The 100 Greatest ’90s Movies of All Time (80-71)

There has never been a decade in film quite like the ’90s. It was a time where foreign and independent films were as big as blockbusters. Unlike today where Disney has a monopoly on entertainment, it felt like cinema at that time was one giant sandbox where everyone could play. Auteurs from decades past were making movies alongside indie darlings. Hell, even documentaries were successful. Everything seemed copacetic, which lead to everyone doing their own thing. Studios weren’t competing nor copying but instead, had a healthy rivalry. Animation was back in a big way and was evolving in terms of technology and maturing in terms of storytelling. 

It was a fertile period for cinephiles and with that came a wellspring of iconic movies that we took for granted. We didn’t appreciate how many new masters it was producing, the big swings the old masters were taking or how quickly it was taking cinema in terms of innovation. And since we’re all still drunk in love with the goddamn 80s still, this decade doesn’t seem to be getting any love any time soon. This list is a reminder of how many bangers this decade produced and why it deserves more respect.

These are the 100 Greatest ’90s Movies of All Time.

80. Seven (1995)

The basic premise for Seven is pretty straightforward. A killer is committing a series of murders based on the seven deadly sins. You have a fresh young detective paired with a fed-up partner who is nearing retirement. It’s a simple setup but still manages to be utterly captivating. Once you see the results of one creative murder you can’t take your eyes off the film, not knowing what gruesome scene might appear next. The atmosphere is dark and moody throughout, with Fincher on the top of his game, really pulling you into the hellish world in which the murders are taking place. Spacey embodies the sickening killer perfectly, with the chemistry between Pitt and Freeman being exceptional. And of course, that ending is an all-timer.

Lee McCutcheon

79. My Own Private Idaho (1991)

This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world. That tagline, taken from a piece of dialogue from late in the movie, is ultimately the film in a nutshell. It’s about one man’s neverending search for a home and how certain dreams feel like long treks in the desert toward a mirage. You know it’s most likely fake but since there’s nothing else to walk toward you might as well make your fantasy a goal. Two male prostitutes (played by Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix) wander the streets of Oregon, one looking for their mother and the other looking to rebel. One comes from a rich family, the other is a narcoleptic with no other options. They come from two radically different sides of the track but life put them together and you hope it keeps them together but you know the movie gods are cruel. Some roads do go on forever, but they’re the ones we walk down alone. Like all good journeys, My Own Private Idaho will stick with you forever because the company is memorable and the destination unforgettable.

Sailor Monsoon

78. All About My Mother (1999)

No one loves spinning as many narrative plates as much as Pedro Almodóvar and since he can masterfully spin as many as he wants without dropping any, it’s always a treat watching him test himself to see how many he can keep going at any time. This movie is his attempt to go for the world record and while it falls a bit short (no one challenges the wacky Italian comedies and wins), it still manages to spin a bunch while also juggling a few balls as well. A nurse tracks down her dead son’s transexual father living in Barcelona and gets involved in her life and the people in her orbit including a lesbian actress, her junkie lover, and a pregnant nun. If they weren’t so grounded and believable, the over-the-top characters and their situations would feel like a farce but Almodóvar treats everyone with empathy. Each of his films basically follows the same formula: the women are beyond resilient, the men are oblivious to the point of useless, there will be no less than fifteen subplots and everything will be gay as shit. It’s a formula that always works but has never been better realized than here. This groundbreaking melodrama paved the way for the next twenty years of queer representation in movies and TV and remains a landmark LGBTQ work of art.

Sailor Monsoon

77. Breaking the Waves (1996)

Lars Von Trier is the reason cinema is broken down into two categories: rewards and challenges. Most directors want to create delightful or exhilarating experiences that will stay with the viewer forever, whereas other directors want to make cinematic dares that will permanently scar those that take them. For every Spielberg, there is a Von Trier and I mean that as a compliment. It takes a true artist to make misery porn that sticks with you as opposed to assaulting you and then quickly running away. The difference is in the characters. Von Trier gets you invested before revealing he’s been slowly stabbing you in the chest the whole time. He makes you fall in love with Bess (Emily Watson), a devout Scottish woman who (in her mind) has a direct line of communication to God, and Jan (Stellan Skarsgård) a paralyzed oafish oil rigger long before you even realize you should be concerned for them. Even when he encourages her to find other lovers and report back her dalliances are you the least bit worried, but at a certain point you realize it’s not going to have a happy ending and you’re just waiting out the inevitable. Breaking the Waves created the knife Dancer in the Dark would later use to carve out your chest and rip out your heart.

