The ’90s weren’t all just tamagotchis, Britpop, your favourite Spice Girl and Tony Blair. In fact, in retrospect, it’s clear that the 1990s had it down when it came to movies. Films like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Fargo’ busted indie directors like Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers out of the arthouse and into the Oscars. Meanwhile, filmmakers like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg harnessed the potential and power of CGI with movies like ‘Titanic’ and ‘Jurassic Park’, exploring thrilling new possibilities for the blockbuster.
It wasn’t just North Americans ripping up the rulebook, either. In the UK, visionary directors like Danny Boyle and Shane Meadows were re-establishing British filmmaking. Likewise, foreign film was suddenly everywhere, with Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberger’s Dogme movement causing a storm of controversy, and everyone suddenly discovering the brilliance of Japanese animation.
So, with more options than Cher Horowitz’s closet, what film from the 1990s is the best? We count down the 50 best ’90s movies, like, ever.
Director Roland Emmerich
Cast Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Will Smith
Most ’90s moment When it turns out the alien mothership is compatible with Windows 95.
Comparing the original ‘Independence Day’ with this year’s letdown sequel ‘Resurgence’ offers a glimmer of insight into how movies have changed over the past 20 years. Where the new film gets to the alien destructo-porn as fast as it possibly can, the original was a relatively slow burner, allowing the tension to develop, and the characters along with it. So when the world-ending craziness finally kicks in, you’re invested – you really want these plucky scrappers to show ET who’s boss. Oh, and the destruction of the White House remains a truly iconic cinema image. You wouldn’t get away with it nowadays! TH
Director Gil Junger
Cast Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Most ’90s moment Alt-rockers Letters to Cleo playing the high school prom.
The ’90s were full of high school remakes of Shakespeare plays, but this ‘Taming of the Shrew’-inspired romcom has more fire in its belly than all of them put together. Heath Ledger’s bad boy Patrick is paid to seduce angry feminist Kat (Stiles) before accidentally falling in love with her. While that sounds ridiculous, the story is actually full of painfully realistic teen awkwardness. Heath Ledger’s off-pitch performance of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ (bellowed through a loudspeaker on the sports stands) is to the ’90s what John Cusack standing in the garden with a boombox is to the ’80s. KL
Director Spike Jonze
Cast John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz
Most ’90s moment The whole meta concept of the film – an actor playing a version of himself – now feels unmistakably ’90s.
The combination of director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman: does it get more ’90s than that? This was Jonze’s first feature: best known till then for his inventive music videos for the likes of The Beastie Boys and Björk. It was also the first feature by the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who went on to write ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. Its premise is loopy: John Cusack is a filing clerk on a building’s seventh-and-a-half floor who discovers a portal into the head of the actor John Malkovich. Naturally, he starts selling tickets so that others can also enjoy the experience. In retrospect, it seems the perfect film for the very dawn of the Internet age when other people’s lives would become our own like never before. DC
Director Patrick Keiller
Most ’90s moment It marks a point just before Britain was rebranded and the internet revolutionised conspiracy culture.
In Patrick Keiller’s documentary an unseen narrator tells the story of Robinson, who has been commissioned to investigate ‘the problem of England’. They tour the country together, visiting the bits of it that no one wants to look at or think about: corporate headquarters, business parks, container terminals. Keiller’s genius here is to make these places seem lyrical, mysterious even. In the year that Tony Blair got elected, Keiller suggests that not only is Cool Britannia not very cool, but that most of us have very little idea of what actually goes on in huge swathes of our country. CW
Director Dennis Dugan
Cast Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald
Most ’90s moment Sandler's soft-focus dream, complete with the leading lady in suspenders holding two tankards of beer.
No ’90s list would be complete without at least one Sandler movie, and the choice was conveniently narrowed by the fact that almost all of them are awful. In the end, it was a close-run race between this and the similarly wondrous 'The Wedding Singer', and while the latter is undoubtedly the smarter movie, 'Happy Gilmore' is just so gloriously silly it had to take the prize. The goofiest film of a seriously goofy career, it's a treasure trove of oddball characters, weirdo cameos, dumb-but-smart one-liners and outright surrealism. And Sandler's performance is just a delight, walking the perfect line between loveable, obnoxious and just plain nuts. TH
Director Penelope Spheeris
Cast Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe
Most ’90s moment The product placement montage is distinctly of its time.
