In this post I will be discussing 20 excellent films of the 90's that were either underrated, unseen, or simply just forgotten about. Most of these will be relatively well known with the exception of a few that are quiet enough. These films never really get talked about anymore and I really think they should. They're all great and deserve a lot more popularity!
Also, bear in mind that there is no real order to these films, I've arranged them in descending order by how forgotten they are. - Roughly that is...
Hope you enjoy!
20. Summer of Sam (1999) - Dir. Spike Lee
Set in 1977 during the Son of Sam murders, several people in Brooklyn are fearing for their lives while others are trying to put a finger on who the serial killer could be. Accusations left and right as murders keep cropping up on the streets.
This is definitely one of Spike Lee's most underrated films and probably one of his longest after Malcolm X. Brilliantly filmed in his usual style and acted to perfection by everyone involved. Some moments are very reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever, which definitely would have been an influence on some of the characters. Fast-paced, engaging, intense and surprisingly violent, this is one that is unfortunately forgotten. I haven't heard anybody talking about this film since it came out, it should definitely be more recognised. Despite it's running time, explicit violence, graphic sex and sometimes disorientating style, this is actually a great intro to Spike Lee's films. Despite not liking the guy one bit, he's a quality film maker! - Bonus: You can hear Adrien Brody's shit British accent!
19. Strange Days (1995) - Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Fresh from basking in the absolute GLORY of Point Break. Bigelow spent no time fucking around and dove right in to making this Sci-Fi masterpiece. Set in a futuristic 1999, just before the millennium is about to kick off, an ex-cop turned street hustler must try solve a rape & murder as well as a case of police corruption using special data discs that contain memories that were lived out by other people.
How this film wasn't bigger I will never know! James Cameron wrote it while he was still on FIRE after Terminator 2, this should have had people swarming to the cinemas to see it. Sadly it made fuck all at the box office and was seemingly just swept under the rug. It does have a decent cult following but it deserves so much more! Bigelow is now the go-to girl for any kind of gritty and realistic modern war drama so it seems almost unlikely she'll go back to the days of this and Near Dark and even Point Break. Her new career has pretty much put a lid over these films, it's saddening! This is HIGHLY recommended.
18. Bringing Out The Dead (1999) - Dir. Martin Scorsese
Potentially Scorsese's most forgotten film follows good ol' Nic Cage (A living legend), an insomniac paramedic working graveyard shifts and seemingly unable to keep anyone alive, he is haunted by the spirits of the people he failed to save, trying desperately to run from his job but keeps getting dragged back in by his need to save people.
This is as dark and gritty as it gets for Scorsese in my books! One of the only films to ever make me feel delirious. It's like you're in his head the entire film, when he's tired, you're tired! I felt like I was hallucinating! Visually fantastic and nothing like he had ever done before. Shutter Island is probably the only other film that comes to mind that has a supernatural feel to it. Cage as always was brilliant, not long after he bagged himself the well deserved Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. I know big Scorsese fans that don't even know this film exists, it's a true shame. A proper gem of the 90's.
17. Primal Fear (1996) - Dir. Gregory Hoblit
This one is actually probably the most popular film on the list, but it's the fact it's almost entirely forgotten about that annoys me. A top-dog lawyer takes a case in defending a severely abused altar boy who has been accused of murdering a perverted priest.
This less said about this thoroughly engaging mystery thriller the better. Incredible acting all round even from Richard "Hamster Up My Arse" Gere. Ed Norton even went on to earn himself an Oscar nomination for what was his first ever feature film! I think that is when people knew they were on to a winner and he has since gone on to act in some of the best films ever made! The 90's was chocked full of fantastic courtroom mystery thrillers that just simply don't get made or even translate to screen now. As good as modern science is for solving murders, it's doing the thriller business no favours! Perhaps if films like these now-a-days were set back in the mid 90's they would be more engrossing. This film should go down as one of the finest films of the 90's but it is just shunned seemingly.
16. BASEketball (1998) - Dir. David Zucker
This to me is the last true spoof movie. Two nobodies are humiliated at a reunion party by two bullies so they decided to invent a ball game to beat them in so they can have the last laugh, essentially basketball with baseball rules, but the person taking the shot can be distracted by any means. The two are unaware it would end up becoming a massively popular sport.
