1990s best movies

The 1990s are making a comeback. From fanny packs to chokers, sitcom revamps to cinematic reboots, the ’90s are here; and I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling nostalgic. If you’re feeling a little nostalgic, take a peek at this list of 90’s movies that are sure to give you your 90’s fix.

10. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

 Who doesn’t love a good Tim Burton flick? I’ve loved the heavily stylized work of Tim Burton ever since I first saw The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and have since loved almost all of the movies in his cannon—Edward Scissorhands included. From Beetlejuice to Corpse Bride, Tim Burton has stamped his specific style and vision onto the American cinematic landscape, and onto my idea of campy and fun 90s films. Back when Edward Scissorhands was released in 1990, its positive reception earned the film a lot of financial success, and it grossed four times its original budget at $20 million.

The film opens on an old woman telling her granddaughter the story of Edward Scissorhands, a humanoid created by an inventor. The inventor passes away before he finishes building Edward’s hands, thus leaving Edward to live alone in a large Gothic mansion. Edward is then visited by a door-to-door Avon Saleswoman, Peg Boggs, who takes pity on his loneliness and brings him to stay with her family. The story unfolds as the neighborhood fluxes from their initial love of Edward, to an unfounded distrust from the rumors spread about him. It’s a story about a gentle, loving character finding his way through an unfamiliar world, and it truly stands the test of time for its vibrant characters and imagery.  

9. Jumanji (1995)

It’s a film starring Robin Williams. That alone should drive you to your couch and plant you in front of the TV for the 1995 adventure comedy, Jumanji. Directed by Joe Johnston, the film is based on a 1981 children’s picture book of the same name written by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express). Upon release, Jumanji was greeted with mixed critical reviews, but was wholly a success at the box office, grossing $263 million worldwide. This success has spanned decades, culminating in a narrowly related 2005 film, Zathura: A Space Adventure, and a continuation of the Jumanji franchise via Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Jumanji: The Next Level (2019).

Jumanji is centered on a game board with supernatural powers: upon being played, the game releases jungle-related obstacles and hazards onto its players with every turn, and the game’s dangers only go away after finishing the game. Alan Parrish (played by Robin Williams), a boy who played the game in 1969, gets trapped inside the game while playing with his friend, Sarah Whittle. Almost 30 years later, siblings Peter and Judy find and play the game, thus unknowingly releasing Alan. The three track down Sarah, and subsequently attempt to finish the game and return their jungle-torn town to normal. This film is funny, frightening, and undeniably 90’s, and it’s one you’ll want to watch again and again.

8. The Frighteners (1996)

As campy as it is, I thoroughly love Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. Released in 1996, this comedy-horror stars Michael J. Fox and Trini Alvarado, among others. There’s something really charming to me about the comedy-horror genre in general; from the (sometimes) earnestly terrifying antagonists to the (sometimes) earnest acting, there’s always something entertaining happening on the screen. It’s an incredibly forgiving genre because even if the acting is poor and the story is mediocre, there’s a kind of heart and effort in the film that keeps me watching. In the case of The Frighteners, though, I will say that I like the stylistic acting and directing choices, and I feel they fit the world of the film nicely.

The film centers on an architect who moonlights as a necromancer named Frank Bannister, played by Michael J. Fox. Through his practices of necromancy, he garners the ability to hear, see, and communicate with ghosts. Initially, Bannister uses these powers in an “exorcism” scam: he befriends the ghosts, has them “haunt” a house, then charges the tenants large amounts of money to exorcise the home. Everything is fun and games until the spirit of a mass murderer begins attacking both the living and the dead, and Bannister feels compelled to investigate the spirit. Complete with fantastic-for-the-time digital effects that have a 90’s feel all their own, The Frighteners is perfect if you’re in the mood for something a little scary or spooky, but you still want to be able to go to bed without lingering fears of the dark.

7. The Craft (1996)

 I don’t know about you, but I love a good with/teen/coven story, and even more so when there’s a dash of the ’90s in the mix. Directed and co-written by Andrew Fleming, The Craft is the classic mess-with-magic story: make a deal with a higher power, revel in the personal gains, reap the tragic consequences. Upon release, the film was a complete surprise hit. The film grossed $55.6 million worldwide, which more than earned back its $15 million budget. The story-arc suits four young women navigating high school and attempting to make their lives easier with a little more control and power, and was apparently the perfect combination to rouse its decades-loyal cult following. A cult following so loyal, in fact, that a reboot of the film is set to film and release within the next few years.

The Craft follows the story of a group of girls, all of whom attend a fictional Catholic school in the Los Angeles area. Sarah, a teen girl who is new to the school after she moves to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother, is befriended by a group of outcast girls who are rumored to be witches. Each of the girls has their own struggles, from parental abuse to racism at the hand of the swim team, and each has the motivation to gain power and control over her respective situation. The story continues as each of them casts a spell to solve their problems, and the spells work. In a film about power, control, and high school, The Craft is a cult classic you’ll want to re-watch.

6. Jurassic Park (1993)

What would a list of nostalgic 90’s movies be without at least one science fiction film? This 90’s classic, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel by the same name by Michael Crichton, was the center of a franchise that has spanned almost three decades, complete with another film set to come out in 2021, Jurassic World: Dominion. The original Jurassic Park, released in 1993, was ground-breaking for its time. Complete with computer-generated imagery and massive, life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs, Jurassic Park stunned audiences and secured a place of notoriety in American cinema (as well as $914 million, making it the highest-grossing film of that year).

