There's absolutely no doubt about it: the '90s was a great decade for cinema, gifting audiences countless classics which will continue to entertain generations to come.
This was an era which saw filmmakers decide to break the rules with self-aware, self-referential, and meta works which nodded towards what had come before whilst putting a new spin on the genre tropes we were all too familiar with. Meanwhile groundbreaking technology meant they could also push boundaries like never before, especially thanks to advanced developments in CGI. Independent cinema also experienced a boom with their releases now seeing similar levels of popularity as blockbusters, whilst international movies started to reach wider audiences too.
But with so many great movies to discover from one of the best decades in cinema history, you may be wondering where on Earth to start. That's where we come in, with our ranking of the best '90s movies you should be adding immediately to your watch list. Or if you have seen them already, they are certainly worthy of rewatch after rewatch.
32. Before Sunrise (1995)
The first installment in Richard Linklater's Before trilogy introduces audiences to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) as they meet on a train, deciding to disembark in Vienna to spend the night together. Everything is stripped back so the focus is purely on the duo who detail their contrasting thoughts on life and love, with the natural chemistry between them being totally electrifying. Whilst the film is unashamedly romantic it never feels forced or melodramatic, always remaining grounded in reality making it easy to believe in their relationship. This one is impossible not to fall head over heels in love with.
31. Notting Hill (1999)
British writer and director Richard Curtis is a romantic-comedy master, as he has proven countless times with films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Love Actually. However, this story of the relationship between an English bookseller (Hugh Grant) and a famous American actress (Julia Roberts) is arguably the jewel in his crown thanks to its irresistible charm. Although the tale doesn't dive deep and the cheese is aplenty, that simply doesn't matter as everything is delivered with sophistication, especially the witty humor. The press junket scene where Grant's William Thacker pretends to be a journalist from Horse & Hound is still one of the best moments in rom-com history.
30. La Haine (1995)
Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, French thriller La Haine details a day and night in the lives of a trio of friends from a poor immigrant neighborhood in Paris (portrayed by actors Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé, and Saïd Taghmaoui). It's a tough watch as the film takes an uncompromising look at the very real issues many were facing in '90s Paris, with Kassovitz's rage driving the story forward. However, it's more than worth it thanks to the emotionally charged storytelling, striking black-and-white cinematography which brings to life the Parisian concrete jungle, and the blistering performances from our central trio.
29. Schindler's List (1993)
1993 was quite the year for director Steven Spielberg as he followed up the magical Jurassic Park with a very different but also impressive movie: World War II drama Schindler's List. Telling the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German man who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, it is a remarkable tale which is nothing short of a miracle. What is perhaps most striking about the movie is how Spielberg depicts both the harrowing horrors of the Holocaust and the tender humanity that somehow still existed during these dark times.
28. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Director Steven Spielberg's World War II drama Saving Private Ryan is best known for its remarkable opening scene - the brutal 24-minute depiction of the Omaha Beach D-Day landing, which remains one of the most honest depictions of war ever seen on screen. It's a powerful beginning, but the rest of the film also impresses with its compelling story, jaw-dropping action, and unflinching look at the savagery of war. As we go on the journey to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon) to bring him home safely following the deaths of his three brothers who are killed in action, you will find yourself shifting closer and closer to the edge of your seat, gripped by the drama.
27. Speed (1994)
If we are really being honest, the concept of hit action film Speed alone sells it as one of the very best '90s movies: Keanu Reeves' Officer Jack Traven must stop a bus that has been rigged by a terrorist to explode if its speed drops to below 50 miles per hour. The premise really is that simple, but the movie is all the better because of it, being a slick thriller that never, ever takes its foot off the accelerator. Just maybe skip the disappointing sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control (yes, really, that's what they named it).
26. Aladdin (1992)
The Disney Renaissance era delivered many gems as the studio returned to form, with one of these treasures being Aladdin, a tale adapted from the Arabic folktales One Thousand and One Nights. The story is as classic as they come: a street urchin unleashes a genie after discovering a magic lamp, using the wishes to disguise himself as a wealthy prince to win the heart of a princess. However, while the tale of Aladdin is delightful and the music some of Disney's best (from "Prince Ali" to "A Whole New World"), undoubtedly the star of the show is Robin Williams as the Genie, delivering one of the most iconic voice performances of all time.
