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by Jason F. Koenigsberg

It is hard to believe that the 90’s ended over twenty years ago. Ah, what a simpler time. Bill Clinton was President, and all the country really worried about during that decade was a slow moving Ford Bronco, Hugh Grant’s sex life, and a stain on a blue dress. I guess that decade of complacency ended up slapping us in the face with Columbine and the reemergence of the gun control debate followed by the biggest wake up call in our nations history with 9/11. But before September 11, 2001 the problems that Americans faced feel like nothing compared to our world wrought with terrorism, the COVID19 plague, and an economy that is reeling on the verge of destruction.

Many movies made during the 90’s reflected the values and attitudes of our culture at the time. This article is not a list of the best movies of the 90’s nor will it include any great movies made during the 90’s that took place in an earlier time so no Goodfellas, Titanic, or Saving Private Ryan. Those films all reflect the 90’s through a historical context. These are movies from the 90’s about the 90’s that serve as a time capsule as to what life was like back then.

You may also notice that this list is heavy with films from the latter part of the decade especially 1999. That year has been well documented as being a seminal year for the advancement of American movies but also I think the years leading up to 1999 had been brewing and culminated with motion pictures that reflected our lives in ways that captured American culture, lifestyle, and values with motion pictures like American Beauty, The Matrix, Office Space, and Fight Club. All of which serve as perfect examples of the cubicle work life and the boredom and mundane existence many American males felt they were a part of during the late 90’s.

Political films also seemed to come to an apex during the late 90’s as the Clinton administration came to a close with films like Absolute Power, Primary Colors, Bulworth, and The Contender which was released after the decade ended in the fall of 2000 but before the world changed on 9/11. All of those movies were direct responses to reflect Bill Clinton and his presidency.

The films that follow touch on every aspect of life during the decade that represented the last time Americans could go to work and not have to worry about a terrorist attack, or have our children go to school and not have the constant threat of being a casualty in a shooting. So if you are in the mood for some nostalgia these movies will probably hit the spot. Without any further ado here are Pan and Slam’s list of the Best 90’s movies from the 90’s that reflect the decade. They are listed alphabetically because ranking them in importance would be futile considering the wide and diverse range of films and social topics they cover.

1. Absolute Power (1997) directed by Clint Eastwood


This movie was Eastwood’s clear indictment of his disdain for then President Bill Clinton. Clint’s politics have veered to the right in recent decades but prior to his Obama bashing he was a registered independent and Mayor of Carmel, California. Absolute Power is the story of a skilled burglar who witnesses the President of the United States engage in sexual acts with a woman that is not his wife and then the woman is killed as their sex turns violent. Many people, Democrats and Republicans alike, disliked Clinton for his sexual exploitations on the job saying that he lost his integrity and destroyed the integrity of the Presidency. Absolute Power was Clint Eastwood making a film in response to all that we had been seeing on the news. 1997 also brought about Wesley Snipes in an action thriller investigating the President in Murder at 1600 which I actually prefer over this movie, but Absolute Power does a better job capturing the mood of the nation during that time period about our government. 


2. American Beauty (1999) directed by Sam Mendes


American Beauty has earned an unfair reputation as being one of the worst movies to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. But in 1999, this movie was beloved by critics and audiences. It hit a soft spot on the American psyche and did something very few movies have done, it captured how adults and teenagers felt about their lives and the direction it was heading simultaneously. That is no easy task. American Beauty is as entertaining as it is challenging, as a slice of life and darkly comic social commentary on marriage, school and the disintegrating family values for superficial items. Say what you want about Kevin Spacey now, and he does play a father of a teenage girl with pedophilic behavior and very questionable values, but he nailed the role here and won a well deserved second Oscar. One of the best movies from a great year for movies that captured our nations mentality and connected in a way that now makes us feel like we should not have related to these flawed and politically incorrect characters. 