Before Austin Powers there was Wayne. The story of the scruffy suburban metalhead who broadcasts a public-access TV show from his parents’ basement with his friend Garth was Mike Myers’ first big screen outing – spawned from a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit. From the music and hairstyles, to the clothes and the concerts, the movie gleefully captures a moment in time as it bounds along with jokes and one-liners. It’s silly to the core, but it’s also immensely entertaining and gave a generation of early ’90s teenagers an artillery of annoying catchphrases to fire at parents, teachers and friends. ‘A sphincter says what?’ Exactly. JC
Director Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast Frances McDormand, William H Macy, Steve Buscemi
Most ’90s moment The hairspray fringes and cat jumpers.
Yes, the TV reboot is pretty darn fantastic. But nothing beats the original – the Coen brothers’ 1996 masterpiece of black comedy starring Frances McDormand as seven-months pregnant cop Marge, who’s investigating a triple murder case in small-town Minnesota. Acted-to-perfection, ‘Fargo’ mixes quirky humour, hapless criminals and film noir, an unbeatable formula copied by the TV show. One of the best movies of the ’90s, and the one that introduced indie up-and-comers Joel and Ethan Coen to the world. CC
Director Chris Columbus
Cast Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
Most ’90s moment Kevin using Micro Machines as booby traps.
‘Home Alone’ is such an iconic Christmas movie that it even spawned a range of jumpers more than 20 years after its release (those ‘Merry Christmas ya filthy animal’ sweaters everyone was wearing a couple of years ago). Starring Macaulay Culkin when he was cute (before he stopped being cute, then started being it again) the film follows eight-year-old Kevin as he’s left behind by his family when they go only holiday for the festive season. While at first he revels in his freedom from annoying parents and siblings, he’s ultimately forced to use booby traps to defend his home from a pair of bungling burglars. Hilarious and oh-so satisfying. KL
Director Larry Clark
Cast Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny
Most ’90s moment The soundtrack’s artful blend of hip hop and indie rock is pure ’95.
Another tabloid bugbear (see also ‘Crash’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’). But for those of us who were actual teenagers when it came out, ‘Kids’ didn’t inspire us to go out there and have random, meaningless sex with anything that moved (chance would be a fine thing). If anything, it just made us insanely jealous because we weren’t wealthy, good looking and living in New York. Viewed now, ‘Kids’ feels like a museum piece, a snapshot of NYC before the gentrification really kicked in, and a portrait of a nation’s youth before cellphones and social media. And it’s oddly heartbreaking. TH
Director Bryan Singer
Cast Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri
Most ’90s moment The stomach-lurching scene at the end when Chazz Palminteri's cop drops his coffee cup as the penny drops about the identity of Keyser Söze.
This is the movie that practically invented the spoiler alert. On paper, ‘The Usual Suspects’ looked like a straight-up heist movie: five crooks meet at a police line-up and plan a robbery. Of course there’s more to it than that. It’s a cult classic, but the script was rejected by over 50 funders and studios, and was eventually shot in just 35 days by up-and-coming director Bryan Singer (now best known for ‘X-Men’). ‘The Usual Suspects’ went on to win two Oscars and spawn a gazillion ‘Keyser Söze’ t-shirts and posters. Bill Clinton is said to have kept a copy on Air Force One. Incidentally, the character of Keyser Söze was in part based on John List, who murdered his mother, wife and three children at their home in 1971 and went on the run for 18 years, assuming a new identity. CC
Director Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Cast Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones (voices)
Most ’90s moment Rowan Atkinson as king’s helper Zazu, singing ‘I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts’.
Imagine ‘Game of Thrones’ with less flaying and more speeches about being yourself, and you’ll end up with something close to ‘The Lion King’. This Disney classic is truly epic, following royal lion cub Simba as he grows up to avenge the murder of his father. It’s a children’s movie that’s not afraid to shy away from dark, complex issues like revenge, destiny, death and politics, and its villain Scar (played by Irons) is genuinely spine-chilling. Add to this an Elton John soundtrack that’s burned into the minds of most ’90s kids and it’s no surprise the film has spawned Broadway’s third-longest-running show ever. KL
Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast Mark Wahlberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham
Most ’90s moment At the end of the film we finally see Dirk Diggler’s huge manhood in all its, er, glory. It felt like a milestone at the time.
For many, this was the first film they saw by Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer-director who went on to help define leftfield American cinema in the 2000s with films including ‘Punch-Drunk Love’, ‘The Master’ and ‘Inherent Vice’. ‘Boogie Nights’ is an epic marvel: a tragicomic portrait of the late 1970s Californian porn industry, and the fate of one young man, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), who has an extremely large – and so extremely in-demand – penis. It’s a stylistic tour de force, blessed with a brilliant soundtrack and a cast to die for. It’s hard to watch it now and not feel extremely sad for the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Scotty, a troubled boom operator romantically obsessed with Diggler. DC
Director Michael Mann
Cast Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Means
Most ’90s moment The action takes place in 1757 – but that Enya-ish soundtrack gives it away.
