10 Essential Movies From the 1990s


Julia Tran

If you were somehow unlucky enough to not experience “Toy Story” as a kid, then this should be at the top of your list.

Luke Thompson, Assistant Editor

This article discusses movies with content that might not be suitable for some viewers. The list is not categorized in any particular order. 

If you’re anything like me, then the endless monotony of warped and potentially ruptured sleep schedules, schoolwork without the school, and the boring drudgery of searching for a source of life-invigorating stimulus have driven you nearly out of your mind.

For many of us, that stimulus has taken the form of digital entertainment. Popular media has probably never played such a prominent role in keeping us busy and distracting us from the present as it does now. And the abundance of media at our disposal opens up new opportunities for a different kind of education.

What we have here is an unprecedented opportunity — a chance to watch all the movies we’ve heard of but never seen and all the movies we’ve always wanted to see but have somehow never had time for. 

So let’s start with the 1990s, shall we? Let yourself be transported back to a time before Marvel movies dominated the theaters, a time when the phrase “streaming service” might have been met with confused expressions, a time before 9/11, a time when Tupac was still alive (for most of the decade), a time when fashion was pretty much dead (grunge was a thing, after all), and a time when some amazing pieces of cinema were released to the eager public. 

#1 – Jurassic Park (1993) – PG-13

Ah, yes. A classic. To say that “Jurassic Park” is genre-defining isn’t really fair, as it may be the only good movie about dinosaurs chasing humans ever — and that’s even taking into consideration the four sequel films.

Steven Spielberg’s masterful direction, the great performances from the likes of Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, and John Williams’ breathtaking score all make this film incredible. And then there are the dinosaurs themselves.

The sheer technical achievement of bringing dinosaurs to life on the screen, in all their wonder and terror, is more than enough to give this movie its appeal. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. 

Well, not right this second — we’ve still got nine movies to go.

#2 – Scream (1996) – R

Fair warning: “Scream” is rated R for violence and gore, strong language, and some sexual references — if you’re still with me after that, then oh boy, do I have a movie for you. 

Director Wes Craven took the old, tired tropes of the slasher movies that had come before and revamped the genre, creating a movie full of over-the-top murders and frenetic chases that also managed to be a surprisingly poignant examination of horror in film. 

The combination of shameless self-referential humor and colorful characters has produced lines of dialogue that will never fail to make me laugh, regardless of how many times I’ve seen the movie. 

The only downside is that “Scream” is best when watched with other people, and currently, our options are severely limited. So if your family isn’t squeamish, definitely check this one out.

#3 Clueless (1995) – PG-13

“Clueless” can best be described as a time capsule of teenage life before the turn of the millennium. It is also a deep dive into the complex emotional causes of high school drama. 

Though the situations in the movie are exaggerated, there is a sincerity and authenticity in the characters that makes you feel like the Beverly Hills elite that you see onscreen might just be real — and even more relatable than their exorbitantly priced clothes might suggest. 

On top of the subtlety is the comedy, jokes that are endlessly quotable without losing their hilarity. The chemistry between the actors is close to perfect, and nothing about the story feels forced or unnatural. This movie feels good to watch. 

#4 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – PG-13

The story for this movie was adapted from William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” but with a modern twist. “10 Things I Hate About You” is, without a doubt, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

The characters are sassy without being unbelievable, the humor is clever without being mean-spirited, and the cast of actors and actresses do an incredible job.

Hilariously stereotyped cliques, vulgar teachers, wild parties, and helicopter parents all serve as compliments to a love story that is as wholesome and unlikely as you would expect to come from The Bard. 

Also, the late great actor Heath Ledger sings the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” on the bleachers while being chased by campus security. What more could you want?

#5 Forrest Gump (1994) – PG-13

Director Robert Zemeckis’ movie, which received six Academy Awards, is an instant classic. It explores the highs and lows and the successes and failures of the Baby Boomer generation as seen through the innocent eyes of one man — Forrest Gump himself.

Actor Tom Hanks’ performance as the titular character gives the movie its charm. Gump’s experiences, which range from fighting in the Vietnam War, to shrimp fishing, to unwittingly reporting the Watergate break-in, and his interactions with the supporting characters, both good and bad, are all defined by his unshakable moral integrity.

