Top Ten Films of the 90s – by Ted Saydalavong

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Love90sThe 90s was the dawn of heavily usage of CGI in films, bloated budgets and digital sound in movie theaters. Batman Returns was the first film to include Dolby Digital in its soundtrack and Jurassic Park was the first film to have used DTS soundtrack. I saw those two films in theater and that’s when I fell in love with digital sound, I thought I was going to go deaf when the T-Rex roared in Jurassic Park, it was that loud and I love every second of it.

The 90s also gave us some great films so it was very difficult to just pick 10 from the decade. I won’t go into plot details of each film because I think people have seen most if not all of them.

Here are my top ten best films of the 90s, in no particular order:

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Tarantino’s second film after Reservoir Dogs and it was a masterpiece. To be honest, I first saw this film in theater and didn’t care for it. A year later when it came out on VHS, I rented it and was blown by it. I think I’ve watched this film at least 50 times and still waiting for it to come out on Blu-Ray.

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2. Goodfellas (1990)

I saw this film a couple of years after it came out in theater and afterwards I was scared shitless of the mobsters. The first 40 minutes of this film was probably one of the best camera techniques I’ve ever witnessed on film, guess that’s what makes Scorsese so great. And oh yeah the rest of the film was pretty good too. This film didn’t win the best picture of the year was a travesty, I don’t know what the Oscar voters were thinking when they gave the best picture nod to Dances with Wolves. I wonder if the box office number has something to do with it, Goodfellas barely made $50mil while Dances with Wolves made close to $200 mil.

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It didn’t win best picture was bad enough but when the Oscar voters gave the best directing effort to Kevin Costner instead of Scorsese, that was even more of a travesty. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Dances with Wolves was a good film but I don’t know how Costner won over Scorsese for directing. Yes some of you will probably remember that Costner was the golden boy back at that time, everything he touches back then turned to gold.

3. The Thin Red Line (1998)

I love everything about this film, from the amazing cinematography to the haunting music by Hans Zimmer. But nothing will top the way Malick directed this war epic as told from the point of view of the soldiers. Now I know that most people prefer Saving Private Ryan over this film and I won’t disagree with them because I thought both films were great but I just like this one better. I remember when Malick announced that he’s coming back to Hollywood and make a new film, seemed like every big name actors wanted to be in it. This was Malick’s first film since he directed Days of Heaven (one of my all-time favorite films), back in 1978.

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Check out this clip of Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese revealing their favorite films from the 90s. Why? Because the master Scorsese named The Thin Red Line as one of his favorite films from the decade too:


4. Heat (1995)

Michael Mann made three great films in the 90s, The Last of the Mohican, Heat and The Insider. I love all three but I have to go with Heat as the best one. To me Heat is timeless, I have it on Blu-ray and every time I watch it, it doesn’t feel like it’s from the mid-90s. One minor complaint I have with the film it’s a bit too long, a few scenes could’ve been cut out and it still would’ve been a great film. The theme music my Elliot Goldenthal is one of the best I’ve ever heard, can’t believe he’s the same person who composed Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, probably two of the worst comic book based films ever and the soundtrack by Goldenthal was equally awful. He came back and worked with Mann again in 2009’s Public Enemies.

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A little known fact about the cast, Keanu Reeves was cast in the Val Kilmer’s role but dropped out the last minute to do Speed and Kilmer stepped in.

The trailer still gives me goose bumps:


5. Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood’s last western film and arguably was his best one, I know some will say that The Outlaw Josey Wales was better but I prefer this one. I feel that this film was in some ways a closure to the man with no name trilogy, not the awful Pale Rider. Gene Hackman won an Oscar for his role for the bad ass Little Bill and he truly deserved it. It also has great supporting roles by Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris.

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6. Se7en (1995)

After the disastrous Alien 3, David Fincher was black listed by the Hollywood folks (read more about it here). He got all the blames for that film’s failure and it wasn’t even his fault. So when Arnold Koppleson was looking for a director for Se7en, most of the well known directors at the time all turned him down, they thought that Se7en will ruin their career. So Koppleson offered the job to Fincher and as they say the rest is history.