3. Arlington Road (1999) directed by Mark Pellington


What was the biggest terrorist attack during the 1990’s that resulted in the most civilian casualties? To the best of my knowledge it was the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The culprits of that heinous act were white men angry at their government. The main perpetrator being Timothy McVeigh. Arlington Road was the feature film directorial debut of Mark Pellington known for directing some very famous and influential music videos from the 90’s. Arlington Road captured how Americans felt about terrorism in the 90’s. That the terrorists could be white and Christian, not brown and Muslim, in fact the terrorists could very well be our next door neighbors. Plus it starred Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins who were very popular actors throughout the 90’s but never had a massive hit movie that put them into the category of being a major draw.  Their movies during this decade were mostly counter programming and Arlington Road is a perfect example of that. It was released the same week as the huge teen hit American Pie and a week after Wild Wild West and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.  For those that wanted to see a movie but not necessarily a sex comedy, a Will Smith action vehicle, or a foul mouthed cartoon, they had the option to see a smart but depressing thriller with Arlington Road. Compare this movie with The Siege to see how Americans viewed terrorism in the 90’s, neither film could be made after 2001. 


4. Boyz N the Hood (1991) directed by John Singleton


This is the only film in the list that takes place partially during the 1980’s. The first half hour shows young Tre Styles in 1984 leaving his home with his mother to grow up with his father Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne) so that he can teach his son how to be man. It then jumps forward to Tre in high school, now played by Cuba Gooding Jr., in present day South Central Los Angeles, present day being 1991. Sure there were other movies that depicted the African-American experience living in inner cities throughout the decade that may have had more 90’s cultural touchstones, but Boyz N the Hood remains the best film of its kind from the 90’s. It was a sharp message movie about increasing peace and attempting to end gang violence and systemic racism. As much as things have improved in the United States since its release in 1991 sadly all of those themes are still very relevant today. It launched the careers of Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., as well as furthering the now prolific careers of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett at a time when they were all just up and coming actors. Boyz N the Hood remains one of the finest films and a landmark in all of their careers and was honored by Congress and selected into the National Film Registry. In fact the phrase ‘rapper/actor’ may have first been coined for this movie when Ice Cube was the first actor listed in the credits and delivered a great performance. Nowadays there are many ‘rapper/actors’. It all started here, placing hip hop culture in the mainstream. 


5. Bulworth (1998) directed by Warren Beatty


Another political movie made as a response to the Clinton administration. Warren Beatty has always been extremely liberal and even took time off from acting to volunteer and help George McGovern’s campaign which he eventually lost to Nixon in 1972. Then by the time 1998 rolled around Americans on both sides of the political spectrum had grown complacent and were a far cry from the counterculture and liberating movements of the 60’s and 70’s. Bulworth was Beatty’s reaction to America’s malaise. He said this was a movie for his children, granted it was rated R and filled with profanity but he made a movie that he intended to inspire the youth and demand more from their politicians, not just rich people getting paid by rich people and appearing on TV. Bulworth plays on peoples expectations of politicians all being corrupt liars, Beatty as the title character plays a senator from California who actually tells the truth and the media cannot handle it. He wanted Americans to be angry again, and he used racial relations, rap music, and hip hop culture to channel his anger to motivate Americans to demand more from their leaders and have politicians actually speak honestly about issues. Most Americans especially younger voters were jaded and could not tell the difference between the two political parties and the truth was at the time there was not much of a difference. Sadly, the movie did not make much of an impact on our nation. It failed to connect with audiences at the box office getting clobbered by Godzilla and The Truman Show, but had a popular soundtrack with some big radio hits and videos replayed on MTV throughout the summer of 1998. Today it serves as an interesting look at a movie that tried to be an outcry from a previous era for and captured a time when most Americans were apathetic about politics. Plus, it had a great Halle Berry performance before she won her history making Academy Award. America could use a politician like Bulworth or at least a movie like this for the Donald Trump era. 


