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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some people may shame us for putting this classic on this list, but we welcome you to embrace it. When you watch it and see not only Keanu Reeves but Patrick Swayze as shirtless surfers in Southern California, you will thank us. Watching Reeves as an FBI Agent undercover trying to find out who has been behind the recent burglaries in the area keeps me on the edge of my seat time after time.
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.
To this day, the 1999 horror thriller by M. Night Shyamalan remains the be-all-end-all of twist endings. Though the director would never again have the monocultural filmmaking clout that he had in the wake of this film (I mean, how do you top an ending like this?!), this movie was everywhere for an entire year, and is still referenced today.
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.
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.
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.
Rarely is a sequel more beloved than the original, but T2 is a classic of the action and science fiction genres. Not only were the special effects mind-blowing in 1991 (and still pretty good today, considering), but Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor will go down in history as one of the most badass women in all of film.
The 1993 romantic drama Poetic Justice stars Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, with an appearance by Maya Angelou. The film tells the story of Justice (Jackson), a hairdresser who writes and recites her own poems (actually written by Maya Angelou) throughout the film. The poems are Justice’s method of coping with the sudden murder of her boyfriend.
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.
Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993, is set on an island turned into a park of cloned dinosaurs and... (Do you really not know what Jurassic Park is about? Or where we're going with this?) Anyway, the dinosaurs in the film were depicted with groundbreaking computer-generated imagery and the film was the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic. It also spawned many, many sequels, which eventually led to this gif of Chris Pratt.
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...
The Lion King represents the peak of the Disney Renaissance and set box office records worldwide on its release. A clever retelling of Hamlet, the movie has as much drama and heart as its 2019 live-action film.
The first-ever full-length Pixar tale changed the game for animated movies. The 1995 film, which told the story of what toys do when we leave the room (spoiler: come to life and exist in their own complex society), was groundbreaking and spawned several sequels, the latest one hit theaters in 2019.
Following the success of 1993's Sleepless in Seattle, this delightful rom-com reunites Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, two actors who have undeniable chemistry. It's a now-quaint-seeming story of two professional rivals who, unbeknownst to them, meet and fall in love via an online chat room. Written by Nora Ephron, they just don't make movies like this anymore.
Written, directed, and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project is famously terrifying for its unique—and cheap—method of filming on handheld cameras. The film uses “recovered footage” from three student filmmakers who sought to document the local legend, the “Blair Witch,” and disappear in the process. The film premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival with extreme success.
The film, adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, failed both critically and financially at first, but has recently amassed a cult following. The story follows Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) on a journalistic assignment that ends up being an exploration of Las Vegas under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs and copious other substances.
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.
Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and several animated Looney Tunes characters, suggests an alternate history of Michael Jordan’s life between his retirement from basketball in 1993 and his 1995 comeback. The film features Jordan’s interactions with Bugs Bunny, several aliens, an amusement park, and a new love interest for Bugs.