140 Essential 90s Movies

Wazzup, home skillet! You must’ve left your pager in your other pair of Zubaz, ‘cuz the 1990s are trying to get in touch: The decade’s back, and it’s brought 140 friends!

Rotten Tomatoes, the Fresh prince of review aggregators, presents our list of the 140 Essential ’90s Movies, ranging from Certified Fresh to Rotten, all reppin’ 10 years of cinema that upended the biz! Our selections cross the era’s cultural checkpoints, including the American independent golden era (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting), animation renaissance (The Lion King, the Toy Story movies), slasher revival (Scream), and the full maturation of auteurs like Scorsese and Spielberg under the studio system…just as the same studios pumped out big, star-driven crass comedies (Happy Gilmore, There’s Something About Mary) and effects-driven blockbusters (Titanic, Independence Day).

So slap on that bracelet and resurrect your Tamagotchi bestie, because these aren’t just the best ’90s movies, dude — they’re totally Essential! And if you’re looking for more blasts from the past, check out our list of 140 Essential 80s Movies! Schwing!


More Essential Movies By Decade
1970s | 1980s | 2000s
#140

Empire Records (1995)
29%

#140
Adjusted Score: 29602%
Critics Consensus: Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy.
Synopsis: Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) runs Empire Records, an independent Delaware store that employs a tight-knit group of music-savvy youths. Hearing that... [More]
Directed By: Allan Moyle

#139

Half Baked (1998)
29%

#139
Adjusted Score: 29460%
Critics Consensus: You'd have to be high to dig Half Baked's half baked production and scattershot sense of humor -- although maybe that was the point of this Dave Chapelle-led joint.
Synopsis: When a member of their crew gets arrested for killing a New York City police horse by feeding it junk... [More]
Directed By: Tamra Davis

#138

Showgirls (1995)
23%

#138
Adjusted Score: 26081%
Critics Consensus: Vile, contemptible, garish, and misogynistic -- and that might just be exactly Showgirls' point.
Synopsis: Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) arrives in Las Vegas with only a suitcase and a dream of becoming a top showgirl. She... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven

#137

Basic Instinct (1992)
56%

#137
Adjusted Score: 61907%
Critics Consensus: Unevenly echoing the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Basic Instinct contains a star-making performance from Sharon Stone but is ultimately undone by its problematic, overly lurid plot.
Synopsis: The mysterious Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a beautiful crime novelist, becomes a suspect when she is linked to the brutal... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven

#136

Poetic Justice (1993)
34%

#136
Adjusted Score: 36042%
Critics Consensus: Poetic Justice is commendably ambitious and boasts a pair of appealing stars, but they're undermined by writer-director John Singleton's frustrating lack of discipline.
Synopsis: Still grieving after the murder of her boyfriend, hairdresser Justice (Janet Jackson) writes poetry to deal with the pain of... [More]
Directed By: John Singleton

#135

Gummo (1997)
38%

#135
Adjusted Score: 40091%
Critics Consensus: Gummo's bold provocations may impress more iconoclastically inclined viewers, but others will find it hard to see past writer-director Harmony Korine's overwhelmingly sour storytelling perspective.
Synopsis: Teen friends Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) navigate the ruins of a tiny, tornado-ravaged town in Ohio that... [More]
Directed By: Harmony Korine

#134

Kids (1995)
47%

#134
Adjusted Score: 49464%
Critics Consensus: Kids isn't afraid to test viewers' limits, but the point of its nearly non-stop provocation is likely to be lost in all the repellent characters and unpleasant imagery.
Synopsis: Amoral teen Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) has made it his goal to sleep with as many virgin girls as possible --... [More]
Directed By: Larry Clark

#133

Dead Man (1995)
70%

#133
Adjusted Score: 72080%
Critics Consensus: While decidedly not for all tastes, Dead Man marks an alluring change of pace for writer-director Jim Jarmusch that demonstrates an assured command of challenging material.
Synopsis: Circumstances transform a mild-mannered accountant (Johnny Depp) into a notorious Old West gunslinger.... [More]
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

#132

The Rock (1996)
68%

#132
Adjusted Score: 70820%
Critics Consensus: For visceral thrills, it can't be beat. Just don't expect The Rock to engage your brain.
Synopsis: FBI chemical warfare expert Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is sent on an urgent mission with a former British spy, John... [More]
Directed By: Michael Bay