6. Clerks (1994) directed by Kevin Smith


A small independent film that was an important landmark for the 90’s independent movement, as well as the now disgraced Miramax company, and a look at the slacker lifestyle of the 90’s. One could argue that Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991) was more influential because it paved the way for this little film and Kevin Smith even said it inspired him to make Clerks. But Clerks was certainly more important in terms of how many people have seen it and were quoting it in the 90’s. For that Clerks earned its spot here. It captured how a lot of teens and young adults felt about love, sex, work, relationships, friendships, and Star Wars, all very important subjects both then and now. The raunchy and biting dialogue made Clerks stand out and for a brief moment in time Kevin Smith was on the same level as other 90’s independent auteurs that came to prominence around the same time such as Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and the aforementioned Richard Linklater. Unfortunately his career did not grow and evolve the same way his peers did. But he still made Clerks, a masterpiece of 90’s comedy that while it is very much a film of its time, it remains as funny today as it was over a quarter century ago. 


7. Clueless (1995) directed by Amy Heckerling


A pure fantasy and modernized version of Emma is also the best high school movie of the 1990’s. What Mean Girls (2004) was for the 2000’s and what Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) was for the 80’s, Clueless defined high school movies in the 90’s. Following the daily life of Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone in the role that defined her career, along with her friends Dionne and Tai played by Stacey Dash and then newcomer Brittany Murphy as she tries to boost one girls popularity while playing matchmaker for two of her teachers to improve their lives and her grades. This may have been the most quoted movie of the decade other than possibly Jerry Maguire (1996). This easily was one of the most beloved films from the 25 and under demographic and it shows how important driving was for teens, along with popularity, having good/expensive fashion sense, eating healthy, and since it was a fantasy following rich teenagers in Beverly Hills, they all had cell phones. This seemed outrageous in 1995 to watch the main characters call each other in between classes yet today it is commonplace albeit with texting instead of actually calling and talking on the phone. It captured the style and mentality of the MTV era during the 90’s better than anything else and even introduced the world to the ageless Paul Rudd who is the only cast member to remain a big star twenty-five years later. 


8. Dave (1993) directed by Ivan Reitman


A lot of the political films from the 90’s are a commentary about Bill Clinton, well Ivan Reitman’s Dave is a social fable about the other President of the United States during the 1990’s George Bush. Actually, this movie makes the character out to be a combination of the two with the likeness and mannerisms of the elder Bush, and the sexual appetite of President Clinton. His relationship with his wife also reflects how most people assume Bill and Hillary got along in the White House. It is also a very funny movie that plays with not only American politics but also find humor in the real life personas of 90’s icons Arnold Schwarzenegger who was a huge star at the time it was made and just dipping his toes into politics, and Oliver Stone who was a red hot director at the time with his controversial movies that were often based on history and politics. The movie is dated by todays terms but captures how Americans felt the US government operated perfectly back in 1993. 


9. Enemy of the State (1998) directed by Tony Scott


Ah, a wrong man chase movie the likes of which Alfred Hitchcock would enjoy. But Enemy of the State was meant to show off cutting edge technology where shady government officials led by Jon Voight targeted DC attorney Will Smith using satellite photos and cell phone technology that was viewed as futuristic at the time and looks incredibly dated today. That does not mean the movie is not good, on the contrary, Enemy of the State is a fun, fast paced, thriller that works great on its own and thanks to the presence of Gene Hackman as Brill, it is a quasi sequel to Francis Ford Coppola’s great 70’s claustrophobic thriller The Conversation (1974) which also starred Hackman. Watch this movie as a 90’s nostalgic double feature with The Fugitive to see how much technology evolved in five years during the decade. Enemy of the State may be semi forgotten today but it should not be. This is one of Will Smith’s better action movies during the height of his popularity. 


10. Fight Club (1999) directed by David Fincher

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Just for the record, I personally am not a fan of this movie. I found the violence to be off putting as sort of macho porn and especially irresponsible with how realistic it was and then to have the ridiculous twist ending that was pure fantasy and removed any realism the movie had. That being said, there is no denying the fact that Fight Club accurately represented how angry young men felt during this era. This was before terrorism was commonplace and these men had a great life, shopping at Ikea, working menial desk jobs for big corporations. They had no wars to fight, no enemies to battle, and nothing to stand for. They felt lost in a superficial world overwrought by consumerism. So they had a lot of pent up aggression and used it to fight each other for fun. 9/11 made the attitude of these lost angry men irrelevant. We now had a cause as a nation. The United States once again had an enemy, a very real threat to our way of life, the biggest and most dangerous one since the Cold War with an enemy who had irrational values about life, death, and God. Americans still worship the almighty dollar above almost everything else, but now there is a larger purpose and a cause worth fighting for. 


