Top 10 Blockbusters of the 1990s

Mega budgets. Huge stars. High concept stories. Merchandise tie-ins and chart-topping theme music. The 1990s produced some great blockbusters and here’s ten of the best.

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The 1990s was an interesting decade for me. Although I had made a handful of journeys to the cinema at the tail end of the eighties it was the nineties that saw the trip to the local cinema become a regular activity. Therefore, it was the beginning of my movie anticipation. That wonderful feeling that occurs when you first hear about an exciting new project and can’t wait for it to arrive on the big screen. The 1990s saw the studios spend big money on big projects. Therefore, anticipation for sequels like Terminator 2, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and of course, Star Wars: Episode 1, and mega-budget disaster films Titanic, Armageddon and Independence Day, meant the box office was licking its lips awaiting long queues and significant ticket sales.

Of the best blockbusters of the 1990s, here’s the top ten.

10. Star Wars – Episode 1 (Lucas, 1999)

george lucas, big budget, star wars,

The film is rubbish. But expectation and a “new hope” are important factors in making Star Wars – Episode 1 one of the best blockbusters of the 1990s. Of course, the merchandising tie-in that is so often part and parcel of the blockbuster was sent into overdrive. Regardless of the film’s quality, no one could deny they felt butterflies in the stomach when “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen.

9. Titanic (Cameron, 1997)

titanic, big budget, blockbuster, disaster,

The name James Cameron must send shivers down the spines of studio executives. His films make a lot of money but he also likes to spend a lot too. Titanic was no exception as The Terminator director spent millions recreating the fated journey of the world’s most famous ocean liner. The film might feature a jaded love story but it touched the hearts of people worldwide.

8. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Roach, 1999)

austin powers, 2, spy who shagged me,

Austin Powers was a surprise hit for Mike Myers even though his comedy talent had already been assured with the Wayne’s World films. After a successful fire starter there was always room for a sequel and star Myers and director Jay Roach deliver with a film that rivals the original for best of the series.

7. The Lion King (Allers/Minkoff, 1994)

lion king, great blockbusters, 1990s,

Theme-tune tie-in makes The Lion King one of the best blockbusters of the 1990s. Many will recognise the songs just as much as watching Simba and his Dad Mufasa. A family-friendly awe-inspirer from Disney, The Lion King was always going to get bums in cinema seats.
See also: Top 10 Traditionally Animated Films

6. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998)

saving private ryan, blockbusters, nineties,

Steven Spielberg creates one of the most devastatingly cinematic re-enactments of the D-Day landings on France’s beaches during World War II. That would be enough to propel the film above all others but he follows the film’s brutal first twenty minutes with a thoroughly enjoyable journey of courage and honour.
See also: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films | Top 10 Films Presents Classic Scenes

5. The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, 1999)

sixth sense, shyamalan, twist endings,

M. Night Shyamalan announced himself as the master of the twist. No one expected the success The Sixth Sense would have but its twist ending had so many people bamboozled, word of its effectiveness quickly saw people flocking to the cinema to experience it for themselves.

4. Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, 1994)

forrest gump, best blockbusters 1990s, nineties,

Robert Zemeckis’ warm-hearted box of chocolates was handsomely digested at the box office. Tom Hanks’ wonderful performance as nice-but-dim Forrest Gump was the sweet filling to a film overdosing on sugar. But any film full of this much hope cannot fail to win the hearts of the masses. As the box office results show – it did just that.
See also: Top 10 Tom Hanks Films 1990 – 2010 | Top 10 Robert Zemeckis Films

3. Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996)

independence day, alien invasion, blockbuster best 1990s,

We love a disaster movie. Especially when the threat is an alien invasion and we can fight back. Great performances from Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum help the film add a little comedy to the action in this crowd-pleasing film from 1996.

2. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day

terminator 2, james cameron, big budget, sequels,

A sequel to The Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger to return. I thought Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton had already saved the world and destroyed the possibility of the machines rising up? Obviously not. Never mind, it’s only a movie! And if they had we wouldn’t have got this terrific sequel. And Cameron does a great trick in the film by hiding the motives of the two Terminators. The reversal of Schwarzenegger’s role is inspired.
See also: Top 10 Sequels of all time

1. Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)

jurassic park, best blockbuster 1990s,

Merchandising tie-ins, teaser posters and trailers, re-branded source novel, huge budget, the utilisation of new special-effects techniques, a high-concept story with a grandiose premise. Everything was in place long before Jurassic Park was released to ensure this was the blockbuster of the decade. Not surprising since Spielberg started the trend back in 1975 with Jaws. Jurassic Park was awe-inspiring in 1993 and although special-effects have moved on since then its CGI dinosaurs still look very authentic. And unlike movies today, Spielberg was still using animatronics to complement the computer graphics and they are equally as effective. Jurassic Park is a terrific film from a genius filmmaker. Without doubt it is the best film about dinosaurs ever made.
See also: Top 10 Steven Spielberg Films

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    The Matrix?

