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


Empire Records (1995)

Adjusted Score: 30.638%
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: A funky little record shop provides the setting for this youthful comedy that centers on the workers there as they... [More]
Directed By: Allan Moyle


Half Baked (1998)

Adjusted Score: 29.556%
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: It's dopey time, again, in this pat-addled buddy movie that will scare you straight with its lack of humor.... [More]
Directed By: Tamra Davis


Showgirls (1995)

Adjusted Score: 25.19%
Critics Consensus: Vile, contemptible, garish, and misogynistic -- and that might just be exactly Showgirls' point.
Synopsis: Nomi, an attractive drifter, arrives in Las Vegas with plans to become a dancer. Soon she gets a job stripping... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven


Basic Instinct (1992)

Adjusted Score: 57.4%
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: Michael Douglas stars with red-hot Sharon Stone in this groundbreaking and controversial film that redefined the genre of the sexy... [More]
Directed By: Paul Verhoeven


Poetic Justice (1993)

Adjusted Score: 38.776%
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: R&B star Janet Jackson made an impressive film debut in Poetic Justice as Justice, a hairdresser at a small salon... [More]
Directed By: John Singleton


Gummo (1997)

Adjusted Score: 37.916%
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: Some time after a devastating tornado has leveled their town, a group of eclectic, ennui-stricken teenagers in Xenia, Ohio pass... [More]
Directed By: Harmony Korine


Kids (1995)

Adjusted Score: 49.345%
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: Telly is a New York teen who has a goal to de-flower as many virgins as he can. When one... [More]
Directed By: Larry Clark


Dead Man (1995)

Adjusted Score: 74.035%
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: Jim Jarmusch takes his quirky, uniquely modern sensibilities back in time, with this western black comedy about a city slicker... [More]
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch


The Rock (1996)

Adjusted Score: 69.339%
Critics Consensus: For visceral thrills, it can't be beat. Just don't expect The Rock to engage your brain.
Synopsis: The sophomore film from former music video and commercial director Michael Bay, this fast-paced action yarn featured rapid-fire editing, a... [More]
Directed By: Michael Bay

Adjusted Score: 94.179%
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: Combining Hi-8 video with black-and-white 16 mm film, this film presents a raw look at what can happen when college... [More]

Adjusted Score: 80.866%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Teenage angst finds a new voice in this drama. By day, Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) is a quiet, studious student... [More]
Directed By: Allan Moyle


Man Bites Dog (1992)

Adjusted Score: 72.568%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Man Bites Dog is a Belgian faux-documentary and high-concept satire of media violence which follows the lethal exploits of Benoit... [More]

Adjusted Score: 53.408%
Critics Consensus: Visually creative, but also aimless, repetitive, and devoid of character development.
Synopsis: Journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr Gonzo drive from LA to Las Vegas on a drugs binge. They nominally... [More]
Directed By: Terry Gilliam

Adjusted Score: 85.309%
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: In this WW II tragicomedy, famed Italian funnyman Roberto Benigni (The Monster) portrays Guido, who moves during the '30s from... [More]
Directed By: Roberto Benigni


Space Jam (1996)

Adjusted Score: 47.152%
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: Basketball superstar Michael Jordan and cartoon favorite Bugs Bunny team up with other basketball greats and Looney Tunes characters in... [More]
Directed By: Joe Pytka


Hackers (1995)

Adjusted Score: 35.492%
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: After breaking into the computers of a massive oil company, a group of teen-age hackers uncovers evidence of a wide-ranging... [More]
Directed By: Iain Softley


Happy Gilmore (1996)

Adjusted Score: 63.661%
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: A failed hockey player turned unconventional golf whiz is determined to win a PGA tournament to save his grandmother's house... [More]
Directed By: Dennis Dugan

Adjusted Score: 58.578%
Critics Consensus: Unoriginal and unremarkable high school satire adds little to the genre.
Synopsis: Many people wish they could go back to high school, knowing what they know as an adult; Josie Geller gets... [More]
Directed By: Raja Gosnell


Tommy Boy (1995)

