The 84 Best '90s Movies That Are Modern Classics

Truly the golden age of cinema.

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The '90s were a pretty amazing decade for film. The rom-com was at its pinnacle (Pretty WomanYou've Got Mail); comedies were truly funny (Home AloneGroundhog Day); critical faves were also crowd-pleasers (TitanicForrest Gump); horror films were bone-chilling and realistic (The Silence of the LambsSe7en); and teen comedies were having a heyday (10 Things I Hate About YouClueless), making the years 1990 to 1999 a particularly good time to go to the movies if you were a teenager. Maybe it's because going to the movies was still a thing in the '90s? Also, raise your hand if you made a weekly run to the local Blockbuster to grab that week's entertainment.

Lucky for you, most of the must-watch movies of the decade can be seen now, in 2023, from the comfort of your couch. We movie lovers at MC scoured the archives and rounded up the best '90s films with the most iconic characters—from Mrs. Doubtfire to Hannibal Lecter to Cher Horowitz—and we've listed them here for you. Not only that, but as with the best movies of the 2000s, these 84 films contributed to the culture of the time and are titles you can turn on again and again. In no particular order, we've arranged these great films by genre so you can easily navigate your favorites. The next lazy Saturday you have, why not take a stroll down memory lane with these iconic, nostalgic films?

Best Romance Movies of the '90s

'Titanic' (1997)

90s Movies

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This movie, which had most teenage girls sobbing their way through the late '90s, is a fictionalized account of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic (obviously). It stars Leonardo DiCaprio at his heartthrob-iest and Kate Winslet, two passengers of vastly different social stature who fall in love during the Titanic’s first and final voyage. The 1997 film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won 11—including Best Picture and Best Director.

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'Ghost' (1990)

90s Movies

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Pottery class became sexy after this romantic thriller starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. The pair plays a loved-up couple whose relationship is cut short when Sam (Swayze) is murdered. As his spirit wanders the Earth, he learns Molly (Moore) could have the same fate and must somehow warn her before it's too late.

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'The Best Man' (1999)

90s Movies

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The Best Man was important for a lot of reasons (summarized nicely in this E! article), primarily because it was a long-overdue romance and damn good movie starring Black actors. It also portrayed everyday struggles and successes: "African American people being people, as opposed to stereotypes," as Taye Diggs put it. It was a star-making movie for a number of super-talented actors (Diggs! Nia Long! Harold Perrineau! Regina Hall! Just to name a few!) and even though it's a deeply 90s movie, there's so much to love.

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'Romeo + Juliet' (1996)

90s Movies

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Hollywood may reboot the classic Shakespeare play every few years, but this one starring Claire Danes and a young Leonardo DiCaprio reigns supreme. Sure, you know the ending, but the modern twist on this classic tale has a few tricks up its sleeve you won't see coming.

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'The Bodyguard' (1992)

90s Movies

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Forever icon Whitney Houston made her debut in this romantic thriller alongside Kevin Costner as a famous pop singer who hires a former Secret Service agent to be her bodyguard. It gets hot and also terrifying super quick. Don't even get us started on the soundtrack! It's still the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, with more than 42 million certified copies sold worldwide.

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'Before Sunrise' (1995)

90s Movies

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Suddenly the idea of meeting your soulmate on a train ride heading from Budapest to Vienna, spending one glorious night together, and falling deeply in love seems possible after watching this movie. Just me? Okay! If you don't believe me, there are two more films in this series that say otherwise so, yeah, get those tissues ready,

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'Meet Joe Black'

When Death comes to visit media mogul William (Anthony Hopkins), he agrees to give William more time in exchange for showing him life on Earth. After taking the body of a young (hot) man, aka Brad Pitt, Death experiences all life has to offer, including falling in love with William's daughter. While we know this romantic drama is a little lengthy coming in at three hours, we promise Hopkins and Pitts' stellar emotional performances are worth it. 

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'The Piano' (1993)

90s Movies

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Mother-daughter duo Ada (Holly Hunter) and Flora (Anna Paquin) arrive at New Zealand's North Island with a handful of items, including a prized piano, to meet Ada's new husband, Stewart (Sam Neill). The relationship soon goes south when Stewart sells the piano to a neighbor name George (Harvey Keitel), who tells her she can earn the instrument back by teaching him how to play and some other things. Things get steamy...quickly!