    Excellent list Dan, but I’d not have included The Phantom Menace at the expense of one of the most iconic, genre-warping, cinematic astonishments of that particular decade. Considering both The Matrix and TPM came out in the same year, and only one remains a critical success, I’d have gone for the Wachowski’s over Lucas.

    The rest of your picks I cannot disagree with. Great list.

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Rodney: You’re right about The Matrix deserving all the praise it gets and perhaps it should have found a place on this list at the expense of The Phantom Menace. As I say, Lucas’ film isn’t particularly very good but in the context of this list it ticks the boxes. I was also reminiscing about anticipation with this list and there weren’t many films as highly anticipated as Star Wars Episode 1, if any at all. Shame the end result was such a let down.

  3. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Loved Jurassic Park and I would definitely have it as my favorite of the 90’s as well. So really hugely significant movies there, particularly Saving Private Ryan (it would be my #2), Terminator 2, Titanic and The Lion King. Nice list Dan.

  4. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    I am with Castor, bloody love Jurassic Park!! I could watch that every week for a year and not get bored!!

    Looking forward to Lion King 3-D, supposed to be amazing transfer and conversion

  5. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Castor: I don’t know if it’s rose-coloured spectacles but looking back at these 90s films I do think the big budget output from Hollywood was better during the 90s than it was during the 2000s. Perhaps a nostalgia thing though.

    @Custard: I noticed The Lion King 3D was upcoming. I thought you weren’t a fan though Scott? I’m more interested in seeing the Blu-ray of The Lion King to see how the film looks.

  6. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Great list, Dan, though I still have never seen Saving Private Ryan and Forrest Gump!

    If I could watch a movie on the big screen with huge surround sound it would be Jurassic Park. I was only five when it came out so sadly missed seeing it!

  7. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Speaking of Star Wars, and the anticipation of the release of Phantom Menace back in the day, has anybody here seen Fanboys? Worth a look for a gentle prod and poke as Star Wars fandom and the incessant hype of TPM prior to release….

  8. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Claire: Oh gosh, I feel old now. Jurassic Park was one of my first and still one of my most memorable cinema experiences. I was ten when it came out and I went to see with my Mum, younger sister and my Nana. Amazing is probably the world for it.

    I’m very surprised you haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan and Forrest Gump but that is a good thing. I’d love to go back and watch them for the first time again. Both come highly recommended from me.

    @Rodney: I better chalk Fanboys up for a viewing.

  9. Avatar
    Ronan Reply

    Great list Dan. I think it is a little harsh to call Episode 1 ‘terrible’, I enjoyed. It was destined to fall short of audience expectation. It could have been better than the originals and still have been a let down. The fans didn’t want a great new Star Wars movie they just wanted an excuse to relive the wonder of the originals on the big screen and our curiosity got the better of us. Nothing was ever going to beat the originals because they are more than jsut great films. Star Wars fans are one of a kind.

    I agree with your list choices and most of what you said, Jurassic park was probably the most revolutionary of them all and paved the way for how the a lot of the rest were made. Great decades for the blockbuster. Thanks for the list.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Ronan: Thanks Ronan. You make a good point about The Phantom Menace. No matter what, it was never going to live up to expectation. But perhaps more damning is the fact Lucas state-of-the-art special-effects weren’t as awe-inspiring as the effects he created back in the 1970s. Is that nostalgia talking or a worthy criticism of CGI? I don’t know but I prefer the puppets and the live-action effects etc.

    Spielberg got it right with Jurassic Park. Just the right amount of CGI and live action. The film still looks great today.

  11. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Dan, you’re only five years older than me then!

    Ryan and Gump are now on my LOVEFiLM rental list. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen them…

  12. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    @Claire, that LOVEFiLM list is surely taking quite a bashing lately

    @Dan, I am not a fan of 3D in cinema, but I have heard it is one of the best conversions ever done!!

  13. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Claire: Yeah, but I see that big 30 getting ever closer. Scary…! 😉

    @Scott: Have you seen any of the Disney animated classics on 2D Blu-ray. I’ve heard they are very impressive too.

  14. Avatar
    TheScarletSp1der Reply

    I’d have to agree with Dan on The Matrix needing to be on this list too. I really enjoyed this list Dan. Lists are one of my fav website features!

    I have a post launching today that will give tribute to your list. I really like it!

  15. Avatar
    TheScarletSp1der Reply

    Oh, and I’d add Toy Story, personally.

  16. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Scarlet: Thanks for dropping by. Toy Story is a good one actually. Nice call.

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  18. Avatar
    ann Reply

    I remembering being a hit back in middle school cause i had jurassic park memorabilia.

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