11. The Fugitive (1993) directed by Andrew Davis


What a difference five years can make. If you scroll up and read about Enemy of the State it was about a man wrongfully wanted by the government and illustrated how invasive technology had become to tracking him down. Well five years prior, Harrison Ford starred in an even better wrong man action thriller based on a hit TV series about a man being chased by the authorities for a crime he did not do. The Fugitive is one of the best action films of the 90’s and one of the best of Harrison Ford’s distinguished career. Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor and he does kind of steal the show with his brilliant performance as a US Marshal on Harrison Ford’s trail. This movie contains some of the finest editing, acting, stunt work, and pacing of any film from its era. Today, The Fugitive could never be made, at least not the way it was in 1993. The technology now is too protruding and they would not need as much of a city-wide manhunt to find an escaped convict as they would to push a few buttons and use satellite surveillance to find their man. 


12. Good Will Hunting (1997) directed by Gus Van Sant

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A great movie from any era, but Good Will Hunting made it on the list for pushing mental health and therapy into the forefront of American culture and making it less of a taboo subject. Sure the following years Analyze This (1999) and HBO’s The Sopranos would do even more to blatantly break down the walls of powerful men needing mental help, but Good Will Hunting did it first, and better than most of the other films in its wake. Prior to this movie the only therapists that I can recall in any film were ones written and directed by Woody Allen. Of course Good Will Hunting could also be on here for earning the late great Robin Williams his sole Oscar win after four nominations and a decade of dominance as a major movie star and he certainly deserved it, as well as earning its writers/stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and catapulting them into Hollywood’s A-list. Good Will Hunting deals with alcoholism, child abuse, poverty, and male egos yet none of those issues were as unique as the ability for a stereotypical strong man to break down emotionally and need mental help to find his path in life. This was bold new territory and the Academy, audiences, and critics embraced it. 


13. In & Out (1997) directed by Frank Oz


The second Kevin Kline movie on this list. This is probably the best movie of the 1990’s that captured how Americans felt about homosexuality as more and more people became comfortable coming out of the closet. In & Out was released a few months after Ellen Degeneres’ famous ‘coming out’ episode on her ABC sitcom and the majority of this movie and its humor was based on the decision to ‘come out’. Today candor about homosexuality is much more common to be out in the open in almost every arena other than fundamental religions. Even sports and politics, two areas once unthought of to ever have homosexuals out in the open have seen some courageous people set milestones for their field. Back in 1997 it was still a pretty hush hush topic and there was less representation of homosexuals in major TV shows and movies. In & Out feels like a movie Frank Capra would have directed if he were alive and in his prime during the 90’s. A fable about being honest with yourself and the people you love. It’s a harmless movie and glosses over the darker, serious, sexual issues of these characters in favor of a crowdpleaser for the masses. It is so well acted especially by Kevin Kline who should have earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination, and Joan Cusack who did earn a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination, that In & Out may not hold up as relevant today but viewers will still find it funny and engaging. Back in 1997 this was a lively and contemporary motion picture. This movie was allegedly inspired by Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech at the Oscars after he won for Philadelphia, more on that below. 