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Best Dramas of the '90s

'Fight Club' (1999)

90s Movies

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The first rule of Fight Club is don't talk about Fight Club. ...But we're going to anyway: The unnamed protagonist, played by Edward Norton, is dissatisfied with his white-collar job, so he does what anyone in his position would: He starts a “fight club” for men who want to beat each other up recreationally. And there's a MAJOR twist. Though it was initially very polarizing, now, it’s a cult film and regarded as one of the best of the ‘90s.

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'Good Will Hunting' (1998)

90s Movies

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20-year-old Will Hunting (Matt Damon) punches a police officer, is allowed deferred prosecution, and seeks therapy and mathematics tutoring from a renowned professor (Robin Williams). Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote the film together, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. How do you like them apples?

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'Forrest Gump' (1995)

90s Movies

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This now-classic 1995 Best Picture winner takes audiences through the life of its titular character, the lovable—though slow—Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks). He runs across the country several times, meets Richard Nixon, serves in Vietnam, and teaches Elvis Presley to dance. Life is like a box of chocolates...

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'Goodfellas' (1990)

90s Movies

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It's the mob movies of all mob movies based on Nicolas Pileggi's best-selling novel Wiseguy about Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his rise and fall as a mobster in New York in the '60s and '70s without glorifying the violent behavior the occupation is known for. The six-time Oscar-nominated movie from Martin Scorsese may have debuted in 1990, but it would be talked about for the rest of the decade.

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'Fargo' (1996)

90s Movies

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The story of a husband who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife so he can receive the large ransom from his wealthy father-in-law was unforgettable in 1996. The crime movie that mixed in comedy put the Coen Brothers on the map and won Joel Coen the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. I mean it got Frances McDormand her Oscar! It also inspired a spin-off series of the same name that premiered on FX in 2014 that was equally great.

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'Boogie Nights' (1997)

90s Movies

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Director Paul Thomas Anderson put himself on the map with the 1997 film about the pornography industry in the late 70s and early 80s. We relished in Burt Reynolds' mustache, gasped at Mark Wahlberg's prosthetic penis, and just couldn't take our eyes away from the screen until the credits rolled. The craziest thing of all about the film isn't even in the picture: Leonardo DiCaprio was going to play Dirk Diggler but had to turn it down because he was filming Titanic. He then suggested Wahlberg for the role.

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'Thelma and Louise' (1991) 

90s Movies

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When Ridley Scott's thrilling adventure of two best friends on the run hit theaters in the summer of 1991, we were forever changed. It was one of the first movies I saw that showed me all things women could (and had been doing) without the over-looming guidance of males. The bond Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon share is nothing short than perfection. Also, speaking of perfection (for the second time on this list), we get a shirtless 26-year-old Brad Pitt, so no complaints here.

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'Shawshank Redemption' (1994)

90s Movies

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Stephen King's 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption finally saw the big screen in this Oscar-nominated story of two inmates serving a life sentence at one of the country's harshest prisons, documenting their tight-knit relationship over many years. It's longer than most films, and devastating in its themes, but you'll treasure every minute.

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'Selena' (1997)

90s Movies

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J. Lo's breakout role was to play the Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in a biopic about her life and tragic death at 23. The songs are gorgeous, the performance is heartfelt, the story's important and resonant. For weeks afterwards you'll find yourself singing "Dreaming of You" at the top of your lungs.

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'The Joy Luck Club' (1993)

90s Movies

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Based on the bestselling 1989 novel written by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club is a tear-jerker tale between four first-generation Chinese-American women and their mothers. It was the first film of its kind to feature an all-Asian cast, something that wouldn't be seen again until the release of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. Bring lots of tissues and get ready to call your mom when the credits start to roll.

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'Elizabeth' (1998)

90s Movies

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All hail Cate Blanchett. This is an absolute tour-de-force performance (Blanchett was only 29 at the time!) of the ascension of Queen Elizabeth. It's got a lot of surprisingly resonant themes: the pressures of a woman to get married, the constant onslaught of men trying to tell her what to do, a very sexy boyfriend (Joseph Fiennes) who ends up being kind of a douchebag. She's the 16th century feminist we love to see on our screens.

