Oh the 90s. I have a soft spot for this decade because it was the era I grew up in meaning many of the moments on today’s list were essential to my maturing as a fan of movies and cinema. The 90s saw subgenres take hold, CGI become more perfected and fluid and some of the greatest directors of our time bring some of the best moments in film to life. These cinematic moments pushed the boundaries of the medium both on a technological level and in terms of what content was acceptable for the public eye. It’s time to take a look at some of the best moments to come out of a decade that set a new standard for films and established the most recent selection of films that can truly be considered nostalgic classics. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Moments of the 1990s.
For this list I looked at famous movie moments that premiered on the big screen from 1990 through 1999. During this decade we saw movies embrace big, scene stealing moments and some more subtle moments that took technology and the cinematic experience to a new level of art and entertainment even bending the boundaries of what is considered acceptable on the big screen at times. This is part of a series of lists spanning the decades of film which will all culminate to my picks for the Top 20 Movie Moments of All Time at the end of September. The top FOUR moments of every list will be considered for the ultimate list later this month.
For the sake of this series iconic moments are considered any brief or extended moments in a single project that have left a lasting impression on viewers. These can be monologues, one-shots, or several minutes of filming as long as it takes place in succession before changing to a new setting, idea or perspective.
I usually DO NOT include honorable mentions on these lists but for the 90s I’m going to honor one sequence that did not make this countdown because I deemed it a little too long to be considered a single moment. The Omaha Beach sequence from “Saving Private Ryan” is an amazing achievement in cinema and while I couldn’t justify it being on this list because it’s more an extended collection of moments than a particular scene of film I can say if you haven’t seen “Saving Private Ryan” go and see it because the opening sequence of events may not be a single moment but it puts almost this entire list combined to shame.
That said let’s flash back to the era that made me a fan of movies and redefined the limitations and spectacle of cinema. This list is composed of ten moments taken from a shortlist of 30 possible entries so as usual there are bound to be some awesome moments from this decade that you may enjoy but didn’t make the cut, so I want to know what is your favorite movie moment from the 1990s? Feel free to tell me in the comments below and be sure to check back all throughout the month of September to see my other lists spanning the decades. Also feel free to go back to my previous lists of Classic Movie Moments, and my Movie Moments of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
10. The …uhh…”Reveal”, “Basic Instinct”
*WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO*
The 1992 neo-noir thriller “Basic Instinct” is quite the film filled with intrigue and erotic drama. It’s the film that made Sharon Stone a sex symbol mostly due to one scene that kicks off this list. In the film Stone plays Catherine Tamell, a writer who is also the prime suspect of an investigation into the death of a rock star. This leads her to be the subject of an interrogation where a room full of men grills her as she calmly offers rebuttals at every turn. At one point the conversation pauses and Stone uncrosses her legs only to cross them again the opposite way, but in the transition we get a very clear look at her…female region. Stone claims to this day that she was unaware of the nature of the shot and that it was done without her knowledge. Regardless it’s worked into the film perfectly playing off of Tamell’s use of her sexuality to get what she wants and avoid suspicion. The infamous scene has become the one reason “Basic Instinct” remains relevant as to some it sparked a revolution breaking barriers and limitations in film while to others it’s simply one of the most erotic moments ever to hit the big screen.
9. A Frightened Farewell, “The Blair Witch Project”
The 1999 found footage film “The Blair Witch Project” may have irked a few people with its subtle attempts a realistic horror, but even if you hated the movie or have never seen it chances are you know this scene and you know it well. Late in the film protagonist Heather is at the end of her rope. Her friend Josh is gone and she and her remaining partner Mike are continuously haunted by invisible forces. After discovering pieces of Josh’s tongue Heather takes a moment to record what she assumes will be her final message to her loved ones. The recording focuses on only half of Heather’s tear-soaked face as she apologizes to their families and takes responsibility for the fate of herself and her two friends. The scene contains very real reactions as he actors shot most of the movie using normal cameras and adlibbed a lot of their lines and actions while the crew would torture them in the night. The emotion is raw and honest making it by far the best part of the entire film and a moment many found footage films have tried and failed to replicate. This scene has been parodied and reference constantly over the years and even if “The Blair Witch Project” isn’t your thing this still remains the one moment you probably know and, I would hope, have come to respect.
