The 30 Greatest Movies of the ’90s, Ranked
Dare to disagree?
The ’90s may have been loaded with questionable fashion and even worse beverages, but, looking back, it was chock-full of some great things too. Namely, the introduction of a little magazine called Maxim and plenty of movies that can now be considered classics.
We cherry-picked the 30 best movies of the decade (with trailers!) so you can find the ones you missed… or revisit the ones you love.
30. Airborne (1993)
This movie utterly encapsulated the ’90s, at least in that it was illogically radical and the costumes were absurd—poncho with hoodie, anyone? Still, if we had to trace back the fact that it was acceptable to rollerblade in the ’90s, this movie would be ground zero.
29. Wild Things (1998)
Neve Campbell, Bill Murray, and Denise Richard’s breasts are highlights in this underrated gem. Come for the threesome scene, stay for the awesome backstabbing plot set in the backwoods of Florida.
28. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
Skewering every movie trope of the early ’90s, Mel Brooks is a goddamn national treasure and this was his last great outing as a director. The ensemble cast kills it on every front, from comic timing to musical chops. Dave Chappelle’s movie debut is a highlight here.
27. Unforgiven (1992)
Before moving onto roles where he plays a crotchety old man, Clint Eastwood had one last hurrah as a crotchety old gunslinger. It obviously suited him and netted Unforgiven an Oscar for best picture.
26. Billy Madison (1995)
The current state of Adam Sandler’s movies are a woeful crapfest, and looking back to the insane, infinitely quotable Billy Madison, it only makes the hurt worse. Adam, we loved you, man. How could you give us a movie like this and then think it’s ok to unleash a garbage dumpster like Pixels on the world?
25. Rudy (1993)
Before Sean Austin was a hobbit in Lord of the Rings, he was a little person on Notre Dame’s football team—not as the leprechaun mascot—and it was amazing.
24. Dazed and Confused (1993)
If, after seeing this movie, you didn’t want to go to a high school where Parker Posey hazed freshman girls and Milla Jovovich turned the school statue into Gene Simmons from Kiss, then we can’t be friends. This is also the movie that launched Matthew McConaughey‘s career since the casting director found him in a bar a few days before shooting.
23. Friday (1995)
If you told us in 1994 that Chris Tucker and Ice Cube would be a comic duo on the level of Cheech and Chong, we’d likely have laughed at you. We would have been very wrong. If you ain’t got no job and you ain’t got shit to do, go watch this movie.
22. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Stellar performances from a huge, powerhouse cast is the second best thing about Saving Private Ryan. The best thing will always be the shelling scene that seems to encapsulate the sheer chaos of war better than any movie before or since. We’re looking to Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, coming this summer, to see if someone can finally top it.
21. Scream (1996)
Scream was the first horror movie that finally looked inward at the horror genre. Full of cheap thrills and cheap laughs, iconic moments run rampant here, but none more so than the way Scream murders Drew Barrymore in the first five minutes.
20. Titanic (1997
If you adjust for inflation, Titanic’s box office beats every other movie, ever. James Cameron’s action-adventure romance had something for everyone. Leo for the ladies, Kate Winslet naked on a couch for us, and everyone’s favorite villain—an enormous iceberg. (Sorry, Billy Zane.)
19. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Not since Kerouac’s On the Road has a road trip story had more impact on our lives. Dumb and Dumber taught us valuable lessons like how to buy a pet, how to seduce a woman, and to never lick frost.
18. Clueless (1995)
Funnier and less melodramatic than 90210, Clueless epitomized the mid-’90s. It also introduced the incredibly annoying fad that made saying “whatever” in a sassy valley girl accent an acceptable response to almost any question, but we’ll forgive it for that.
17. Natural Born Killers (1994)
Oliver Stone’s fever dream version of Bonny and Clyde, Natural Born Killers was way ahead of its time in terms of its commentary on the media. It also featured some fantastic ultra-violence and was a high-point for Robert Downey Jr. during his decade of lying low.
16. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
If there’s a fault in the third Die Hard movie, we can’t find it. The return of the Gruber clan is even more clever and sinister than the original, and we’ll take Sam Jackson over Carl Winslow ten times out of ten. Using NYC as a backdrop for this one was a stroke of genius. Anyone who says they would pass up the chance to shred Central Park in a yellow cab is just a filthy liar.