Daniel Day-Lewis hurtles through the forest in eighteenth-century America as Hawkeye, the son of English settlers adopted by Mohicans after his parents were killed. When he comes to the rescue of a British general’s daughter Cora (Madeleine Stowe), an epic romance unfolds – alongside some thrilling and bloody action from ‘Heat’ director Michael Mann. Back in 1992, everyone was still obsessed with Day-Lewis’s method acting. To play Hawkeye, he learned to skin animals and build canoes.
Daniel Day-Lewis hurtles through the forest in eighteenth-century America as Hawkeye, the son of English settlers adopted by Mohicans after his parents were killed. When he comes to the rescue of a British general’s daughter Cora (Madeleine Stowe), an epic romance unfolds – alongside some thrilling and bloody action from ‘Heat’ director Michael Mann. Back in 1992, everyone was still obsessed with Day-Lewis’s method acting. To play Hawkeye, he learned to skin animals and build canoes. CC
Director Shane Meadows
Cast Andrew Shim, Ben Marshall, Paddy Considine
Most ’90s moment The sight of Paddy Considine shuffling across a playing field in his battered baseball cap.
Shane Meadows could be the best director of actors this country has ever produced: the performers in his films may be young, untrained and out of their depth, but every line somehow manages to feel real, honest, lived-in. Paddy Considine had never acted before he took the role of Morell, the emotionally disturbed man-child who first befriends, then divides, then terrorises a pair of suburban adolescents. But his performance is perfect – Morell may be a freak, but we've all met men like him and we know how dangerous they can be. At times, 'Romeo Brass' is less like watching a film and more like looking out the window, and that's brilliant. TH
Director Carl Franklin
Cast Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton
Most ’90s moment Any scene showcasing Billy Bob Thornton's sleazy record-executive ponytail.
One of the least known films on our list, 'One False Move' is also one of the simplest: the straight story of a drug heist gone violently wrong, and a small-town Sheriff left to pick up the pieces. So what makes it so remarkable? Partly it's the performances: Paxton aches with disappointment as the hillbilly cop with ambitions he'll never get to fulfil; Williams toys gently with everyone around her, never as helpless as they think she is; and Thornton and Michael Beach are flat-out terrifying as a pair of psycho crooks. The writing is flawless, subtly raising the stakes until the tension is almost unbearable and it all starts to feel heartbreakingly real. Seek it out. TH
Directors Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Cast Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne
Most ’90s moment Less a movie moment, more a fashion moment – those black leather trench coats and wraparound shades.
‘The Matrix’ became the first movie to sell 1 million copies on DVD – just one reason to argue the case for it being the most iconic movie of the ’90s. We all know the story: Keanu Reeves is Neo, the software writer who discovers that the world doesn’t exist. Life on Earth as we know it is actually a form virtual reality, created by intelligent machines who have enslaved the human race. Is Neo ‘The One’, who will lead the rebels to victory and the salvation of mankind? Someone, somewhere on the internet, has probably compiled a list of films inspired by ‘The Matrix’ – which would stretch four times around Mars and include everything from copycat cyber action thrillers to head-scratchers like ‘Inception’. With ground-breaking digital effects, the techno soundtrack and Keanu looking all blank and pretty, this is the ultimate ’90s movie. CC
Director Mathieu Kassovitz
Cast Vincent Cassel, Saïd Taghmaoui, Hubert Koundé
Most ’90s moment Hubert painstakingly slicing up a block of hash in his bedroom.
Paris might be known as the ‘city of love’, but as the title of Matthieu Kassovitz’s critically lauded 1996 movie boldly declares, it’s not all macarons, haute couture and dainty pavement cafés. ‘La Haine’ translates as ‘The Hate’ and shows a side of Paris and its residents you won’t find in any guidebook. Focusing on three teenagers from the neglected ‘banlieues’ around the French capital’s edge on a nighttime journey across the city after being arrested for one of many skirmishes with police, ‘La Haine’ casts a black-and-white light on a Paris of crime, brutality, racism and neglect. It showed the world that, for those born on the wrong side of the tracks, the city of love is also the city of hate. JC
Director Hayao Miyazaki
Cast Claire Danes, Billy Crudup (English dub voices)
Most ’90s moment The finale: the forest is restored and nature rebalanced. Eat your heart out, Disney Renaissance!
