The Best Decade in Film: 1990s

It’s obvious to me that the 1990s were the best years in film. Drama defined the decade because of the contributions of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers.

Tom Hanks. He owned the decade. Sure, there were mediocre choices like That Thing You Do! in 1996 or in 1992, as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. He managed to put his personal stamp on the film with the memorable phrase, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But consider this blockbuster list:
1990, Bonfire of the Vanities
1993, Philadelphia (Best Acting Oscar)
1993, Sleepless in Seattle
1994, Forrest Gump (Best Acting Oscar)
1995, Toy Story
1995, Apollo 13
1998, Saving Private Ryan
1999, The Green Mile
1999, Toy Story 2
Many would say Saving Private Ryan is the best war film. His ability to represent the common man with simplistic charm is reminiscent of the great Jimmy Stewart. However, Jimmy only won one Oscar in 1940 with The Philadelphia Story. Of course, Tom Hanks greeted the new century with strong performances but it was the 1990s where he became the legend we know today.

Steven-Spielberg_directing

Steven Spielberg
His relationship with Tom Hanks in films has served them both well. Not only is Saving Private Ryan arguably the best war film, which is a Spielberg masterpiece, Spielberg gets the credit for the best film ever made with Schindler’s List. That’s a subjective claim, but does anyone disagree that Schindler’s List is one of the finest films in the history of film making?

It happened in the 1990s.

What else did Steven Spielberg put out that decade? Two personal favorites are Jurassic Park, 1993, and Amistad in 1998.

Speaking of directors and actors teaming up, how about Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro in the 1990s? Here are the best gangster films combined with strong acting in DeNiro’s career:

Martin Scorsese                          
1990, Goodfellas  
1991, Cape Fear
1993, The Age of Innocence   
1995, Casino

Robert DeNiro

1990, Goodfellas

1991, Cape Fear

1993, This Boy’s Life

1995, Casino

1997, Wag the Dog

If you disagree that Schindler’s List wasn’t the best film of the decade, then you probably agree with a million other critics that Pulp Fiction was the best film of the decade. QT shocked with Reservoir Dogs and impressed us with Jackie Brown. If you are a Coen Brothers fan, then you probably are a cult follower of the Dude and drink White Russians as a token of homage. That was when I was snookered by Jeff Bridges as an exceptional actor in The Big Lebowski. Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink solidified the Coen’s career and into the twenty-first they flew with one instant classic after another. Finally, if the above reasons don’t convince you, here are more random films from the 1990s that I favor:

L.A. Confidential, Mission Impossible, Being John Malkovich, Rushmore, Contact, Sense and Sensibility, Elizabeth, Dogma, Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves, Sling Blade, The Piano, Star Trek: First Contact, and Run Lola Run.

Are you convinced now that the 1990s was the best decade in film-making history?

51 thoughts on “The Best Decade in Film: 1990s

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      1. I’ll be speaking to this subject in an upcoming Keith & The Movies roundtable. I think the NDA I signed prevents me from commenting any further on this 😉

    1. LOL. Ouch. Yes, they were GREAT to watch in the cinema. The 90s and the 70s. 🙂 Nothing like Close Encounters, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Star Trek as a young teenager sitting in the seats munching popcorn gawking at the screen and transported to a different world. Wow doesn’t quite cut it. Thanks Chris 🙂

  1. completely agree with u on this Cindy. You forgot to mention that this was also the decade where animation took a step forward; Disney had it’s rejuvenation, PIXAR put itself quickly on the map (ay the top) and Dreamworks joined the party.

    Great post!

    1. I mentioned it in the email that I would and you said okay as we have different followers so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I wouldn’t worry, your roundtable will be special as I’m just one piece of the pie.

  2. I’ve got so many favourite films from the 90s, the last decade when I regularly attended the cinema.
    I watched Jurassic Park, Heat and Casino more than once on the big screen. I skipped lectures at university to watch Flesh and Bone and John Sayles’ Lone Star at The Cornerhouse in Manchester.
    Addicted to Love and The Age of Innocence were indulgent pleasures and the 90s also provided a couple of my favourite westerns in Unforgiven and Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil. I also couldn’t not mention The Thin Red Line, a film that haunts me to this day.
    Such a great decade and so many good memories!

