The ’90s ruled. This exciting decade — in which I enjoyed my teenage and young adult years — left its mark with arguably the greatest decade of cinema and on record. A modern perspective on cinema is that we are too overwhelmed by choice; big-budget franchises have hijacked movie theaters. Thankfully, a recent online discussion lists some incredible ’90s cult films you can enjoy instead.
1. El Mariachi (1992)
Robert Rodrigues’ debut is a stunning, low-budget, high-concept movie with a notable backstory. Set in dusty Mexican towns, this stylish film follows a humble mariachi pursued by cutthroat gangs after a case of mistaken identity. “He financed it (about $7,000) by spending a month having drugs tested on him in a clinical research facility,” reveals a commenter. “He wrote it while in the facility.”
2. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s slow-moving coming-of-age slacker comedy made this small-town Englishman jealous of American high schoolers. The movie follows a group of students enjoying the last school day before summer vacation. One of the film’s best aspects is seeing a young Matthew McConaughey stealing each scene as the local lothario. His lines are legendary: “That’s what I love about these high school girls — I get older; they stay the same age!”
3. Man Bites Dog (1992)
A dark comedy, Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary-style movie following a Belgian serial killer in his everyday life. Shot in 16mm black and white, the film’s fly-on-the-wall portrayal of an affable psychopath is a masterpiece of comedy acting. “Man Bites Dog is such an influential film that most people have never heard of,” raves a moviegoer. “One of the few films that manages to be terrifying and hilarious all at once.”
4. Buffalo ’66 (1998)
In a decade littered with daring independent films straddling a fine line between arthouse cinema and anarchic comedy, Buffalo ’66 stands out as a great example of ’90s indie moviemaking. Starring producer and director Vincent Gallo, the movie is a bizarre dark comedy about a man who leaves prison and kidnaps a young woman he pretends is his wife before visiting his crazy parents.
5. Trainspotting (1996)
Ewan McGregor has to thank Irvin Welsh and Danny Boyle, considering this masterpiece propelled almost him and every cast member into a successful acting career. His portrayal of addict Renton trying to escape Edinburgh’s drug-fuelled social scene is mesmerizing. Trainspotting‘s depiction of heroin addiction and Scottish identity in post-Thatcherite Britain is spot-on.
6. Fargo (1996)
One of Fargo’s greatest tricks is persuading an uninformed viewer base that the movie depicts true events. Something is unnerving about this inside kidnapping job gone wrong. The film’s genius is the juxtaposition of a cold, brutal storyline interspersed with elements of charming North Dakota friendliness.
7. The Fisher King (1991)
Terry Gilliam is one of those directors whose projects require buy-in from all above and below-the-line stakeholders to work. Subsequently, his films can miss the mark more often than not. The Fisher King is one of Gilliam’s hits, featuring a homeless man suffering post-traumatic stress after losing a loved one. He then befriends a discouraged radio show host who he discovers inadvertently ruined his life.
8. Before Sunrise (1995)
The opening part of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, starring a young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The film’s treatment of a hypothetical romance about an American tourist who falls in love with a French woman as they disembark a Euroline train one day in Vienna. The film is renowned for its minimalistic plot and what most fans thought was improvised dialogue. However, both actors swore they followed the script to the letter.
9. Singles (1992)
Not many films capture the ’90s zeitgeist better than Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-based comedy-drama. The movie capitalized on the popularity of Seattle’s grunge scene, giving cameos to several prominent Seattle scene acts, including Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.
“Singles pretty much sums up the Gen-X, young adult ’90s experience,” adds a forty-something commenter. I would give anything to go back and experience that feeling again — something Gen-Z will sadly never know.
10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Possibly the greatest sci-fi movie of the decade, James Cameron — us per usual — took CGI to a new level with his Terminator sequel. One of the few films better than the original, this epic, action-packed thriller sees Schwarzenegger at his peak as the T-800 cyborg, helping save the human race from Skynet’s murderous extinction by protecting a rebellious teenage John Connor.
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