22 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1997

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1997. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

, 1997

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Hajime Tanimoto, Kōji Yakusho, Makoto Kakeda, Makoto Togashi, Masahiro Toda, Masato Hagiwara, Misayo Haruki, Ren Osugi, Shôgo Suzuki, Shun Nakayama, Takeshi Mikami, Taro Suwa, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yukijiro Hotaru

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven't seen it yet, do it now.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Akihiro Miwa, Akira Nagoya, Akira Sakamoto, Alex Fernandez, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Corey Burton, Daikichi Sugawara, Debi Derryberry, Gillian Anderson, Hisaya Morishige, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jada Pinkett Smith, John DeMita, John DiMaggio, Kaoru Kobayashi, Keith David, Makoto Satō, Masahiko Nishimura, Minnie Driver, Mitsuko Mori, Mitsuru Satô, Shiro Saito, Sumi Shimamoto, Takako Katou, Tara Strong, Tetsu Watanabe, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yayoi Kazuki, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Kondô, Youji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

After third-grader Ali loses the only pair of shoes his sister Zahra owns, the siblings agree to share Ali's sneakers for school. Zahra uses the tattered, ill-fitting footwear in the morning, and in the afternoon, she hands them over to Ali, who then races to get into school in time. The siblings wait for things to get better at home before they mention anything to their already-burdened parents, but in the meantime, they persevere, scooping up every bit of silver lining they find, whether it's popping soap bubbles or taking in the city's ultramodern sights. 

In this way, Children of Heaven is neither cynical nor cheesy. It presents the harsh reality of Tehran's poor without robbing them of hope and agency, giving the movie the right amount of self-aware and feel-good that elevates it into a classic. Thanks to this masterful balance, plus many awe-inspiring shots and lines, it should come as no surprise that Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, Kamal Mirkarimi, Mohammad Amir Naji, Reza Naji

Director: Majid Majidi

A woman yearns to find her biological mother, another woman struggles with infertility, a third wants to connect with her rebellious daughter. Director Mike Leigh has the prowess to seamlessly weave these stories together, and part of the joy is knowing, that like clockwork, these narratives are set on a spectacular collision course.

As melancholy as it is optimistic and as funny as it is tragic, Secrets & Lies is a perfect example of Leigh’s oeuvre and earned him a Cannes’ Palme d’Or. The film features a full cast of his regulars with the fantastic addition of Marianne Jean Baptiste as Hortense - the woman who sets the wheels of the film in motion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Steadman, Angela Curran, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Eve’s Bayou is a Southern Gothic tale of spirituality, family, secrets, and the ties that bind them together. The story follows the awakening, both spiritual and emotional, of young Eve Baptiste. The middle sibling of the Baptiste family, 10-year-old Eve, navigates childhood while enduring the tumultuous relationship between her mother and father. 

What lurks beneath a seemingly ordinary marital conflict is an insidious betrayal that could tear her entire family apart. Eve’s Bayou should be considered one of the greatest Black American epics of the past 25 years. I adore this film because it is unflinchingly real - and honest about the sometimes rocky reality of familial bonds. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allen Toussaint, Billie Neal, Branford Marsalis, Carol Sutton, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Ethel Ayler, Jake Smollett, Jurnee Smollett, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Nicole Carson, Lynn Whitfield, Marcus Lyle Brown, Meagan Good, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Flagge, Samuel L. Jackson, Tamara Tunie, Victoria Rowell, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Rating: R

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a chilling psychological thriller and a fantastic next step for those looking to explore anime’s dark side. Kon animates with Hitchcockian flair and is so successful at memorable compositions that Darren Aronofsky even lifted a scene from this into Requiem for a Dream. 

