The 50 Best Movies of the 1990s

40. The Rock (1996)

Before Michael Bay made terrible robot movies for teenage boys, he directed some highly entertaining action flicks that don’t give people migraines. The Rock is one of those movies, and to this day it’s his finest outing as a filmmaker. I miss this version of Bay. Starring Nic Cage and Sean Connery, The Rock follows a chemist and former spy as they thwart a chemical terrorist attack orchestrated by rogue soldiers. It’s a basic setup that provides a solid foundation to deliver plenty of thrills, and Bay and co. don’t disappoint in that regard. Once the film gets going, it never lets up, and that’s what every action movie should aspire to achieve. (Kieran Fisher)


39. Basic Instinct (1992)

There is one shot in Basic Instinct that is the key to the movie and Michael Douglas’ whole career. It should be taught in acting classes, and frankly, launched into space. Just over half an hour in, Nick Curran (Douglas) has only avoided punching a colleague’s teeth in by being rescued from a bar by the promise of fucking Beth (Jeanne Tripplehorn), his psychologist. Welcome to a Paul Verhoeven movie. After all is said and done (in, and I timed this, a very generous 15 seconds) the two spoon. Like clockwork, Nick doubles down on being a raging fuck boy by insulting Beth and demanding cigarettes. Beth, a hero, leaves the room. And then the magic happens. Nick lies on the floor, and butt-hops/rocks into his underwear and pants. It is the gesture of a man who has laid pantless on the floor many times, the well-worn motion of a seasoned, sea-sawing scumbag. It is one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen, and Douglas executes it as if he were tying a tie. I promised you that this shot was the key to Basic Instinct and Michael Douglas’ power as a movie star. Well, in a way they’re one and the same: Michael Douglas can get away with playing scuzzy, irredeemable men that are somehow likeable because you always get the impression that these slimeballs are a little dumb. They’re a little oblivious, and that makes them kind of endearing. Basic Instinct is the story of an angry, often confused man who is out-smarted by the women he thinks, bless him, he can best. It’s a comedy of errors about a guy who puts his pants on the same way as everyone else: two pant legs at a time, from the floor, after getting kicked out of his psychologist’s apartment. That he thought he stood a chance against Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). My god. (Meg Shields)


38. Batman Returns (1992)

After the success of the ’89 original, Tim Burton is finally allowed to unleash his personality upon the Dark Knight in totality, and the result is a film that angered some, confused others, and utterly delighted this particular geek. Batman Returns explores the absurdity of a man dressed as a bat to combat crime by forcing him to confront his evil doppelgänger in the form of a disregarded orphan named Oswald Cobblepot. The Penguin is a true monstrosity, but the more times I return to the film, a greater sympathy for his rage solidifies. He was cast-off by his parents, dropped in the sewer because his hands were webbed and his nose beaked. What would his life have been if he was afforded the charm and good looks of Bruce Wayne? The film is a tale of two disturbed rich kids, exposed as the welps they are by a secretary tossed from a high-rise and resurrected as Catwoman karma. Some saw the film as too funny, others as too disturbing, but the answer is that Batman Returns is both, as only Tim Burton could achieve. (Brad Gullickson)


37. The Lion King (1994)

No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot of takes about The Lion King… do you have the stomach for one more? I sure hope so, because I’m here to tell you that Disney’s 1994 release, all comparisons to the remake aside, is one of the finest children’s films out there. I should know, because I was five when it came out, and I was commensurately obsessed. At the time, I was in it for the singing animals, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still. But now I’m able to voice all the things I didn’t even know I was appreciating, the things I didn’t know were shaping me. Fear of loss, grief, guilt, friendship, love, the important distinction between shouldering responsibility and taking a break from it all, and the wisdom to know the time for both. The Lion King has it all, and whether I knew it or not, it gave all that to me when I was just five years old. Now, 25 years later, my obsession has waned, but the lessons I learned are a part of me, and I’m proud of that part. That’s a beautiful thing for a film to be able to achieve. (Liz Baessler)


36. Fight Club (1999)

There tends to be a distinct masculine nature to the majority of David Fincher’s projects. However, Fight Club demonstrates just how wary he can be about straightforwardly glorifying any of it, and that works to Fincher’s advantage. Although riddled with archetypal portrayals of manliness – both in terms of its depiction of societal standards and body image (no one forgets Brad Pitt’s abs in this one) – basically nothing violent in the film is truly fulfilling. As a quest of self-discovery, Fight Club is thankfully a resounding cautionary tale against self-isolation. (Sheryl Oh)


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