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The 10 Best Classic 90s Films You May Not Know About

Updated on April 19, 2019
Jon Carthy profile image

Films express life and are as diverse as the characters we meet along the way. Nathan has a BA (Hons) Literature degree and lives in the UK.

10. Red Rock West (1993)

A case of mistaken identity, a killer on the loose and a femme so fatale you better watch your step in this sleepy town and one great neo-noir thriller from director John Dahl. So what makes this so dangerous I just have to watch?

  • A superb cast including Dennis Hopper, Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle work really well together with this cat-and-mouse plot where the audience is left guessing till the end how things will play out.
  • Brilliantly directed and staged, unlike a lot of films of the decade it takes its time and gives plot the overall lead in a great unappreciated classic.

Dennis Hopper Puts The Look Onto Nic Cage in 'Red Rock west'


There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough.

— Dennis Hopper

9. Miller's Crossing (1990)

Another early Coen brothers film this one is set in prohibition era America and follows the problems faced by a fixer trying to avert a war between rival gangs. Who's side is he really on and how far will he go to prove his loyalty? There's even a whole fan theory concerning the significance of hats in the film. So why should I break outta the hoosegow to go see this?

  • Gabriel Byrne plays the laconic fixer Tom to perfection and is in virtually every scene. Ably supported by Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden and a career best Jon Polito as the leader of a rival gang.
  • The dialogue is sublime, full of speakeasy slang and put-downs, it really adds to the atmosphere of the film which is beautifully designed and scored. You really feel like you're in the era of Al Capone. There's also those brilliant Coen brother touches melding comedy, drama and morality.

8. Carlito's Way (1993)

Brian De Palma specializes in explosive film-making and here's no different, with his epic operatic story of a gangster trying to turn his life around, all the while facing hostility from the young up and comers snapping at his heels. So why should I mob up?

  • An awesome central performance by Al Pacino holds the whole film together and leaves one breathless at his talent for dynamic characterization. Sean Penn is great playing a crooked lawyer constantly on the make who just oozes corruption and the foreboding sense that no good will come of his involvement in anything.
  • De Palma directs with the same verve and eye for set pieces he brought to another tale of gangsters, The Untouchables. The ending in particular is a tour de force of camera work and emotion.

7. The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Steve Martin stars in David Mamet's twisting story of the world of con artists and grifters. Campbell Scott portrays the innocent snared in a deadly game as forces try to uncover industrial secrets and finger him as the guilty party. Based on a real world con trick this slick, densely plotted film is as meaty a drama as anything Mamet's produced.

  • Steve Martin is a revelation in this dramatic role playing against type and proving conclusively he has more than just comic talent in his arsenal. A great ensemble cast some of whom are Mamet regulars bring a theatrical sense of a tight group all singing in harmony, ably supported as ever by Mamet's rat-a-tat dialogue.
  • A great insight into a great con it shows the preoccupation with the world of tricksters and lures which has so fascinated audiences. All the more intriguing given the same cons has been perpetrated successfully in the real world.

6. Q&A (1990)

The great Sidney Lumet directs a crunching drama following the investigation into police corruption which stretches wider than anyone thinks. Nic Nolte brings a brilliant gruff, world-weariness to the role and there's a real sense of this man living a life. So why should I answer the big question and go see this?

  • Timothy Hutton is note-perfect as the young lawyer with a hero father past to live out. He's dogged in his pursuit of the truth, but soon realizes the truth is as murky as the lies told during his investigation.
  • Sidney Lumet specializes in morality plays and this is no different giving great insight into the strains and pressures faced by people who have made based choices and compromised a part of themselves they find hard restoring. Written by a supreme court judge this film brings a very cynical eye to pass on a Greek style tragedy play.

Albert Finney Seeing Off The Competition In 'Miller's Crossing'


Caspar: Youse fancy pants, all a youse.

Leo: Johnny, you're exactly as big as I let you be, and no bigger, and don't forget it, ever.

Caspar: That's right, Leo. You're the big shot around here, and I'm just some schnook likes to get slapped around.

The Top 5

5. Dark City (1998)

The name says it all really, as this is one very dark city. The story concerns a man stumbling onto a world within a world in this..well..dark fantasy thrill ride from Alex Proyas who made The Crow. So why should I get in touch with my inner Goth for this?

  • Beautiful set and costume design combine to give a jaw-dropping spectacle to this film which conjures up an imaginary world with such verve that it feels tangible.

4. Tremors (1990)

Hard to describe this without giving away the paper thin plot, but let's just say a dusty town gets some unwelcome visitors. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star in this cult horror comedy classic. So why should I keep my ear to the ground for this?

  • Unique idea which spawned a host of sequels yet none could capture the exuberant joy of this first one. Melding comic timing with a great horror story sensibility this well plotted film poses a great question and keeps the reveal back just long enough to ramp up the fear.
  • Creature design which is out of this world and superb cinematography give this film the edge in a crowded marketplace. The knowing way it combines humor makes it all the more enjoyable it didn't go down the route of taking itself too seriously and as such the cast have a blast.

3. Zero Effect (1998)

A modern day Sherlock Holmes but with an acute social phobia....he doesn't like people! This comedy mystery takes an old locked room puzzle of sorts and reworks it in a modern setting. So why does this deserve investigating?

  • Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller play really well together as the eccentric sleuth and his messed around mouthpiece. The contrived plot device of having the master private investigator be bad at human interaction comes to full fruition when the plot unravels in full.
  • Like Tremors this one doesn't take itself too seriously and is all the more enjoyable because of it, relying as it does on tight plotting and winning characterization.

I can't possibly overstate the importance of good research...Everyone goes through life dropping crumbs. If you can recognize the crumbs, you can trace a path all the way back from your death certificate to the dinner and a movie that resulted in you in the first place.

— Daryl Zero in 'Zero Effect'

Awesome Set Design In 'Dark City'


2. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

One of John Cusack's greatest roles, a brilliant pitch black comedy about a man worried about returning for his high school reunion, which is odd considering he happily kills people for a living. So why should I watch my back and go see this?

  • Razor sharp dialogue meets great action and humor with people vying to take Blank's place at the top of the tree, including scheming Dan Akroyd.
  • What makes this so great is its pace as it zips along, mainly because of Cusack's charm in the central role where he brings an energy and zest for a role rarely seen. All the pieces fit brilliantly and it's entertainment lasts well beyond its final reel.

A Bulletless Mexican Stand-Off In 'Grosse Point Blank'


The Number One

1. The Last Seduction (1994)

To get two on this list is quite an achievement, to produce them just a year apart is testament to the quality of director and writer John Dahl. Once again it's a neo-noir thriller which plays with audience expectations and has an excellent ensemble cast including Bill Pullman, Peter Berg and Linda Fiorentino. So why should I let this con me into watching?

  • Once again the plotting takes center stage and its devilishly amoral, just when you think a character may have their back's to the wall comes a turnaraound to keep you on your toes.
  • The main reason and principle player in this drama is Linda Fiorentino who plays such a great character it transcends genre and proves without question the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Linda Fiorentino Smolders As She Plots in 'The Last Seduction'


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