Mima is a pop idol who abandons her singing career to become an actress. Shaken by a series of murders, and a stalker who knows her every move, she begins to lose her grip on reality. The rest is a riveting ride into Mima’s unraveling psyche in the vein of Mulholland Drive or Black Swan. This 1996 film not only anticipates the reality busting thrillers of the early aughts but also presages the way our identities are splintered across the internet.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akio Suyama, Emi Motoi, Emi Shinohara, Emiko Furukawa, Hideyuki Hori, Jin Yamanoi, Junko Iwao, Kishō Taniyama, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Kōichi Tōchika, Masaaki Okura, Masashi Ebara, Megumi Tano, Osamu Hosoi, Rica Matsumoto, Shiho Niiyama, Shin-ichiro Miki, Shin'ichirō Miki, Shinpachi Tsuji, Soichiro Hoshi, Takashi Nagasako, Tōru Furusawa, Yoku Shioya, Yousuke Akimoto

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: R

Even a director of William Friedkin’s caliber had his work cut out for him with this remake of the towering 1957 drama tracking a jury's fraught deliberations in an apparently open-and-shut murder trial. Wisely, he changes little: most of the incisive dialogue remains the same, and the film still only takes place in one sweltering room on New York’s hottest day.

There are some key differences, though: namely, in a few of the characters (most notably Mykelti Williamson’s ex-Nation of Islam member Juror #10, who helps update the story to the '90s) and the intensification of the ensemble’s star power. The all-star quality of the cast is never wielded to call attention to itself, though; everyone, from James Gandolfini and William Petersen to Tony Danza and Edward James Olmos is on fine character acting form here. Replacing the unforgettable Henry Fonda is Jack Lemmon (exuding warmth and good sense) as the principled lone dissenter who calmly wages a war of words with George C. Scott’s bigoted Juror #3 to give real justice a chance. The 1957 version is admittedly a timeless classic, but Friedkin's version isn't very far off from reaching its predecessor’s dazzling heft plus, this stands as a compelling argument that every era should have its own 12 Angry Men.

Genre: Crime, Drama, TV Movie

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Courtney B. Vance, Dorian Harewood, Douglas Spain, Edward James Olmos, George C. Scott, Hume Cronyn, Jack Lemmon, James Gandolfini, Mary McDonnell, Mykelti Williamson, Ossie Davis, Tony Danza, Tyrees Allen, William Petersen

Director: William Friedkin

Rating: PG-13

In this romance from 1997, a photographer and a poet meet in an upscale nightclub in Chicago.

They quickly get together and connect on music, poetry, and photography, but Nina, the photographer, decides to go to New York to mend her relationship with her ex-fiance.

It’s so well-acted, funny, and because it’s been enough time that this has become noticeable, a great depiction of big-city life in the 90s. There is smoking inside, riding a motorcycle without helmets, and top-notch fashion.

The producers said they wanted to make “a contemporary film about African-American life that did not deal with guns and drugs,” and probably because they didn’t make compromises, the film was a commercial failure. In recent years, however, it has been quietly growing into a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Bernadette Speakes, Bill Bellamy, Isaiah Washington, Khalil Kain, Larenz Tate, Leonard Roberts, Lisa Nicole Carson, Marie-Françoise Theodore, Nia Long

Director: Theodore Witcher

In 1994, Danish auteur Lars von Trier came up with a TV series called The Kingdom, an absurd supernatural comedy that takes place in a rundown hospital in Copenhagen. The show was well-received enough to warrant a second season, but just as von Trier was polishing up the third and final installment, the deaths of more than one lead actor pressed pause on the project, till now.

More than 10 years in the making, The Kingdom part III, also called Exodus, is still very much centered on the weird patients and staff members that populate the Riget hospital, as well as the possible evil buried beneath it. The comedy/horror has a robot dishwasher and a giant head. Danes and Swedes are perennially at war with each other. Willem Dafoe and Alexander Skarsgard make odd cameos.