8. A Hamburger and Bible Verses, “Pulp Fiction”
Samuel L. Jackson is a legend for his monologues and countless memorable characters. In 1994 he brought to life probably one of his greatest on screen personas and preached one of his best speeches in “Pulp Fiction”. The iconic scene comes when Jackson’s Jules Winnfield and John Travolta’s Vincent Vega arrive at an apartment to retrieve a briefcase for their boss. After an interesting conversation involving burgers and the metric system we get to the moment on this list where the two find the briefcase they’re looking for, kill one of the men and hold the character Brett at gunpoint leading Jules Winnfield to preach an amazing Bible quotation that has since become one of Jackson’s most iconic moments. He delivers the verse with confidence and swagger making us all wish we could be so suave. The tension builds as we feel the fear and intimidation Brett feels wondering if the trigger will really be pulled and when. In a film filled with great scenes this moment stands out above the rest giving us one of the greatest execution scenes of the 90s It’s a moment that could have only come from the mind of the dialogue-driven filmmaker Quintin Tarantino and the foul mouthed acting legend that is Samuel L. Jackson.
7. The Interview, “Silence of the Lambs”
“The Silence of the Lambs” is a 1991 thriller and Best Picture winner featuring some amazing performances and one of the most legendary villains of all time in Hannibal Lector who is the centerpiece of the scene included on this list. The film follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling who is charged with extracting information from Lector that could help hunt down a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. Their initial meeting has gone down in history as one of the most tense exchanges in cinema as Lector, a former psychiatrist and expert on human behavior, seems to walk Starling through their interview before growing impatient with her lack of respect for him in the exchange leading her to call him out for his hypocrisy in ignoring his own flaws. Thus we get the famous and all too often imitated “fava beans and chianti” moment that makes this list. It’s a perfectly played scene that introduces us to an incredible villain and his ruthles attitude and temper. Often quoted, this moment in the interview scene is one of many reasons “Silence of the Lambs” has become one of the best horror thrillers in all of cinema.
6. The Destruction of the White House, “Independence Day”
There’s no denying that the 1996 science fiction epic “Independence Day” has left its mark. The movie was a massive hit at the box office focusing on an alien attack on Earth and the human resistance that tries to stop it. Of course the attack has to start somewhere and that’s where this scene comes in. This iconic moment sees the aliens begin their assault after positioning large ships all over the world. The laser blasts completely annihilate every building they target as well as the cities around them but it’s the destruction of the White House that remains the most memorable. Seeing the White House, a centerpiece of America’s government, torn apart like paper was forever etched in the minds of movie fans thanks to Roland Emmerich’s spectacular use of revolutionary visual effects. The director knew this moment would leave a mark to the point where it was featured prominently in the advertisements and is probably a big part of why people came out to see the movie. While the idea of over-the-top explosions is now a mainstay in cinema this was the moment that spawned the cliché and redefined the extremes to which action and science fiction films would go to portray the destruction of the world as we know it.
