The '90s were a pretty amazing decade for film. The rom-com was at its pinnacle (Pretty Woman, You've Got Mail), comedies were truly funny (Home Alone, Groundhog Day), critical faves were also crowd-pleasers (Titanic, Forrest Gump), horror films were bone-chilling and realistic (The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en)and teen comedies were having a heyday (10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless), 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.
Luckily for you, most of these flicks can be watched now, in 2021, from the comfort of your couch via Netflix and other streaming services. We've scoured the archives and rounded up the best films with the most iconic characters—from Mrs. Doubtfire to Hannibal Lecter to Cher Horowitz—and we've listed them here for you. Or, if you've never seen these movies but are looking for a new decade of films to obsess over, these are the ones to binge immediately. The next lazy Saturday you have, which seems like every day now because of quarantine, why not take a stroll down these 62 iconic, nostalgic movies?
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.
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.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article used an image from a different film. We regret this error.
Identical twins Annie and Hallie (Lindsay Lohan) never knew the other existed until they crossed paths at summer camp. The only logical response? Trade places so they can meet their other parent for the first time while simultaneously getting the 'rents back together somehow. Forever thankful to director Nancy Meyers for casting Dennis Quaid as their father.
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.
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.
The dark themes in the movie (um, a poor man ingratiates himself into a rich man's social circle, becomes obsessed, and—spoiler alert—murders the guy?) are offset by the fact that the movie is just so stylish and sexy. The setting and the lavish lifestyle of the young and wealthy, combined with the gorgeous actors swanning around in linen, makes this film just as beautiful as it is macabre.
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.
Think F.B.I, but for out-of-this-world monsters. Fortunately for James Edwards (Will Smith) of the N.Y.P.D., they're looking for recruits. Unfortunately for James, he has no idea what he signed up for, but it's up to him and his partner "K" (Tommy Lee Jones) to save the Earth from some super creepy aliens before it's too late.
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.
A cool premise executed perfectly: what if one small, seemingly meaningless decision changes your entire life? Gwyneth Paltrow's Helen misses a train—no wait, she totally catches it. She stays with her douchebag boyfriend—no, she catches him cheating and dumps him! And so on. It's a really compelling film start to finish (and a bit depressing until the very end, TBH), and Paltrow nails both the happy and unhappy Helen, with an instantly iconic haircut. It's a perfect piece of pop psychology, too.
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.
There's a reason they made seven films and counting. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who else?) is a secret agent disavowed by his organization after losing his entire team of spies. On the run, he's forced to complete a dangerous mission for an arms dealer. OTT plot aside, it's also an excuse for Cruise to do cool stunts, like hang from ceilings and from the top of trains—and this is the beginning of that trend.
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.
It's not necessarily an easy watch (and the movie gets reduced to the What's in the booooox? meme more often than not), but it's an incredibly tense, well-acted, riveting drama that doubles as a compelling whodunit. The film actually improves the more you watch it. Also, it has a young and hot Brad Pitt. So.
Former high school losers, unite!! In this offbeat, wacky, heartfelt movie, Romy and Michele try not to get bullied at their high school reunion by pretending they invented Post-Its. What starts as a wacky comedy of errors turns into a kind of refreshing take on just letting your true weirdness shine through.
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!
This film (and to a lesser extent its sequel) has so many things going for it. A charismatic Whoopi Goldberg performance. Gorgeous songs. Hilarious religious hijinks?? In the iconic original, lounge singer Deloris is put into witness protection in a run-down San Francisco convent, and transforms their choir into an absolute powerhouse.
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.
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.
U.S. marshal tries to take down criminal. Criminal charms U.S. marshal. Extreme sexiness ensues. Another exceptional early J. Lo performance, this is also a classic, star-making vehicle for George Clooney playing a stylish con man. It's not the only time this kind of story's been told, but with Steven Soderbergh directing, it's definitely one of the best.
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.
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!
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,
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.
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.
Oh, 1994, what a time to be alive! We were first really introduced to unbelievably charming Hugh Grant, and nothing was the same. The story of a man who realizes he might have found his soulmate (Andie MacDowell) after running into each other at five different social events is set to make any heart a little bit bigger. We may have come for the love story, but we really stayed for Hugh Grant's hair.
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.
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.
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.
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.