So this is one of the few lists from Film Listography that I found I could fill in without much trouble. I guess being an 80’s baby, it makes sense that I had a lot of contact with 90’s films. Here’s my list, in no particular order:
So I know I said no particular order, but if there was an order, this would probably be up near the top of the list. I re-watched this dozens of times in my teens – yes, often at night and often on my own. Renowned for its in-action commentary on the horror genre itself, this was great adolescent introduction to horror movies. Scream and Scream 2 taught me key horror rules to live by; promiscuity and drinking/recreational drug use will be punished, the killer is never dead when you assume he is, never say “I’ll be right back…” and, perhaps most importantly, never try to escape through a cat-flap. With Scream, Wes Craven hit the nail on the head – having the characters acknowledge the same thoughts and feelings as those of their audience while enduring the typical horror experience and rejuvenating the horror genre. Always a classic.
From my humble selection, Clueless is the film that most defines the 90’s era. Exaggerated 90’s fashion and yuppie-hipster slang ( “as if!”, “Whatever” (complete with the hand sign), “a full-on Monet”, “kind of a Baldwin”, “buggin’” and “jeepin’” to name a few (see this great article by Anna Klassen at The Daily Beast for some education on the Clueless-verse), make Clueless a true 90’s staple. It really doesn’t get more 90’s than this. Even in my late 20’s, this exploration of friendship, love and transitioning through the eyes of an adorably clueless spoilt-little-rich-girl is still one of my favourite go-tos for a girls’ night in.
The Boondock Saints (1999)
Underrated is the one word that perfectly encompasses The Boondock Saints. Without fail, everyone I have ever made watch this (for their own good!), has loved it. The story of two vigilante Irish brothers taking on the Boston streets (along with their friend “Funny Man”, a walking catastrophe), is different from the usual action-packed hero movie – possibly due to restrictive budget – and has delightful sprinkles of comedy, a fantastic supporting performance from Willem Defoe, and even a ‘twist’ ending. Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus are simultaneously loveable and kick-ass, making this a treat I love to watch over and over again and share with friends.
Con Air (1997)
Back in the days when I had a great respect for Nicholas Cage. No matter what, you can never deny that Cage was sublime in his role as Cameron Poe in Con Air. Convicts. On an airplane. Trying to make a getaway. Except, of course, for Poe, who is up for release and wants to go home peacefully. It’s a great concept and handled brilliantly, utilising the different mentalities of the convicted convicts to create logical plotlines and develop relationships (both character-to-character and viewer-to-character). Literally one of my most admired ‘action’ films. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for Cage’s drawling accent.
True Romance (1993)
This would undoubtedly go at the top of a ranked list, as it would also be one of my top 5 films of all time. It’s made up of a truly fantastic cast; Chirstian Slater and Patricia Arquette as Clarence and Alabama, with their swept-off-their-feet romance and James Gandolfini and Gary Oldman as particularly nasty villains. It continues right down to the brilliant casting of Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father, Christopher Walken as yet another (more sophisticated) villain, and not to mention the brief appearance of a certain Mr Pitt, who has seen better days. True Romance subverts the usual narrative of a guy finding out that the woman he is falling for is a prostitute hired as a birthday present: the usual furore of trying to hide the truth, having it revealed and dealing with the reality is covered within the first quarter of them film, allowing us to progress with the “happily” ever after in which Clarence and Alabama’s troubles only get worse. Their love-dream-bubble is a driving force that I can’t help but become utterly invested in every single time.
For me, the 90’s signify Nicolas Cage’s heyday – it really was a period where he presented some of his best work. Face/Off was actually a bit of a family favourite – it really appealed to everybody. The notion of the ability to switch identities using scientific (i.e. not supernatural) means and having someone invade your home and your family is actually terrifying. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage do such convincing job of playing each other’s original characters that you almost forget we [probably?] haven’t reached the point yet (1997) of being able to completely alter one’s entire appearance to match another existing human being and swap faces. Almost surrendering to this possibility makes Travolta’s trauma of having the psychopath who killed his son live with his wife and daughter all the more emotional and disturbing. Face/Off has a style of its own, with the acting to back it up.
Terminator 2 : Judgement Day (1991)
This would also be up with the top few entries if this was a ranked list. It’s well known that there are very few sequels that can match their predecessor, but this one certainly does. In fact, for me personally, it surpasses it. Despite maybe being a little terrified of a man who could melt/shapeshift into mental objects and such, T2 fast became a childhood favourite (I didn’t even see The Terminator until years later) – it helped to have a wayward but smart kid as the protagonist through which to experience the sheer insanity of the situation. What probably stuck with me was some of the epic cinematography (apocalyptic dream sequences come to mind), not to mention the classic one-liners and, I guess as a young girl, Sarah Connors’ transition from fragility to a strong, badass warrior for the cause. Throw in the emotional teachings of a robot by a 90’s kid. I actually also kinda enjoy the paradoxical mind-games caused by time-travel and the utilisation of the T himself by both the good and bad guys, though it makes my head hurt if I think about it too much.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Next to Clueless, this is another defining 90’s film, explored from a somewhat less prestigious American suburb, filled with crop-tops and pigtails. A perfectly crafted comedy adaptation of The Taming of The Shrew, any kid growing up in the 90’s should have this on their list – it’s not like you could possibly forget the dearly departed Heath Ledger’s performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. Comedy reluctant-romance classic.
