25 Great Movies Turning 25 This Year
By Scott Beggs
If you wanted to see a movie in the year 1997, you might have called Mr. Moviefone to find out whether the title in question was playing near you—but where you found your showtimes wasn't the only difference in the moviegoing experience. The mid-1990s were a time where an epic, near-three-hour-long WWII romance-drama like The English Patient could make bank at the box office just as easily as a re-release of the original Star Wars: A New Hope could. But it was also the incubation period for CGI-infused adventures that would take us to other galaxies (and welcome them to Earth, too). Though it may feel like it was just yesterday that you saw Titanic in the theater for the very first time (and also the tenth time), here are 25 movies turning 25 years old this year.
1. Titanic (1997)
Let's dive back into the debate over whether there was room on the door for both Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet)—or let's not. While Mythbusters concluded that it definitely was possible, Titanic director James Cameron disagrees—but also says that creative liberties are necessary in moviemaking. The steamiest ship versus iceberg movie of 1997 was also the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron beat his own record with Avatar in 2010. The movie was so popular nearly a year after its original release, it was still playing in some theaters—making it the first movie ever to be released on VHS while it was still playing on the big screen.
2. Men in Black (1997)
Here's a movie you won't forget—unless Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) want you to. Smith and Jones made an excellent universe-saving team alongside some friendly aliens armed with an array of strange weapons. The most famous was Frank, a talking extraterrestrial who was disguised as a pug. The snarky puppy was played by real-life, from-Earth pug Mushu, who lived a life of posh movie stardom but, sadly, wasn't around for the third installment.
3. Air Force One (1997)
Before there was White House Down, there was Harrison Ford mumble-growling "Get off my plane!" as the ass-kicking President of the United States. Soviet-era baddies score some nukes and try to relaunch the Cold War, but President Han Solo is having none of it, and neither is Glenn Close, who plays the fictional first female vice president. Since there weren't any blueprints for the real Air Force One, the production team watched CNN and other news clips to get a sense of what it looked like inside.
4. As Good As It Gets (1997)
James L. Brooks's touching, cranky rom-com about an OCD romance novelist (Jack Nicholson) and his favorite waitress (Helen Hunt) is about learning to love yourself, your neighbor's dog, and the cracks in the sidewalk. It was a smash hit, scooped up tons of awards (including Best Lead Oscars for Nicholson and Hunt), but it could have been a far different movie if producers had gone with their reported early choice for the main character: Jim Carrey.
5. My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
We've all been there: The man of your dreams is marrying the daughter of the owner of the White Sox, so you get your gay friend to pretend to be your fiancé so you can trash the wedding where you're the maid of honor. Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, and Burt Bacharach's songs really shine in this sweet, funny story, and there's a very quick cameo by a young Paul Giamatti playing a bellman.
6. The Fifth Element (1997)
This candy-coated sci-fi epic features the elements (fire, water, earth, air, and Milla Jovovich) and a cab driver trying desperately to get his matches to stay lit so that the universe doesn't fall to evil darkness. The Fifth Element is one of the best and most interesting sci-fi films of the modern era, and director Luc Besson wishes he'd made it after technology had made it easier. Chris Tucker's loudmouth role was also originally meant for Prince, but the icon turned down the part because the costumes were "too effeminate."
7. The Full Monty (1997)
Six working class blokes try to outdo the Chippendales by forming a strip tease act in which they will take absolutely everything off. It launched a brief fad in Brit comedies about groups doing something outrageous to raise money for a good cause, and it's probably the funniest movie to discuss suicide, men's body images, unemployment, and depression. Oddly enough, its famous "Hot Stuff" scene was almost cut. Now you've got Donna Summer in your head. You're welcome.
8. Gridlock'd (1997)
Vondie Curtis-Hall's absurdist (but scarily real) black comedy features Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur as heroin addicts who are trying against all bureaucratic odds to get clean. The movie earned and has maintained its cult status due in part to the infinite rewatchability of Roth and Tupac's performances, as their characters endure a comically awful day in Detroit. Sadly, Tupac was murdered just four months before the film arrived in theaters.
9. Waiting For Guffman (1997)
Christopher Guest and his usual Spinal Tap team reassembled to mockumentarize a small town musical theater performance. Guest was inspired to make the movie after watching one of his children in a middle school production of Annie, Get Your Gun, watching as all the kids were costumed and meant to act as adult characters.
10. Donnie Brasco (1997)
Johnny Depp stars as an undercover agent getting so deep into a mafia hitman's inner circle that he begins to question where his loyalties lie. The film, which co-stars Al Pacino, was based on the chronicles of real-life undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone, who wrote about his life in Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, an extraordinary tale of twists and turns and life-threatening tension. Depp and Pacino captured that sense with a tragic, forehead-sweating intensity that launched this film immediately into the upper echelon of mob movies. Plus, like most movies in the 1990s, Tom Cruise was almost the one going undercover.
11. Selena (1997)
Before her death at the age of 23, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was a peerless superstar. The film—starring Jennifer Lopez in her first leading role—focuses on the singer's meteoric rise as a tejano powerhouse with guidance from her father Abraham (Edward James Olmos). Lopez beat out 21,000 other actors who came for open auditions. It was the largest auditioning process since Gone with the Wind searched for its Scarlett O'Hara.
12. Chasing Amy
There's something quintessentially '90s about Kevin Smith's tangled relationship opus. Maybe it's the quaint comic conventions, the baggy fashions, or Ben Affleck delivering quirky dialogue. The film features Affleck as a comic book writer/artist who falls in love with a lesbian played by Joey Lauren Adams. They fall in love, and the sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful spectrum of sexuality hits Affleck's character right in his insecurities. Adams was also the inspiration for the film; she and Smith had dated, and some of the fights they had ended up in the script. She saw them as Smith apologizing to her.