25. True Romance (1993)
If you haven't seen cult favorite True Romance yet, you are missing out on one of the very best films of the '90s. Combining the sheer talents of writer Quentin Tarantino and director Tony Scott, this dream team like no other vividly bring to life this tale of a pair of newlyweds on the run from the Mafia. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette portray the unpredictable oddballs who you just can't help but fall for - and when we say "unpredictable," you will never guess the directions this gloriously chaotic film heads in. As Alabama herself says: "you're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool."
24. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Found footage is one of the most popular horror sub-genres and it has one film to thank for this: The Blair Witch Project. This haunting tale of three student filmmakers who set out to shoot a documentary about a local myth changed everything for the genre thanks to its cast of unknown actors, the way it blurred the lines between fact and fiction, and a viral marketing campaign that had audiences believing what they were witnessing was indeed true. However, while all of this is impressive it shouldn't be forgotten just how terrifying it is too - even thinking about that final scene sends shivers down the spine.
23. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The lyrics of 1991's Beauty and the Beast's best song couldn't be more accurate, as this 'tale as old as time' has indeed remained timeless. Following the story of the young Belle as she becomes imprisoned in the Beast's castle, the monster must learn to love in order to break a curse so he can transform back into the prince he once was. The beautifully elegant animation is as swoon-worthy as the sweeping romance at the center of this tale, with features several wonderful musical numbers thanks to the talents of arguably Disney's best composer, Alan Menken.
22. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The '90s saw the release of many great high school comedies, with this reinvention of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew being one of the best of them. 10 Things I Hate About You sees new student Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) encourage bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to woo the antisocial Kat (Julia Stiles) so that he can date her sister - let's just say that their father has some very strict rules on dating. It's worth watching alone for the brilliant scene which sees the endearing Ledger sing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" at soccer practice - it's enough to leave you swooning.
21. Groundhog Day (1993)
Even if you are somehow yet to see comedy classic Groundhog Day, you will be familiar with its story thanks to the immense influence it has had on cinema. Bill Murray is Phil Connors, a cynical weatherman who becomes trapped in a time loop which forces him to relive February 2 over and over and over again. However, while the concept is neat, this isn't a movie that solely relies on a quirky gimmick to work, with the hilarious script being surprisingly poignant as weatherman Phil is forced to reflect on the meaning of life. In the role, Murray has never been better.
20. Fargo (1996)
Yes, the Fargo TV show is indeed excellent but it doesn't come even close to the original 1996 film which inspired it. Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, this black comedy stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant police chief investigating a triple homicide. There is good reason why McDormand won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, which is nothing short of sublime. And she isn't the only actor on fine form in this fiercely original crime caper as Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy also shine. It's no surprise that Fargo is often named as the Coen Brothers' best film.
19. Scream (1996)
In 1996 horror maestro Wes Craven reinvented the genre with Scream, a film which subverted all expectations with its fresh take on the slasher. The smart script broke all of horror's rules to deliver a movie which both nodded to the classics that came before it and paved the way for the generations of exciting filmmaking to come. Arguably one of the most thrilling elements brought in was the whodunnit aspect of the story, as you are continually guessing which killer is underneath the Ghostface mask. "Do you like scary movies?" Well, if they are as excellent as Scream, yes we do.
18. Fight Club (1999)
As all of you should already know: the first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club. And the second rule - you do not talk about Fight Club. Well, sorry Tyler Durden, but we are having to break your rules as this David Fincher thriller has to be included on our list of the best '90s movies. Actors Brad Pitt and Edward Norton have arguably never been better than in this wild ride which is so outrageous your jaw will be left hanging on the floor. Pro tip: watch this film at least twice to pick up on all the subtle secrets hidden inside.
17. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Much has been made of the incredible twist that lies at the heart of psychological thriller The Sixth Sense, making writer/director M. Night Shyamalan become known for these unexpected turns. Child psychologist Malcolm (Bruce Willis) goes on an unexpected journey when he begins working with patient Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a 9-year-old boy who claims that he can both see and talk to the dead. While the final act twist sure is the highlight, it shouldn't be forgotten that the film is an effectively chilling thriller that proves a measured, understated approach can deliver the most frightening of stories.