The Game (1997)
Probably another lesser-known one, I hadn’t heard of The Game until my partner showed it to me – it’s now one that I go back to every few years. It’s an enthralling mystery-thriller from David Fincher and I love the premise – Michael Douglas as a San Franciscan banker who, as a birthday present receives an invitation to play the most immersive ‘game’ you could imagine. It’s only really on my list because it’s a thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable watch (and re-watch).
The Craft (1996)
Another girls’ night favourite, The Craft examines the complexities of high school and adolescence through witchcraft, resulting in a darkly gothic teenage-angst fest. The conceivable escalation of everyday teenage experiences in this heightened atmosphere makes The Craft an irresistible 90’s experience.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
I couldn’t possibly have a list of top 90’s films without such a cult classic. I was probably a little too young when I first tried to watch this film, but on re-watching, I had to succumb to its brilliance. With A-listers offering some of the most iconic characters in cinema history (Jules, Vincent and Mia, to name a few), this off-the-wall anecdote is legendary in its own right. With some truly unforgettably uncomfortable moments (Marvin’s demise, Mia’s overdose and Butch and ‘bad-ass’ Marsellus’ encounter with Zed), it’s status as a cult classic is well-earned.
Interview With A Vampire (1994)
Not usually a fan of the Ann Rice type vampire tales, I fell into Interview With A Vampire during an embarrassingly intense Brad Pitt phase. For me, it’s a vampire classic. Covering the life of Louis from pre-transition 1791 to the modern day, it is an examination of the conflicts involved in survival, immortality, love and betrayal – reflected in our own conflicts as we struggle to determine how we feel about these characters and why. The relationship between Louis and Claudia is particular touching (if a little odd) and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Another gem thankfully introduced by my partner, I’m not sure I ever would have stumbled on The Hudsucker Proxy if left to my own devices. A story based around a guy inventing the hula hoop might not sound like much, but this fantastical tale packs a punch. Tim Robbins plays the role to perfection and as a viewer, you really follow him on the rollercoaster ride from the mail-room to the top floor. Add in a little Christmassy-magic for an ultimately feel-good comedy drama.
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
Another childhood staple – if I ever had children, this is the one film I would insist they watch growing up. Comedy gold, with Robin Williams excelling as a cross-dressing desperate dad. Like any decent childhood movie, it has an overall moral tale (though expressed through very morally questionable and possibly, as a child, disturbing ethics). Nonetheless, you just can’t beat the humour and the flexibility of Williams as an impressionist actor. Without a doubt, my favourite comedy of the 90’s.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
I’m a big fan of black comedy, which makes Death Becomes Her a given for me when talking about films from this era. As a child, it’s pretty hard to forget the first time you see special effects that allow a woman to walk around with her head backwards, or with a hole right through her stomach -and for these to be funny rather than frightening sights. At such a young age I did not appreciate the ‘star power’ of Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep or Goldie Hawn and it’s only as I’ve grown up that I can appreciate how truly suited these actors were to their roles in Death Becomes Her and how unusual a cinematic event like this is.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
‘Girl Power’ was on the rise in the 90’s, making this a perfect time for a smash-hit movie focused on the strongest of friendships between two women pushed to their limits on their misguided adventure. That said, Thelma and Louise is a timeless classic – just see HERE. Through the seemingly simple tale of girly road -trip gone wrong, we are made to question :‘how far would you go? It is subliminal and beautiful. Despite the ‘girl power’ overtones, it’s a thrilling tale to be enjoyed by all – you do not by any means have to be a female of the species to appreciate this for the great movie it is. Susan Surandon and Gina Davis are Thelma and Louise – this movie was made for them.
Just. Classic. Romance is probably very low of my list of preferred genres, but the dark and tragic premise of Ghost, complete with betrayal, murder and the comedic stylings of Whoppi Goldberg, make it not just bearable, but brilliant! Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze are utterly convincing as our doomed lovers, securing our emotional investment while Tony Goldwyn makes sure that Carl is the villain that we love to hate – culminating in a timeless murder-mystery-romance-thriller.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Who could forget Johnny Depp’s pasty-faced, leather-clad, scraggly-haired Edward Scissorhands? Yes, it is about a teenage boy who has scissors for hands (really, there’s an explanation for this)! On a re-watch earlier this year (2017), the first thing that struck me about why I probably fell in love with Edward Scissorhands as a child was the aesthetics. The opening scene including a model picturesque snow-covered town, the harsh blue-greys surrounding Edward in the castle contrasted with the vibrant pastels of the overly cheery suburb; it’s truly stunning. Johnny Depp really brings Edward to life (pun intended), as you witness his struggle to integrate into a foreign society. Interwoven with a moral tale about the spectacle of the unknown and how this can descend into fear of the unknown and you have a beautifully crafted tale.
Header image from Film Listography, with permission.
I’d love to know what 90’s films would make the cut for your own list – let me know in the comments!