Adjusted Score: 44.336%
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: Saturday Night Live star Chris Farley had his first starring role in this frankly lowbrow comedy, which teamed him with... [More]
Directed By: Peter Segal

Adjusted Score: 70.858%
Critics Consensus: Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger add strong performances to an unexpectedly clever script, elevating 10 Things (slightly) above typical teen fare.
Synopsis: Popular, pretty Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) is in dilemma. A family rule forbids her from dating until her unpopular, rebellious,... [More]
Directed By: Gil Junger


Hook (1991)

Adjusted Score: 30.513%
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: Steven Spielberg filters J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan through a distinctly 1990s sensibility in Hook. Peter Pan has become Peter... [More]
Directed By: Steven Spielberg


Muriel's Wedding (1995)

Adjusted Score: 80.104%
Critics Consensus: Heartfelt and quirky, though at times broad, Muriel's Wedding mixes awkward comedy, oddball Australian characters, and a nostalgia-heavy soundtrack.
Synopsis: A socially inept young woman slowly learns to overcome her insecurities in this sleeper hit from Australia. The unconventional Muriel... [More]
Directed By: P.J. Hogan


Singles (1992)

Adjusted Score: 82.529%
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: Set amidst the burgeoning Seattle alternative music scene of the early '90s, Singles follows a group of twentysomethings as they... [More]
Directed By: Cameron Crowe


Mortal Kombat (1995)

Adjusted Score: 48.948%
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: Three reluctant fighters are drafted for an intergalactic martial-arts tournament that will determine the fate of the human race in... [More]
Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson


Sister Act (1992)

Adjusted Score: 74.265%
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: A sleeper hit that received a lukewarm reception from critics but was a success with audiences, Sister Act (1992) was... [More]
Directed By: Emile Ardolino


He Got Game (1998)

Adjusted Score: 84.02%
Critics Consensus: Though not without its flaws, He Got Game finds Spike Lee at or near the top of his late-period game, combining trenchant commentary with his signature visuals and a strong performance from Denzel Washington.
Synopsis: Denzel Washington does some of his best work as a prison inmate trying to earn himself an early release by... [More]
Directed By: Spike Lee


Boys Don't Cry (1999)

Adjusted Score: 90.961%
Critics Consensus: Hilary Swank's acclaimed performance pays fitting tribute to the tragic life of Brandon Teena.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, Boys Don't Cry was adapted from the life of Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, a... [More]
Directed By: Kimberly Peirce

Adjusted Score: 82.345%
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: In a futuristic city, a daemonic scientist named Krank kidnaps children to tap into their dreams.... [More]


American Beauty (1999)

Adjusted Score: 95.671%
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: A biting, penetrating and often humorous take on contemporary life in suburban America, Lester Burnham becomes intrigued by a young... [More]
Directed By: Sam Mendes

Adjusted Score: 100.309%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: This seven-hour European epic takes place in an abandoned Hungarian farm machinery plant. There live a small band of hobos... [More]
Directed By: Bela Tarr

Adjusted Score: 85.069%
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: Gus Van Sant's dreamtime riff on Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Parts I and II" features River Phoenix as Mike Waters, a... [More]
Directed By: Gus Van Sant

Adjusted Score: 98.79%
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: David Mamet's award-winning play about a group of desperate real estate agents comes to the big screen from director James... [More]
Directed By: James Foley


The Birdcage (1996)

Adjusted Score: 81.254%
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: Armand Goldman owns a popular drag nightclub in South Miami Beach. His long-time lover, Albert, stars there as Starina. "Their"... [More]
Directed By: Mike Nichols


American Pie (1999)

Adjusted Score: 66.585%
Critics Consensus: So embarrassing it's believable, American Pie succeeds in bringing back the teen movie genre.
Synopsis: In this wild Unrated version of the hit comedy, follow the raging hormones of four teenage boys and their girls... [More]
Directed By: Paul Weitz


Babe (1995)

Adjusted Score: 101.431%
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: A young pig fights convention to become a sheep dog -- or, rather, sheep pig -- in this charming Australian... [More]
Directed By: Chris Noonan

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