Top 10 Films That Prove The 1990s Weren’t Just About Blockbusters

Neal Damiano lists 10 memorable 1990s films that remain beloved today. Featuring game-changers, cult classics and independent greats, this top 10 highlights the decade wasn’t just about blockbusters.

Western cinema of the 1990s is understandably remembered for its commercial hits: the blockbusters like Titanic, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Jurassic Park that took the box office by storm. But look beneath the dollar signs and the decade reveals an abundance of enduring classics – some of which resonate more loudly than others – that includes Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction as well as British favourite Trainspotting and teen zeitgeist drama Dazed and Confused.

10. Tank Girl (Rachel Talalay)

Before comic book movies were the huge blockbusters they are now, Tank Girl came out and only made $6 million having cost $25 million to make. Even though it failed at the box office, people still fell in love with the movie and the star, Lori Petty.

9. Clueless (Amy Heckerling)

Clueless - Alicia Silverstone

She was the Beverly Hills brat we all loved, and honestly were a bit jealous of. The movie was a pretty big hit and honestly holds up to this day. The outfits, not so much…but it influenced so many films in the millennium.

8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)

Top 10 Movie Monologues - Pulp Fiction - Top 10 Films

The epic return of John Travolta into popular culture has given a lot of people quotable moments for over 20 years now. Also, you cannot escape that dance, people will do that until the end of time. The film changed cinema in the 90s.

7. Fight Club (David Fincher)

Tyler Durden, Fight Club, Brad Pitt

Fight Club seems to be one of those movies that every guy in high school was obsessed with. No matter who you asked, they absolutely loved this movie. It ended up doing pretty well in its initial release, but DVD sales helped it get cult classic status.

6. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino)

Stuck In The Middle With You - Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino would go on to make some truly memorable movies, but this one was his first feature length film. The movie’s story line helped it reach a modest success but when it went to the UK it managed to do a lot better. The film was definitely a game changer upon release and influenced several films to come.

5. Empire Records (Allan Moyle)

A day in the life of teens at a record store may not seem very exciting, but it’s honestly one of the best movies from the decade, hands down. It feels a lot more honest then some of the others, and so of its time. It’s just a really fun film to go back and visit.

4. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

A harsh look at drug addiction, the movie was cheap to make and gained a huge following. It has been ranked 10th on the list of Top British Films of the 20th Century by the British Film Institute. I absolutely love this film, an adrenaline ride from start to finish.

3. The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers)

Top 10 Films of Steve Buscemi

The crazy characters, dream sequences and unconventional story line helped make this movie into something that people had never seen before, and luckily they seemed to love it. It’s become one of the most beloved films and I think they actually have Dudefests around the country.

2. Office Space (Mike Judge)

A realistic look at corporate life in the workplace. One of the funniest satires, that hit really close to home with America. It did moderately well at the box office, but the home sales made it a huge success.

1. Dazed And Confused (Richard Linklater)

It was released in 1993, and helped launch Matthew McConaughey into uber stardom. The film barely made more than the budget upon release. It went on to become one of the most beloved movies from the 90s. So many quotable lines and memorable characters. I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t love this film.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano

Your turn: what are your fave 1990s films?

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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    Chris Hunneysett Reply

    I can’t abide the number 1 film here, although appropriately, I do abide number 3

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Really, interesting to see. Like I said with Dazed And Confused, I don’t know anyone that dislikes it. But film is so subjective.
      Thanks for the read.

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    Callum Reply

    The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs, Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction are all favourites of mine.

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    Roger Keen Reply

    Trainspotting reminds me of a whole host of great British independent films from the 1990s, many of which were boosted by Film4’s efforts – Brassed Off, East is East, The Crying Game, My Name Is Joe, Beautiful Thing, The Full Monty.

    Fight Club and Pulp Fiction are great of course and Dazed and Confused captures that slacker-comedy thing really well.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Good picks Neal. I think the Coens’ Fargo is worth mentioning, The Blair Witch Project made a huge splash towards the end of the decade, and Clerks gave Kevin Smith a career. Of all the blockbusters from the period though, none are as good as Goodfellas.

    Great to see Dazed and Confused and Empire Records on here. Do you like Airheads? I think of that film in a similar way as the two you mentioned alongside Pump up the Volume too!

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      You’re absolutely right Cinegirl and that’s what the list is exactly about, you’ve just listed off films most people mention. This list serves as sort of films that are beloved but kind of forgotten. What I mean by that is the films became revered over time and gained a huge following but aren’t necessarily cult.
      Thanks for the insightful feedback!

  5. Dan
    Dan Reply

    A great mix of huge cult favourites and little, almost forgotten independents. Dazed and Confused has a time capsule-feel to it; I love that much of it takes place over a single night. Linklater loves that conceit but it works so well because our journey more closely mirrors the characters as their drama happens across a few hours as does ours (albeit just under two hours for us).

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks Dan!
      The list is very eclectic.
      Dazed And Confused does spark up 90s nostalgia and it’s just a really fun film.

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    Rory Fish Reply

    Some of my favourite 90s films right here.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thank you Rory,
      That is my exact point. Many of these films are people’s favorites!