    1. Well at least you skipped lecture to do something important 😉 . Yes, to all you say. Another commonality we share is it’s that last decade I was a devoted cinema goer, too. Now I rarely go unless it’s something special. I can wait to watch it at home. Boring! I wonder if it’s an age thing?

  3. The 90s is indeed a GREAT decade for movies! I consider it my favorite as it’s the decade when I started to really appreciate films. There are a ton of epic ones released in this decade that leave a lasting impression, from drama to action stuff, the 90s rule! 😀

  4. Hi, Cindy:

    Very nicely done!

    Well thought out and detailed execution dissertation of a memorable decade in film.

    Talent wise, I cannot argue Tom Hanks who was adding the final lustrous touches be becoming that generation’s Jimmy Stewart. For Hank’s talent of being any man and every man.

    Also for the mentioned directors’ ability to work with High Technology Special Effects that had been cost restrictive and not as highly refined in the films of the 1980s.

    Di Nero and Scorsese had hit their strides in the 1990s and turned out some excellent work. While Spielberg matured and became more serious. With a few offerings just shy of true greatness.

    Tarantino was making a name for himself. Before becoming more hit and miss and scatter shot with his later projects. While the Coen brothers were coming off the blocks with offbeat and uniquely humorous films to build a reputation that shows no signs of slowing or deterioration.

    Can’t beat their triple play of ‘Blood Simple’, ‘ Miller’s Crossing’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’ or ‘Fargo’.
    Though, I still enjoy their ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’ for its B&W, ‘His Girl Friday’ homage and feel!

    For overall variety of topics, directors and number of diverse film. I still think the 1970s holds the bar just a bit higher.

    1. Hi Kevin, I’m not suprised you chose the 70s over the 90s and I can’t say I blame you. What is it with the odd years? The thirties and the fifties, the seventies and the nineties. Hhmmmm. I’m curious to know which top five 70s films are your favorites. 🙂

      1. Hi, Cindy:

        #5/: Rolling Thunder (1977)

        #4/: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

        #3/: The French Connection (1971)

        #2/: The Conversation (1974)

        #1/: Save The Tiger (1973)

        1. I haven’t seen Rolling Thunder. I wonder what Tommy Lee Jones looks like without wrinkles or was he born with them? Anyway, I should rent it since you have it listed in the top 5 of the70s. Wow! Your selections weren’t what I was expecting. No Taxi Driver or Godfather or Exorcist or Jaws or Clockwork Orange or Apocolypse Now or, or, or…;)

      2. Most of the women I knew who has seen Mr. Jones in ‘Jackson County Jail’ or ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars’, though him “Mega-Cute”. In a strong and silent Clint Eastwood kind kind of way. Same as a decade later with Scott Glenn in ‘Knightriders’ and ‘Urban Cowboy’. And Mr. Jones was born with lines. Not wrinkles 😀

        Most of the films you mentioned, ‘Taxi Driver, The Exorcist’ etc. were more mainstream. With large ad campaigns to set up interest. In films that planted many directors on the map. Or helped to keep their reputations for superior quality intact.

        Story, performance and execution mean a lot to me. And my five favorites have their stories trimmed of excess fat and subplot to very economical times. Coppola gambled BIG on ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ and he thankfully won big as well. Though I think ‘The Conversation’ has a better, more compact story to tell.

        While Paul Schrader wrote William Devane’s Maj. Raynes as more of “A man with a mission” in ‘Rolling Thunder’. He slipped into the “All returning Vietnam veterans are Psychos!” vein that has never sat well with me.

        1. Dazed and Confused–that’s precisely what the climate was like for me in high school. Shaggy, pot-smoking, drinking, bib-overalls-bullies-poofy-big-hair-blonde-things.
          (Not me. I watched them from the periphery just like the movie.)

