30 Great Movies Turning 20 in 2016 - Rolling Stone
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30 Great Movies Turning 20 in 2016

From ‘Fargo’ to ‘Scream,’ these films are turning the big 2-0 this year

Beavis And Butt-head; The Cable Guy; Happy Gilmore; Kingpin

Illustration by Ryan Casey

Every movie year brings important new talents, enduring classics, and massive pop-culture phenomena — but it's not always easy to predict at the time which careers will take off, and which critical and commercial favorites will hold up over time. Before 1996, the world had never heard of Wes Anderson, the siblings Wachowski and Farrelly, Michael Bay, Emily Watson, or Vince Vaughn; it seemed crazy to imagine that 20 years later, we'd still be celebrating our Independence Day. And those are just a few of the culture touchstones we'll be remembering this year. Here are 30 films that turn 20 in 2016. One more year, and they'll be able to legally buy beer.

The People Vs. Larry Flynt

THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, 1996

Comedy Partners/Courtesy Everett

‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’

Hustler publisher Larry Flynt may be a degenerate pornographer, but this combination biopic, courtroom drama, and satirical comedy makes a stirring case for him as a genuine First Amendment hero. As played by Woody Harrelson, Flynt veers from porn entrepreneur to Christian convert to wheelchair-bound apostate, but the film turns him into a tireless martyr for expanded rights — and a suitably righteous foil to Jerry Falwell.

The Rock

THE ROCK US 1996 DON SIMPSON/JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS HOLLYWOOD PICTURES NICOLAS CAGE Date 1996, Photo by: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10337043)

Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans

‘The Rock’

The Jerry Bruckheimer School of Filmmaking had many successful graduates, but none as unabashedly vulgar as Michael Bay, whose debut feature turns Alcatraz into the hub for ex-Marines threatening to unleash biological weapons on San Francisco. Bay would send deep-core oil drillers to blow up an asteroid two years later in Armageddon, but pairing an Alcatraz escapee (Sean Connery) with a chemist (Nicolas Cage) in The Rock is scarcely less absurd. No matter. Bay just steps on the gas.

Romeo + Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET, Leonardo Di Caprio, Claire Danes, 1996, (c) 20th Century Fox/courtesy Everett Collection

20th Century Fox/Everett

‘Romeo + Juliet’

Before Titanic would make him the biggest young star on the planet a year later, Leonardo DiCaprio established his romantic bonafides in Baz Luhrmann's spastic modernization of the Shakespeare play. Romeo + Juliet made an appeal to a younger generation by turning the Capulets and the Montagues into rival gangs, pumping up the soundtrack with pop hits, and uncorking every stylistic gimmick in Luhrmann's considerable playbook. As the star-crossed lovers DiCaprio and Claire Danes validate every seeming misstep.


SCREAM, Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, Neve Campbell, 1996, (c) Dimension/courtesy Everett Collection

Dimension Films/Everett


An era of postmodern horror movies (and parodies) kicked off with Scream, but none could rival the wit of Wes Craven's slasher-movie deconstruction, which exposed all the "rules" that horror fans knew but had never seen acknowledged openly on screen. Kevin Williamson's script winks and nudges knowingly, but the meta-slasher flick works because Craven insists on it still being genuinely scary, starting with an opening set piece that plays it straight before bringing in the laughs later.

Sling Blade

Sling Blade (1996) Directed by Billy Bob Thornton Shown from left: Billy Bob Thornton (as Karl Childers), Lucas Black (as Frank Wheatley)

Miramax Films/Photofest

‘Sling Blade’

Billy Bob Thornton had established himself as a screenwriter and minor character actor, most notably in One False Move, but this Southern-gothic indie drama put him squarely on the map. These days, the vocal tics of his mentally disabled character has been so thoroughly parodied that it's hard to remember and respect the complicated Southern Gothic that surrounds it. Mmmmm-hmmmm. But the twists and turns of Thornton's career might merit a return to the source. Mmmmm-hmmmm.

Space Jam

SPACE JAM, Bugs Bunny, Bill Murray, Michael Jordan, Lola Bunny, 1996. (c) Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

Warner Bros./Everett

‘Space Jam’

Like Independence Day, Sthis gift from the cross-branding gods has seen its reputation swell from a tacky, critically disrespected commercial hit to a beloved touchstone for the generation that grew up watching it on TV. There's nothing promising about pairing a stiff Michael Jordan with resuscitated, warmed-over Looney Tunes, but the agreeable tone of Space Jam and its surprisingly durable effects kept it flickering in the background through many childhoods. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.


SWINGERS, Patrick Van Horn, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Ron Livingston, Alex Desert, 1996. (c) Miramax Films/ Courtesy: Everett Collection



"Who's the big winner at the casino tonight?" After Swingers, it was a toss-up between writer/star Jon Favreau and director Doug Liman, who'd each go on to make Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man and The Bourne Identity, and breakout star Vince Vaughn, who still hasn't quite recreated the easy charisma he displayed in this movie. The catchphrases ("Vegas, baby, Vegas") have aged about as well as a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy single, but as a story of male friendship, Swingers remains enduringly sweet.

Tin Cup

TIN CUP, from left: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, 1996, © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Warner Bros/Everett

‘Tin Cup’

With Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump, writer-director Ron Shelton revived the underdog sports comedy by rejecting its rah-rah clichés, choosing instead to champion the has-beens and never-wases on the fringes of the game. Re-teaming with Kevin Costner, Shelton brings the same relaxed appeal to a romantic comedy about golf that coasts on the easy chemistry between the star and Rene Russo, and ends by affirming the nobility of a beautiful loser.


TRAINSPOTTING, Ewan McGregor, 1996



From its "Lust for Life" opening, Danny Boyle's adaptation of Irvine Walsh's novel of friendship and addiction proved that a film about drugs could be funny and exhilarating without lessening the horrific consequences of heroin abuse. This episodic treatment of Edinburgh lowlifes zips from the gruesome depths of the "worst toilet in Scotland" to the surreal visions of helpless addicts, but with a joy and gallows humor that still seems miraculous under the circumstances.


TWISTER US 1996 BILL PAXTON HELEN HUNT Date 1996, Photo by: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10354279)

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett


In 1996, it was understood that this thriller about "storm chasers" in the tornado-ravaged plains of Middle America was dopey to the extreme, but the film's CGI effects were so state-of-the-art that it didn’t matter. Now that the effects look utterly weightless and pedestrian, Twister has become a blockbuster relic, fascinating because it hasn’t stood the test of time. Let it be a warning the effects wizards today: Story matters.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) Directed by Todd Solondz Shown: Matthew Faber (as Mark Wiener), Heather Matarazzo (as Dawn Wiener)

Sony Pictures Classics/Photofest

‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’

Before the epic misery of Happiness, Todd Solondz established his reputation for examining humankind's most awkward specimens with this coming-of-age comedy, which presents the trials of an adolescent girl as a minefield of misplaced lust and humiliating failure. As the unfortunately named seventh-grader Dawn Wiener, Heather Matarazzo brings a pitiable curiosity to a girl whose emerging sexuality keeps leading her to vulnerable spots.

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