14. Jingle All the Way (1996) directed by Brian Levant


Remember back before online shopping and cyber Monday and the only way to buy items was to actually go to the store? Remember the crazy lines and unruly customers all vying for the same toy to give their kids a Merry Christmas? Boy did we have such first world problems back in 1996 and Jingle All the Way addressed them in a humorous manner. Nobody will ever look back and call Jingle All the Way a great film, nor will it be listed as one of Arnold’s best but it captured American consumerism at a time that now feels like ancient history. That spoiled kid wanted his Turbo Man action figure (a Power Rangers rip off) and he and his mother were gonna let their Arnold know that he was a failure at life unless he got it. Meanwhile dad is off making the big bucks as a successful salesman by providing a house, car, food, and other presents for his family, but that does not matter. This Christmas season it was all about that one doll otherwise he would be shamed as a bad father and husband. Jingle All the Way could have never been made today but this was what the holidays were like for many families, parents going from store to store literally fighting each other to get a Tickle Me Elmo, or a Ferbie, or a Tamagachi. Nowadays everything is electronic and online. Kids probably open up significantly less presents even though parents may spend more and get them more presents to download on their electronic devices. Jingle All the Way is a silly movie and despite not being a huge critical or box office success it has become a mainstay on cable TV and streaming during the holiday season. Plus, it stars the late great funnyman Phil Hartman who was a 90’s mainstay until his tragic murder in 1998. 


15. Mallrats (1995) directed by Kevin Smith


Before all the social networks we have online existed. The only social network for many people back in the 1990’s was going to the mall. To shop, to work, or just to hang out, that was the way a lot of young people spent their time and Kevin Smith’s sophomore film, and second film on this list, captures that mentality. Hard to believe that this is the film that captured the Mall mentality better than any other movie I can think of. When it first premiered it was met with scathing reviews and did not make much at the box office. Shortly after Mallrats found its audience and today is looked back fondly as being a funny movie and an important part of Kevin Smith’s View Askiew-niverse. Today nobody goes to the mall because of COVID19 but even in recent years before this happened most of the news regarding retail and shopping malls was that sales were down and patronage were down. Kids these days have found other things to do and other ways to meet up and socialize either virtually or in real life. Malls across America and major department stores have been closing at a rapid rate. Mallrats is 25 years old but even ten or fifteen years ago it was becoming an irrelevant film. Today it is probably most famous for giving Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel Comics, his first cameo in a movie and was referenced in last years Captain Marvel. Before Stan Lee passed away he was known for having a cameo is almost every Marvel movie, When film scholars years from now discuss the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its impact they can always mention Mallrats as a movie ahead of its time for giving Stan Lee a small but pivotal role.  


16. The Matrix (1999) directed by The Wachowski Siblings


The Matrix was not a highly original movie with either its cyber punk aesthetic looks, or its smart ideas, but it managed to tap into something that connected with audiences about how they felt regarding our world, the technology that was becoming more invasive, and the bland office work culture that plagued a lot of middle class income workers of the 90’s. They longed for something more and did not think that the government or the news media was telling them the truth about the world they live in. This movie contains the same themes as Fight Club, American Beauty, and Office Space yet under the guise of a sci-fi action movie loaded with countless bullet shells and kung fu. This plot was nothing new, but the way this movie connected with audiences was incredible. One of the most highly influential movies of its time, after The Matrix, all action movies stopped looking like Die Hard (1988) clones and more like Matrix clones. The Matrix ended up winning four Academy Awards on a night that was predominantly about awarding films that could have been made any other year, or decade for that matter, this was a real coupe for the blockbuster. A stylistic landmark in cinema. 


17. Natural Born Killers (1994) directed by Oliver Stone


Always controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone brought his brutal and uncensored social commentary of where America was during the mid90’s and where he thought we were headed with his outlandish Natural Born Killers. This movie takes a look at what Americans obsessed over the most during the 90’s not just being addicted to watching television but how the images we saw transformed our minds and values into a new culture bred on followed serial killers and negative role models. It is the most savage critique of the news media which has been done a myriad of times since this film, but seldom have they captured it better than Oliver Stone did with Robert Downey Jr. as Wayne Gale, an Australian Geraldo type reporter and this is still his greatest performance to date. Plus it has 90’s staple Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson in one of his first major motion picture roles. Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy were prolific names in a lot of 90’s infotainment programs such as 20/20, Hard Copy, and A Current Affair. Even Charles Manson got mentioned a lot of those programs which were popular on network TV despite the fact their crimes happened in previous decades. Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers mentioned all of those names and combined them with the fact that Americans are watching too much TV and being saturated by the media and its corruption and lust for more money and higher ratings. This practice still goes on today and has become even worse with the advancement of the internet proving even more news outlets and more 24/7 news coverage creating more chances for controversy and fake news. 