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The film got rave reviews and was a box office hit and of course it catapulted Fincher into an A-list director. To those who’ve never seen the movie, I won’t say anything about it. Just see it and be amaze by it. Warning though, the film starts out dark and ends even darker.

Check out the trailer:


7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

T2 was the first film I saw in 70mm screen, for those who don’t know what a 70mm screen is and wanted to know more about it, please read here. Basically it’s similar to IMAX today; films shot in 35mm were up-converted so it can be projected on the 70mm screen. I was blown away by the huge wide screen and the six channels surround sound. The film was the first to actually cost over $100mil to produce, seems like every film Cameron makes the budget gets higher and higher.

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I can’t say enough how much I love this movie, I bought a VHS copy when it came out on home video, then when DVD took over, I bought the DVD . Then when Blu-ray came out, I bought the Blu-ray version. Unfortunately none of the home video releases captured what I saw in that big 70mm screen back in the summer of 1991.

8. Fargo (1996)

I didn’t see Fargo until probably 2004 or 2005, why? Well back in 1996 I was working at Video Update, remember them? They’re no longer in business anymore. Anyhoo, when Fargo came out on home video, our store only has four copies and people were mad that we didn’t have more in stock.  Customers would yell at me and asked why the hell do we have 80 copies of Mission: Impossible but only 4 of Fargo? Well I told them, Mission Impossible made over $180 mil at box office and Fargo barely made $20 mil and they still yelled at me. Anyways, after dealing with angry customers daily back at the video store, I decided to not see Fargo because it reminded me of people yelling at me.

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So in mid 2000s, I burrowed a DVD copy of Fargo from a friend and watched it. I automatically fell in love with the film and couldn’t believe I’ve waited so long to see it. The Coen Bros. captured everything right about MN, well maybe the accent was a bit overdone but every else was pitched perfect. The cold weather and the dark days of winter were there on the screen.

9. Carlito’s Way (1993)

This film came out in the fall of 1993 and somehow it was ignored by the audience and critics alike. Maybe people were sick of Pacino around this time, he’d just won an Oscar a year earlier and people were still mad at him for doing The Godfather Part 3, again I’m assuming here.  Whatever the reasons were, they missed out on a great gangster flick, also starring Sean Penn as the sleazy lawyer who was unrecognizable in the role. In my opinion this is Brian De Palma’s best film, he hasn’t done any good film since.

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The film has one of the best foot chase and shoot out scenes ever, trust me you’ll love that sequence when you see the movie. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and give it a rent, you won’t be disappointed.

10. Enemy of the States (1998)

I love this movie and have seen it countless times, it’s a throwback to the 70s espionage genre mixed in with 90s action style. They even brought in Gene Hackman to reprise his role from The Conversation, yeah I know it’s not official that he’s playing the same character but if you’ve seen the 1974 film then you know he’s playing the same person. To date this is Will Smith’s best film and Tony Scott’s last great action film.

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A little history behind this film, it was supposed to star Tom Cruise, reuniting him with Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott, they did Top Gun and Days of Thunder together. But Cruise was stuck doing Eyes Wide Shut he was committed to shooting M: I-2 right after so he couldn’t be in this movie. Will Smith was cast instead and it did a decent number at the box office.


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Well those are my ten best films from the 90s. Agree or disagree? Let me know and feel free to list your own favorites from that era.

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56 thoughts on “Top Ten Films of the 90s – by Ted Saydalavong

  1. A couple of my favourites but since the 90s was all about slacker comedies for me I think my list would look a bit different.

    • Yeah the 90s did have a lot of good comedies but since it’s not my favorite genre, I couldn’t include one on the list.

  2. Tough to narrow down! Carlito’s Way is a great left-field pick, it really is very good. I should try and compile my own, T2 and Pulp Fiction would be on my list too.

