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The 90s was a great decade for film, with memorable movies helping to fill cinemas and make Blockbuster the place to be on a Friday and Saturday night.
It’s the decade that saw some of our most beloved actors shine on the big screen in career-defining roles. We look at the best 90s movies available to watch on Netflix now.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
In 1991, writer and director John Singleton gave us a glimpse into the world of South Central LA with his era-defining film, Boyz n the Hood.
Released just a few months after the Rodney King police beating and subsequent riots shook America, Boyz n the Hood was an important film on many levels, telling a complex story of young black males in inner-city America. As Doughboy, played by rapper Ice Cube, says in the final scene: “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
Boyz n the Hood follows the lives of three young black men following three different paths. Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) is chasing a football scholarship that will take him out the hood; his half-brother Doughboy (Ice Cube) lives a ‘gangster’ lifestyle surrounded by alcohol and violence; and their friend Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr) is guided by his wise father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne).
More than 30 years on, Boyz n the Hood is still recognised as a seminal film that did a lot to highlight race issues in America.
Boyz n the Hood is available to watch now on Netflix.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg’s epic Schindler's List earned seven Oscars in 1994, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The film is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved more than 1000 Jewish people from the Nazi concentration camps during World War II by employing them in his factories around Krakow, Poland.
Liam Neeson plays Schindler, with Ralph Fiennes playing Nazi murderer and Commander of the SS, Amon Goeth. Ben Kingsley stars as Schindler’s right-hand man, Itzhak Stern.
The film made a huge impact upon its release and continues to perfectly illustrate the horrors of war and the Nazi regime.
Schindler’s List is available to watch now on Netflix.
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The Mask (1994)
Jim Carrey was one of the 90s' biggest stars, starring in box office hit after hit. His resume from this busy period includes Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), The Cable Guy (1996), Liar Liar (1997) and The Truman Show (1998). But perhaps his biggest role was in 1994’s The Mask.
Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a timid bank clerk that doesn’t like confrontation and is unlucky in love. But that all changes when he finds a mysterious mask. Suddenly he becomes a unlikely superhero with incredible powers that make him irresistible to blonde bombshell Tina Carlyle (newcomer Cameron Diaz) and a target for crime boss Dorian Tyrel (Peter Greene).
The Mask launched the career of Diaz, cemented the legend of Jim Carrey and spawned a whole host of new catchphrases - S-s-s-s-s-mokin’!
The Mask is available to watch now on Netflix.
When it comes to the debate about the greatest actors ever, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro occupy the top spots more often than not. But who was the greatest? It was a hot topic of discussion in the 90s, especially as the two had never shared the big screen together.
Then in 1995, the pair appeared alongside each other for the first time (they had both appeared in The Godfather 2, but not together). It may have only been for a matter of minutes, but it was a defining movie moment.
Heat sees De Niro playing Neil McCauley, the head of a criminal crew targeting high-value targets in LA, such as banks, vaults and armoured cars. Pacino plays homicide detective Lt. Vincent Hanna.
When one of McCauley’s robberies goes wrong and ends in a murder, Hanna becomes obsessed with the case and the crew. What ensues is a high-drama cat-and-mouse chase between the two main protagonists on different sides of the law.
Directed by Michael Mann, the film is full of high-octane action and intense confrontations.
Heat is available to watch on Netflix now.
Before 1995, director David Fincher had only directed one feature film, 1992’s somewhat underwhelming Alien 3. Before that Fincher was mostly known for working on music videos and adverts, including Michael Jackson’s Who Is It?, Madonna’s Bad Girl, and the Coca-Cola Blade Roller ad.
Then in 95, Fincher assembled a terrific trio of acting talent in Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey for the thrilling film, Seven.
The premise is that two detectives, old pro Somerset (Freeman) and rookie detective Mills (Pitt) hunt a serial killer (Spacey) who uses the seven deadly sins to justify and showcase his murders. The murders focus on gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust, before we witness one of the finest endings to any film of the 1990s.
Seven is available to watch now on Netflix.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Another one of the decade’s biggest actors was Tom Hanks, who starred in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Philadelphia (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Toy Story (1995) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) among many others, picking up two Best Actor Oscars along the way.
In 1995, Hanks starred in Apollo 13 alongside Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon, as one of the three astronauts onboard NASA’s Apollo 13 lunar mission. Based on a true story, the 1970 mission went wrong when internal damage to the space module turned the journey into a fight for survival as mission control race against time to return Jim Lovell (Hanks), Fred Haise (Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Bacon) safely back to Earth.
Apollo 13 is available to watch now on Netflix.
Desperado is the big-budget follow up to director Robert Rodriguez’s independent 1992 debut, El Mariachi.
It stars Antonio Banderas (El Mariachi), Joaquim de Almeida (Bucho), Steve Buscemi (Buscemi), Quentin Tarantino (Pick-up guy) and Danny Trejo (Navajas), and gave a breakthrough role to Salma Hayak, who plays El Mariachi’s friend, Carolina.
Desperado brought some southern-flavoured stylized violence to the big screen - the genre proved popular throughout the 90s with movies like From Dusk Till Dawn, The Mask of Zorro and future Tarantino productions.