Directed by the king of spoof comedies (Before nose diving into such shitty comedies it'd make your eyes dry out), this to me was the last of it's kind. Back when you didn't need to blatantly reference a film every two seconds in order to seem witty. With Trey Parker & Matt Stone, the creators of South Park starring in this, just makes it ten times more hilarious. Cause they already have such a chemistry, it fucking BOOMS on screen. One moment near the end is one of the dumbest and most out of nowhere things ever and will have you absolutely howling. Crude, silly & needlessly over the top. It's an essential comedy that is wildly forgotten about and bound to be under appreciated even more now that people are more interested in making the whole "Superhero/Disaster/Dance/Date/Epic Movie" franchise. Fucking cretins...
15. Bound (1996) - Dir. Andy & Larry (Now Lana) Wachowski
A sleazy, aggressive & violent mobster's wife and her lesbian lover, an ex con from next door, plan to steal millions of dollars of the mob's money to start a new life while pinning the blame on the husband and getting away scott free. But things aren't going to be that simple.
The first 30 minutes of this film is like a daft (but fantastic) soft-core porn film. The "steamy" dialogue is silly and it makes you think it'll be nothing redeeming but the film takes a sudden switch from cheesy soft-core porn film to a rather tense and brutal crime thriller. Very effective film and Joe Pantoliano ALWAYS seems to play the slimiest fuckers of all time in everything he's in! The whole tone of the film changes from that point which I think works; lure you in with copious amounts of tits and then BAM viciousness and hostility galore! The Wachowski's have gone to become the genre changing masters of Sci-Fi (to some) and that has let this film fall into the shadows. It should definitely be sought after. - I believe it's now coming to Blu ray in Europe so hopefully that'll bring it back to light!
14. Hard Eight [Sydney] (1996) - Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
John is a man who has lost everything to gambling in Vegas and is approached by a veteran gambler named Sydney who take him under his wing to teach him how to hustle and become a professional gambler. He falls in love with a cocktail waitress/prostitute named Clementine who begins to complicate his and Sydney's relationship for the worse.
A partial remake of his own short film, Cigarettes And Coffee, Hard Eight is PTA's jaw droppingly good feature debut. It has basically all of his signatures right from the start. His utter masterpiece, Boogie Nights followed this and sent him into stardom but unfortunately cast a hell of an eclipse over this, pretty much making it vanish completely. It was the last of his films I actually managed to see because I hadn't heard much about it at all. I thought it was a film LIKE his films rather than one of his actual ones. Like a few of the films above and below, they might have been big over the US or in Europe but definitely not big in both, this was definitely one that was limited. Visually incredible much the same as the rest of his catalogue and one that shouldn't be forgotten. Seek it out and enjoy!
13. Pusher (1996) - Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Refn's debut is easily one of his best films, this raw and gritty crime thriller follows Frank, a low level drug dealer through his week of hell trying to come up with money to pay back a top class Serbian drug dealer, Milo, for whom he works. Using any means necessary to get his money back to him, before Randovan, Milo's henchman, steps in to take care of Frank.
Another of the bunch where I say I won't say anything more! This had me on the edge of my seat for the entire thing, viciously intense and gripping. Makes you genuinely fear for Frank through out. The film spawned two sequels back to back that have become far more popular than this! Which is unfortunate, they are both incredible but this stands above them by miles! All three are basically forgotten about due to Refn's latest 4 films that each have had their major spotlight and similar style. Drive being the most popular. It's rare a thriller has me on the edge of my seat but this is one that genuinely did, also features one of my favourite ever film endings, which I will be including in my next pants melting list!
12. Very Bad Things (1998) - Dir. Peter Berg
Five best friends embark on an adventurous stag weekend in Las Vegas, stuffing themselves with cocaine and alcohol in their luxury hotel suite. A stripper arrives for a private session but is accidentally murdered by one of the groomsmen. This sets the course for a paranoid, blood-soaked, murder- filled adventure that is slowly tearing them apart. Who will be able to keep their mouth shut?