    • I love Carlito’s Way, I wanted to go see it in a theater but it got pulled out of theaters so fast because it wasn’t making any money at the box office. The studio hoped it was going to be an Oscar contender but when it came out, most people hated it including the big named critics. I think most of them have changed their tune quite a bit now.

  3. As much as I love this list and the films on it, I don’t think any of them would make my top ten, which only proves that the 90’s was one of the best decades for film, period.

    • What’s your top ten looks like Andrew? Just curious to see another person’s list and yes the 90s was a great decade for films.

  4. great list Ted!

    My list would be a bit different, but I can agree with 8/10 that they are at least worthy of being there. Never saw Carlito’s Way (I’m gonna see it soon based on your write-up) and I couldn’t stand The Thin Red Line. I hated it when I saw it in the theater and turned it off when I tried to re-watch it a few years ago.

    Granted, I’m willing to admit that I probably just didn’t understand it (I’m that way with some other Malick flick’s too especially Tree of Life)

    Saving Private Ryan was just so much better IMHO. I believe that was the biggest Oscar upset in the 90’s. Goodfellas was great, but I do understand why Dances with Wolves won. Goes with a similar reasoning as to why 12 Years a Slave won this year.

    My list would probably include Saving Private Ryan, Shawshank, Apollo 13 and Reservoir Dogs to name a few.

    I’d have to think hard to choose my 10 favorite tho.

    Nicely done!

    • Thanks Rob!

      I highly recommend Carlito’s Way, it’s one of the most underrated films from that decade. You know I felt the same way about The Thin Red Line when I first saw it. I turned off the DVD and didn’t watch it again a few years later. That’s when I fell in love with it and I know it’s not for everyone.

      Yup, Dances with Wolves was the darling of the awards season that year.

      I enjoyed all of the films you mentioned, the 90s was a good decade for film lovers everywhere.

    • It’s not too late, all of those films are available on Bluray including Pulp Fiction (I wrote the article before it came out on Bluray), DVD and some are available for streaming. Hope you’ll enjoy the ones you haven’t seen yet.

  5. Hi Ted, It took me a while to see Fargo too. As soon as I saw the first caption saying it was a true story that happened in MN I was hooked. But after watching the whole film I realized I’d been sucked in. True story, huh? Hardly ;-) Anyway, now (I’m just guessing) to fill the void left by Breaking Bad there’s Fargo the TV series on FX. What a hoot!

    • Hey Becky, ha ha yeah. Every time I read that a film is based on true story, I always roll my eyes, nothing Hollywood produces feels real to me.

      You know I love the TV show Fargo too! It’s totally new storyline but it’s still great just like the movie.

      • Yes, I think we would have heard about someone getting death by woodchopper, or explosion in a parking ramp on the local news if that really really happened here ;-D.
        Yep, new story line for TV, but all the characters, especially Martin Freeman channeling William H. Macy (!) are true to the originals, to a tee.

  6. a great list here. some classics. I have a hard time coming up with a top ten list from the 90’s. It’s no easy feat. Nicely done. I don’t know what I would settle on for my Top Ten but I think one or two from your list would be on mine!

    • Hey T., would love to see your top ten list. It’s not easy coming up with just ten movies from a great decade for films.

  7. HI Ted, nice list. I LOVE the 90s in films. You left out quite a few of my personal favorites. Such as The Matrix, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Silence of the Lambs, Shawshank Redemption, The Big Lebowski, The Piano, Dances with Wolves, The Usual Suspects, The Age of Innocence and Titanic….:)

    • Thanks Cindy, I really those films you mentioned too, just not enough to make my top ten list. :) The 90s was a good decade for film lovers.

  8. Gotta agree with Pulp Fiction, Se7en, The Thin Red Line, Fargo and Unforgiven, Top notch. This is all debatable but I put in The Shawshank Redemption, The Sweet Hereafter, The Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List and The Usual Suspects. I maybe be missing some but I can live with those. Those are all damn near perfectly realized films to me.

    Still have to see Carlito’s Way and just never cared for Tony Scott.

    • Wow Dave you haven’t seen Carlito’s Way? You’ll have to check it out, I think you’re a fan of De Palma? If so, you’ll enjoy it. I think it’s his best film period.

