This list proves that if the ‘90s gave us anything in the way of moviemaking, it gave us a dozens of different bleak possible futures for The City of Angels. Obviously in any best of a decade list, there are movies that might feel absent. Pulp Fiction, The Blair Witch Project, Silence of the Lambs and Braveheart are all films worthy of discussion for various reasons, but we’re fairly certain we have nailed the definitive Top 10 list for the greatest ‘90s movies of all time. So sit back, enjoy, and without going to your thesaurus, think about how many different ways you can say the word “dystopian.”
10. Strange Days
James Cameron, Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, and Vincent D'Onofrio come together to bring us a movie with a Hollywood budget, but the feel of an independent flick (That is until the sell-out ending).
Futuristic dystopian Los Angeles had been done before in Blade Runner, but this future, while gritty, wasn’t all about off-world colonies and replicants. Strange Days hits a more personal and emotional note and the SQUID recordings (virtual reality discs) make it a much more realistic vision of the future just at the dawn of the age of the internet.
Why is it on the list? It’s a cult favorite that still needs to be discovered. Great ‘90s stars, excellent score, an intelligent plot that pulls from the headlines of the day (Rodney King beatings, for example) and Fiennes character is fallible to the point of being weak, but we still pull for him. Lenny isn’t Bruce Willis or Sly or Arnold of the ‘80s. He’d rather give up his Rolex than punch a guy in the throat, and that deviance from muscle-headed, do-good heroes makes this movie a top 10 pick for the 1990s.
9. Galaxy Quest
Weird Science proved that a geek wearing a bra on his head doesn’t translate to automatic comedy. Ice Pirates tried but it ultimately left us cold, and Spaceballs actually sucked space balls. We were left to wonder if there would ever be a legitimately funny sci-fi flick. Men in Black was more of an amusing buddy picture than an out and out comedy. Galaxy Quest boldlyconquered that final frontier.
Tim Allen out-Shatners Shatner, Alan Rickman pays sparkling homage to both Jonathan Harris’ Dr. Smith, and Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock at the same time. Even Sigourney Weaver shines as the anti-Ripley, Gwen DeMarco.
Why is it on the list? Because this movie did what the brilliant Mel Brooks could not. It made a hilarious big-screen sci-fi parody work for an hour and a half, and you didn’t have to be a Trekkie or a Trekker to be in on the jokes.
8. The Sixth Sense
If M. Night Shyamalan never again comes anywhere close to the brilliance of The Sixth Sense we’re still more than willing to forgive him. This movie is a tight, frightening psychological thriller with ghosts and Bruce Willis AND an ending that we never saw coming. Add in to the mix the greatest child acting performance since Tatum O’Neal took the mound for Walter Matthau’s Bad News Bears and you’ve got one of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid.
This movie is not just a horror film or a stunning sort of who-dunnit, it also deals with the raw emotions of the loss of loved ones and faith, and that’s what makes the reveal at the end so spectacular.
Why is it on the list? The better question is why isn’t it on every list of great movies of all-time. It’s not often that a movie compels you to watch it twice, but this one does, and after the second viewing you come away with even more respect for this flawless work of art.
7. 12 Monkeys
Again we have Bruce Willis, and again Bruce is not the typical smirky self-assured Bruce Willis hero of the ‘80s. We are also treated to a pre-Angelina spastic scene stealing Brad Pitt, the final big screen performance of TV’s original Riddler, Frank Gorshin, and of course Terry Gilliam’s bleakly antiseptic visuals of both the present and the future.
12 Monkeys is a sci-fi version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with a healthy dose of intentional misdirection. This is not a popcorn movie you can watch casually, but an at times Hitchcockesque film that demands your absolute attention for the entire duration of the film.
Jumping from the future to the past has long been a staple of Sci-Fi stories, but it’s interesting to watch a movie about time travel that actually deals with the physical, emotional and mental toll such an experience might take on a human being. (Also see LOST’s Daniel Faraday.)
Why is it on the list? It’s the thinking man’s Back to the Future.
6. Dark City
As the title implies, Dark City is a moody and twisted surrealistic film, and helped usher in the entire Tech-noir genre. Many fans of this often overlooked masterpiece are quick to point out that Dark City not only came out before the Warchowski brothers introduced The Matrix, they are even quicker to boast Dark City is the superior work.
False memories, unrealized powers and the feared “strangers” make this movie a cold and puzzling mind f*ck. The strong performances by Rufus Sewell, William Hurt only make Keifer Sutherland’s Dr. Daniel P. Schreber that much more incredible in comparison, and then there’s the young curvy Jennifer Connnelly. Oh yeah!