Not only one of the finest pitch black comedies out there, but one of the most entertaining thrillers of the 90's! With an all star cast like this it's hard to believe it's so forgotten. Huge back in '98 but since then has basically gone into obscurity. It's nail bitingly tense, brutally violent, side-splittingly funny and brilliantly executed. With such a concept, it's easy to fuck it up, but this was done perfectly! It definitely deserves more credit. As good as the FIRST Hangover film was, this is the TRUE hangover film to me. Far funnier and with more interesting situations. Peter Berg has since gone on to make some mediocre films until his latest film, and one of the finest war films in recent years, Lone Survivor came out. I'd love to see him go back and do something akin to this though!
11. GO (1999) - Dir. Doug Liman
Three separate stories intertwine over the course of 24 hours before Xmas, each connected to a single drug deal leading them all to a highly anticipated rave. Things spiral out of control when undercover cops, drug-dealers and other criminals get involved with troubles spreading as far as Las Vegas.
I'll say no more to keep it a bit more mysterious, the interlocking stories could become ruined if I explained too much. This is a tremendously well written comedy thriller (Thromedy? Criller?), another all star cast and even though she's not the lead star, Katie Holmes get's the biggest picture on the cover! Talk about fucking flavour of the month! Also features a young Timothy Olyphant, before the days of Deadwood and Justified. Another film that is partially set in Vegas (Where of course, chaos is going to ensue). All the stories link together extremely neatly. It's a surprise this wasn't a huge hit. It's very unlikely you'll find this in shops anymore (Unless it's second hand) which is unfortunate. It has been given a Blu release in the US so it might be more popular there than over here, but hopefully it'll make it's way to Blu here and get it back out there again because it's seriously under appreciated!
10. Truth Or Consequences N.M. (1997) - Dir. Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland's impressive feature debut follows four criminals in a drug deal gone wrong which puts them on the run, lead by himself, a psychopathic killer, they kidnap a couple and seize control of their RV to get around undetected. The husband begins to think they might be the right crowd for him.
This ticks all the boxes, hideously underrated, unseen and almost completely forgotten about! There's no shop in Ireland I've found that sells this anywhere, not even second hand shops! I had to venture online to get a copy. It's a highly entertaining thriller and as I said, very impressive debut from good ol' Suthy. He was the king of the 90's dirt bags really, pretty much every film he was in, he was a detestable fucker! Had this been made about 3 years earlier, it probably would have been banned or given the NC-17. Basically all American films with guns in the early 90's were threatened with those! You'll need to probably go online but definitely try seek this one out.
9. Dead Presidents (1995) - Dir. Allen & Albert Hughes
After BURSTING onto the scene with their urban crime drama, Menace II Society, the Hughes brothers went surprisingly quiet until they had Johnny Depp on their side in From Hell and lately they've worked with Denzel in The Book of Eli, but everyone forgets this absolute gem from the mid 90's. Part crime drama, part war story.
A high school graduate destined for better things is drafted into the military and made to fight in Vietnam. Returning home, he struggles to provide for his family and turns to a life of crime in order to get money to do so.
Highly controversial for the time and still not released uncut to this day, though it will be the 20th anniversary next year so hopefully they will release it then. It plays out in a similar fashion to Full Metal Jacket, in the way it's like two completely different films lumped together. This is a brutal war drama which is surprisingly unflinching and then switches to a 70's crime thriller. Both stories are captivating. The late 90's was an incredible time for war films, but this one for some reason just didn't make the cut. Was also strange seeing Chris Tucker in a serious role!
8. Fallen (1998) - Dir. Gregory Hoblit (Again)
After a notorious serial killer with a particular signature is executed, his evil spirit, under the ancient fallen angel name, Azazel, emerges from his body and takes control of anyone it see's fit. Murders of his exact style start cropping up and the detective who put him away must try track him down and find a way to dispose of Azazel before more people start dying, especially those close to him.