War, ecological collapse, writhing demons and a whole load of severed heads. After an early-’90s run of quirky fantasies, Studio Ghibli proved it could still do epic darkness with ‘Princess Mononoke’. A cursed prince journeys across medieval Japan to lift a spell, and ends up helping a half-feral princess defeat the forces of human greed and industry and saving an ancient forest. But this is not a simple tree-hugging fable: the power of ‘Princess Mononoke’ is that there are no easy answers, even in a world of magic. James Manning
Director Ken Loach
Cast Ricky Tomlinson, Bruce Jones
Most ’90s moment The general post-1980s gloom.
The career of veteran British director Ken Loach (‘Kes’) began a productive second chapter in the early 1990s (he’d spent most of the 1980s struggling to get anything made). ‘Raining Stones’ is the sometimes funny but mostly deeply tragic story of a man, Bob (Bruce Jones), trying to make ends meet in a Yorkshire community decimated by the collapse of traditional industries under Margaret Thatcher. Things escalate dangerously when Bob takes desperate measures to find the money to buy a dress for his daughter’s first holy communion. In the 23 years since, Loach has continued to make compassionate and powerful films about similar characters – the sort too rarely seen on the big screen. DC
Director Paul Verhoeven
Cast Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards
Most ’90s moment The insanely militaristic ‘newsflash’ inserts, reflecting the rise of Fox News.
Science fiction has always relished satire, but rarely has it been served as raw as in Paul Verhoeven’s batshit Gulf War pastiche, in which a group of chiseled, rough-‘n’-tough marines are dispatched to the desert to pre-emptively strike against a faceless, little-understood enemy, only to find themselves in very deep shit. The still-stunning special effects coupled with Verhoeven’s penchant for throat-grabbing ultraviolence ensure a high entertainment value, but it’s the fascist overtones that make ‘Starship Trooper’s resonate. Still, some scenes that seemed funny at the time – like Neil Patrick Harris in full Gestapo gear lecturing platoons of 15-year-old boy soldiers – feel a little too close to the bone in the age of Trump. TH
Director Tony Scott
Cast Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette
Most ’90s moment Where to start? Probably with the fact that Christian Slater plays a comic-book nerd who can’t get a date. Sure…
If you’re searching for the roots of aggressive nerd-dom, you could do worse than take a look at Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s dizzy slice of hipster trash magic. In Clarence, the loveable but lonely comic geek who kills a drug dealer, steals his stash and embarks on a coast-to-coast road trip with the woman of his dreams, we see the geek’s greatest wish made real – no wonder they’re no longer satisfied with tech jobs, but feel the urge to plaster their frustrated fantasies all over the internet. Still, it’s not Scott’s fault, and only a little bit Tarantino’s – and ‘True Romance’ is still giddily, uproariously wonderful. TH
Director Jonathan Demme
Cast Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
Most ’90s moment The depiction of transgenderism as somehow perverted and dangerous. Hey, it was a different time.
English baddies had been a Hollywood staple since the silent era, but Anthony Hopkins raised it to a whole new level of lip-smacking, wall-chewing ham as Hannibal the Cannibal, the incarcerated flesh-gobbler who helps Foster’s budding FBI agent catch a serial killer. Amazingly, viewers took Hopkins’s performance seriously, he took home an Oscar and never really had to work hard for a role ever again. But the film still stands up brilliantly, walking a tightrope between Hammer-horror camp and genuine chills, and taking a smart, subtle slant on the role of women in law enforcement – and movies about it. TH
Director John Singleton
Cast Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne
Most ’90s moment Tre cries tears of humiliation as a black police officer throws him against the bonnet of car.
Director John Singleton was a 22-year-old film school graduate when he persuaded one of his musical heroes, gangsta rapper Ice Cube, to star in his debut film. Cube took the part because – as he recently told Vanity Fair magazine – the South Central LA of Singleton’s script felt so real. The characters, he said, ‘were all people I grew up with and knew’. The film powerfully tells the story of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr) an African-American teenager growing up in South Central with tough choices. This was a few years after the beating of Rodney King by police sparked race riots in the city. CC
Director David Cronenberg
Cast James Spader, Holly Hunter
Most ’90s moment When the Daily Mail had a total meltdown and the film got banned in Westminster.
It's almost unbelievable that, on release, Cronenberg was repeatedly forced to explain in interviews that his film was a black comedy inspired by a work of classic English literature and not an exhortation to go and fuck in car wrecks. The mid-90s was a time of almost unparalleled tabloid frenzy – they'd already managed to ban 'Reservoir Dogs', 'Child's Play 3' and 'Man Bites Dog' – but the furore over 'Crash' was the most idiotic of all. Because the film isn't – and was never meant to be – particularly shocking. This is a work of sleek, otherworldly science fiction. Transcendent and gorgeously strange, simultaneously an attack on and a celebration of shallowness, self-gratification and yuppie values. It's damn funny, too. TH
Director Abbas Kiarostami
Cast Homayoun Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari, Safar Ali Moradi, Mir Hossein Noori
Most ’90s moment The enigmatic final scene, in which Kiarostami gives a glimpse into the making of the film.
