STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Essential movies of the '90s, from 'Goodfellas' to 'The Truman Show'

Article Image

Director Cameron Crowe explains how Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. came together to make movie magic in 1996's "Jerry Maguire." Learn more about the stories behind your favorite films on CNN's "The Movies," Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Posted: Jul 24, 2019 4:30 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2019 4:30 AM

After tackling the essential movies of the 1980s -- and laying out the criteria for those selections -- pivoting to the 1990s seemed like a relative breeze.

As it turned out, though, the varied nature of movies from that decade, and the number of films that could serve roughly the same purpose, made narrowing the list down to 10-ish especially difficult.

Cheating a bit, the final choices combined a few movies that seemed to illustrate the same point: "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," Steven Spielberg's twin, gut-wrenching trips back to World War II, focusing on the Holocaust and D-Day; and "Beauty and the Beast" and "Toy Story," which inaugurated the golden age of modern animation from Disney and Pixar, respectively, before the latter became part of Mickey Mouse's empire.

After that, you won't receive much argument here from those who ask about "The Usual Suspects," "Pulp Fiction," "The Sixth Sense," "The Matrix," "Last of the Mohicans," "Groundhog Day," "Defending Your Life," "Dazed and Confused" or "The Big Lebowski," although at least in that last case, the dude will hopefully abide.

For the reasons outlined below, though, here are "the essentials" from the '90s, again presented in (mostly) chronological order:

"Goodfellas" (1990)

Director Martin Scorsese was at the height of his talents in this bloody mob tale based on the true story of Henry Hill, with iconic performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.

"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)

Anthony Hopkins turned Hannibal Lecter into the stuff of nightmares, but it was his cat-and-mouse game with the young FBI agent played by Jodie Foster that elevated director Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Thomas Harris' book into an Oscar winner that spawned several considerably less tasty sequels and prequels.

"Boyz n the Hood' (1991)

John Singleton's breakthrough film presented a sobering view of gangs, drugs and friendship, which its then-23-year-old director described as a cinematic version of alarms sounded by rap groups about the conditions faced in South Central Los Angeles and similar communities.

"Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "Toy Story" (1995)

It might have been a tale as old as time, but "Beauty and the Beast" marked the apex of Disney's animated musicals and earned the first best-picture nomination for that genre. "Toy Story," meanwhile, kicked off a quarter-century of Pixar movies defined by a level of consistency and quality that has brought families together in a manner that's increasingly rare.

"Schindler's List" (1993) and "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)

Spielberg's World War II movies can be viewed in concert, as the director channeled his blockbuster-honed filmmaking skills into unflinching looks at a harrowing chapter in history. Each could merit its own slot, although if push came to shove "Schindler" is the one to keep, while "Private Ryan" -- visceral as it is -- stumbles a bit with its ending.

"The Shawshank Redemption" (1994)

"Get busy living or get busy dying" is just one of the quotable lines from Frank Darabont's adaptation of this Stephen King prison story, anchored by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Notably, this was a movie that only gradually received the appreciation it deserved, seeming to play in a perpetual loop on cable, which, among other things, actually inspired people to turn "shawshank" into an adjective and verb.

"Fargo" (1996)

Nothing better captures the Coen brothers' unique niche than this violent, disarmingly funny take on a staged kidnapping gone very, very wrong, with a stellar cast headed by Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi.

"L.A. Confidential" (1997)

Beautifully adapting James Ellroy's novel, director Curtis Hanson captured police corruption in the 1950s, earning an Oscar for Kim Basinger and launching the careers of Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. What in almost any other year should have been a best picture winner, alas, ran into "Titanic."

"Titanic" (1997)

The enormous commercial success shouldn't obscure director James Cameron's epic achievement, mixing the down-with-the-ship romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet with staggering spectacle, set to music from James Horner and Celine Dion that went on, and on.

'The Truman Show' (1998)

Maybe not the best movie of the '90s, but perhaps the most prescient in anticipating the excesses of reality TV and media, with Jim Carrey's wonderfully understated performance as the poor guy who doesn't know his entire life is a made-for-TV spectacle.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 35237

Reported Deaths: 2197
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9978592
Lake3689200
Allen171170
Cass15927
Elkhart138428
St. Joseph130934
Hendricks117773
Hamilton117093
Johnson1117110
Madison59461
Porter54729
Bartholomew52138
Clark51941
LaPorte43424
Howard42934
Tippecanoe4184
Jackson3942
Delaware38540
Shelby37522
Hancock34528
Floyd31940
Boone31635
Vanderburgh2842
Morgan28124
Montgomery24416
Noble23821
Clinton2381
White2389
Decatur22531
Grant21923
Dubois2023
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1718
Dearborn16921
Monroe16912
Greene16925
Warrick16628
Lawrence16524
Kosciusko1561
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Jennings1314
Orange13022
Marshall1282
Scott1213
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Daviess9416
LaGrange932
Carroll933
Wayne855
Steuben852
Wabash792
Newton7810
Fayette787
Jasper681
Jay530
Washington511
Clay512
Fulton491
Rush483
Randolph483
Pulaski470
Jefferson461
Whitley433
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan361
Owen341
Perry330
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox290
Huntington282
Blackford272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson172
Parke170
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 122848

Reported Deaths: 5525
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook796733726
Lake8450307
DuPage7818380
Kane6467186
Will5649280
Winnebago231356
McHenry160673
St. Clair117286
Kankakee93050
Kendall81919
Rock Island68324
Champaign6527
Madison59560
Boone47617
DeKalb4225
Sangamon35029
Jackson28910
Randolph2704
Peoria2629
McLean22113
Ogle2143
Stephenson2112
Macon19419
Clinton18817
Union15711
LaSalle15414
Unassigned1470
Whiteside14213
Iroquois1324
Coles12715
Warren1170
Out of IL1151
Grundy1012
Jefferson10116
Knox1010
Monroe9612
McDonough9113
Lee821
Cass740
Tazewell745
Henry690
Williamson682
Pulaski550
Marion500
Jasper467
Macoupin462
Adams441
Perry410
Montgomery401
Vermilion401
Morgan381
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas280
Jersey241
Fayette213
Woodford212
Ford201
Menard200
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock171
Mercer170
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll152
Schuyler130
Bond121
Crawford120
Franklin120
Fulton120
Clark110
Logan110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Johnson90
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
Wabash50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 70°
Robinson
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 70°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 70°
Rockville
Broken Clouds
67° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 67°
Casey
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Brazil
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 70°
Marshall
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 70°
Sunny and Hot! Afternoon Storms.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events