#131
#131
Adjusted Score: 92371%
Critics Consensus: Full of creepy campfire scares, mock-doc The Blair Witch Project keeps audiences in the dark about its titular villain, proving once more that imagination can be as scary as anything onscreen.
Synopsis: Found video footage tells the tale of three film students (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams) who've traveled to... [More]

#130
#130
Adjusted Score: 83060%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In Arizona, an introverted and insightful teenager, Mark Hunter (Christian Slater), finds an outlet for his viewpoints through a shortwave... [More]
Directed By: Allan Moyle

#129

Man Bites Dog (1992)
74%

#129
Adjusted Score: 73849%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The activities of rampaging, indiscriminate serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) are recorded by a willingly complicit documentary team, who eventually... [More]

#128
Adjusted Score: 52200%
Critics Consensus: Visually creative, but also aimless, repetitive, and devoid of character development.
Synopsis: Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) drive a red convertible across the Mojave desert... [More]
Directed By: Terry Gilliam

#127
#127
Adjusted Score: 84293%
Critics Consensus: Benigni's earnest charm, when not overstepping its bounds into the unnecessarily treacly, offers the possibility of hope in the face of unflinching horror.
Synopsis: A gentle Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni), meets Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a pretty schoolteacher, and wins her over with... [More]
Directed By: Roberto Benigni

#126

Space Jam (1996)
44%

#126
Adjusted Score: 48024%
Critics Consensus: While it's no slam dunk, Space Jam's silly, Looney Toons-laden slapstick and vivid animation will leave younger viewers satisfied -- though accompanying adults may be more annoyed than entertained.
Synopsis: Swackhammer (Danny DeVito), an evil alien theme park owner, needs a new attraction at Moron Mountain. When his gang, the... [More]
Directed By: Joe Pytka

#125

Hackers (1995)
31%

#125
Adjusted Score: 33464%
Critics Consensus: Hackers has a certain stylish appeal, but its slick visuals and appealing young cast can't compensate for a clichéd and disappointingly uninspired story.
Synopsis: A teenage hacker finds himself framed for the theft of millions of dollars from a major corporation. Master hacker Dade... [More]
Directed By: Iain Softley

#124

Happy Gilmore (1996)
61%

#124
Adjusted Score: 63824%
Critics Consensus: Those who enjoy Adam Sandler's schtick will find plenty to love in this gleefully juvenile take on professional golf; those who don't, however, will find it unfunny and forgettable.
Synopsis: All Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler) has ever wanted is to be a professional hockey player. But he soon discovers he... [More]
Directed By: Dennis Dugan

#123
#123
Adjusted Score: 58462%
Critics Consensus: Unoriginal and unremarkable high school satire adds little to the genre.
Synopsis: Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore), a baby-faced junior copywriter at the Chicago Sun-Times, must pose as a student at her former... [More]
Directed By: Raja Gosnell

#122

Tommy Boy (1995)
41%

#122
Adjusted Score: 42387%
Critics Consensus: Though it benefits from the comic charms of its two leads, Tommy Boy too often feels like a familiar sketch stretched thin.
Synopsis: After his beloved father (Brian Dennehy) dies, dimwitted Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) inherits a near-bankrupt automobile parts factory in Sandusky,... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

#121
#121
Adjusted Score: 71960%
Critics Consensus: Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger add strong performances to an unexpectedly clever script, elevating 10 Things (slightly) above typical teen fare.
Synopsis: Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is beautiful, smart and quite abrasive to most of her fellow teens, meaning that she doesn't... [More]
Directed By: Gil Junger

#120

Hook (1991)
29%

#120
Adjusted Score: 33546%
Critics Consensus: The look of Hook is lively indeed but Steven Spielberg directs on autopilot here, giving in too quickly to his sentimental, syrupy qualities.
Synopsis: When his young children are abducted by his old nemesis, Capt. Hook (Dustin Hoffman), middle-aged lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams)... [More]
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

#119

Muriel's Wedding (1994)
80%

#119
Adjusted Score: 82375%
Critics Consensus: Heartfelt and quirky, though at times broad, Muriel's Wedding mixes awkward comedy, oddball Australian characters, and a nostalgia-heavy soundtrack.
Synopsis: Socially awkward Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) wants nothing more than to get married. Unfortunately, due to her oppressive politician father... [More]
Directed By: P.J. Hogan

#118

Singles (1992)
79%

#118
Adjusted Score: 82061%
Critics Consensus: Smart, funny, and engagingly scruffy, Singles is a clear-eyed look at modern romance that doubles as a credible grunge-era time capsule.
Synopsis: In Seattle during the era of grunge music, the lives and relationships of a group of young people, all living... [More]
Directed By: Cameron Crowe

