved in his more recent movies, he remains one of the most charismatic leading men that Hollywood has. These are the movies that showcase what Clooney can do, and they're just as varied as his whole career has been.

Read more
These are the best David Fincher movies, ranked
Does your favorite David Fincher movie top the list?
best david fincher movies davidfincher

Since he emerged on the scene with his own Alien sequel, David Fincher has gained a reputation for being exacting, precise, and brilliant. Whether he's making an unconventional thriller or a throwback to Hollywood's golden age, Fincher's movies are always distinctive, imaginative, and hugely engaging.

Over the course of his career as a director, Fincher has made more than a couple of genuine masterpieces. While he's yet to win any major Oscars, Fincher has always seemed most interested in following his own muse, and is less concerned about how his decisions will be viewed by those around him. You may think of Fincher as a thriller guy, but anyone who's followed his career closely knows that thrillers aren't the only thing he makes.

Read more
10 best Black History movies to watch in February and beyond
From Do the Right Thing to Selma, these are the best movies to watch for Black History Month this year
Denzel Washington in Malcolm X.

Commemorating Black History Month is an important reminder of the integral role that Black Americans have had in our nation's history. Because the commemoration is a month long, though, there are some who may be wondering what the best ways are to be mindful of what the month is supposed to signify. It may seem surprising, but watching a good Black history movie or a great movie about Black life can do exactly that, which is why we've gathered 10 great movies to watch for Black History Month below.

There are far more movies you could watch than will ever fit on a single list, so we've tried to boil it down to a few essential titles. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of great movies past these 10.

Read more