I’m not sure it’s possible to write a coherent synopsis without sounding like I’ve fallen off the rails, but know that it is a unique headscratcher of a show, more interesting as an experience than anything else. Von Trier was also openly inspired by Twin Peaks, in making it, so David Lynch fans in particular will truly enjoy diving into this world.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie

Actor: Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Benny Hansen, Birgitte Raaberg, Birte Tove, Claus Nissen, Claus Strandberg, Danica Curcic, Dick Kaysø, Else Petersen, Erik Wedersøe, Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Finn Nielsen, Ghita Nørby, Gordon Kennedy, Helle Virkner, Henning Jensen, Henrik Koefoed, Holger Juul Hansen, Holger Perfort, Jens Okking, Julie Wieth, Kirsten Rolffes, Kurt Ravn, Lars Lunøe, Lars von Trier, Laura Christensen, Lene Vasegaard, Lise Schrøder, Mette Munk Plum, Nis Bank-Mikkelsen, Ole Boisen, Ole Dupont, Otto Brandenburg, Paul Hüttel, Peter Gilsfort, Peter Mygind, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Solveig Sundborg, Søren Elung Jensen, Søren Pilmark, Thomas Bo Larsen, Tove Maës, Udo Kier, Vic Carmen Sonne, Vita Jensen, Willem Dafoe

Director: Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred

Rating: TV-MA

Alexander Sokurov might best be known for Russian Ark, his grand single-take jaw-dropper featuring over 2,000 actors. In a way, Mother and Son is the exact opposite, featuring only two, and instead of traversing hundreds of years of history, it wades through a singular moment in time. This intimate and hypnotic piece of slow cinema trails a son taking care of his dying mother out in the beautiful countryside.

Sokurov’s frames mirror impressionist paintings, while the mix of slow movement and sparse dialogue creates heartbreaking poetry. So many films casually employ death like a light-switch - on and off and out of mind. Sokurov instead confronts it as a corrosive force that bends time to its will and pulls both the dying and the grieving into its grasp.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aleksei Ananishnov

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov

, 1997

In this powerful exploration of suppressed desires and societal constraints, Fire delves deep into the lives of two women trapped in loveless marriages. Radha's husband has banished all desires from their marriage due to Radha's infertility, while the newlywed Sita knows her husband still sees his lover. As they live their stifling lives being dutiful wives and taking care of their paralyzed matriarch on their own, they begin to find solace in each other—eventually igniting a forbidden romance that challenges what they thought living truly was. The performances by Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi are captivating, as they find renewed passion in each other's arms even as they question how tradition doesn't hold a women's benefit in mind. Fire is a bold and groundbreaking film that provokes reflection on love, freedom, and the courage to defy societal norms.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Poon, Javed Jaffrey, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Laurence Côte, Nandita Das, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Ranjit Chowdhry, Shabana Azmi, Vinay Pathak

Director: Deepa Mehta

When citizenship and rights can only be achieved through federal service, you have no choice but to militarize. Johnny Rico is young, impressionable, but noble; in other words, he is an archetypal hero even if he initially enlists just to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards). From then on, Starship Troopers unfolds as a high-strung high school drama, but in the middle of a space colonization. During one such mission, a highly evolved insectoid race, Arachnids, proves to be the most dangerous enemy to human supremacy and the fight is on. What's interesting about Starship Troopers is that it shows how a well-oiled propaganda machine works and for that reason, it was accused of indoctrination and army endorsement. Even more, it was dubbed fascist, instead of the fascist satire it claimed to be. But today, it's indisputably a cult film and a great introduction to the Paul Verhoeven's work in Hollywood.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Stielstra, Amy Smart, Anthony Ruivivar, Blake Lindsley, Brad Kane, Brenda Strong, Brooke Morales, Bruce Gray, Bruce Holman, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Curry, Clancy Brown, Dale Dye, Dan Olivo, Dean Norris, Denise Dowse, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Edward Neumeier, Eric Bruskotter, Eric DaRe, Greg Travis, Hunter Bodine, Jake Busey, John Cunningham, Jon Davison, Julianna McCarthy, Julie Pinson, Kai Lennox, Lenore Kasdorf, Marshall Bell, Mary Ann Schmidt, Matt Levin, Michael Ironside, Michael Papajohn, Neil Patrick Harris, Parry Shen, Patrick Bishop, Patrick Muldoon, R. Lee Ermey, Robert David Hall, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Stephanie Erb, Steven Ford, Tami-Adrian George, Timothy McNeil, Timothy Omundson, Ungela Brockman