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami – who died in July 2016 – is heralded as one of the world’s most poetic and intelligent filmmakers. This haunting and thought-provoking film, which won the Palme d’Or in 1997, might just be his masterpiece. A middle-aged man drives around the outskirts of Tehran trying to find someone to help him, but his request is a morbid one: he wants to kill himself and is looking for an accomplice to throw soil on his body. Minimalist in approach but rich in subject matter, this a deep, complex look at humanity that slowly takes hold and is hard to shake off. GT
Director Richard Linklater
Cast Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Mattthew McConaughey
Most ’90s moment The McConn is on – and a star is born.
A movie tailor-made for the 90s nostalgia boom, 'Dazed and Confused' was clearly conceived by Linklater as his generation's answer to 'American Graffiti': a loose-limbed, freewheeling coast through small-town USA on the last day of school, 1976 (it even, like it's predecessor, inspired a TV series: what was 'That 70s Show' if not a rebooted 'Happy Days'?). There's no real story as such, just a series of encounters in pool halls, strip-malls and parties. But it's beautifully played – McConaughey's not the only star-to-be here – and flawlessly written, and the tone of wistful, half-stoned longing is effortlessly maintained. TH
Director David Lynch
Cast Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise
Most ’90s moment David Bowie teleports into the middle of a scene and starts bellowing about Judy in a ropey Louisiana accent. Cheers, Dave.
Controversially, we've selected David Lynch's prequel to his groundbreaking TV series over its better-reviewed bookends 'Wild at Heart' and 'Lost Highway', partly because 'Twin Peaks' the series remains a defining work of 90s art, and partly because for some people – this writer included – it's his masterpiece. The tale of how doomed homecoming queen Laura Palmer confronts the demon that has invaded her family home and how her resistance to these dark supernatural forces results in her death, this was Lynch's most unfettered and emotional work since 'The Elephant Man', a film of pure, head-spinning sensation. Oh, and it has the best soundtrack of all time. TH
Director Lukas Moodysson
Cast Alexandra Dahlstrom, Rebecka Liljeberg
Most ’90s moment Two girls set out to hike from their home town of Amal to the bright lights of Stockholm, and get as far as the end of the street.
It's easy to overlook how massively the representation of gay characters developed during the 1990s – things were already improving, but the tectonic shift from screeching stereotypes to just regular people definitely gathered pace across the decade. Lukas Moodysson's heartfelt, effortlessly lovely coming of age drama is a prime example: the fact that his central characters are gay is almost less important than the fact that they're outsiders, bonded by a hatred of small minds and small towns – after all, the Swedish title of the film is 'Fucking Åmål'. TH
Director Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Cast Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Most ’90s moment Just the look of that grainy, early-digital handycam footage is pure ’90s.
Our generation’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ changed horror movies forever, in ways both inspiring and depressing. Shooting entirely on hand-held cameras in real locations using natural light and untrained actors, Myrick and Sanchez proved that the technology was finally there to make filmmaking a truly democratic process. Given their monumental success, a found-footage boom was inevitable – but for every ‘[REC]’, ‘Lake Mungo’ or ‘Paranormal Activity’ there were five ropey knock-offs. Still, the original remains remarkable: a truly frightening movie that relies almost entirely on atmospherics and acting, rather than cheap splatter violence. TH
Director Joel Coen
Cast Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston.
Most ’90s moment With his skin-tight trousers and facial fur, John Turturro (as Lebowski’s arch bowling nemesis Jesus Quintana) was the undoubted blueprint for noughties hipsterdom.
Is there a more ’90s character than The Dude? Jeff Bridges’s dressing gown-wearing, white russian-drinking washout is a hero for the slacker generation. In a case of mistaken identity, he becomes embroiled in a bizarre, increasingly complex caper with his bowling team buddies in tow. The dialogue is sharp and unrelentingly funny, and the twists become more surreal and joyful as the film goes on. It did so-so at the box office but today it’s the definition of a cult classic, spawning an annual festival and even a religion called Dudeism. GT
Director Steven Spielberg
Cast Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Most ’90s moment The first appearance of the brontosaurus marks a watershed in digital effects technology.