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'Edward Scissorhands' (1990)

90s Movies

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If you ever want to explain to someone from Gen Z why Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have worked together approximately a zillion times, all you have to do is show them Edward Scissorhands, which was the perfect marriage of the frequent collaborators' individual brands of creepy quirkiness in 1990.

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'Schindler's List' (1993) 

90s Movies

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Schindler's List is based on the true story of industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who, with the help of his wife (Caroline Goodall), saved more than 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories during World War II. It earned Steven Spielberg his first Oscar win for Best Director and would take home six other Academy Awards.

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'The Truman Show

90s Movies

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Hundreds of tiny cameras have been watching Truman Burbank's (Jim Carrey) every move for close to 30 years as a part of an extreme 24/7 reality show called The Truman Show. Except he doesn't know he's the main character of this real-but-fictional world...until he finds out the hard way.

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'Pulp Fiction' (1994)

90s Movies

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This 1994 black comedy made up of several interwoven stories of characters involved in a world of crime and violence cemented Quentin Tarantino's popularity. Pulp Fiction is self-referential, out of chronological order, and entirely iconic. It stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis, and was nominated for seven Oscars.

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'Jerry Maguire' (1996) 

90s Movies

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Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Reené Zelleweger showed us the money in this instant classic from legendary journalist Cameron Crowe. The script about a uber-successful sports agent who has an epiphany and decides to start all over took Crowe five years to write. The time was well spent since it earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay at the 1997 Academy Awards.

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'Boyz N' The Hood' (1991)

90s Movies

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John Singleton's debut 1991 film about three men growing up in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles put a narrative on America's screens that wasn't always seen. The breakout performance of Ice Cube alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Morris Chestnut as they come of age was a message worth taking note. Re-watching it now is a reminder of how Singleton's film was a risk worth taking.

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'Saving Private Ryan' (1998)

Sure, there's been war films before Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but none of them were nearly as gripping. When Private James Ryan is caught behind enemy lines in WW2, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad embark on a mission to save him, each undergoing a personal journey in the process. Mixed with heart-pounding action scenes touching emotion, Spielberg serves up a war masterpiece. 

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'L.A. Confidential' (1997)

ICYMI, crime and buddy-cop movies were kind of a thing in the '80s and '90s, and L.A. Confidential is one of the most notable from the period. Set in corrupt 1950s L.A., this drama follows three cops, each with their own motives, as they investigate a murder that turns out to be much closer to them than they suspected. It's a dark film filled with twists, mystery, and even some humor thrown in. 

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‘The Virgin Suicides’ (1999)

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Based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides marks not only Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, but also the start of her long-running collaboration with Kirsten Dunst. The film tells the story of five sisters—the daughters of overprotective, very religious parents—whose mysterious and dramatic deaths in 1975 still haunt the now-grown-up neighborhood boys who had spent the months before the tragedies watching and falling in love with the girls from across the street. Widely praised for its depiction of adolescent angst, this dark tale of melancholy and mystery will surely haunt you for a long time, too.

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‘Cruel Intentions’ (1999)

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In yet another entry in the illustrious canons of “teen movies in which a popular guy makes a bet to date an unpopular girl” and “teen movies based on centuries-old stories,” Cruel Intentions is a modern retelling of the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses—and has since spawned even more spinoffs, including a prequel, sequel, and jukebox musical. It follows the tangled web between a group of rich N.Y.C. teens, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Resse Witherspoon, and Selma Blair, and it’s packed with scenes that remain absolutely iconic to this day, including an absolutely perfect usage of “Bittersweet Symphony” and that kiss between SMG and Selma Blair.

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Best Comedies of the '90s

'Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery' (1997)

Mike Meyers's goofy send-up of the secret agent genre is still quoted over 20 years on, and for good reason: It's extremely funny. Packed with stars and memorable characters, it's one of those satires that is so brilliant that it ends up making secret agent movies that came after it look sillier by comparison. 

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'Mrs. Doubtfire' (1993)

90s Movies

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Robin Williams' character is recently divorced and missing his children, so he dresses up as a female housekeeper, whom he calls Mrs. Doubtfire, in an effort to be closer to them. The film—hilariously funny, witty, and iconic—was one of Williams’ greatest successes.