16. Trainspotting (1996)
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose Trainspotting if you want to discover one of the best '90s movies. Director Danny Boyle's blistering adaptation of author Irvine Welsh's novel transports us to Edinburgh, as we follow the lives of a group of heroin addicts. While the exploration of drug addiction and urban poverty in Scotland is brutally honest, Boyle's film also uncovers ecstatic joy too, charging at you as fast as Renton's sprint in the legendary opening scene. Meanwhile the exhilarating soundtrack which features music from the likes of Iggy Pop, Underworld, and Lou Reed is just as iconic as the film itself.
15. Seven (1995)
The '90s was quite the decade for director David Fincher, who had a tough job following up his much maligned feature directorial debut Alien 3. However, the filmmaker didn't succumb to the pressure and instead delivered one of his best films with Seven, a crime thriller which follows two detectives (played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) as they attempt to thwart a serial killer committing murders based on the seven deadly sins. Relentlessly grim, this drama isn't for the faint of heart, but if you can power through the savagely, gruesome details a captivating story will be uncovered. All together now: "what's in the box?"
14. The Truman Show (1998)
If you think Jim Carrey is purely a comic actor than you are wrong, with 1998's The Truman Show showing just what the performer can do with more serious roles. In his first outing in the world of drama, Carrey plays a man leading an ordinary life that is actually extraordinary given that he's actually on a 24/7 reality TV show. He plays Truman with much tenderness and profundity, but also captures the humor too. The scene where Truman breaks the fourth wall, looking directly into the camera, talking to the show's audience and creators (and in turn us the audience too) is simply sensational.
13. Toy Story 2 (1999)
In 1995, Pixar changed everything in the world of animated movies with Toy Story, the first ever feature-length movie entirely created through the use of CGI. The technological feat was certainly impressive but then the studio raised the bar again with sequel Toy Story 2, easily the best in the beloved series even though it shockingly started out life as a direct-to-video installment. Through really exploring the worlds our heroes Woody and Buzz Lightyear come from, this chapter uncovers more emotional depth as it ponders what it means to be a toy. Just make sure you have your tissues ready for when Jessie uncovers the more tragic side of that through her song "When Somebody Loved Me," as you'll need them.
12. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Adapted from author Thomas Harris' novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs stars Jodie Foster as the iconic young FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who we join on the hunt for a serial killer known as "Buffalo Bill," portrayed by a terrifying Ted Levine. Struggling to catch him, she turns to the imprisoned cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter for help, who is chillingly brought to life by Antony Hopkins in his best performance. Equal parts intelligent and scary, this is a rare thriller that will haunt your nightmares long after the credits have finished rolling.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
When discussing sequels that are greater than the originals, one movie that often crops up is director James Cameron's sci-fi actioner Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a follow-up which upped the ante in every conceivable way imaginable. This time around both the malevolent Skynet and the resistance send Terminators back in time to 1995 to track down John Connor as a child - the former wanting to kill him, the latter wanting to protect him. It's a clever twist that is pulled off with style thanks to the groundbreaking special effects, showing that sometimes in cinema bigger is indeed better.
10. Clueless (1995)
Sure, 2020's Emma starring Anya Taylor-Joy is a great adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel, but it is in no way the best one out there. That crown instead belongs to writer/director Amy Heckerling's inspired teen comedy Clueless, which transports the story to modern-day Beverly Hills centering on rich high school student Cher (Alicia Silverstone). As her matchmaking and makeover antics challenge Cher to analyze her own life, she discovers that actually she is the one who is "totally clueless," reaching an epiphany. Smart, refreshing, funny, and a clever reshaping of the well-known tale, Clueless easily stands out among the crowded coming-of-age market.
9. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron is a director who does nothing by halves, as he has proven time and time again with the likes of Aliens and Avatar. 1997's Titanic is another epic spectacle from the filmmaker, telling the love story between two passengers of the ill-fated ship: Kate Winslet's Rose and Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack. The soaring romantic drama was the most expensive film ever made at the time of release, costing a mighty $200 million, but that more than paid off as it broke box-office records to become the first movie to pass the $1 billion mark. And who can also forget the whopping number of Oscars it won too, taking home 11 golden gongs to tie with 1959's Ben-Hur for the most Academy Awards won by a movie.
8. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Regularly cited as being Quentin Tarantino's best film, even if you don't agree with that statement it's impossible to deny that Pulp Fiction is his most ambitious feat. Intertwining four tales of crime that all occur in Los Angeles, the writer/director takes us on quite the ride as we meet the likes of hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta), fighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), aspiring actress Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), and Vincent's business partner Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). Expect a delirious mix of bloody violence, non-stop pop culture references, fiery performances, and energetic storytelling that zips along seemingly at the speed of light.
7. Goodfellas (1990)
When ranking the films of the great director Martin Scorsese, one movie in particular is often found at the top of the list: 1990's Goodfellas. Now, the auteur is known for making brilliant gangster films from Mean Streets to Casino to The Irishman, but this crime drama that depicts the rise and fall of mob associate Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is really what cemented this reputation. Matching a mesmerizing story with swaggering style while throwing in some brilliant performances for good measure (including an unforgettable Joe Pesci with the captivating "funny how" scene), this gangster classic really does have it all.
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The '90s saw writer-director Quentin Tarantino make quite the entrance in Hollywood with his feature-length debut Reservoir Dogs, the story of a heist which goes very, very wrong. Everything Tarantino has since become known for is on display here as he established his trademarks right out of the gate: snappy dialogue, twisty non-linear storytelling, graphic violence, fascinating characters, and needle drops which seem at odds with what we are seeing on screen but somehow work perfectly (the "Stuck in the Middle With You" torture scene being a prime example). But this isn't a case of style over substance, as Reservoir Dogs remains the best of Tarantino's work.
5. The Lion King (1994)
Often cited as one of the greatest animated movies ever made, The Lion King is arguably the peak of the Disney Renaissance era, seeing the beloved studio at the height of all its powers and ticking every box imaginable. Family-friendly adaptation of a classic tale? Tick (Shakespeare's Hamlet if you were wondering). Gorgeous visuals? Tick. Tragedy that will break your heart? Tick. Plenty of humor? Timon and Pumbaa have more than got you covered alone. A catchy soundtrack featuring wall-to-wall bangers? Let me give you Elton John, Tim Rice, and Hans Zimmer, ladies and gentlemen. Now, we're off to play "Circle of Life" on repeat again...
4. The Matrix (1999)
If you take the blue pill, the story ends and you wake up in your bed. But if you take the red pill, you see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Anyone who chooses the latter will discover The Matrix, the Wachowskis' visionary classic that changed the world of action cinema for the better thanks to its stunning fight sequences and the introduction of bullet time. Let's be honest: there isn't a cooler shot out there than Keanu Reeves' Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss' Trinity taking on a bunch of bad guys in a lobby, bullets flying everywhere, decked out in long black leather coats. Iconic.
3. Heat (1995)
Michael Mann's classic crime thriller features one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. At about the halfway point, Al Pacino’s detective Vincent Hanna finally comes face-to-face with Robert De Niro’s criminal Neil McCauley over a coffee at a diner. However, the cups are barely touched as the two men who have been on a cat and mouse chase since the start try to gain a better understanding of each other. It's a masterclass in dialogue, acting, and directing - a scene so good you might have forgotten just how engrossing and compelling the rest of the film is.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)
Steven Spielberg's tale of a wildfire park where dinosaurs have been brought back to life is one of the most famous films in the world for good reason. From John Williams' awe-inspiring score to the jaw-dropping special effects, from the thrilling pacing to Richard Attenborough's endearing performance, every element of this incredible movie is pitched perfectly. Hammond saying "welcome to Jurassic Park" as the gates open is one of the most magical scenes cinema has ever seen, but there is plenty of horror, action, and an exploration of more complex topics such as capitalism also thrown in to round out this almighty blockbuster.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Not just one of the best films of the '90s, but undoubtedly one of the greatest movies ever made, director Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's beloved novella is a rousing drama beautifully brought to life on the screen. Tim Robbins stars as Andy, a man serving time in prison for the murders of his wife and her lover despite claiming that he's innocent. While behind bars, he forms a friendship with Morgan Freeman's Red and experiences the brutality of prison life. A timeless classic told with compassion, the remarkable ending will be sure to leave tears in your eyes.