Okay, so over 20 years on it doesn't all look completely photorealistic – those Gallimimuses romping across the plain look fake as hell, in fact. But 'Jurassic Park' stands up a lot better than the first movie to really run with digital effects has any right to. The T-Rex chase, for instance, has barely aged a day – it can still leave you shaking like a glass of water on a Jeep dashboard. But that's got less to do with the cutting-edge tech and more to do with Spielberg's unerring sense of showmanship: like Richard Attenborough's old-school carny, he makes his audience wait for the big moments – and can't disguise his glee when he's finally able to cut loose. TH
Director Takashi Miike
Cast Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina
Most ’90s moment The audition itself, as women line up to be questioned and inspected by our 'hero'.
One of the best horror films of the 1990s begins almost like a comedy. In Japan, an unenlightened middle-aged widower, egged on by his teenage son and TV-producer friend, decides to find a new wife. But how? Easy: set up a fake audition for young, single girls. His whirlwind romance with the 'winner', a dainty little geisha-girl, slowly goes from sweet to unrelentingly horrifying. There are images here you'll never, ever be able to wipe from your mind. TH
Director Jim Jarmusch
Cast Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer
Most ’90s moment Any of the shots of Johnny Depp’s face in repose, looking absurdly, ’90s-ish-ly beautiful.
Jim Jarmusch took his drawling, stoner-y indie-hipster schtick out to the Old West, added a hefty dollop of hazy spirituality, sprinkles of harsh, abrupt violence, a rumbling Neil Young soundtrack and the world’s prettiest man, and hey presto: a masterpiece. Like its heroes, befuddled settler William Blake and irascible Native American tracker Nobody, ‘Dead Man’ keeps its own pace, wandering episodically through a monochrome wilderness populated by outlaws, lawmen, tribal elders and Iggy Pop in a dress. Surrender to its oblique, unique charms, and you’ll be transported. TH
Director James Cameron
Cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Most ’90s moment Sarah Connor rocking an AK-47, a tank top and the world’s coolest shades: iconic.
Why can't every blockbuster sequel be this great? James Cameron’s original 1984 film was a solid mash-up of sci-fi, action and horror, but ‘Judgment Day’ went deeper, darker and harder. The terrifying T-1000 and the imminent prospect of fiery nuclear armageddon (stunningly visualised in the opening minutes) are the driving force for the drama. But there's also time for some surprisingly deep meditations on fate, responsibility and the unknown consequences of our smallest actions. And Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor is the baddest ass since Ripley. JM
Director Claire Denis
Cast Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin
Most ’90s moment The film is pretty timeless. More obviously ’90s are the adverts that star Denis Lavant made for Stella Artois (back when Stella was the best-quality beer you could find on tap).
If you were a teenager who fell in love with arthouse movies in the ’90s, French auteur Claire Denis’s extraordinary Foreign Legion drama might well be one of the first subtitled films you watched. Not that you really need subtitles for this virtually dialogue-free ballet of a movie set in the East African state of Djibouti. Denis Lavant is Galoup, an ex-soldier who is in a bar in Marseilles recalling the power struggle with a new recruit that led to his recent court-martial. If you’ve never seen it, this haunting and beautiful film will blow you away. CC
Director John Lasseter
Cast Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles (voices)
Most ’90s moment The space-themed pizza parlour and arcade that's home to the aliens who worship 'the clawwww' is peak ’90s.
What do toys get up to when kids aren’t looking? Turns out it’s everything from existential crises to friendship dramas and escaping from sadistic next door neighbours. While Pixar’s first feature focuses on the competition between a pull-the-cord cowboy Woody, and new-fangled spaceman toy Buzz Lightyear, it’s the supporting characters who steal the show. Best of all are anxiety-ridden dinosaur Rex and grouchy Mr Potato Head. KL
Director Baz Luhrmann
Cast Claire Danes, Leonardo DiCaprio
Most ’90s moment Impossibly beautiful Leonardo DiCaprio peering through the fish tank.
Best line ‘I never saw true beauty ’til this night.’
It was a match made in ’90s indie heaven. Claire Danes was the girl in Doc Martens from ‘My So-Called Life’. Leonardo DiCaprio was the kid from ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ (this was pre Leomania, pre-Pussy Posse and pre-‘Titanic’). The pair were perfect for Baz Luhrmann’s retelling of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the MTV generation – with added guns, hip hop and fast editing. Still, ‘Romeo + Juliet’ never loses sight of the heart of Shakespeare’s tale – and it’s impossible to watch the death scene without tissues. CC
Director Kathryn Bigelow
Cast Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey
Most ’90s moment Keanu and Swayze’s wrestle in the surf, a moment of sweetly innocent homoerotic macho-bondo glory.