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'Groundhog Day' (1993)

90s Movies

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If you're ever looking for a hilarious comedy that doubles as a 101-minute thought experiment in philosophy, well, there's honestly only one movie to turn to, and that's Groundhog Day (1993), in which a curmudgeon-y weatherman is inexplicably caught in a time loop that forces him to live the same day over and over (and over) again for years on end.

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'Rushmore' (1998)

90s Movies

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The first Wes Anderson movie to really nail the director’s signature style. Sure, 1996’s Bottle Rocket is fantastic, but today feels like an outlier from Anderson’s later oeuvre—sorry for everything about that sentence, but it’s true! Jason Schwartzman stars as precocious, ambitious oddball Max, who is friends with the much older Bill Murray. The two of them eventually go head-to-head, however, when a pretty new teacher catches their eyes. The best scene, of course, is near the end when we see the fruits of Max’s playwriting labor in action.

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'Dazed and Confused' (1993)

90s Movies

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Richard Linklater struck solid gold with Dazed and Confused: An ensemble comedy that was simultaneously goofy, nostalgic, and weirdly heartwarming at the same time. It’s about the last day of school for a 1970s Austin high school—and all the weird politics and sexual escapades that go into it. It’s a classic, and is filled with some of your favorite actors (hey Matthew McConaghey and Parker Posey!) doing some weird stuff. Oh, and the soundtrack is killer.

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'Home Alone' (1990)

90s Movies

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Chris Columbus directs the outrageous movie of Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), a young boy mistakenly left at home—eating whatever he wants, contending with burglars—as his family flies to Paris for vacation. It was the highest-grossing live action comedy film in the United States of all time from its release in 1990 until 2011 (when The Hangover Part II overtook it).

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'The Big Lebowski' (1998)

90s Movies

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The Coen Brothers could have had no idea the impact their strange film The Big Lebowski would have had when it came out in 1998. I mean, how do you even sum up this plot? A slacker-y gentleman gets mixed up in a case of mistaken identity with a rich guy and his petulant young bride, and then have to go to war with some nihilists alongside his bowling buddies in down-and-out L.A.? Actually, yeah that’s pretty much what happens. Other stuff too, but if you’ve never seen it, you really ought to watch and figure out what everyone’s been quoting for the last 20 years. The Dude abides.

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'Tommy Boy' (1995)

90s Movies

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The '90s to Chris Farley are like peanut butter and jelly. They just go together. When Tommy Boy came out, Farley was finishing up his fifth and final year at Saturday Night Live, and would we miss him. The comedy about a loser son who has to try and take back the family business after his father's death with the help of an accountant (David Spade) is unforgettable. Yes, the movie may not be "critically acclaimed," but it represents the comedies of the decade so well.

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'American Pie' (1999)

Vulgar, insensitive, and yet oddly endearing, American Pie ushered in a whole new level of teen comedies when it explored the difference between how young women and young men view sex in the 1990s. While not all of its cinematic progeny are winners (the world would have been OK without Van Wilder), it was groundbreaking at the time and still gets some hearty laughs today. 

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'The Sandlot' (1993) 

90s Movies

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The baseball movie of all baseball movies focuses on a group of kids and the adventure-filled summer they shared in 1962. Terrifying dogs, battling neighborhood bullies, treehouse sleepovers, and one crush on a lifeguard awaits! Also, 99 percent sure everyone's first crush was on Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) because of this film, so we thank The Sandlot for its service!

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'The Birdcage' 

Robin Williams plays a gay cabaret owner in Miami who convinces his drag queen partner (played by Nathan Lane) to pose as a woman when their son announces he's engaged to the daughter of a conservative senator. It's funny, warm, and (while it probably wouldn't be made quite this way nowadays, given that it has mostly straight actors playing gay characters) surprisingly progressive for the time period, showing that there's no one way a loving family has to look. 

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'Friday' (1995)

90s Movies

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Recently unemployed Craig (Ice Cube) finds himself in a bind when he and his buddy Smokey (Chris Tucker) have to come up with $200 in one day. More than 20 years later, this film will make you laugh until your stomach hurts.