Another absolute gem from Hoblit, significantly more forgotten about than Primal fear and when you think of it, Hoblit in general is a very forgotten about director. He's done at least three brilliant films but I doubt many could put a name to them. Always with a great cast too. It's unfortunate because he does seem to deliver the goods, especially in the 90's! This is basically a much neater and better version of the late 80's sci-fi horror, The Hidden. Only this is more spiritual and intense, rather than some parasitic slug. It has some very 90's techniques throughout that may seem dated for any new film, but for the time were amazing, plus they add to it's charm! Denzel always delivers and he does so immensely in this. Highly recommend you seek this one out. You're better off consulting an American site for this one, UK copies seem to be pretty much completely gone now.
7. Face (1997) - Dir. Antonia Bird
The late, great Antonia Bird's most forgotten film follows five criminals as they pull of a daring and extremely thrilling bank robbery in London. Coming away with less than they expected, tensions rise between them all as they decide who deserves the money more, putting them all against each other while trying to keep a low profile.
This is such a relaxed film compared to what she did two years after with Ravenous, but still highly enjoyable. It's a shame she never left a bigger footprint in the film world. As usual with both Carlyle and Winstone, the acting is top notch! Pretty much anything either of them touch is gold... maybe not lately though, both are going down the "Straight to DVD" route, the 90's was truly their decade. This had proper intensity throughout and a shamefully forgotten bank heist. Simple and quick but riveting all the same. Often viciously violent and in some ways, quite funny in a jet black way! Also the first and basically last acting appearance from Damon Albarn of Blur. This is a true brutal 90's British crime drama that needs a lot more recognition.
6. Killing Zoe (1993) - Dir. Roger Avary
Roger Avary's forgotten debut, Killing Zoe follows Zed, a professional safe cracker who travels to France in order to accompany his childhood friend, Eric in a daring bank heist. Upon arrival, Zed meets an escort named Zoe, he instantly falls in love with her but that's far from a good thing because little does he know, she works at the bank he's about to raid.
A delightfully darkly comic romp, full of very dated 90's rave, blood red walls and gun toting insanity. Master of gore, Tom Savini was at the helm for it's special effects but there was some issues resulting I them being cut out. Not due to censorship, but to the fact that none of it worked out like it was meant to and was so shit looking it was chopped. Which in a way I'm glad about because you didn't see it and have it spoil the atmosphere, instead it occurred off screen and let your foul imagination work! It's full of insanely bizarre moments that the early 90's was always full of! Good ol' Tarantino presented the film too and was a clear influence on its story and style.
5. City of Industry (1997) - Dir. John Irvin
A retired thief comes back for one last job, robbing an expensive jewelry store, only to be double-crossed by the volatile and insane getaway driver, Skip, and left for dead with the rest of the crew. He goes on a hunt for Skip, putting down anyone who gets in his way, so he can get his hard earned cash back!
This is essentially the same story as Parker, which was adapted from one of the books. Only this is a solid crime thriller. Parker for me was good in parts but there is basically an hour long rom-com running through it! This has a comfortable 90's feel to it. A lot of these films do in ways considering they fucking ARE 90's films, but this one has a Falling Down-esque feel. Harvey Keitel is always brilliant, doing his usual take no shit routine here and bashing heads in the process! Stephen Dorff is a fairly despicable piece of shit in this... that was kinda his thing in the 90's really. A solid, raw, violent thriller that has you all the way through! Plenty in the 90's and fuck all now. Tis saddening really... This is fucking invisible so it needs to get back out there!
4. Orphans (1998) - Dir. Peter Mullan
My personal favourite from the always excellent and unflinchingly raw, Peter Mullan.
Four siblings gather in Glasgow for the funeral of their mother, the night before, they each battle their own demons and get into insanely complicated situations. Thomas, the eldest just wants everything to go right and is spending the night in the church with his mother. Michael, a mill worker is stabbed in a pub, but decides to use his injury as a sly means of getting compensation in work. Sheila, their wheelchair bound sister, is stranded in an alleyway when the power in her chair goes out & John, the youngest, is hunting down the man who stabbed his brother.
