Skip to main content

30 Most Underrated '90s Movies

Rush (1991)

The 90s Movie: A gritty, bleak, flick that never found an audience. Rush delves into the worst-case-scenario for two undercover narcotics cops Raynor (Jason Patric) and Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh): shoot up or ship out.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: It officially cemented Jennifer Jason Leigh as one of her generation’s most understated method actresses.

Smoke (1995)

The 90s Movie: Based on the works of New York novelist Paul Auster, Smoke ’s veritable cast of characters congregate in a Brooklyn tobacco store, where the travails of daily life are hashed out.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: This tapestry of intertwining stories is like many a New York hidden gem - an unexpected treat. In particular store owner Auggie (Harvey Keitel)'s daily ritual.

Red Rock West (1992)

The 90s Movie: John Dahl’s neo-noir set in Arizona united a top-of-their-game cast - Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, JT Walsh, and Lara Flynn Boyle - for one of the twistiest backwater dalliances of the decade.

Despite a phenomenal reception at the Toronto International Film Festival, Columbia Tri-Star chose to release it on home video. It missed out on a much wider audience.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: Its central conceit is the perfect amalgam of everyman, conman and femme fatale. Except transplanted from slick city streets to the dusty plains of Arizona. And it’s all the better for it.

eXistenZ (1999)

The 90s Movie: David Cronenberg’s 90s body horror starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as game designer Allegra Geller. The gaming system itself involves inserting bio-mechanical leads into users’ bio-ports, allowing them a fully-immersing virtual reality gaming experience. Needless to say, some pro-reality folks aren’t keen.

Similarly to The Thirteenth Floor , it was released a month after The Matrix . In the spring of 1999, cinemas were saturated with films nudging into the same arenas (what is reality? who is in charge? Int technology scary?) and sadly, eXistenZ fell to the wayside.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: For its endlessly quotable dialogue (“We seem to have some sort of reality bleed-through effect happening”) and how could we forget Jude Law’s bone gun. Ahem.

Alien 3 (1992)

The 90s Movie: The third instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien 3 suffered a lengthy pre-production before cameras rolled on Ripley’s next adventure. As the only woman on prison colony Fury 161, she battled not only misogynistic inmates, but a hungry xenomorph too!

The young David Fincher’s first stab at a studio flick was haunted with struggle from the off-set. That ruckus was held accountable for the darkest, most erratic Alien movie to date.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: The mythology of the xenomorphs expands (the Oxen deleted scene) and Weaver brings a fresh face to utter despair. Again.

Dark City (1998)

The 90s Movie: Set in a distant dystopia, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes in a room with a corpse and no memory of how he wound up there. It could have something to do with those pale, Fedora-wearing chaps who only come out at night...

Director Alex Proyas constructed a world dripping in darkness, that morphed from sci-fi into a stylish and darned creepy horror. But only if you aren’t aware of the twists; which sadly were included on some of the poster art...

Why It’s Worth A Watch: It’s a dirtier, grittier version of The Matrix .

Swimming With Sharks (1994)

The 90s Movie: The cut-throat film industry at its cruellest, Swimming tells of a ruthless movie exec, Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) and his latest assistant, the bumbling Guy (Frank Whaley). He tears him a new one every chance he gets.

Its small-time indie sensibility (things ain’t gonna pan out how you expect) was likely a bit too hit and miss for some.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: Kevin Spacey’s performance is like a bitter Lester Burnham. His snipes might be heartless, but damn if he ain’t telling the cold, hard truth.

Jackie Brown (1997)

The 90s Movie: Quentin Tarantino’s Elmore Leonard crime adaptation rebooted Pam Grier’s career with a starring turn as moonlighting air stewardess, Jackie Brown.

When Jackie’s caught red-handed by the FBI smuggling cash for wannabe tough guy Ordell Robey (Samuel L. Jackson), the plot twists come thick and fast.

The follow up to 1994’s phenomenal Pulp Fiction , Brown had its work cut out for it before it began. Deemed overlong by some, its drawn-out last act alienated audiences keen for the peppiness of Pulp .

Why It’s Worth A Watch: When the narrative threads of the last hour pull together, watch Grier closely. Her subtle performance is nothing short of perfect.

Things To Do In Denver When Youre Dead (1995)

The 90s Movie: In the wake of Pulp Fiction , the nineties were awash with stylised quirky crime offerings. Things To Do In Denver... stepped away from that template. With Scott Rosenberg’s snappy script the impressive cast spun the movie into something unexpected. Funny, dark and with a brilliant cameo from Christopher Walken.

Why It’s Worth A Watch: Andy Garcia’s Jimmy The Saint elevates the flick above its B-movie status. Why? Because he’s so damn watchable.

Millers Crossing (1990)

The 90s Movie: The Coen Brothers’ slickly dark noir follows Tom Reagan, a mob enforcer caught in the politics between two rival gangs during the prohibition era. Double crossings, gunfights washed down with a lot of whiskey.

Sadly, the Coen’s gangster epic was victim to its clever niche at the time of release. Considered a box office failure, it lost out to bigger mobster flicks like Goodfellas and The Godfather Part III .

Why It’s Worth A Watch: Gabriel Byrne’s drunken antihero, Tom Reagan, delivers some of the Coens’ wittiest dialogue ever scribbled. One of the decade’s least likely action heroes.

Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.