The 20 Best Movies of the 1990s

Ian Holm and Sarah Polley in Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter (1997).
Ian Holm and Sarah Polley in Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter (1997).
New Line Cinema

The last decade of the previous century—of the previous millennium—was an exciting time for movies. Fueled by Sundance, independent films were on the rise, with new voices like Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater emerging. The Hollywood studios, having exercised too much control and churned out too many generic products in the 1980s, started giving filmmakers more leeway, and established directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg continued to make great movies. Here are 20 films released between 1990 and 1999 that we consider the best of the decade.

1. Goodfellas (1990)

Martin Scorsese, who made best-of-the-decade films in the 1970s and '80s, kicked off the '90s with what many consider to be the high point of his career: a fact-based, testosterone-fueled gangster movie with iconic performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (who, yes, is like a clown to us). In many ways, it felt like the movie he’d been born to make, combining his favorite elements of crime, Italian-Americans, moral ambiguity, and swearing.

2. To Sleep with Anger (1990)

Dismissed with lukewarm reviews on first release, this independent drama by Charles Burnett (whose underground Killer of Sheep was one of the indie high points of the '70s) came to be better appreciated with time. Now it's held up as yet another example of a great filmmaker never getting his due in the mainstream, with a sizzling performance by Danny Glover as a devilish visitor who upsets a group of distant relatives.

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Not only did a gory horror film win Best Picture at the Oscars that year, it also won the other four top categories—Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay—a feat achieved only twice before (by It Happened One Night and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Turns out America has a taste for cannibalism when it’s impeccably acted, smartly directed (by Jonathan Demme), and creepy as all hell. It remains one of the best examples of "art-house" horror.

4. Boyz n the Hood (1991)

John Singleton became the youngest person (a record he still holds) and first African-American to be nominated for Best Director for this personal, street-level account of life in urban black America. It was a seminal moment for black representation in movies, referenced countless times in other films and in hip-hop music, and it launched the film careers of Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Angela Bassett.

5. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

After falling to a low point in the 1980s, the Disney animation division began a renaissance with The Little Mermaid (1989) that continued—and perhaps even reached its zenith, depending on your view—with this gorgeous, humane, richly entertaining musical take on a classic fairy tale. The first animated film ever nominated for Best Picture, it’s one of the most beloved movies of any genre.

6. Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood, an actor since the 1950s and director since 1971, made good (if not great) movies in the '70s and '80s, then reached the pinnacle of his filmmaking career with this violent anti-violence Best Picture winner. With weighty performances by himself, Gene Hackman, and Morgan Freeman, it also won Oscars for Eastwood as director and star (plus one for Hackman and one for the editing) and proved there was still life left in cinema’s oldest genre: the Western.

7. Raise the Red Lantern (1992)

From China came this sumptuous, colorful drama about a rich man’s young concubine in the 1920s. The exotic location, time period, and customs make it a “foreign” film, but Gong Li's lead performance drives home the universality of its themes. Director Zhang Yimou established himself as a master of intimate and emotionally beautiful art.

8. Schindler’s List (1993)

Like Scorsese, Spielberg had made best-of-the-decade films in the '70s and '80s before reaching his peak in the '90s. We could have put two just from 1993 on this list—the other being Jurassic Park—but it was Schindler’s List that earned Spielberg his first directing Oscar (and only Best Picture win so far) and cemented his status not just as a populist purveyor of entertaining fizz but a serious, capital-F Filmmaker. (Truth be told, we’d rather re-watch Jurassic Park, though.)

9. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Few would blame us for putting all of Quentin Tarantino’s first three movies on this list, but as much as we love Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Jackie Brown (1997), it’s his sophomore effort that made him a household name, launched a thousand imitations, and inspired countless young people (usually dudes) to become filmmakers. Don’t hold the copycats against it, though: Pulp Fiction is as exhilarating and ballsy now as it was in 1994.