  5. favorites from the 90’s: 1990 Goodfellas *Bullet in the Head * Edward Scissorhands * King of New York * Ju Dou * Q & A *Days of Being Wild * Vincent and Theo * Wild at Heart * Total Recall * The Garden 1991 Prospero’s Books * Raise the Red Lantern * Rhapsody in August * The Doors * Edward II * My Own Private Idaho * Double Life of Veronique * La Belle Noiseuse 1992 Hard Boiled * El Mariachi *Glengarry Glen Ross * Malcolm X * Visions of Light * The Playboys * Orlando 1993 Three Colors: Blue * In the Name of the Father * What’s Eating Gilbert Grape * The Blue Kite * Farewell My Concubine 1994 Pulp Fiction * Ed Wood The Professional * Exotica * To Live * Vanya on 42 Street * Chungking Express * Three Colors: White Three Colors: Red 1995 Beyond Rangoon * Underground * Casino * The Crossing Guard * Kids 1996 Secrets and Lies * Comrades: Almost a Love Story * Before and After 1997 Starship Troopers * The Sweet Hereafter * Open Your Eyes * The Soong Sisters 1998 The Thin Red Line * Velvet Goldmine * American History X * Central Station * Ringu * Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl 1999 Eyes Wide Shut * American Movie * Dogma * Princess Mononoke * Ride With the Devil *Running Out of Time * Moloch * Not One Less * Time Regained

  6. Total Recall, In the Name of the Father, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, American History X–yes, add those to my list for films we agree are highlights of the decade. Thank you, Bill 🙂

  7. Due to time constraints, I had to put off reading this blog post until today, but have been chomping at the bit to do so.

    First, let me say welcome back, Cindy!

    Second – oh where to begin? First, I agree totally with your remarks about Tom Hanks. Such a versatile actor. I loved ‘A League of their Own,’ ‘Splash,’ and so many of his other comedies. He then moved into more dramatic films such as ‘Philadelphia’ and, of course, ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ I always remember the opening few minutes of that film. Even now, it chills me… those young boys fighting choppy waters, coming to shore in Normandy, many losing their lives within minutes. I was shaken by that opening, and wondered if I’d be able to watch the rest of the film. It was searing and still remains with me.

    Ah, Robert DeNiro. My favorite DeNiro film is ‘Casino,’ a terrific mob movie. I know we’re speaking about the 1990s, but can we just give Mr. DeNiro a nod for his performance in ‘New York, New York’ back in the 1970s or 8os? I loved his performance opposite Liza Minelli. The last of the soppy and sappy big screen musicals, maybe. Panned by many, but I love that film – and I love it largely because of DeNiro. I think he was married to a gorgeous African American woman at the time… darn, I cannot recall her name… but in the film she gave a very sexy rendition of an old song, ‘Honey Suckle Rose.’

    Back to the 1990s, you mentioned ‘L.A. Confidential’ – another great film.

    It’s so good to have you back, Cindy; I’ve missed posts like this.

    1. Hiya Kate! I’m ever thankful for your comments 🙂
      I really loved NY, NY even though it wasn’t ranked as high as we would give it. I think the chemistry was off between DeNiro and Minnelli, but individually, they gave great performances. Ah, the 90s. Many, many great films, not just good films, but great ones. Thank you 🙂

  8. Took me a few min’s to decide if you are right, and yes I think you may be the 90s were arguably the best ever decade for great movies. There are just too many great highlights like Pulp Fiction, Shawshank and so many more

  9. Glad to have found this place. I go back and forth between picking the 70s and 90s as the best decade, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either.

  10. Very cool post! I think I miiiight prefer the 70s overall, but yeah, the 90s was a pretty awesome decade for film. I can’t think of a better actor to represent it than Tom Hanks either. He was on quite a hot streak back then.

    1. Hi Eric! Thanks much and, yes, the 70s is a fab decade in film, but still, I would say the 90s were more well rounded and exciting times for veteran directors and new ones like Tarantino. Others pointed to the comedy and animation. I only limited myself to drama…. 🙂

      1. To be certain, l there are other great decades for film. The ’40s are pretty epic. The ’60s and ’70s each had their golden movies. And the 2010s are shaping up to be memorable. But I too will take the ’90s over all of them, by the slimmest of margins.

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