13. Lost Highway (1997)
A few years before Mulholland Drive (2001), David Lynch took an earnest and incomprehensible shot at Hollywood neo noir with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette. It's even more surreal and even more interested in tone-over-plot than his eventual masterwork with Mulholland, but it remains a fascinating, gorgeous artifact (whether it's only for Lynch diehards or not). Despite Trent Reznor establishing himself as an award-worthy composer in the 2010s, Lost Highway was one of the first movies he crafted a soundtrack for, way back in his Nine Inch Nails days.
14. Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion (1997)
Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow star as the eponymous reunion-goers, who decide that they aren't impressive enough on their own to get back at the mean girls who bullied them back in the day. It turns out that being yourself is better than claiming you invented Post-It Notes. Screenwriter Robin Schiff came up with the characters after overhearing an eye-wateringly banal conversation in a bathroom stall.
15. Contact (1997)
Robert Zemeckis's hard sci-fi masterpiece is lightyears away from Back to the Future. It stars Jodie Foster as a SETI program scientist who hears a possible message from outer space and tracks it all the way through a wormhole. Its famous intro sequence, where we lift up from the modern soundscape of Earth farther and farther into space, set a record as the longest CGI shot in a live-action movie up to that point.
16. In the Company of Men (1997)
With Neil LaBute directing and adapting his own stage play, Aaron Eckhart made a name for himself as a vengeful middle manager named Chad who teams up with a colleague to falsely seduce a woman with low self-esteem so they can break her heart on purpose. It's a companion piece to LaBute's The Shape of Things (which came out in 2003). LaBute met Eckhart back in college at BYU and has cast him in several projects since.
17. The Game (1997)
What do the ultra-wealthy do for fun? How about play around in elaborate escape rooms that dredge up childhood trauma? David Fincher's film stars Michael Douglas as an unbelievably rich investment banker who tumbles into the maybe-not-pretend world of Consumer Reaction Services—which is either a company hosting detailed augmented reality games or a scam operation targeting big bank accounts. Fincher regrets making the film, claiming [PDF] that he thought they could keep pressing the throttle on the story without having to figure out the third act.
18. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Heralded by its fans as the movie that should have won Best Picture instead of Titanic (which also won every single Oscar L.A. Confidential was up for), this neo-noir is based on James Ellroy's novel about cops and crime in 1950s Hollywood. Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce play honorable cops rooting out the corruption of their captain (with the help of Kim Basinger, playing a prostitute who specializes in looking like Veronica Lake). Director Curtis Hanson convinced the studio to make the movie by selling them on images of classic Hollywood—a look that eventually made the film such a standout.
19. The House of Yes (1997)
Fitting firmly with the late 1990s' love affair with weirdness, Mark Waters's adaptation of Wendy McLeod's play stars Parker Posey as a former pyschiatric patient who is obsessed with Jackie Kennedy and who tries to break up her twin brother's engagement to an aggressively normal woman. The fiancée is played by Tori Spelling, whose father, Aaron, financed the entire film.
20. Good Will Hunting (1997)
How about them apples? Matt Damon stars as a genius janitor who has to see a therapist (Robin Williams) after assaulting a cop. Slathered in the flavors of South Boston, thanks to the screenwriting team of Damon and Ben Affleck, it's a wicked smart drama about self-discovery, pent up anger, and the value of putting your mind's power to use. Frustrated by the studio production process, and feeling like no one was reading their rewrites, Affleck and Damon added a page-long sex scene between Dr. Sean and Will to test the studio. They presumably failed because no one ever mentioned it.
21. Amistad (1997)
Steven Spielberg released Schindler's List and Jurassic Park in the same year, and followed them up with another one-two punch of dinosaurs (The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and historical fiction (Amistad). Amistad tells the harrowing story of enslaved Africans who mutiny against the Spanish ship sailing them to the United States when they're overtaken by the U.S. Navy. The resulting court case is a clash between powers, with one side wanting to see the men turned over as property and the other side—a.k.a. Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams—wanting to see them set free. The movie is based on a real court case and a real post-presidency Adams arguing before the Supreme Court.
22. Jackie Brown (1997)
Quentin Tarantino's hidden gem is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard and stars Pam Grier as a flight attendant smuggling money for a gunrunner. It's a thrilling, whip-smart crime flick with a fierce performance from exploitation era alums Grier and Robert Forster. It's also still the only Tarantino movie that's adapted from a previous work and owes its DNA to Grier-starring blaxplotation movies Coffy and Foxy Brown.
23. Taste of Cherry (1997)
This stirring, simple drama from Abbas Kiarostami features a man (Homayoun Ershadi) driving through Tehran to find someone who will bury him after he takes his own life. He has already dug the hole, but he needs someone to help with the last part—which will either be a shovel to bury him or a hand to help him up. It won the Palme d'Or at that year's Cannes Film Festival.
24. Eve's Bayou (1997)
Kasi Lemmons's film is finally old enough to go from "modern classic" to pure "classic" status. The southern gothic twists a tale of two sisters, one who witnesses their father's infidelity and another harboring a secret that will end in tragedy. Starring Jurnee Smollett, Meagan Good, and Samuel L. Jackson, it's still a stunner all these years later. It was added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry in 2018.
25. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Atom Egoyan's drama offers no easy answers. After a school bus crash kills 14 children, a lawyer with his own personal hang-ups convinces mourning parents to sue for damages. It's a tightrope walk of lying on the stand and finding justice outside the courtroom. Anchored by a stellar performance from Ian Holm, it won the Cannes Jury Prize that year and earned Egoyan his only two Oscar nominations thus far: one for Best Director, the other for Best Adapted Screenplay (as it's based on the novel by Russell Banks).