#117

Mortal Kombat (1995)
45%

#117
Adjusted Score: 46189%
Critics Consensus: Despite an effective otherwordly atmosphere and appropriately cheesy visuals, Mortal Kombat suffers from its poorly constructed plot, laughable dialogue, and subpar acting.
Synopsis: Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert) handpicks three martial artists -- federal agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), Shaolin monk Lui Kang (Robin... [More]
Directed By: Paul Anderson

#116

Sister Act (1992)
74%

#116
Adjusted Score: 75627%
Critics Consensus: Looking for a sweet musical comedy about a witness to a crime hiding out from killers in a convent? There's nun better than Sister Act.
Synopsis: When lively lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) sees her mobster beau, Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel), commit murder, she... [More]
Directed By: Emile Ardolino

#115

He Got Game (1998)
81%

#115
Adjusted Score: 81647%
Critics Consensus: Though not without its flaws, He Got Game finds Spike Lee near the top of his game, combining trenchant commentary with his signature visuals and a strong performance from Denzel Washington.
Synopsis: Jake Shuttleworth (Denzel Washington) has spent the last six years in prison after accidentally killing his wife during a violent... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee

#114

Boys Don't Cry (1999)
89%

#114
Adjusted Score: 91060%
Critics Consensus: Harrowing yet stirring, Boys Don't Cry powerfully commemorates the life -- and brutally unjust death -- of transgender teen Brandon Teena.
Synopsis: Young female-to-male transgender Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) leaves his hometown under threat when his ex-girlfriend's brother discovers that he's biologically... [More]
Directed By: Kimberly Peirce

#113
#113
Adjusted Score: 81388%
Critics Consensus: Not all of its many intriguing ideas are developed, but The City of Lost Children is an engrossing, disturbing, profoundly memorable experience.
Synopsis: Old and decrepit Krank (Daniel Emilfork) has lost his capacity for dreaming and is attempting to fight death by stealing... [More]

#112

American Beauty (1999)
87%

#112
Adjusted Score: 94524%
Critics Consensus: Flawlessly cast and brimming with dark, acid wit, American Beauty is a smart, provocative high point of late '90s mainstream Hollywood film.
Synopsis: Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a gainfully employed suburban husband and father. Fed up with his boring, stagnant existence, he... [More]
Directed By: Sam Mendes

#111

Satan's Tango (1994)
100%

#111
Adjusted Score: 98926%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In Bela Tarr's seven-hour episodic film, inhabitants of a small village in Hungary deal with the effects of the fall... [More]
Directed By: Béla Tarr

#110
#110
Adjusted Score: 82951%
Critics Consensus: A tantalizing glimpse of a talented director and his stars all at the top of their respective games, Gus Van Sant's loose reworking of Henry IV is smart, sad and audacious.
Synopsis: In this loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry IV," Mike Waters (River Phoenix) is a gay hustler afflicted with narcolepsy. Scott... [More]
Directed By: Gus Van Sant

#109
#109
Adjusted Score: 98448%
Critics Consensus: This adaptation of David Mamet's play is every bit as compelling and witty as its source material, thanks in large part to a clever script and a bevy of powerhouse actors.
Synopsis: When an office full of New York City real estate salesmen is given the news that all but the top... [More]
Directed By: James Foley

#108

The Birdcage (1996)
82%

#108
Adjusted Score: 83898%
Critics Consensus: Mike Nichols wrangles agreeably amusing performances from Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this fun, if not quite essential, remake of the French comedy La Cage aux Folles.
Synopsis: In this remake of the classic French farce "La Cage aux Folles," engaged couple Val Goldman (Dan Futterman) and Barbara... [More]
Directed By: Mike Nichols

#107

American Pie (1999)
61%

#107
Adjusted Score: 65416%
Critics Consensus: So embarrassing it's believable, American Pie succeeds in bringing back the teen movie genre.
Synopsis: A riotous and raunchy exploration of the most eagerly anticipated -- and most humiliating -- rite of adulthood, known as... [More]
Directed By: Paul Weitz

#106

Babe (1995)
97%

#106
Adjusted Score: 101465%
Critics Consensus: The rare family-friendly feature with a heart as big as its special effects budget, Babe offers timeless entertainment for viewers of all ages.
Synopsis: Gentle farmer Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) wins a piglet named Babe (Christine Cavanaugh) at a county fair. Narrowly escaping his... [More]
Directed By: Chris Noonan

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