Guys, huh? Always hitting things, shooting things, jumping out of things and sticking things up at gunpoint. Still, you gotta love ‘em. At least, that’s the attitude taken by Bigelow’s peerless surfin’ ‘n’ skydivin’ classic, a film that takes the masculine movie stereotypes we‘re all familiar with – the rookie cop, the wise guru, the salty old-timer – and has a fond, good-natured chuckle at their expense. That Bigelow pulls this off while at the same time delivering full-throttle thrills and just a hint of genderbending is what makes ‘Point Break’ a near-perfect pleasure. Just stay the hell away from that disastrous remake. TH
Director Thomas Vinterberg
Cast Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen
Most ’90s moment The wobbly camera work.
For many filmgoers, this Danish film by Thomas Vinterberg (made adhering to the radical filmmaking rules of the Dogme 95 manifesto) was their first taste of the sort of shaky-cam digital filming style that would become entirely mainstream. ‘Festen’ is a disturbing portrait of a country-house family reunion where all sorts of skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboards. The lightweight digital cameras meant Vinterberg and his crew could wander easily in and out of rooms, and the results feel strikingly immediate and intimate, giving the story the feel of a raw documentary or someone else’s horrible home movie that we’ve stumbled on by accident and really shouldn’t really be watching. DC
Director Wes Anderson
Cast Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
Most ’90s moment This is a film that exists outside of time – but that, in itself, is kinda ’90s.
For many of us, this was our first exposure to the world of Wes Anderson – and we’d have been quite happy to pack up and move there permanently. ‘Rushmore’ remains arguably his most perfectly imagined film, toying with the conventions of the high school movie but taking them into all sorts of obscure, inventive, bizarrely resonant new directions. The script crackles (‘OR they?’), the characters balance between complete loveliness and obnoxious self-involvement, the British invasion soundtrack is spookily spot-on and the whole film just sings with life and wit and strangeness. TH
Director Quentin Tarantino
Cast Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman
Most ’90s moment Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace puffs away over dinner at Jack Rabbit Slims. Who said smoking wasn’t cool?
Blood, guns, gangsters, drugs, more blood and cheeseburgers; Quentin Tarantino’s disorientating black-comedy masterpiece is a lesson in post-modern storytelling and one of the most iconic films of the ’90s. Taking four of the most clichéd storylines from the ‘pulp fiction’ crime tales of mid-twentieth-century America, hacking them apart and churning them back together to create something entirely new, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is an intoxicating, thrilling ride, as trashy as it is refined, delighting and disgusting. JC
Director Frank Darabont
Cast Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Most ’90s moment It’s set in the mid-’60s, but that famous post-escape rain shot sure does look like a Bryan Adams video.
Tom Hanks was one of several leading men who said no to ‘Shawshank’. So it fell to Tim Robbins to put in a career-high performance, as an ordinary guy whose inner strength emerges under the horrific pressure of the US penal system. Morgan Freeman’s hollow-eyed con and Bob Gunton as a psychopathic warden complete the dramatic triangle in one of the greatest Hollywood films of its era – albeit one that seriously flunks the Bechdel test. JM
Director Amy Heckerling
Cast Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd
Most ’90s moment Brittany Murphy dancing to ‘Rollin’ With My Homies’ in a crop top, choker and tartan jacket.
You might think ‘Clueless’ isn’t very realistic. But you’re missing the point. This teen classic starts with Cher (Alicia Silverstone) picking her outfit from a hi-tech digital wardrobe and ends with her hooking up with her step-brother. It’s supposed to be over-the-top. In fact, it takes the plot of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ and uses it to paint the perfect parody of the pains of high school: popularity, virginity, touchy-feely douchebags and friendship. Plus, the script is full of LA sass: ‘Ugh, as if!’ KL
Director Martin Scorsese
Cast Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci
Most ’90s moment The famous scene in which Joe Pesci scares the hell out of an underling (see below) had fans quoting his lines (‘I’m funny how?’) for the rest of the decade.
It’s still Martin Scorsese’s most widely loved film: a confident and sweeping crime saga spanning the mid-1950s to 1980 and telling the true story of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his life of crime alongside mafia honchos Jimmy the Gent (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). This might be a story of murder and brutality, but it’s also unashamedly entertaining. Its style was so successful for Scorsese that he’s returned to it twice since, first for ‘Casino’ and later for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. De Niro has only worked with Scorsese one more time since – on 1991’s ‘Cape Fear’ – but there’s now serious talk that they will team up once more for a new film, ‘The Irishman’, which is due to shoot in the next couple of years and will also star Al Pacino. DC
Director Mike Leigh
Cast David Thewlis, Katrin Cartlidge, Peter Wight
Most ’90s moment When David Thewlis’s Johnny shares his paranoid world views with a deep-thinking security guard late at night – including his belief that the world will end in 1999.