Why is it on the list? It’s what Sci-Fi is supposed to be; thought provoking, visually challenging, and a potential harbinger of dangerous times to come. Plus a young curvy Jennifer Connelly in a skintight sequined gown. Oh yeah again!
5. The Crow
Hey guess what the ‘90s gave us plenty of? Gloomy, violent, dark movies about one man trying to save humanity. Well The Crow may be a comic book character who witnessed a love one murdered before his eyes, but he’s too busy wreaking vengeance on the perpetrators of that crime to bother saving the city from deadly Joker toxins in city’s water supply.
Actually this anti-hero for the ‘90s borrows elements from the darkest of Batman, and the lightest of the Joker, and blends them nicely into one iconic character, and a singularly unforgettable performance.
At the heart of it all, this piece of atmospheric goth is a love story. Our protagonist is not obsessed with fighting crime, but rather settling a score. This is all about hurting those who hurt him, or more importantly, those who hurt his beloved Shelly.
Why is it on the list? Well, you can’t overlook the fact that Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon is the star, or that he actually died in an accidental shooting on the set of The Crow. Ironic tragedies aside, this movie is a religion to some, is a smartly performed tale of revenge/romance.
4. Jurassic Park
Simply put, this was the movie that set the table for every movie, big or small that came after - for better or worse. If Superman made audiences believe a man could fly, Jurassic Park made the world believe that dinosaurs could breathe, and cast realistic shadows, and had the appropriate mass when they moved. Oh yeah, and they ate people up.
After proving a believable Brachiosaurus could eat leaves from a tree, almost every modern moviemaker now has to decide if and when to use C.G. effects in their film. That’s a lot of influence.
The movie itself is pure Spielberg magic, and if it’s too predictable that none of the good guys get offed, and all of the bad guys get what’s coming to them, well too damn bad. This movie is picture perfect cinema escapism.
Why is it on the list? One hyphenated word; T-Rex. Of course the velociraptor scene isn’t too shabby either. Nice acting all around, even by the children. Spielberg even manages to slip in some subtle messages about humans toying with nature but it never once gets in the way of a truly breathtaking blockbuster experience.
3. Toy Story
The wizards at Pixar Studios managed to once again make the Disney name the brand for top-notch family entertainment. Ideal casting, an enjoyable musical score and a sweet and completely humorous story are matched by state of the art computer animation that carries the entire film.
Toy Story touches that part in each of us who shared adventures with our action figures, confided in our Barbie dolls or sought comfort in our stuffed animal pals.
Why is it on the list? Because Toy Story can’t help but bring back memories of a simpler time in our lives, and because, as cynical and cool as you want to think you are, Disney most likely had a positive impact on you as a child, and it’s nice to see them back in the driver’s seat.
2. Terminator 2
Boy, oh boy, Hollywood loves to set grim glimpses of possible futures in Los Angeles don’t they? We love T2 because, as Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, “It had an impact on popular culture, and is considered by many to be hugely influential in the genres of action and science fiction… The film's visual effects include many breakthroughs in computer-generated effects, marking the first use of natural human motion for a CG character and the first partially computer-generated main character.”
What the good people at Wiki failed to mention is Ah-nuld kicks some serious cyborg ass. And let’s be serious, Schwarzenegger in his prime, cutting edge C.G.I., huge explosions, actual stuntmen, a memorable chase scene, and some excellent fighting sequences automatically make T2 a ‘90s classic. But when you throw in a fantastic story and a fancy piece of directing by James Cameron, you’ve got a movie for the ages.
Why is it on the list? We hope you didn’t really just ask that question. Because if you did, we have three Spanish words, and one English word to say to you just before we throw you into a vat of molten steel; “Hasta la vista, baby.”
1. The Matrix
It’s Jesus Christ, action hero, in the computer. That’s what it is. The Matrix is philosophical and hip, artsy and commercial, visually stunning and incredibly thought provoking. It’s a religion we can all celebrate and most impressive of all; you can’t really crap on Keanu Reeves’ acting. Man, that is some airtight moviemaking.
If you so desired, you could watch The Matrix as if it were some mindlessly fun, weird Bruce Lee movie, but you’d be gypping yourself. This movie is much more than dazzling “bullet time” special effects and perfectly choreographed fight scenes, but dammit dude, those things right there are reason enough to watch.
What makes this motion picture so endurable is, unlike most movies, this film deserves and demands to be watched numerous times; and it’s worth mentioning that Agent Smith is one of the baddest movie villains of all-time.
About our Author: Joe Oesterle is an award-winning writer and illustrator, but what he often fails to mention is that many of those awards were won on a New Jersey boardwalk. Please check out Joe’s latest Christmas cartoon. It’s short, it’s funny, and he’d do it for you.
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