The 90s were a goldmine of great hit movies; The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction… The list seems endless, and you’ve probably watched these movies and definitely heard enough about them. Unfortunately, as is always the case with the film industry, a big part of the 90s collection of great movies went under the radar.
Here’s our list of the 13 best lesser-known movies from the 90s. Some have that classic 90s feel, some are timeless, all are outstanding films you shouldn’t be missing on.
As is the case with all entries on agoodmovietowatch, each film has been carefully picked by our staff; making sure that it has high scores on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, and that, for whatever reason, it didn’t get the attention it deserved.
In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it’s shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.
Never has evil been so darn fun to watch. Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) is such a captivating villainess, you’ll actually find yourself rooting for her at times in this noirish take on…, I don’t know what, but it involves drug money, double-crosses, lots of witty repartee and cat-and-mouse manipulation that will make your stomach hurt. The script is tight, the acting is all testosterone driven and crisp and you’ll hear some choice words come from nice guy Bill Pullman (as Bridget’s husband Clay) that you never imagined he could say. Peter Berg (Mike) is fantastic as the guy’s guy determined to earn his Alpha-dog badge by subduing the fierce and wickedly intelligent heroine, Bridget. Fiorentino won a BAFTA award for her performance and was nominated, along with Director John Dahl, for several others. The movie did not qualify under Academy rules for the Oscars, but it would have been a strong contender.
The Cider House Rules is the 1999 adaptation of John Irving’s best-selling novel, about a young man named Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) who is raised in an orphanage in Maine during WWII. Trained from an early age in obstetrics (and abortions) by the kindly Dr. WIlbur Larch (Michael Caine), Wilbur yearns to explore the world and eventually embarks on a spirit quest that finds him working as a day laborer on an apple farm in rural Maine. The cast of characters that Wilbur encounters (utterly superb across the board) and the unexpected challenges that he faces throughout the film really imbue this tale of self-discovery with warmth and heart. It’s incredibly touching and borderline heartbreaking at times, yet never loses its air of utter compassion and humanity. A true must-see.
Strictly Ballroom is an energetic, fun and hilarious movie. Baz Lurhman does an incredible job telling the story of a rebellious young dancer who just wants to dance his own steps in the face of conformity. When he finds an inexperienced yet determined dance partner it’s the beginning of an unexpected love story like no other. This movie isn’t like the usual rom-com, it has colour, vitality and passion. It’s a Moulin Rouge but with even more character, and the work that put Lurhman on the map for everyone.
With an ensemble cast featuring a young Natalie Portman and a less murderous Uma Thurman, Ted Demme’s “Beautiful Girls” recreates the worries and woes that thrive in the minds of a tight knit group of working class friends stuck in their own small town Massachusetts world. Warm, quirky and filled with champagne diamonds, both metaphorical and tangible, for anybody who’s ever walked the thirty something walk, it’s a film that’ll make you want to remember all the friends you wish you still had and actually still do.
Warm, enchanting, poetic and delicate, this is an almost silent film about a poor Vietnamese girl who goes to work for a well-off family in Saigon. The film follows her experiences as she grows but is also very focused on the nature around her, and the beautiful little details of this nature, which the young girl seems attuned to and curious about. The feelings in the film come more from the excellent visuals rather than the plot itself.
Equal parts touching and comical, this portrait of a working-class family in a suburb just north of London features twin daughters who couldn’t be more different—the brainy and good-natured Natalie, and her sneering, layabout sister Nicola. Written and directed by Mike Leigh (Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky) expect the slow, dreamy representation of British society from one of the country’s best and most renowned directors.
Starring Matthew Broderick and a young Reese Witherspoon as, respectively, Jim McAllister, a high school teacher and Tracy Flick, a notorious ‘that girl’ in his class. When Tracy decides to run for class president, we see the floodgates open as all sorts of bizarre and insane behavior pours out of the two. Quickly, it becomes clear that Tracy will do nearly anything to win, and as circumstances spiral out of control, madness descends – along with hilarity!
Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is definitely not mainstream. You thought your family was truly messed up, think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, nightmarish tale of debauchery is shocking and will leave you feeling confused and slightly sickened. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, this film is not one to be missed.
Set during the swingin’ seventies, two small town Connecticut families are the subject of this visually stunning and somewhat disturbing drama. With an all-star cast that includes Sigourney Weaver as Janey Carver, an unsatisfied housewife and mother of two and Elijah Wood as her eldest son, there’s plenty of star power and drama. In addition, director Ang Lee brings his signature sense of trial and unease while unleashing a quirky and pointed 70’s aesthetic.
A crazy, high-speed movie about double-dealing crooks and thieves living along the Danube River in Serbia. Such a description probably makes this movie sound dark and menacing, trust me it is anything but. It is filled to the brim with delightful music, slapstick humor, bizarre contraptions, shotgun weddings — with a sweet romantic caper at it’s center. If winter weather is getting you down, consider watching this film as a fun & sunny antidote. Moods: Affectionate, Charming, Funny, Goofy, Lighthearted, Romantic, Warm
“California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas. You will fall in love with that song (if you haven’t already) after watching this movie. Two stories, entangling into one; both about Hong Kong policemen falling in love with mysterious women. It has got the mystical vibe of a Chinese movie, and it’s cute, very cute. It was recommended by my friend after I said I loved Frances Ha. I don’t know whether you can call this as offbeat romance.. but to me it was, and it’s well worth the watch.
At the risk of being cliché, I’m going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I’ve tried looking for other adjectives, but I coulnd’t find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.
This is right up your alley if you have a thing for gangster films. Actually, if you have a thing for stupendous acting and just Robert de Niro in general, then A Bronx Tale might do the job for you. The 1960’s was a tough time for Lorenzo (de Niro), father to conflicted Calogero (Lillo Brancato), who seems to have befriended Bronx’s big man, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Torn between his moral integrity and a few other factors in the mix, the young boy’s leap to the crazed world of mobsters doesn’t get any more real than this.
Tragedy and fascination take human form through the eyes of De Niro’s directorial debut and Palminteri’s work of art, leaving you with a gripping feeling long after the credits have stopped rolling.