–Sailor Monsoon

76. Thelma & Louise (1991)

The ultimate feminist buddy/road movie, it’s also just a damn good movie. It showed a side of Ridley Scott we’d never really seen before. It has some excellent acting from Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon – leading to them both being nominated for best actress. It’s really funny AND heartbreaking. It has a young Brad Pitt with his shirt off. It’s impossible to convey at this date just how much Thelma and Louise impacted the cultural zeitgeist of the time. There are parts of it that might seem contrived or melodramatic now, but it spoke to a lot of issues that women deal with every day, then and now, and did it in a way that was both heartfelt and entertaining. Thelma and Louise feel like real, rich characters – they’re not uniformly ‘good’ or likable all the time. They can be giving, and petty, and raunchy, and polite, and powerful, and weak – just like real people. A beautifully shot film that uses the rural roads of the southwest as an epic backdrop for a story about two friends and their journey. Not just an ultimate ‘feminist’ buddy/road movie. One of the best buddy/road movies of all time.

Bob Cram

75. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It’s a tale as old as time… one delivered so beautifully that it became the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Disney had finally broken out of an animated slump with 1989’s The Little Mermaid and they struck gold again a couple of years later with Beauty and the Beast. This is the first movie I can remember actually seeing in the theater so I have very fond memories and love for the film. Belle sticks out like a sore thumb in her small French village. She is bored with everyday life and loves to dream and lose herself in her books. When her father is imprisoned by a ferocious beast, she’s brave enough to offer herself in his place. What follows is an endearing and sweeping romance, propped up by entertaining supporting characters, fantastic animation, and memorable songs. Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of Disney’s best-animated features.. and if you were to ask me, I would say it’s the best.

Romona Comet

74. Beau Travail (1999)

This isn’t a movie for those that prefer dialogue and plot-heavy films. Instead, come for extended sequences of meditative silence – the space only filled by the ambient sounds of the activity on screen. In Beau Travail, director Claire Denis is much more interested in establishing a mood than a narrative. The mood is that of beauty, specifically male beauty, and all of its rich complexities. So much of this film moves like a beautiful dance. Whether it be the editing and cinematography, the score, or the characters themselves, Beau Travail is filled to the brim with rhythmic grace. Admittedly, it’s a hard movie to get into, but once you get into it, it’s an even harder movie to not fully enjoy.

Raf Stitt

73. Sling Blade (1996)

Roger Ebert once declared Theron’s performance in Monster “one of the best in cinema history” and while I don’t disagree, the reason it’s “one of” and not “the best” is because of Thornton’s performance in this movie. As amazing as Theron is in Monster, she still needed an amazing makeup department to help sell her performance. They needed to make her ugly for you to stop seeing Theron and start focusing on the performance. Thornton didn’t use any makeup. He just curls up his mouth and suddenly disappears. In all my years of movie watching, I’ve never seen an actor so thoroughly disappear without the use of any makeup, prosthetics, or appliance before. I don’t see Billy Bob Thornton at all, I only see Karl Childers. You could’ve presented this to me as a documentary and I’d be none the wiser. This captures as authentic a slice of America as any doc by Errol Morris or Frederick Wiseman and if it wasn’t for some familiar faces here and there, weaves such a powerful spell over the audience, that it makes the viewer forget they’re watching a movie for long stretches. I think the cameos were there to make sure the spell never lasted too long or the ending, which is one of the most unforgettable of the decade, would be too much to take.

Sailor Monsoon

72. Point Break (1991)

Two of the best heist movies of all time came out of the 90s. One is Heat and the other is Point Break. And if you think about it, they’re practically the same movie.

Both feature a cop driven to bust a professional gang of bank robbers. Both feature a protagonist and antagonist who, though on opposite sides of the law, have a kind of mutual respect for each other. Both feature Oscar-level performances from thespians at the peak of their careers (Robert Deniro/Al Pacino and Gary Busey/Anthony Kiedis). And both antagonists die in the end.

Almost identical, right?

Anyway, Point Break is almost as rad as Patrick Swayze’s mullet in the film (RIP), and that’s reason enough for it to make this list.

–Billy Dhalgren

71. There’s Something About Mary (1998)

When There’s Something About Mary was released, it caused quite a stir. In true Farrelly Bros. form, the movie was full of outrageous sight gags and raunchy humor. Compared to what’s been on screen since, a lot of its gross-out humor feels tame compared to today’s R-rated raunch-filled films. But what makes There’s Something About Mary so great is the amount of heart that comes through. There is just enough silliness and lovability within the movie to elevate it past a desperate attempt at shock value, and the movie’s core romance is one you can really root for. The R-rated rom-com triggered a slew of raunchy imitations, but very few have come close to TSAM‘s success, both commercially and critically. There are also very few romantic comedies that can claim a scene as iconic as the “hair gel” moment. It’s still as ridiculously funny today as it was in 1994.

Romona Comet

90-81 | 70-61

What are some of your favorite ’90s movies? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!