15. Terminator 2 (1991)
A rare instance of a sequel being better than the original in every conceivable sense, T2 was a phenomenon. Arnie was at the top of his game, the T1000 was a horrifyingly perfect villain and the story (and its set pieces) were excellent extensions of the plot and action introduced in the original.
14. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Rugs, thumbs and bowling—that’s what The Big Lebowski does. The quintessential madcap mystery, Lebowski is the Coen Brother’s masterpiece in our eyes, never mind that Fargo and No Country for Old Men were the ones that netted them Oscars. The Dude abides.
13. Half Baked (1998)
When Jon Stewart, Snoop Dogg and Steven Wright all cameo in your movie and that’s not the best part, you did something right. Chappelle’s first starring role was also his first writing team-up with Neal Brennan. The two later went on to create Chappelle Show together.
12. Forrest Gump (1994)
Who knew that a movie about a dumbass through history would become an undisputed classic. Tom Hanks solidified himself as an intrinsic piece of Americana with his role as Forrest and undoubtedly had to endure fans speaking to him in the Forrest guffaw accent for the rest of the ’90s as a result.
11. Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese and De Niro’s team ups almost always yielded something incredible, and Cape Fear is no exception. This thriller once again let De Niro channel his inner psychopath like only he can, and we’ll never step foot on a houseboat because of it.
10. Jurassic Park (1993)
One of the very few movies of the ’90s with CGI that still holds up, Jurassic Park parlayed our love for theme parks and dinosaurs to bait us with something we desperately want (a dinosaur theme park) and then turn it against us in a nightmarish way. Also, goodbye, Newman!
9. Groundhog Day (1993)
One of the smartest and funniest Bill Murray movies ever, Groundhog Day is both a wonderful dive into a deep philosophy and a perfect vehicle for Murray’s wit, sarcasm and charm. This is also the movie that created a schism between Murray and Harold Ramis, though no one besides Murray and the now-deceased Ramis knows why.
8. Braveheart (1995)
Before Mel Gibson went cuckoo, he was William Wallace, thundering around the Scottish hillsides, slaughtering entire armies and impregnating princesses. He also set the standard for what a pump-up speech should be. Step one: blue face paint.
7. Fight Club (1999)
Subversion at its absolute finest, Fight Club still resonates today with its message of anti-consumerism, anti-sensitivity, and a distinct hatred toward greedy corporations that, shocker, we all still hate. Maybe it’s just us, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Project Mayhem-style wave of terrorism kick up in the very near future.
6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Another thriller gem from the early ’90s, The Silence of the Lambs was a mindfuck, never going for outright scares but, instead, planting seeds that would give you the creeps for weeks to come. It also netted Anthony Hopkins an Oscar for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter even though he was only on the screen for less than 15 minutes.
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Tarantino’s masterpiece is still an epic ride through a gritty, pop-culture saturated L.A. and the intersecting lives of several of its most questionable citizens. The movie is loaded with details that are hard to watch, hard to hear, and impossible to forget.
4. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix hit theaters at the ass end of the ’90s and went largely unnoticed initially due to a lack of marketing and some confusion over what it was about. Then word of mouth took hold, and the reality-bending plot, excellent special effects and wholly original combat made it the defining action movie of ’99. Sadly, the sequels wound up largely over-hyped… but that’s a problem for the 2000s.
3. Goodfellas (1990)
Easily Scorsese’s best gangster movie, Goodfellas somehow explored a part of American culture while simultaneously creating American culture. It’s a twisted vision of the American dream that co-opts plenty of real-life events by juxtaposing the highs and lows of criminal life. It also taught us to never forget to stir the sauce.
2. The Usual Suspects (1994)
The Usual Suspects should be a movie that you only watch once, given its ending. That hasn’t stopped us from rewatching it regularly for the past 20+ years. The ensemble cast is excellent, even with Steven Baldwin. The plot twists are unparalleled. The myth of Keyser Soze is one that will stay with us forever, personifying the most admirable qualities of a brilliant and ruthless criminal overlord in the best way possible.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1995)
Two things make our top movie great: First, it carries a message of hope in even the darkest, most desperate times, and that resonates with everyone on a baseline human level. Second, it is infinitely rewatchable. In fact, if you happen to catch it on TV—no matter where in the movie you pick it up—you absolutely must watch it to the end.
Everything about Shawshank is perfection, and that’s why it tops our list.