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

Warm and nourishing as the film's cuisine, Soul Food is a celebration of the modern African-American family, represented here by the Josephs. The Chicagoan family has a longstanding tradition of making dinner together every Sunday—a ritual, we’re told, that's lasted for at least 40 years. However, when the matriarch Big Mama Joe gets hospitalized, the simmering tension between her daughters boils over and threatens to break them apart. Many of the struggles they go through are familiar but not cliché, as writer-director George Tillman Jr. draws from his own experiences in a close-knit, extended family. So even if some plot lines feel unresolved, the film is well-paced, soulfully scored, and evenly balanced between the three sisters. Like the food cooked on-screen, this movie will still leave you hungering for more.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Brandon Hammond, Gina Ravera, Irma P. Hall, Jeffrey D. Sams, John M. Watson Sr., Marcia Wright, Mekhi Phifer, Mel Jackson, Michael Beach, Nia Long, Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Rating: R

Of the many violence-inflected black comedies that Pulp Fiction spawned, Grosse Pointe Blank ranks among the best. Though it’s patently inspired by Tarantino’s magnum opus — John Cusack plays a sardonic, amoral hitman, and the film features bursts of stylized violence and a retro soundtrack — it never feels derivative. The film finds its own identity as a quirky romcom when Cusack’s character, Martin Blank, returns to his hometown for a 10-year high-school reunion on the advice of his terrified therapist (Alan Arkin).

Martin is experiencing professional disillusionment as part of the quarter-life crisis that often takes hold when one realizes it’s been a whole decade since high school. His profession puts a darkly comic spin on that convention, but the film doesn’t treat that element entirely flippantly. Unlike Martin — and so many of the film’s Pulp Fiction-inspired brethren — Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t nihilistic, but quite sincerely romantic. Its hybrid nature and surprising heart come to the fore in Martin’s renewed relationship with the girlfriend he jilted at prom: Debi (Minnie Driver), now a ska-loving radio DJ. Cusack and Driver have sparkling chemistry, which makes the sincerity with which their characters grapple with the possibility of a second chance at happiness all the more absorbing to watch.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alan Arkin, Ann Cusack, Barbara Harris, Belita Moreno, Benny Urquidez, Bill Cusack, Bobby Bass, Carlos Jacott, Dan Aykroyd, David Barrett, Doug Dearth, Hank Azaria, Jenna Elfman, Jeremy Piven, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, K. Todd Freeman, Michael Cudlitz, Minnie Driver, Mitchell Ryan, Steve Pink

Director: George Armitage

Aggressive, grungy, and rebellious, writer-director Fruit Chan’s debut film captures teen nihilism amidst abandonment in uncertain times. Immediately, the first look of this film is reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai with its use of character narration, hazy green scenes, and over-exposed film. However, Chan pairs these aesthetic techniques with the storyline of a revenge film mixed with an us-against-the-world mentality. While the protagonists Autumn Moon (Sam Lee), Ping (Neiky Yim Hui-Chi), and Sylvester (Wenders Li) start the film with teenage concerns like dealing with wet dreams, dating, and bullying, it’s clear that they go through them aimlessly, without the guidance of their fathers, almost as if with no hope at all due to their specific circumstances. In Chan’s hands, how every kid reacts to each change feels like an outburst against the adults in their life, and of the life outside of the film. It’s as if the words “fuck you” were made into a movie.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Sam Lee

Director: Fruit Chan

Rating: Not Rated