18. Office Space (1999) directed by Mike Judge


This is another cubicle movie about 90’s technology and office culture but instead of being a drama like American Beauty or a violent fever dream like Fight Club, it is a comedy and one of the funniest cult movies from the decade. Lacking star power other than Jennifer Aniston in a supporting role, Office Space flopped on its initial release. But thanks to home video and constant replays on HBO it became a word of mouth hit in subsequent years and found audiences of various ages laughing at the antics of Peter, Milton, Michael Bolton (it’s just a coincidence), and Lumbergh for years in the early twenty-first century. It encapsulated how many Americans who worked in an office for a big company felt about their jobs, their bosses and the corporate culture. Office Space made the mundane acts of work life funny with moments like the printer jamming, passing around birthday cake, and having a case of the Mondays. This movie was so funny it really makes me wish that Mike Judge wrote and directed more feature films. This movie may have also been responsible for the chain restaurant TGI Friday’s to change their uniform policy and the way they decorated their walls to being more traditional black clothes and conservative wall adornments instead of being overloaded with “flair”. Plus it’s a technology company they work at, so very 90’s. 


19. Philadelphia (1993) directed by Jonathan Demme

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The greatest threat to our health during the 1990’s was AIDS. It started in the 80’s but once scientists got a hold of what it was and how it could be prevented then pop culture started to cash in and Philadelphia is probably the best major motion picture to deal with the AIDS crisis. It deals with homosexuality in the complete opposite way from In & Out. Neither one condemns the culture or gets too explicit but this one deals with a gay man who contracted HIV, lost his job because of it, and sued the law firm that fired him. Lawyer movies were big during the 90’s with John Grisham adaptations and Philadelphia helped lead the way for this 90’s trend. It also starred two of the biggest movie stars from the decade, who remain huge stars to this day, with Tom Hanks as the lawyer wrongfully dismissed from his job, and Denzel Washington as the homophobic lawyer who takes his case and takes us on the journey to understanding this man and how this illness created a crisis that affected everyone and their rights. Hanks won his first of two consecutive Oscars for this movie and became the nations favorite movie star with his impassioned acceptance speech which allegedly was the basis for the screenplay to the aforementioned In & Out. This was also the second consecutive hit movie for its director Jonathan Demme who’s previous film The Silence of the Lambs (1991) won him a Best Director Oscar along with Best Picture. 


20. Primary Colors (1998) directed by Mike Nichols

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1998 had two outstanding political commentaries. Warren Beatty’s Bulworth mentioned above, and Primary Colors. A satirical look at what went down on Bill Clinton’s rise to the top to become President. There was no hiding that John Travolta was meant to be portraying our 42nd President, that Emma Thompson was supposed to be Hillary, and that Billy Bob Thornton was supposed to have a strong resemblance to James Carville. If you love Bill Clinton, then Primary Colors will pat you on the back for how it characterizes him as a deeply emotional man who does care about all of the people he comes into contact and wants the best for them and for the country he loves. If you hated Bill Clinton you will still enjoy Primary Colors for how it illustrates all of the dirty and unscrupulous tactics Clinton used to get the Democratic nomination. Destroying lives was all a part of the game for him to get to the White House and everyone who worked for him were enablers helping the man get more powerful and successful as they slowly sold their souls to the devil for a chance to be at the top. But this movie also could transcend Clinton and be a statement about partisan politics within our nation. He probably had to do what he did in order to get the chance to do some good and make some changes as President and if it was not him, someone else running against him would have done the same. Whatever you take away from it, Primary Colors is a fabulous political comedy with some heavy moments and accurately reflects the values of Americans during the time it was made, as well as the scandals that plagued the Clinton Presidency. It contains some career best performances from its very talented cast and expert direction from the great Mike Nichols. 