The film follows El Mariachi as he returns to a Mexican border town to seek revenge on bloodthirsty drug kingpin, Bucho, who previously killed El Mariachi’s girlfriend and shot him through his guitar-fretting hand. Armed with a guitar case full of weapons and ammo, the story of El Mariachi makes Desperado a glorious, gun-toting 90s classic.
Desperado is available to watch now on Netflix.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
The game of golf might not scream ‘movie must-see’, but in 1996 Adam Sandler put a whole new spin on the sport to give us one of the 90s' best comedies.
As well as performing writing duties, Sandler stars as Happy Gilmore, a wannabe ice-hockey player who discovers a hidden talent for driving golf balls incredible distances. He has no interest in pursuing a career in golf but is forced to join the PGA Tour to win some money and save his grandma’s house. But he’ll have to work on his putting and control his un-golf-like temper to succeed and overcome the stuck-up front runner for the championship, Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).
Rude, crude and full of wacky fun and gross-out gags, Happy Gilmore is an enduring slapstick comedy that’s still making us laugh and say ‘tap, tap, taperoo’ whenever we’re on the green.
Happy Gilmore is available to watch on Netflix now.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
1996 was already a big year for Tom Cruise, with Mission: Impossible taking the box office by storm. But at the end of the year, Cruise swapped all-out action to play a sports agent to temperamental American football star, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr). Gooding Jr went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Jerry Maguire has it all – a beautiful fiancée, money, respect and a great career as a sports agent. But his company doesn’t take it well when he questions his purpose and morals as a sports agent, leading to him losing it all – except one loyal client, Tidwell.
We witness Maguire’s struggle to resurrect his career while remaining true to his beliefs. This heartfelt film is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, which makes you root for Cruise’s character. Plus, the film spawned two legendary catchphrases: Maguire's "Show me the money!" and "You had me at hello", spoken by Renée Zellweger in her breakout role as his assistant, Dorothy.
Jerry Maguire is available to watch on Netflix now.
Based on the book by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Sleepers tells the true-life account of four young boys growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York in the 60s when a prank goes wrong and results in them being sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys reform school. While at the institution they suffer beatings and abuse from the guards employed to protect them. Then a chance encounter 13 years later gives the boys an opportunity for revenge.
Starring Hollywood heavy-hitters Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Bacon, Sleepers is an engrossing story and a sleeper hit from the 90s.
Sleepers is available to watch now on Netflix.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Super-stylish crime-noir L.A. Confidential was universally praised by the critics upon its release and it’s still being lauded today. Time magazine crowned it Film of the Year and Kim Bassinger won the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
And it wasn’t just Bassinger who brought her A-game. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and James Cromwell all excelled in the film’s leading roles.
L.A. Confidential follows the lives of three policemen in 1950s Los Angeles, each investigating a series of murders with their own brand of justice. Guy Pearce plays Ed Exley, the golden boy of the LAPD, set for greatness but treated with contempt by his fellow officers; Russell Crowe plays Bud White, an officer who has no problem breaking the rules, and a few bones, to get the desired result; Kevin Spacey plays Jack Vincennes, a sleazy cop who’s always looking for a quick buck.
L.A. Confidential is available to watch on Netflix now.
Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is the cult classic that everyone was talking about at the end of the 90s, when DVDs started to really take off. Upon release there were concerns that copycat behaviour would follow, akin to what happened when A Clockwork Orange was released in the 70s.
However, despite the film’s title, it wasn’t the violence that everyone was talking about. The themes of consumerism, happiness, male identity and relationships are all explored, and the film’s big twist made everyone want to watch Fight Club.
Brad Pitt plays one of the coolest characters from the 90s, Tyler Durden, while Edward Norton narrates and plays an insomniac who attends support groups to deal with life, before joining an underground fight club. Meat Loaf and Helena Bonham Carter also make memorable appearances.
Fight Club is available to watch on Netflix now.
Notting Hill (1999)
Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant star in what was the highest grossing British film of all time – and the second highest grossing film of 1999 behind Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace.
The romantic comedy sees Hugh Grant playing Notting Hill bookshop owner William Thacker. When famous Hollywood actress Anna Scott (Roberts) visits his shop and they later bump into each other on the street, they embark on an unlikely romance full of ups and downs involving encounters with both the paparazzi and Scott’s movie-star boyfriend.
Notting Hill is still regarded as one of Britain’s most successful films from an era when British romcoms led the way. In 2022, Radio 2 listeners voted Notting Hill their favourite romcom ever, ahead of Pretty Woman, When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Notting Hill is available to watch on Netflix now.
The Green Mile (1999)
Stephen King film adaptations are often box office gold – from The Shining and Carrie to It and The Shawshank Redemption. The 1999 adaptation of the author’s novel, The Green Mile, is another success story.
Starring Tom Hanks as one of the prison guards, The Green Mile tells the story of convicted child murderer, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) as he waits on death row. The imposing inmate may look scary, but he shows a kind and gentle side during his time inside, using his special powers to cure pain and see the unseen. But will it be enough to halt his execution and save the prison guards around him?
The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Michael Clarke Duncan was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
The Green Mile is available to watch now on Netflix