5. Presenting the Prince, “The Lion King”
Disney had a renaissance in the 80s and 90s with some of its most famous classics being brought to the big screen. The first of two Disney movies to make this list is 1994’s “The Lion King” which contains one of the most famous movie openings of all time. The audience is welcomed to the picture by the rising sun as “The Circle of Life” is sung. The moment that caps everything off is the most iconic scene in the entire film as all the animals have gathered around Pride Rock and the shaman Rafiki displays the new born prince Simba to the world for the first time. The animals all cheer and yell at the birth of their future king. The image of Simba being held into the air is one of the most memorable snapshots in modern animation and is even mirrored in the finale with the birth of Simba’s own daughter who is presented to the world in a similar ceremony, completing the “circle of life” theme of the film. Disney is known for creating moments of magic and wonder, but here they create one of majesty and significance that kicks off the epic animated feature in the best way. We know we have seen something tremendously important and it’s all just begun….and speaking of Disney
4. Belle and the Beast Dance, “Beauty and the Beast”
From one legendary Disney film to another. In 1991 the studio released one of its all-time most popular movies “Beauty and the Beast”. It became the first animated feature ever to receive a Best Picture nomination and it’s not hard to see why with scenes like the one on this list. Late in the film Belle and the Beast have bonded and share in a legendary dance as the great Dame Angela Lansbury sings the iconic titular song of the film. The visuals are absolutely stunning and actually hold up well even against the more polished CGI of today’s animated cinema. After seeing these two characters welcome each other into their lives this dance solidifies their feelings for each other and it’s absolutely adorable to see Belle fully open her heart to a man deemed a monster and the Beast act like a shy kid trying to impress the most popular girl in school. Disney has offered us many memorable moments over the years, but aside from the “Lady and the Tramp” spaghetti dinner the dance in “Beauty and the Beast” is possibly the most iconic moment the studio ever produced often included in clip shows of cinema’s best moments to this day. It’s still a shining example of animation at its best.
3. “I’m Flying”, “Titanic”
Still among the highest grossing movies ever made and the biggest cinematic hits of the 90s “Titanic” spawned numerous notable and quotable cinematic moments on its way to becoming a Best Picture winner. Many of those scenes could have made this list and while I heavily considered the famous “I’m the king of the world” moment I decided instead to include one of the most romantic scenes in the film. Throughout the movie poor artist Jack and rich girl Rose form a bond and eventually come to love each other. As the sun sets on the final day before the ship’s tragic sinking Rose meets Jack on the bow. As a sign of his affection Jack shows Rose the magic of embracing the simplest experiences putting her against the rail and having her hold out her arms before opening her eyes. Rose experiences the sensation of flying as she sees a first person perspective of the ship’s speed over the open sea. The pair share a romantic kiss and embark on their final night together on the doomed vessel. It’s a romantic scene that brings everything the movie has worked up to full circle while also offering a moment of peace before the final act tears all of that apart.
2. Bullet Time, “The Matrix”
The 1999 science fiction film “The Matrix” changed the way movies were made when it capped off the decade in literal style. The film focuses on a post-apocalyptic future where humans are used as “batteries” for machines and a man named Neo is considered to be a prophesied hero who can help humans win their war against the machines in both the real world and the virtual Matrix. The film’s most famous contribution to cinema is the “bullet time” effect which sees the character slow down to the point where we can see the bullets or other projectiles being sent their way cutting through the air. The film’s most iconic moment is when Neo has to dodge bullets from one of the agents of the Matrix resulting in the visual of him flailing his arms and bending back as far as his body can go to avoid the bullets. This scene as a whole has sense become nothing short of an overused cliché in the medium. Many movies have parodied bullet time and others have actually perfected it for more modern projects, but “The Matrix” will always be the original that popularized the concept. There’s no question Neo dodging bullets is by far the coolest and most recognizable moment from the entire “Matrix” trilogy.
1. The First Dinosaur, “Jurassic Park”
Steven Spielberg is a master moviemaker responsible for countless great moments. While the “Bigger Boat” scene in the 70s was a defining scene of terror, the director offered a very different moment in 1993 in the perennial classic “Jurassic Park”. The premise of the film is simple: an investor creates a theme park where he uses dinosaur DNA to bring the animals back to life for show. The initial trailer for “Jurassic Park” left these dinosaurs mostly to the imagination so when the movie hit theaters this was truly the first moment we got to see a dinosaur in full as Dr. Alan Grant and company are presented with a brachiosaurus brought to life through revolutionary CGI. The buildup is perfect and we feel the awe and amazement that the characters feel even if we’ve seen this scene a hundred times. It’s a truly spectacular moment that brings to life these amazing creatures we all know and love right before our eyes. While not as parodied or referenced as many other entries on these lists, the first dinosaur appearance in “Jurassic Park” is truly awe inspiring and resonates even beyond the first viewing giving us an experience of wonder few things in life can bring. It’s the kind of experience and emotional response movies were made to evoke and it does that job so perfectly that it earns the top spot my list of the best moments in 90s cinema.