21. The Siege (1998) directed by Edward Zwick


One of the more prophetic films from that 90’s but at the time it was released The Siege was viewed as nothing more than a fantasy scenario for a good big budget Denzel Washington thriller. Today, we know it to be all true. Back in 1998, three years before 9/11, nobody thought that a terrorist attack of such magnitude could ever happen on American soil, especially in New York City. The Siege is a typical action movie with Denzel trying to find the Muslim extremists who are blowing up parts of New York City while Bruce Willis cast against type as the villain is a radical general trying to round up all of the Arab Americans in New York by placing them in camps until the terrorism threat is resolved. Once again, this movie by todays standards hits very close to home and could never be made. In 1993 terrorists from the Middle East tried to blow up the World Trade Center and failed. This movie was a response to that yet nobody ever thought that in a few years our fantasy would become a haunting and world altering reality. It was not a huge hit at the box office, it opened up in second place to The Waterboy which was Adam Sandler’s biggest hit at the time, and did stir up some controversy for its anti-Muslim depictions on screen despite having Tony Shaloub as Denzel’s Arab-American partner to help him find the terrorists. It took on a second life after 9/11 as the movie that eerily predicted something like this could happen in New York City having US army troops patrolling the streets turned out to be reality. This ended up having massive effects on all aspects of life for people around the globe. 


22. Singles (1992) directed by Cameron Crowe


If you want to know what dating life was like during the 90’s Singles may be one of the most 90’s examples of how people met and courted each other. It also helps that it takes place in Seattle where the grunge movement of alternative rock began with major groups such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam got their big starts before launching to superstardom on MTV and having various #1 albums and top 40 singles throughout the decade. The soundtrack to Singles is like a time capsule of the greatest Seattle grunge rock bands. It captures the city of Seattle very well with their love for music and the once popular Seattle Supersonics who eventually moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder, as well as the values and insecurities of most twenty-something Americans had during the early 90’s. This was how people met and dated before Tinder and Match.com became the norm. Today nobody dates this way, except on TV, and the dates are a bit more limited with less record stores to peruse. Music was more interesting when it required to be seen as a tangible item you could buy and hold, not just an item you could get at your fingertips from YouTube or Spotify. 


23. Space Jam (1996) directed by Joe Pytka


Who was the biggest athlete during the 1990’s? Michael Jordan of course. He was so big that Warner Bros. cashed in on his fame and gave him a movie with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all the Looney Tunes even though he could barely act other than all of his commercials for Nike, McDonalds, and Hanes underwear. The result was Space Jam, a fun movie that showcased Michael Jordan’s charisma as he starred opposite not just Warner Bros. most famous cartoon characters but also his friends/NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, among others, in demand character actors Wayne Knight and Theresa Randle, and even the legendary comic actor Bill Murray made an appearance. Plus, Danny DeVito lent his voice to the owner of the villainous Monstars team. The result was a hit at the box office and on the Billboard top 100 with its big selling soundtrack featuring a lot of the most popular rap, R&B, and hip hop artists lending their talents. Michael Jordan was not just the biggest athlete and best basketball player during the 90’s, he was easily the most recognizable face on the planet and one of the most influential icons of pop culture during that decade. More recognizable than any actor, singer, or politician, and Space Jam was an excuse to have fun and make money off his popularity. Even today his shoes still sell with price tags well over $100 and his Tune Squad jersey from Space Jam can still be purchased. Michael Jordan is in his fifties today and not the consistent MVP and NBA champ he was back in the 90’s but he is still incredibly famous and this movie was another notch for his immortality. 