      • Well I’m certainly a fan of pre-90’s DePalma. From The Untouchables all the way back to Sisters. I’ll put Carlito’s Way on my list.

    • The Silence Of The Lambs is absolutely over-rated. Mr. Lecter appears more like an over-acting James Bond villain to me. I rather prefer Michael Mann’s ‘Manhunter (1986)’. Watch Siskel & Ebert’s review of ‘The Silence…’

      • Amol while I really liked Manhunter and it’s 80’s, neon vibe that Mann created, Brian Cox’s Hannibal didn’t leave quite the same impression that Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal left on me. Was his portrayal of Hannibal flamboyant, maybe even campy? Sure. Lecter was a genius who liked toying with people… psychoanalyzing them. His ego knew no bounds. His flare for the dramatic was purely to amuse himself, Interestingly enough it was Hopkins’s idea to have Lecter dress in all white to bring out people’s fear of doctors and dentists Also he based his personality on HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A super intelligent being with no conscience. Lastly in the “rube” scene he made fun of Foster’s West Virginia accent off camera to the point that it actually got to her Watch her face… she can just barely hold back her genuine emotion. His acting methodology is pretty solid in my book. All in just 16 minutes of screen time.

        As far as the movie goes a jury of it’s peers gave it Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Directing and Screenplay. A feat only to happen two other times in Oscar history (It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) which is no small feat. Has the Academy made some curious choices? Sure… Crash, Shakespeare in Love and Rocky, Ordinary People, and Dances With Wolves over Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. I don’t think this is the case here. Demme took what ostensibly is a B-movie and turned it into an Oscar winner. Considering Demme was a protoge of Roger Corman it shouldn’t come as a surprise he was able to pull it off. (Corman had a cameo as a FBI director in the movie) The doorbell fake out scene and Lecter’s escape from the courthouse scene were great exercises in tension. Unfortunately everyone only remembers “It puts the lotion in the basket.”, the “fava beans and a nice Chianti,,, ffaffaffaffaffaffa” or my favorite line, “I’m having an old friend for dinner”. LOL. Sadly in all of the other movies in the canon I can’t remember a single line from any of them.

        As far as watching At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert.. I always took Ebert. who ignominiously penned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. with a grain of salt. LOL. In a weird twist of fate, Charles Napier, the cop who was killed by Lector in the courthouse escape scene from Silence, can be found busting a move in the trailer for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls below. Groovy..

        • Totally agree with you on Silence of the Lambs Dave. I liked Mann’s Manhunter but it’s way too 80s for me and even though Cox’s Lecter performance was descent, he wasn’t on the screen that long and so he wasn’t memorable to me either. Hopkins on the hand, I thought he’s wonderful as the genius/crazy Lecter. He captured pretty much everything from the book version and amped it up even more with his performance. Also, the film was released in the winter season since the studio didn’t think it would make any money or get any awards, of course they were wrong.

  9. Excellent list and a very well-written article. Fargo and Goodfellas stand out for me. (Though I’ve still to see a few – woops!). I also love that Ebert/Scorsese clip, could listen to the pair the ‘em ramble on about movies for eternity.

    Adam.

    • Thanks Adam. Yes I love watching and listening to both Ebert and Scorsese talks about films. I really miss watching Siskel & Ebert, probably the only two movie critics I really respected.

  10. Very good list Ted. There are many of my favourite films in here: Pulp Fiction, The Thin Red Line, Se7en, Unforgiven, Goodfellas, Heat. Top class all of them. The 90’s was such a great decade for movies. So glad to see you include the highly underrated Carlito’s Way as well. That is definitely still DePalma’s best.

    A couple of inclusions from me would be L.A Confidential, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects and I’d swap Fargo for The Big Lebowski.

    • Thank Mark, yeah the 90s was a good decade for film lovers.

      I know, I always recommend people to see Carlito’s Way, it’s such an underrated film. I think when it came out, people just didn’t care to see another larger than life role by Pacino and many still hated De Palma for making The Bonfire of Vanity. It’s too bad because they missed out on a great film.