10. Before Sunrise (1995)

Richard Linklater came onto the scene with popular back-to-back movies about Gen-X slackers: Slacker (1990) and Dazed and Confused (1993)—but followed them up with this mature, minimalist romantic drama about two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) meeting on a train and having only one evening to spend together.

11. Fargo (1996)

For their sixth movie, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen returned to a favorite subject—bumbling criminals—and introduced a new one: the singsong Minnesota accents of their homeland. People went around talking like Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) and Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) for months after its release, but the film’s dark comedy, righteous heroes and pathetic wrongdoers made it resonate even longer.

12. Boogie Nights (1997)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film, Hard Eight (1996), went largely unnoticed. But his second one, this sprawling rags-to-riches story about L.A.’s pornography business in the 1970s, put him on the map permanently. Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds were frequently singled out by awards-giving bodies for their supporting performances, but the amazing cast also included Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alfred Molina, all playing strong, identifiable characters.

13. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel about the aftermath of a deadly school bus accident in a small town is a somber fairy tale about the various ways people respond to tragedy and our human tendency to avoid responsibility. It’s rapturous, agonizing, and complex, and while Egoyan has continued to make quality movies, he’s never regained this level of subtle mastery.

14. Waiting for Guffman (1997)

Thirteen years after This Is Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest—Nigel Tufnel himself—directed his own mockumentary that did for community theater for Spinal Tap did for rock bands. Semi-improvised by Guest and fellow comedy luminaries Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Parker Posey, it straddled the line between merciless and affectionate as it skewers delusional strivers and small-town pettiness. The only people who don’t like it are bastard people.

15. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s historical romance earned plenty of backlash when it became the highest-grossing film of all time, but now both pendulums have swung the other way: It’s not the top earner anymore, and people openly admit it’s a sweeping, rousing, entertaining epic that achieved the rare combination of incredible financial success and artistic merit (regardless of how much room there was on that floating door).

16. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

If it seems unfair to let one director have two spots on this list, take it up with Spielberg, who made two undisputed masterpieces in this decade (three, if you count Jurassic Park). This one, with its famously brutal opening sequence and gripping account of World War II heroism, is a culmination of of many of Spielberg’s interests, and is still one of the most viscerally powerful explorations of the horrors of war and the heroes who rise above it.

17. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Coming on the heels of Saving Private Ryan, this other World War II epic from 1998 might have gotten lost in the shuffle if it hadn’t been outstanding in its own right (not to mention director Terrence Malick’s first movie in 20 years). Rambling, messy, bloody, mournful, and vexing, it’s the mad counterpart to Spielberg’s more staid view of the war.

18. The Matrix (1999)

How much has changed since The Matrix? The bullet-time visuals it pioneered, which blew everyone’s minds at the time, have become commonplace, even overused; and the directors, then known as brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, have come out as trans women and are now Lana and Lilly. How fitting that a movie about the complexities of identity and reality would be made by a pair of siblings with personal knowledge of it—and who were geniuses at conceiving heady sci-fi stories, to boot.

19. Fight Club (1999)

David Fincher’s flamboyant adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s transgressive novel has been dangerously misinterpreted by young men who don’t realize Tyler Durden isn’t a hero. Don’t hold that against the film, though, which offered a scathing, satirical take on “toxic masculinity” before that phrase was even in common usage.

20. The Iron Giant (1999)

While Disney was enjoying its animation renaissance and Pixar was starting to change the world of computer animation, Warner Bros. was quietly putting out this poignant and thrilling ‘toon about a boy who befriends an enormous robot in the middle of Cold War paranoia. Besides the boy-and-his-robot story, it offers sad commentary on warmongering and gun-worshipping—which might explain why it did poorly at the box office and had to wait a few years to be fully appreciated for the classic it is.