This might be Mullan's only slightly humourous film, as all his shorts and his two other tremendous films, are insanely brutal and serious. This is an absolutely pitch black comedy that has you laughing at stuff you DEFINITELY shouldn't be laughing at, but without the need for comical on screen deaths and the like. Engaging characters, superb acting, beautifully shot and surprisingly upsetting. It's a masterpiece that should have given Mullan world wide popularity, but alas, has fallen into the shadows.
3. Judgement Night (1993) - Dir. Stephen Hopkins
Four best friends are on a lads weekend away from the aul' wives and excitedly make their way to a boxing match. Caught in traffic, they decide to take a shortcut, which brings them to a shit part of town, where they witness a brutal murder. Now they're on the run from the murderous criminals who want to keep them quiet.
This film might not have quite the same substance as the ones above, but that's cause it is simply not what it's for. This is my idea of a fun, gritty and highly entertaining crime movie. Set in a single night, full on kill or be killed situation and it has probably one of the best soundtracks for a film ever! Big names in Rap and Metal at the time decided to band together and make an album of Rap-Metal songs. The soundtrack is arguably better than the film and that's no surprise when you have Onyx, Faith No More, Cypress Hill, Slayer, Ice T and Pearl Jam on board! All the songs fit really nicely with the film too and like Very Bad Things, features Benjamin Button himself, Jeremy Piven. Seriously, he fucking ages in reverse, he looked like how he SHOULD look now in this. Great fun and sadly (but not too sad) overlooked by it's cracking soundtrack.
2. Nick of Time (1995) - Dir. John Badham
Diggidy Depp has made some Diggidy Deplorable shit in the last few years, but back in the 90's and early 00's, he made some tremendous stuff! Much like this cracking real time thriller.
A quiet, mundane man arrives at a train station in L.A. with his young daughter, only for her to be snatched from him and for him to be given an ultimatum; Kill the Governor of California or his daughter will die. He is given 90 minutes.
What is basically a 90 minute episode of 24, this deserves a lot more recognition. Christopher Walken playing the villain gives that edge of intensity as always with him. Depp is on top form here too, legitimately looking like he's doing to shit & vomit simultaneously in every scene from panic. It's like a really enthralling 20 minute film ending, expanded to a feature and even more gut wrenching. They don't do thrillers like these anymore and if they try to, it's usually over run with modern day technology and probably a quirky friend to be in contact with the entire time. Also, Depp's character would be a fucking ex special forces commander or something.
1. Two Hands (1999) - Dir. Gregor Jordan
Some very early Heath Ledger here in a film that surprisingly came out the same time as 10 Thing I Hate About You! Which definitely overshadowed this ultra rare Aussie gem. A 19 year old doorman gets offered the job of a lifetime from a crime boss that will get him made, a simple job to deliver some money to a friend. Unfortunately for him, he loses the money and two delinquents manage to find it and go on an ultimate shopping spree. Leaving the doorman supremely fucked and on the run from vicious thugs. The only person who can guide him is the zombie spirit of his murdered brother.
As you may or may not of noticed, a fuck load of these films are crime thrillers and in some way, darkly comic. And though this is a fairly lighthearted film, it is probably one of the darkest, in a FAR more subtle way than Very Bad Things or Orphans. They're both clearly filled with dark moments and intensity but this just has such an eerie cheerfulness to it! Any horrendous act is just brushed off like it never happened! And it just adds to the all out wackiness of this classic. It's definitely on the darkness scale of another Aussie classic, Bad Boy Bubby, that's for sure!
Heath Ledger is great in this, probably the only time I've heard his normal voice come through! The supporting cast were top notch too. All of the criminals are such fucking goons. The most unintimidating looking group of saps ever, but they're actually nuts! There is one scene in particular that had me howling but I shan't say anymore! You will definitely know it when you see it. This gem is practically non-existent. I was lucky to find a copy of it in a second-hand shop, it didn't even get a US release until 2005! Straight to DVD. Madness. Tremendous fun and the inspiration behind this whole list! Which by the way, there will be more of. It was an absolute bastard to just get 20 films of the 90's, I thought of at least 50! For another time though.
Cheers for reading this list! I really hope you enjoyed it! Be sure to check out ALL the films above (Or else) and to check out my list of 13 excellent horror films you may not have seen!