24. Tommy Boy (1995) directed by Peter Segal


Totally blowing your mind with this one but hear me out. Tommy Boy is often hailed as a comedy classic mainly because it is the best film in Chris Farley’s career. He made only a few movies, and was the leading role in even less so when kids today hear about Chris Farley they most likely are going to be shown his iconic skits from Saturday Night Live and Tommy Boy. That alone could warrant its inclusion on this list. However, even beyond that Tommy Boy represents something else in American culture. The two lead roles could have been replaced by two serious actors instead of Chris Farley and David Spade and you would have had a very different movie, a significantly less funny one, but still a story that worked in 1995 that could never be told today. It is about two traveling salesman that go door to door to different auto parts stores to sell their brake pads in order to not just save the company, but also the town that they live in since it was a factory town in Ohio. Farley and Spade in between all the laughs and shenanigans are fighting for the little man to keep their factory open so that their workers can keep their jobs. The rust belt area has been hit hard by all of the economic recessions ever since Reagan-omics during the 1980’s. Tommy Boy at its bare bones is about the American factory worker and salesman who both either do not have their jobs today in 2020, or do their jobs completely differently with more heavy machinery doing the work, or selling items online and not traveling by car and staying at cheap motels. This is about how outsourcing hit blue collar workers hard and Tommy Callahan (Farley) when you strip away all of his comedy antics is a liberal fighter for the working man. His character may come from privilege because he was the wealthy son of the factory owner, but his values were all about saving the little man and keeping their jobs and keeping the local economy alive. 


25. True Lies (1994) directed by James Cameron


Now you may be wondering why True Lies is on here and not Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron’s other huge blockbuster from the decade Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is not. Sure T2 was a bigger hit and was groundbreaking for its special effects, but True Lies captured American culture in a way that few other action blockbusters could. True Lies itself is a remake of a French film La Totale (1991). American and international audiences were hungry for a new James Bond, the last film from the series at this point was License to Kill and came out in 1989, five years prior to True Lies and one year before Pierce Brosnan made his debut as 007 in GoldenEye. True Lies was the movie that audiences were craving. A special agent who worked for a super secret defense sector in the Pentagon, Arnold had to live a double life and keep his wife and daughter from knowing his real job was flying around the world and killing terrorists and threats to the United States. His front was telling them that he worked as a traveling salesman for a computer company, how very 90’s. Jamie Lee Curtis even said he would talk about his day and she did not understand it and would just fall asleep. Little did she know, but soon his professional life inexplicably gets caught up with his family life and his wife finds out his biggest secrets. This is an Americanized James Bond movie where instead of being the playboy and womanizer, Arnold’s hero is a devout family man who would never cheat on his wife and in the end has to protect them from his enemies while also being an insightful look at marriage as an institution in the 90’s. It even stars Charlton Heston as an M type of boss although with his eye patch he resembles Nick Fury more than M. Plus Tom Arnold is like his Felix Leiter sidekick only much funnier. This movie more than Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan gave audiences the All American hero repacked with an Austrian accent but there is no denying Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest action star of this era. Who would have thought that True Lies would end up being his last big hit movie. 


Bonus Movie-Wayne’s World (1992) directed by Penelope Spheeris


A hilarious comedy that captured 90’s humor and pop culture in a very funny way. This also ushered in a new generation of comic movie stars from Saturday Night Live. The star power of Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd were fading and Wayne’s World announced the formal arrival of Mike Myers as a bonafide movie star. This paved the way for some of his SNL costars like Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade to crossover into movies and they all found success throughout the rest of the 90’s and it all happened after Wayne’s World. This movie helped put Queen back on the top 40 pop charts and contained a lot of pop culture references. Wayne’s World is an inspired send-up of satirical genius. This is a very smart comedy in the guise of stupid 90’s slackers going up against big corporate America. This movie features some of the best use of breaking the fourth wall since Woody Allen. It is a stupid movie but brilliant with the way it was acted, written and directed. An outstanding example of what made people laugh during the 90’s. 

1 Comment »

  1. Wow, the ’90s had some great movies! But I think the most memorable ones are the comedies. Clueless, Tommy Boy, and Clerks just to name a few I think will stand the test of times as classics. Although The Fugitive is a classic in our house!
    Believe it or not I haven’t seen about half hour list. Now I have the time to
    Check them off. Thanks for the list and the interesting article.

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