10 Forgotten Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
Rankin/Bass Productions

If you're prone to picturing your favorite Christmas characters as stop-motion puppets, you can thank Rankin/Bass. The production company founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass found success in transforming holiday songs and myths into fully-developed television specials in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Their most popular specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, are still staples of holiday programming decades after they first aired.

But not every holiday film that played under the Rankin/Bass banner was an instant success. After adapting the most beloved Christmas stories, the company broadened its definition of holiday material, with varying degrees of success. Some films were forgettable, and others were so strange and unsettling that young viewers forced themselves to forget. Here are some Rankin/Bass specials that may be missing from holiday television marathons this year.

1. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)

Scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year.
Rankin/Bass Productions

After the stressful events of his 1964 Christmas special, Rudolph deserved a vacation. In Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976), the red-nosed reindeer barely has a day to rest before being sent on his next adventure. When Santa Claus and his reindeer return home to the North Pole after delivering presents on Christmas, they learn that Happy the Baby New Year is missing. It’s up to Rudolph to bring him home before midnight on New Year’s Eve or else the calendar will be stuck at December 31. And because it wouldn’t be a Rankin/Bass cartoon without a terrifying villain, a vulture named Eon the Terrible is racing to catch Happy first so he can live forever. Thankfully, Rudolph has a caveman, a Medieval knight, and Benjamin Franklin on his side.

2. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976)

Scene from The Little Drummer Boy, Book II.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The Little Drummer Boy from 1968 ends with the birth of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. the events of Christmas. This meant that Rankin/Bass’s most overtly religious Christmas special wasn’t an obvious choice for a follow-up, but the studio still released one in 1976. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II is inspired by "Silver Bells"—a song whose lyrics have nothing to do with the first Christmas at Bethlehem. In the sequel, the drummer boy Aaron and the wise man Melchior join forces to protect silver bells made for baby Jesus from the Roman soldiers plotting to steal them.

3. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

Scene from Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
Rankin/Bass Productions

By the late 1970s, it was apparent that Rankin/Bass was running out of Christmas myths to expand into television specials. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, their 1977 stop motion film, tells the story of an outcast donkey who experiences a series of traumatic events during the Roman Empire. After being bullied by other animals, left for dead by his owner, and suffering the loss of his mother, Nestor becomes a hero by carrying a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, where she gives birth to Jesus. Needless to say, Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey didn’t have the same cultural impact as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

4. The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975)

Scene from The First Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

It may have a happy ending, but The First Christmas (1975) is the bleakest movie on this list. An orphaned shepherd named Lucas is taken in by a group of nuns after he’s blinded by lightning. When snow falls during the abbey’s Christmas pageant, Lucas miraculously regains his eyesight and sees snow for the first time. The story swaps Rankin/Bass's signature humor and fantasy for heavy-handed sentimentality, which may be why it didn’t land as well with kids as the company’s other holiday specials. One highlight is a voice performance by Angela Lansbury as the narrator.

5. Jack Frost (1979)

Scene from Jack Frost.
Rankin/Bass Productions

So this film from 1979 is technically a Groundhog Day special, but its connection to winter means it’s usually lumped in with the rest of Rankin/Bass’s Christmas programming. A groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett) narrates the story of Jack Frost. After Jack Frost falls in love with a woman on Earth, Father Winter agrees to make him human, with the catch that Jack will turn back into a sprite if he fails to obtain a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife by the first sign of spring. The special is notable for its weird characters, including a villain with a clockwork horse and henchmen. And—spoiler alert!—because Jack doesn’t get the girl at the end, it’s one of the few Rankin/Bass films that doesn’t have a happy ending.

6. Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)

Scene from Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1979, Rankin/Bass gave two of its most iconic Christmas characters—Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—their own movie. The studio was so confident in the product that Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July even had a brief theatrical release overseas. But the film has failed to take the place of the original specials in the public consciousness—maybe because seeing snow snakes terrorize Rudolph and watching an evil wizard transform into a tree were too much for younger viewers to handle.

7. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Scene from Pinocchio's Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The story of Pinocchio may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, but that didn’t stop Rankin/Bass from turning the classic Italian fairytale into a holiday special. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980) features many of the same themes and characters as The Adventures of Pinocchio—only this version of the tale centers around the puppet’s first Christmas. Santa Claus even makes a cameo appearance.

8. The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)

Scene from The Stingiest Man in Town.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of the most widely adapted stories of all time, so of course it shows up in Rankin/Bass’s filmography. An insect named B.A.H. Humbug narrates this musical retelling from 1978, with Walter Matthau starring as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The Stingiest Man in Town joins Frosty the Snowman as one of the few Rankin/Bass Christmas productions made with traditional 2D animation instead of stop-motion.

9. The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (1981)

Scene from The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Rankin/Bass’s streak of mashing up Christmas with other holidays reached peak weirdness in 1981. That’s when the studio released The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold—a story that follows a young Irish sailor who helps a clan of leprechauns protect their gold from an evil banshee named Old Mag the Hag. By trying to create a special that could air around Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, the filmmakers ended up with something that made little sense at any time of year.

10. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

Scene from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1970, Rankin/Bass explored how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus with Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Fifteen years later, the studio produced a film that provided an alternate origin story for the character, based on L. Frank Baum's 1902 children's book of the same name. This second special wasn’t as well-received as the first. It starts with an antler-sporting sorcerer called the Great Ak finding an abandoned baby in the forest. The child is taken in and raised by wood nymphs, eventually growing up to become a jolly man who delivers toys to children—all while fighting monsters called Awgwas on the side. It ends with a council of mythical beings granting Santa Claus immortality. What was arguably Rankin/Bass’s most unusual Christmas special was also the last to use stop-motion animation.

2020 Golden Globes: The Full List of Nominees

Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios

Awards season is officially upon us and we're all rushing out to the movie theater—or, more frequently, our own couches—to load up on some of the year's biggest movie and television titles.

Now that the 2020 Golden Globe nominations have been announced, it's clear that Netflix's investment in original content like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which scored the most nominations with six, was a wise decision.

On the television side, streaming emerged victorious as well; The Crown landed a total of four nominations while Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Amazon hit Fleabag earned three, including one for "Hot Priest" Andrew Scott, who was a notable Emmy snub. Amazingly, Game of Thrones was nominated for just a single award: a Best Actor in a Drama Series nomination for Kit Harington.

Below is the full list of nominees for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 5, 2020.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

1917
The Irishman
Joker
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Rocketman
Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language

The Farewell
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Parasite
Les Misérables

Best Director, Motion Picture

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Phillips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Best Screenplay—Motion Picture

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker
Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Thomas Newman, 1917
Daniel Pemberton, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Original Song—Motion Picture

Beautiful Ghosts, Cats
I'm Gonna Love Me Again, Rocketman
Into the Unknown, Frozen II
Spirit, The Lion King
Stand Up, Harriet

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Annette Bening, The Report
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Animated

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Lion King

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Christopher Abbott, Catch-22
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Spy
Russell Crowe, The Loudest Voice
Jared Harris, Chernobyl
Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Kaitlyn Dever, Unbelievable
Joey King, The Act
Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great
Merritt Wever, Unbelievable
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Catch-22, Hulu
Chernobyl, HBO
Fosse/Verdon, FX
The Loudest Voice, Showtime
Unbelievable, Netflix

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Patricia Arquette, The Act
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Toni Collette, Unbelievable
Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
Emily Watson, Chernobyl

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama

Brian Cox, Succession
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
Billy Porter, Pose

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Andrew Scott, Fleabag
Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl
Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Television Series—Drama

Big Little Lies, HBO
The Crown, Netflix
Killing Eve, AMC
The Morning Show, Apple TV+
Succession, HBO

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama

Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show

Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy

Barry, HBO
Fleabag, Amazon
The Kominsky Method, Netflix
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon
The Politician, Netflix

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