Until 1993’s ‘Naked’, British director Mike Leigh was seen by many as a director of television plays, and especially the 1970s ones that made his name, including ‘Nuts in May’ and ‘Abigail’s Party’. ‘Naked’ was in fact Leigh’s fourth film for cinema, but there was something newly cinematic about it – it had a dark, brooding, dangerous energy not seen in his work before. Wild-eyed and intense, Johnny (David Thewlis) is a man apart from mainstream society – a drifter who flees Manchester after attacking a woman and who turns up at his ex-girlfriend’s Dalston flat before embarking on a long, dark night of soul on London’s streets. The result is angry, disturbing and oddly funny. It’s clearly a darkly personal work, but it also stands as a moody, poetic state-of-the-post-Thatcher-nation scream into the void. DC
Director Harold Ramis
Cast Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell
Most ’90s moment Andie MacDowell’s pastel knits. Only in the ’90s.
In the most Bill Murray-ish role of his career, Bill Murray plays a cynical TV weatherman cursed to relive the same day every day in smalltown Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. An absolute classic, the funny thing about ‘Groundhog Day’ is that that it could have been made anytime in the past 70 years. It’s a near-perfect movie, smart, funny and warm, packed with a few home truths: life is groundhoggy, boring and repetitive, but a little kindness and love go a long way. CC
Director Danny Boyle
Cast Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle
Most ’90s moment Ewan McGregor crosses Waterloo Bridge into a bright Blairite future – soundtracked by Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy (NUXX)’.
There’s a reason why we’re all still hooked on ‘Trainspotting’ – as Begbie might have put it, it’s pure fuckin’ brilliant. Danny Boyle trimmed down Irvine Welsh’s sprawling novel into a manically wired hallucinogenic caper. But it’s easy to forget that for all its quotable screenplay, banging soundtrack and stylised camera work, ‘Trainspotting’ packs a serious emotional punch. ‘First it’s fun, then it isn’t, then it’s hell,’ said John Cooper Clarke on the subject of heroin, and ‘Trainspotting’ charts that course like no other film. JM
Director Terrence Malick
Cast Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody
Most ’90s moment John Cusack pops up, destroys a nest of Japanese snipers then pops off again.
Best line 'Do you imagine your suffering will be any less because you loved goodness and truth?'
It was the comeback no one saw coming: after two decades in the wilderness, 'Badlands' director Malick re-emerged with a film that could have been made by no other artist, anywhere, ever. Taking the bare bones of James Jones's novel about the American invasion of Guadalcanal, stuffing it with Hollywood's finest actors and transforming it into a meandering essay on mortality, morality and existence, Malick proved that big-budget experimental cinema hadn't died in the late 70s. The fact that he's since been making variations on the same theme with steadily decreasing results hasn't dented the unearthly power of this immense film. TH
Director Krzysztof Kieślowski
Cast Juliette Binoche, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Irène Jacob
Most ’90s moment Irène Jacob’s gum advert photoshoot in ‘Red’ – that wet-look hair!
Best line ‘Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing.’
Kieslowski’s trilogy manages to be one of the towering achievements of European arthouse cinema and a riveting watch from start to finish. Across three films – ‘Blue’, ‘White’ and ‘Red’ – the director presents a skewed take on the French revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. But the conceptual scaffolding never restricts the power of the stories: a composer’s widow trying to escape the weight of the past, a down-and-out Polish exile scheming his way to riches and revenge, and a fashion model fascinated by a reclusive retired judge. The performances are incredible, the visuals unforgettable. There can't be many better ways to spend five hours sitting in the dark. JM
Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, John C Reilly
Most ’90s moment Tom Cruise's berserk 'respect the cock!' seminar.
The No 1 film on our list has everything: indie smarts, blockbuster stars, grand ideas, big laughs, high drama, heartrending tragedy, deep empathy, gobsmacking performances, beautiful songs and raining frogs. Paul Thomas Anderson’s intimate epic sprawls like LA itself, in every direction at once, piling story upon story: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a live-in nurse to a dying man; William H Macy is an ageing, in-the-closet former child genius; Tom Cruise gives the performance of a lifetime as a testosterone-crazed motivational speaker. And through it all weave Aimee Mann's songs, adding light and melody to Anderson's ambitious, risk-taking, raw, honest, vicious, imperfect and unashamedly emotional character drama. TH
More '90s nostalgia
It’s possible that no other genre of film hits home for people the way teen movies do. There’s a sense of nostalgia for these movies, even if they don’t mirror our particular adolescent experience. Whether you suffered or sailed through your teenage years, there’s a film on this list of the 100 best teen movies you’ll relate to...
Welcome to our round-up of the very best ’90s songs...