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    I remember the day I looked in the paper and saw that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was about to be released. I thought about it for a moment and then it hit me – Depp in a movie directed by Gilliam based on an iconic book (which I had read) by Hunter Thompson. What was there to resist? I booked my 400 km return bus trip shortly thereafter. Neo noir had a pretty interesting run in the 1990s – Red Rock West, The Last Seduction and U Turn all come to mind.

    Trainspotting blew my mind when I first saw it; when I watched Tank Girl I was taken by Naomi Watts – she looked like she was going somewhere.

    As for Western cinema in the 1990s, I can only think of one that doesn’t have a place on this list – Carlito’s Way.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Mark, first off thank you for reading! But I’m not sure what your trying to express here. This is not a new noir list from the 90s? Tank Girl sure was foreshadowing given the amount of comic book films these days. Fear & Loathing great film but not sure it’s a huge favorite among the general public film goers. Again, thanks for your feedback and insight, always!!

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    Jason Deakins Reply

    Outside of the big US blockbusters, Miramax made a number of 1990s films I look back on fondly. John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, Jane Campion’s The Piano, Larry Clark’s Kids, Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade.

    Fitting that Bob Weinstein would also champion Kevin Spacey’s Albino Alligator. I’m sure the pair of them got on like a house on fire.

    I think a great omission here though is Cop Land. A great film that took on the blockbuster market and smashed it out of the park. One of the best of the 1990s for sure.

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    Jason Deakins Reply

    Oh, neo noir in the 1990s was on another level. That’s got me thinking about King of New York and State of Grace and Leon!!!

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Not sure where the noir references are coming from here? But thanks for the read.

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    Emma Reply

    Office Space is so overrated.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Not really, it did peanuts at the box office and is hardly ever mentioned by the critics. It’s a people’s favorite.
      Thanks for reading

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    Sammie Hodgson Reply

    Get rid of Empire Records for Clerks – a far better film and I doubt we’d have Empire without Smith’s effort.

    As for others, you’ve got to consider Leon, Heat and Goodfellas for films that are still beloved today from the decade.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Clerks is great! It is a very beloved too. Empire Records came to mind on my list!

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Btw, I know a lot people who actually dislike Clerks and don’t like Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. I’ve had plenty of debates sticking up for Mr Smith. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Empire Records.

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    Sorry Neal – I was under the impression the piece was about quality films made in the 1990s that weren’t planning to be (or subsequently became) blockbusters. As far as I can see, some of the neo noir films of the 1990s didn’t set out to be major money spinners, but were actually pretty cool. After all, they appeal to a pretty limited audience (including geeks like us). Ditto Fear and Loathing – despite its pedigree, it was never going to be successful. Even Leonard Maltin completely bagged it, which I think is proof that sometimes him and his staff miss a major point or two. On another totally unrelated note, I personally think one of the best films which spewed forth from the 1990s that wasn’t aimed at the blockbuster market was Man Bite Dog. Total balls through and through.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      You don’t have to be sorry Mark, I have just never heard that term neo noir admittedly I don’t know everything about film (laughing) didn’t realize this was considered? Anyhow thanks for reading my lists and I do really appreciate your input, always.
      Yes I just set out to write a list of 90s films that are truly beloved.
      Fear & Loathing is a great film that has its audience and Depp did a pretty good Hunter!
      Trainspotting is easily one of my all time favorite films

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    Marie Green Reply

    Tank Girl brings back so many memories of me and my mates dressing up when we were younger!

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      It definitely foreshadowed what was to come, with all the comic book movies out nowadays. Thanks for the read and feedback, Marie

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    Gregory James Reply

    Dazed and Confused, Tank Girl, Office Space, Empire Records, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs… all favourites of mine. Good list.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thank you, Gregory.
      They are great films❗️

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    Frankie W Reply

    Love all these films. The 1990s was my favorite decade for movies. I grew up watching them all.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thank you Frankie
      The 90s was a fantastic time for film especially in the early part of the decade.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Great choice of films here. I especially like that you mentioned Office Space. It certainly hit the zeitgeist.

    If I could add a few more:

    Chasing Amy, imo is Smith’s best film and it was good enough that it should have been mentioned in the Oscar race.

    Swingers is the film that launched Vaughn’s career and it’s one of my fave films from the decade.

    American Beauty is a film that resonates with me even more today than it did in 1999. Ignore that Spacey is a dick and just watch it for the amazing film that it is…..same can be said for Usual Suspects.

    Indian Summer is also one of my all time faves and it has a ridiculously terrific cast.

    Tombstone. Made a modest amount at the box office but blew up on HV.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks Dan G
      You mention some great choices.
      Chasing Amy is probably my favorite K. Smith film.
      I absolutely love Rounders, so entertaining and a great story. Malkovich is so delightfully eccentric here.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    And Rounders! Another of my all time faves! Malkovich is a hoot.

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    Natalie Reply

    Great selection. Clueless is amongst my favourite films, such a funny and bold take on Austen. I’d have to pop Wes Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket on this list too.

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thank you for the feedback Natalie.
      I love Bottlerocket it’s my favorite Wes Anderson film. But I’m not sure enough people know of it? To put on this list.
      A fantastic first film feature!

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