  11. Hi, Ted:

    Great compilation of films!

    To quote Heath Ledger… “So serious!”

    Loved Goodfellas for its SteadyCam work through kitchens and nightclubs while Ray Liotta was courting Lorraine Bracco. Also for Joe Pesci being Joe Pesci. On steroids!

    Batman Returns was more of a massively overblown ad campaign than a viable film.

    I don’t know what town, city or burg Se7en was supposed to be focused in. But I would not want to live, let alone be a Murder Police there. Always raining and very depressing!

    Great catches on Enemy of the State and Carlito’s Way . The former is even more intriguing if you look at it as an extension of eavesdropping and surveillance Master Sensei, Harry Caul from Coppola’s The Conversation .

    While De Palma got most everything right about judge Joe Torres’ novel. And fleshed it out wonderfully with bravuro performances from Pacino and a near unrecognizable Sean Penn!

    • Hey Jack,

      Ha ha yeah, it seems all of my favorite films from that decade were pretty violent and serious films.

      I know some people didn’t care for either Enemy of the State or Carlito’s Way but I loved those two films.

  12. I think this is an excellent list. While I am a bit disappointed by the lack of foreign film titles in that list but this is still good. Enemy of the State is very underrated as I like to think of it more as an update of Blow-Up which would inspire The Conversation and later, Blow-Out.

    • You know I should’ve rename the title to Top Ten Domestic Films of the 90s. I definitely saw some great foreign films from that decade but didn’t include them here because I was only thinking of films release here in the States.

      Yup, so many people dismissed Enemy of the State because it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott and they’d assume it’s just another mindless action flick. Funny thing is the film’s actually quite tame when it comes to action and spectacles, it only included one big car chase and a shoot out, pretty rare for a film in that era.

    • If I was to make top 20 list then LA Confidential and Schidler’s List would definitely be on that list. Like I said, there were so many great films from that decade and it’s hard to just pick ten.

  13. Terrific list. Hard to be picky on a top ten of the 90’s. BUT, hahahaha, I would probably replace Thin Red Line and Enemy of the State with The Matrix and Braveheart. Might also boot Carlito’s Way or Heat for either Forrest Gump of Shawshank Redemption. Just a TON of great movies in that decade. I ranked as the best ever from the 1950’s to today.

  14. Thanks Gene.

    Yeah the 90s were great for film lovers and as I said above, if I was to make top 20 list, the films you mentioned would’ve be on it. It’s hard picking just 10 films from a great decade of films.

  15. I’ve seen most of the movies you’ve named and GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction, and The Thin Red Line would make mine as well. Excellent list.

    • Thanks! What’s so funny was that the first time I saw Pulp Fiction, I sort of hated it, I thought it’s going to be this shoot’em up action film. People were saying how violent it was and so on, but when I saw it, it’s just weird and not that violent at all! Thankfully I gave it another shot and love it ever since.

  16. All good films, though a bit surprised to see Carlito’s Way and Enemy of the State included. Also, I’m pleasantly taken by The Thin Red Line’s inclusion on this list, which does not nearly get the kind of credit that it deserves. Of the films that would probably feature in my own top 10 of the 1990s you have T2, Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven and Goodfellas. Other personal favorites of mine that come to mind are: Magnolia, Groundhog Day, The Shawshank Redemption, Lion King, Big Night, Trainspotting, Schindler’s List and Reservoir Dogs, among many others.

    • As I mentioned, it’s hard to just pick 10 movies from that decade and I have to include Carlito’s Way and Enemy of State because I absolutely love them. I think The Thin Red Line was just not a film that some people will like, it’s a Malick’s film, people will either hate it or love it.

      I think Magnolia, Schindler’s List and Reservoir Dogs would be on my top 20 list.

    • You be disappointed with those two flicks Josh, Carlito’s Way might be one of the most underrated films ever. I don’t know why but when it came out back in 1993, people ignored it and most critics didn’t care for it.

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