Listen, if your “To Watch” list needs a little help there’s nothing better than some good old fashion nostalgia. For my money, re-visting the well of over-the-top genre pictures, operatic dramas, career defining roles, and iconic coming of age titles are what it’s all about. That’s right, it’s time for us to go back to the 90s and relish all of the premium American movie making that decade gave us. Because nothing says Friday Movie Night quite like Luc Beeson or Baz Luhrmann or even Macaulay Culkin.
Here’s the rundown:
Each month, I compile a short-list of worthwhile movies waiting to be unearthed from the algorithms of Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and the like. Because life’s too short to watch the wrong stuff.
Without further ado, here are a few entertaining films from the 1990s that will upgrade your “To-Watch” list for the month.
Double Jeopardy (1999)
Can we bring back mid-level thrillers again please?
Of all the casualties of the “streaming age” this is the one I miss the most. Grade A casts; ridiculous log lines; heavy-handed scores; and at least one story twist to keep you on your toes. And, of course, bonus points for an adrenaline fueled chase scene. We’ve traded all of that in for “prestige TV” and slow burn mini-series and I kind of hate it.
Double Jeopardy is one of the many standouts of the genre that took high-form in the 90s. Ashley Judd stands wrongfully accused of murdering her cheating husband. Earnestly claiming her innocence, she leaves prison on a mission to not just prove she’s right but to prove her husband was behind the whole thing all along. Naturally, Tommy Lee Jones is constantly on her heels trying to bring justice to the whole ordeal in his own “lone law man” way.
Gosh, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Now, I won’t spoil the flick, even though it’s 22 years old, but let’s just say it hits all the right, sinister notes along the way. Double Jeopardy toes that line of feeling plausible while still packing the right amount of absurdity to make it feel uniquely 1999. I never get tired of watching Ashley Judd seek her revenge.
FOR FANS OF: Absolute Power; Enough; Primal Fear
The Fifth Element (1997)
This movie is bonkers but, god help me, I love it.
If you’ve ever wondered what the opposite of sad-boy-SciFi looks like, it’s this. Vibrant colors, elaborate set pieces, a cast that goes on for days, and the perfect summation of camp [and 90s action] as high art. If The Fifth Element were any more operatic it would be La Boheme. . . yet somehow less ridiculous.
But seriously, look at this lineup of talent:
- Bruce Willis
- Milla Jovovich
- Gary Oldman
- Chris Tucker
- Ian Holm
- Tommy Lister Jr.
- Lee Evans
- And Luke Perry himself
All in their primes no less.
Luc Besson’s over the top space western is precisely what we mean when we say things like, “nothing but pure 90s fun”. And it even [kind of] has something to say. But what I most appreciate about the intergalactic saga of Korben Dallas saving the universe with the help of a supreme warrior in Leeloo is how self-aware the movie is. Where flicks like The Rock ask us to take it seriously, even tho it clearly removes all the fun out of the experience, The Fifth Element knows exactly what it is — a fun, action laced, super expensive but incredibly captured space romp. It delivers in that classically 90s “let’s give them more of everything” kind of way.
I dig this movie and all the fun it packs.
FOR FANS OF: Cloud Atlas; Independence Day; The Matrix
Because Robin Williams.
Because of the “run by fruiting” scene.
Because of the utterly hysterical hi-jinx.
Because of Sally Field’s ultimate “mom energy”.
Because of the mask montage.
Because in what other arena would a movie like this exist?
Mrs. Doubtfire is a family movie; it’s a divorce movie; it’s a “let’s showcase the unmatched, otherworldly talent of this one movie star” movie; it’s perhaps the best mistaken identity movie of all-time; it’s a deep feeling drama; it’s an endlessly quotable movie; it’s a supremely random yet iconic artifact of cinematic storytelling. Truly, I’m not sure if there’s anyone over the age of 25 that hasn’t seen this one. If there is by some rare chance, they still know the title; a handful of lines; and know what this meant to the Robin Williams legacy.
Mrs. Doubtfire is fun and gutting and oh so deliciously early 90s. Worthy of an annual rewatch if you ask me and quite possibly Mr. Williams’ crowning achievement.
PLATFORM: Prime Video
FOR FANS OF: Hook; Home Alone; The Parent Trap
My Girl (1991)
why do you always weep and frown?
is it because he left you one day?
is it because he could not stay?
on your branches he would swing,
do you love the happiness that day would bring?
he found shelter in your shade,
we thought his laughter would never fade.
Weeping willow stop your tears,
there is something to calm your fears,
you think death as you two forever part,
i know he will always be in your heart!”
Just like your first best friend, and first summertime romance, and so many other firsts, you always remember the first time you experienced the unique coming of age saga of My Girl. There’s something innocent [and yes, tragic] about the movie that keeps it re-watchable, no matter how much we wish the ending would change. And I think there’s a healthy hope to be found there.
All that to say this, My Girl is on Netflix and totally worth revisiting. If nothing else but to remember what 1991, true friendship, and childhood summertime vastness feels like again.
FOR FANS OF: The Little Rascals; Now and Then; The Sandlot
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Look, I know it’s the most overrated and overdone of The Bard’s works, but hear me out…
Romeo + Juliet is a perfect movie.
Somehow, in all his eccentric everything-ness, Baz Luhrmann cracked the code to bring R+J to life. The grand sweeping spectacle, the melodrama, the production design to end all dramatic production designs, the unfiltered, loud emotion — all of it screams raw teenage love. What Luhurmann captured is just as much an iconic snapshot of the decade as it is a visual representation of the melodramatic teenage experience. Everything is big, grand, complicated, deep feeling while surface level at the same time. All the things all the time feel so serious in that moment and the weight of it packs an uncanny yet universally familiar punch.
Romeo + Juliet is sensory and emotional overload to the most brilliant degree. And it’s there where The Bard’s language and age old story beats come to vivid life.
It may be kind of difficult to fully grasp this far removed now, but the concept of setting the whole thing on Verona Beach at the height of a 90s drug war was more than a novel flex — it was an inspired creative choice. Penning that alongside the visceral performing cast of all casts carved out a zeitgeist defining experience that immersed the viewer as much as anything that decade.
The Leo of it all cannot be overstated. This was his star-making vehicle. Without this, we have no Titanic, we have no 21st Century movie star DiCaprio.
Even still, the likes of Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau (for the love of all that is good, where was his Oscar?!), Pete Postlethwaite (legend), Brian Dennehy, Paul Rudd, Paul Sorvino, and so many others. The whole lineup is borderline absurd, but it all fits together in stunning symphonic fashion.
Not to mention the soundtrack, the love at first sight moment, the palpable romance, the unbuttoned silk shirts, the rage, the body count, the candles and colors and camera angles, the “this is a gripping but somewhat overly done bag of hefty feels” delivery is both of its time and timeless all together.
Seriously, the showdown between Tybalt and Mercuitio is one of the most gripping, unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen.
Romeo + Juliet not only works, it stands as a brilliantly elaborate display of all that makes overdone tragedy remarkable. And arguably the most 90s movie of all.
PLATFORM: YouTube Movies
FOR FANS OF: The Basketball Diaries; Clueless; Moulin Rouge!
Hopefully this will breathe new life into your movie selections, or—if nothing else—add a few more solid titles to that endless queue. Either way, you don’t have to settle for something mediocre when Romeo + Juliet in all of its 90s glory is right there. Bust out the Surge and Gushers and go watch something!
What’s the best hidden gem you’ve streamed recently? Share in the comments and help me expand the list!