The Filmmaking of the 1990s and my Top 20 of the Whole Decade.

The Filmmaking of the 1990s and my Top 20 of the Whole Decade.

the 1990s

One of our excellent contributors and reviewers, Michael Campochiaro, was asking on Facebook the other day about the best and our favourite films from the 1990s. It got me thinking. 

As someone who came to maturity... well certainly movie maturity during the 90s - I can't claim any actual maturity yet, thank goodness - it seemed exciting and interesting to revisit the decade and see how I feel about it now. 

As I type this in 2018 the 1990s are further away from us now than the 1960s were when I was born and with each passing year, let alone each passing decade, it is beginning to look like the 1990s were one of the last, truly great decades for cinema.

The 1990s gave rise to the likes of Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin SmithRichard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh and, a bit later, Wes Anderson. The decade cemented Spike Lee's career and saw the Coen Brothers have their best decade ever with an unparalleled run of classics. Terry Gilliam could still get hired in Hollywood and had a successful string of America based films. Scorsese started the decade with Goodfellas, ended it with Bringing out the Dead and in-between made Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Casino and Kundun. James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann and more continued to knock it out of the park with a string of beloved blockbusters and engaging dramas.

Robert Rodriguez ,  Quentin Tarantino ,  Frank Darabont  and  Scott Spiegel

Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Darabont and Scott Spiegel

A new wave of British films gave us grungy Scotsmen, mockney gangsters, foppish, floppy haired Hugh Grant and plenty of mopey Mike Leigh fare.

Ewen Bremner ,  Ewan McGregor  and  Robert Carlyle  in   Trainspotting   (1996)

Ewen BremnerEwan McGregor and Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting (1996)

Action stars like Jean Claude Van Damme and Steve Seagal rose to fame with a string of action hits, the big 80s action guys like Schwarzenegger, Willis and Kurt Russell continued to put out awesome movies, Stallone had a relatively bumpy decade but also crafted his best performance yet in Cop Land and straight to video action fare had an unprecedented boom with stars like Cynthia Rothrock, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Jeff Speakman and more making a name for themselves.

Jean Claude Van Damme ,  Don Johnson ,  Sylvester Stallone  and  Steven Seagal

Jean Claude Van Damme, Don Johnson, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal

Bill Murray, what about Bob?

Bill Murray started the decade as a comedic lead, killing it in every movie, then we saw him slip into extended cameos and straight to video abyss before his rise again with Wes Anderson and Rushmore in 1998. Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers all had huge comedy hits and invented characters that, at the time, we all chortled over but now, looking back, it's hard to know exactly why. The 80s sex romp, much like the 80s slasher film tried a re-invention with varying degrees of success. Spoof films were still great and, in some cases, became big business before running out of jokes and literally just becoming parodies of themselves in the 2000s.

Nic Cage had his best decade ever, Johnny Depp wasn't yet a punchable twazzock, George Clooney became a film star, Leonardo DiCaprio made a name for himself, Tom Hanks slowly (and sadly I might add) became a "serious" actor, Will Smith turned everything he touched into gold until Wild Wild West happened in '99, Denzel Washington hit his stride and jumped from genre to genre effortlessly and Samuel L Jackson finally became a mutherflubbing leading man.

We had dark thrillers, erotic thrillers and mysteries, there were the biggest of blockbusters alongside the indie-ist of indies, films still felt intelligent, intriguing and varied, horror became self aware and everyone was hurtling towards the new millennium with a nice sense of doom and madness which gave way to some fantastic films on that very subject. 

and all that is just the half of it...

Top 20 Films of 1990s

So, now, in chronological order, are my TOP 20 films of the 1990s. These are films I like, films I still watch and I picked them using a mixture of nostalgia, personal opinion and recognition of their filmmaking:

  1. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
  2. The Fisher King
  3. JFK
  4. Candyman
  5. Army of Darkness
  6. Tombstone
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. Léon: The Professional
  9. Clerks
  10. Funny Bones
  11. Seven
  12. Strange Days
  13. Casino
  14. Brain Candy
  15. Cop Land
  16. Jackie Brown
  17. The Big Lebowski
  18. Out of Sight
  19. Rushmore
  20. Office Space

So how did I come by that list?