I remember hearing my grandparents, who are Boomers themselves, telling my family about how much the story moved them. It gave them an opportunity to reflect upon the legacy of their generation. That significance may be lost on many of us, but this movie still has a lot to say to anyone who watches it, regardless of age or life experience.

#6 Toy Story (1995) – G

It has been 25 years since “Toy Story” came out. If anything can make a teenager question their existence, it might just be that sentence. Seeing where the ‘Pixar magic’ began elicits the same feelings of sad nostalgia that the movie’s story itself has had for a quarter-century. 

The movie’s themes of jealousy and irrelevance, coupled with friendship and perseverance, make for a layered and mature story with characters that appeal to kids and adults alike and have become icons in film history.

Much like “Jurassic Park”, “ Toy Story” stands as a technological marvel for the time. Although the animation hasn’t held up as well as other computer-generated imagery (CGI) from the era, the movie is still incredible — even if it can’t compare to Pixar’s modern work on a technical level, the story and characters are still as good as they have ever been.

If you were somehow unlucky enough to not experience this movie as a kid, then this should be at the top of your list.

#7 The Sandlot (1993) – PG

Speaking of nostalgia, have you seen “The Sandlot”? This movie was my childhood. The Sandlot was a gleeful escape from reality, a movie that my brother and I could watch forever. While other movies that we enjoyed way back when have lost their luster over the years, watching the original “The Sandlot” will forever be a joyful experience. 

This movie serves as a window into a childhood that I feel many of us would love to have had, as well as an examination of the profound impact that one sport — baseball — has had on the American zeitgeist. 

This anthology of the summer of 1962 brings together nine kids for an adventure that can’t leave the neighborhood and that can’t last longer than bedtime — an adventure that is beautiful not because it was long, but because it made the best of the time it had.

#8 – Groundhog Day (1993) – PG

The premise of this movie has become a cultural touchstone: a cynical and egotistical weatherman who, while trapped in an endless cycle with the worst day of his life repeating itself over and over again, eventually realizes what matters most was right in front of him all along.

It sounds cliché because, frankly, it kind of is, but the honest and heartfelt transformation and redemption of the main character, brilliantly portrayed by Bill Murray, is the emotional core of this film.

The fact that a subtle character study can also include moments such as a groundhog driving a Chevrolet into a ravine while being pursued by a police cruiser, a news van, and a man in a top hat is a testament to a really good screenplay. 

If each day has started to monotonously bleed into the next, then this movie might just offer no explanation at all. It is a good time though.

#9 – The Matrix (1999) – R

Before Keanu Reeves was John Wick, and before he was starring in “Cyberpunk 2077”, he was the face of “The Matrix”, which remains to this day a marvel of action cinema and digital effects.

You may never think of the phrase ‘déjà vu’ the same way after this film, which is full of shots that will leave you wondering, “How did they do that?” 

Many tropes and set pieces in this movie have inspired later additions to the genre to the point of imitation, but nothing can beat the first time Keanu Reeves leaps across the screen in a leather jacket, holding a submachine gun in each hand. 

The Matrix has gone down in history as a movie that, given the movie’s outlandish premise of all of humanity being enslaved by robots and trapped in a virtual recreation of planet Earth, has absolutely no business being as good as it is.

If you want a crazy popcorn flick to bless your eyeballs during this merry quarantine, then this is your movie. Be prepared to come out of it questioning your reality.

#10 Independence Day (1996) – PG-13

And finally, the reigning monarch of disaster movies. “Independence Day” has it all: exploding cities, aliens, aerial dogfights, one-liners, good old-fashioned American patriotism, Area 51, Will Smith… I could go on! 

This movie is probably best seen on the big screen, with a theater full of eager patrons, ready to be graced with the fiery destruction of the Empire State Building and the White House, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air punching aliens in the face, and a fictional U.S. president’s rousing speech that signals to the universe that humanity will protect its own. 

One can only hope that we would live up to that example.

Until then, sit back, relax, and watch the world of the movie burn; if you can, be comforted by knowing that whatever happens, whatever tragedy occurs on the screen or off of it, the world will spin on.