The award-winning film is set on the fictional island, Isla Nublar, where the character John Hammond has created a theme park filled with cloned dinosaurs, named Jurassic Park. Following the death of one of the dinosaur handlers at the mercy of a dinosaur, a handful of lawyers, scientists, and theorists visit the park to verify its safety. The group is joined by the grandchildren of John Hammond for a tour of the park, which does not go as planned when a tropical storm is reported to be approaching the island. Meanwhile, the park’s lead computer programmer has been bribed by the park’s corporate rival to steal dinosaur embryos, and in his efforts, he sabotages the security gates and systems of the park. Chaos ensues as the dinosaurs run loose, and you’ll have to see for yourself the incredible adventure that arises.

5. Clueless (1995)

Ah, the classic coming-of-age film. Fun fact! This 1995 comedy is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, published in 1815. Complete with iconic outfits, lingo, and rich character acting, Clueless is a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. Written and directed by Amy Heckerling (who also directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking, and more), Clueless has developed quite the cult following, and has been widely considered to be one of the best teen films of all time.

Clueless follows Cher Horowitz, an attractive and popular Beverly Hills teenager who lives in a mansion with her litigator father. Throughout the film, Cher navigates adolescence with her special brand of naivety, charm, style, and disarming (and underestimated) wit and kindness. With the best intentions and funniest executions, Cher plays matchmaker with her friends and teachers, all while trying to better herself into what she believes to be a “well-rounded” person. Cher is often accused of being shallow and superficial, but as the film goes on, her kind heart and charming sensitivity become more and more apparent. You’ll come for the coming-of-age nostalgia, but you’ll stay for the vibrant characters.

4. Titanic (1997)

Titanic is iconic--no ifs, ands, or buts. This 1997 film is to thank for quotes like, “Paint me like one of your French girls”, and the token couples pose that happens every time the helm of a ship can be approximated for a picture (you know the one—Rose stands at the front with her arms open wide, with Jack’s hands on her waist). Titanic, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is an epic romance set within the historic tragedy of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. With a production budget of $200 million, Titanic was the most expensive film ever made at that time, and there was a huge payoff in the investment; the film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (and won 11 of them, including Best Picture and Best Director), and grossed $1.84 billion worldwide in its initial release.

The romance follows fictional characters, Jack and Rose, who find love aboard the Titanic despite their sizable difference in economic class. Rose, who is forcibly engaged to a wealthy man for the sake of preserving her family’s upper-class status, meets Jack when he stops her from contemplating suicide in response to the unwanted engagement. Jack, a poor artist, attends dinner, and then a party with Rose, where their budding romance progresses. Their relationship furthers throughout the night, until the tides turn when the ship makes contact with an iceberg, and the true tragedy begins. It’s a classic film for the ages and the perfect film for a night in.

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

I’m a lover of horror flicks, and The Silence of the Lambs is a true classic. It’s critically acclaimed and for good reason. It’s amazing. It’s the third film to win Academy Awards in all the top five categories (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture), and it’s jam-packed with iconic scenes and quotable lines: “Fava beans and a nice chianti”, anyone?

The psychological horror follows Clarice Starling, a young trainee of the FBI, as she seeks out the advice of the notable psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. She goes to the imprisoned Dr. Lecter for his advice on how to apprehend “Buffalo Bill”, another serial killer known for skinning his female victims’ corpses. In a story filled with twists, turns, deceit, and brilliant dissection of the human psyche, the film keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. Seriously, it’s so good, you’ll forget that you made popcorn.

2. Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump is easily one of my favorite films. It’s a total nostalgia-fest, and the story is rich with friendship, love, dynamic characters, and a lovely balance between comedy and drama. I’m also an absolute sucker for Sally Field. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (the director behind the Back to the Future trilogy, Death Becomes Her, and many more), Forrest Gump secured Zemeckis a win in the Academy Awards for Best Director, and the film itself won Best Picture.

The story follows the titular character, Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks), through the decades of his life. A slow-witted and good-hearted man, Forrest Gump is the center of the film. Viewers watch as he unwittingly influences and experiences some of the most notable historical events in the U.S. 20th century, from fighting in the Vietnam War to meeting Elvis Presley. Through it all, we watch as he navigates life, love, and loss, and we connect and feel with him the entire time (at least, I do). Grab tissues and a box of chocolates (maybe some shrimp, while you’re at it) and see for yourself why this film has more than stood the test of time.  

1. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

 I’m biased here: 1) I love Shakespeare, and 2) I love a good teen film (especially if the cast includes such high-caliber actors as Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger). Based on The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, this 1999 adaptation takes place in a high school in the late ’90s. Directed by Gil Junger, 10 Things I Hate About You ranked second at the box office (following The Matrix), and reaped moderate fiscal and critical success, grossing $53.5 million in the U.S. This film was the launching pad for many of the leads, specifically Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and it’s always fun to see where the stars earn their shine.

The film tells the intersecting stories of a new student, Cameron (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his very rapid crush on Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), and the twists and turns that arise in order to get around Bianca’s father’s very strict rules on dating. Kat (Julia Stiles) is the older sister to Bianca, and their father has made his stance on dating very clear: Bianca can’t date until Kat does. Here’s the catch: Kat is generally sour, unpleasant, and completely disinterested in romance. The story unfolds as Cameron and his newfound friend enlist the help of school-bad-boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to get Kat to go out with him. Let the nostalgia of the 90’s (and of high school) wash over you—enjoy!

No matter your taste, from horror comedy to dramatic romance, there’s a striking nostalgia that comes with 90’s movies. So make some popcorn, get cozy, and remember a time before social media, GPS, and streaming.    

Article written by Rhianna DeVries