Well, I went through each year I compiled a Top 10 for each year and, sometimes a few honorable mentions, then I went through picking my absolute favourites from each year and finally whittled that list down to 20. Don't ask me to get it down to 10, I am not sure it's possible. 

Below I present my top 10s for each year, if anyone is interested. Again, I reiterate these are personal top 10s. They are not in any order (mostly just chronological), they are not, often, the highest grossing films of any of these given years and rarely do many of my choices make the Oscar lists. These were also compiled quickly and instinctively and based only on films I have seen, generally more than once as well.


  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Toy Soldiers
  3. What About Bob?
  4. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
  5. Barton Fink
  6. The Fisher king
  7. Frankie and Johnny
  8. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  9. The Last Boy Scout
  10. JFK

Honorable Mentions:
Dead Again


  1. Hard To kill
  2. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
  3. Blind Fury
  4. The Ambulance
  5. Total Recall
  6. Gremlins 2
  7. Quick Change
  8. Miller's Crossing
  9. Darkman
  10. Men At Work

Honorable Mentions:
Robot Jox
Pump up the Volume
Loose Cannons


  1. Matinee
  2. Groundhog Day
  3. Army of Darkness
  4. Falling Down
  5. My Neigbor Totoro
  6. Jurassic Park
  7. The Fugitive
  8. Hard Target
  9. True Romance
  10. Tombstone

Honorable Mentions:
Mad Dog and Glory
So I Married an Axe Murderer
The Dark Half


  1. Wayne's World
  2. The Player
  3. Split Second
  4. Cool World
  5. Sneakers
  6. Glengarry Glen Ross
  7. Candyman
  8. Reservoir Dogs
  9. Twin peaks: Fire Walk With Me
  10. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Honorable Mentions:
Dr. Giggles
Scent of a Woman
A Few Good Men


  1. The Hudsucker Proxy
  2. Speed
  3. Wolf
  4. True Lies
  5. Pulp Fiction
  6. The Shawshank Redemption
  7. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
  8. Léon: The Professional
  9. Clerks
  10. Shallow Grave

Honorable Mentions:
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Quiz Show


  1. In The Mouth of Madness
  2. The Quick and the Dead
  3. Funny Bones
  4. Die Hard with a Vengeance
  5. The Usual Suspects
  6. Seven
  7. Strange Days
  8. Leaving Las Vegas
  9. Casino
  10. 12 Monkeys

Honorable Mentions:
The City of Lost Children
Demon Knight
Richard III
Living in Oblivion


  1. Donnie Brasco
  2. Chasing Amy
  3. Grosse Pointe Blank
  4. Con Air
  5. Face/Off
  6. Conspiracy Theory
  7. Cop Land
  8. Starship Troopers
  9. Scream 2
  10. Jackie Brown

Honorable Mentions:
Air Force One
The Game
The Devil's Advocate
A Life Less Ordinary
The Man Who Knew Too Little


  1. From Dusk Till Dawn
  2. Escape From LA
  3. Fargo
  4. Executive Decision
  5. Brain Candy
  6. Mission: Impossible
  7. Independence Day
  8. The Long Kiss Goodnight
  9. Mars Attacks!
  10. Scream

Honorable Mentions:
The Quest
The Cable Guy
The Frighteners
2 Days in the Valley
The Birdcage


  1. Fallen
  2. The Wedding Singer
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. Wild Things
  5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  6. Out of Sight
  7. Halloween H20
  8. Ronin
  9. Rushmore
  10. Enemy of the State

Honorable Mentions:
The Negotiator
The Faculty




  1. Payback
  2. Office Space
  3. 8mm
  4. The Matrix
  5. Being John Malkovich
  6. Mystery Men
  7. Fight Club
  8. Bringing Out The Dead
  9. Dogma
  10. Galaxy Quest

Honorable Mentions:
Idle Hands
Muppets From Space
Lake Placid
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
End of Days
The Limey

What are your favourite films, actors, directors, scores, moments etc. from the 1990s?

Comment below!

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