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Readers’ Poll: The 25 Best Movies of the 1990s

‘The Big Lebowski,’ ‘Goodfellas’ and your other picks

Gramercy Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Is it really possible to pick a single best movie of the 1990s? This is the decade that gave us Goodfellas in 1990, Fight Club in 1999 and countless masterpieces in between. It was a decade when Quentin Tarantino went from video store clerk to the hottest director in town, and the Coen Brothers followed up Fargo with a movie about a former Metallica roadie that wastes his days away bowling and suffering the occasional acid flashback. Thankfully, our readers were up to the challenge and we received tons of votes for the single best movie of the 1990s. Click through to see the results. 

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25. ‘Dumb and Dumber’

After the huge success of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, Jim Carrey teamed up with Jeff Daniels in this hysterical movie about two idiots who travel cross-country in pursuit of Lauren Holly while they unwittingly transport a briefcase full of cash. Sequels made decades after the original have a horrific track record, but let's all hope that upcoming Dumb and Dumber To is an exception. The world could use a good Jim Carrey movie. It's been a while. 

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24. ‘Braveheart’

Before everyone knew Mel Gibson was completely insane, he directed and stared in this wildly historically inaccurate movie about 13th Century Scottish warrior William Wallace. This movie set the stage for Hurricane, Pearl Harbor and other films without the slightest regard for historical truth. It still has some pretty cool battle scenes, though.

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23. ‘Unforgiven’

Clint Eastwood built his entire career on westerns, but it's been 24 years since this masterpiece about an aging outlaw who comes out of retirement for one final job hit theaters and he's yet to return to the genre. That's probably a good thing because he went out on a very high note and can't possibly top Unforgiven

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22. ‘Jurassic Park’

The sequel is one of the most forgettable movies Steven Spielberg ever directed and the less said about the third one the better, but the original Jurassic Park remains thrilling all these years later. Also, the casting of Seinfeld's Wayne Night as Dennis Nedry was a stroke of genius. It also paved the way for the upcoming Jurassic World, which is bringing back bit player BD Wong from the original and nobody else. We're intrigued, but extremely prepared for disappointment.

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21. ‘Clerks’

Most people that watch Clerks and learn it had a $250,000 budget have the same question: Where the hell did all the money go? Turns out the vast, vast majority of that went into post-production and only $27,575 was spent during the actual filming. Writer/director Kevin Smith was just 24 when he maxed out his credit cards to bring his vision to the screen, and he had little idea he was creating a cult classic that would eventually be seen by millions. He's made a lot of great movies since, but he's never quite recaptured this magic. That might happen with the supposedly upcoming Clerks III, but we're skeptical. 

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20. ‘Heat’

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have made so many shitty movies in the past 15 years, it's easy to forget that at one point they picked their projects very carefully. The first time they came together outside of The Godfather: Part II — where they never shared the screen — was Michael Mann's crime drama Heat. They play a cop and an expert criminal (alongside a youthful Natalie Portman), and their scene together at a coffee shop is like a master class in filmmaking and acting. 

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19. ‘Boogie Nights’

Before he made Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg was only known as that rapper who fingered Reese Witherspoon on a roller coaster in Fear. After Boogie Nights, he was a movie star, even if some people couldn't stop talking about his big, um, reveal at the end of the picture. The film is about the rise and fall of a porn star as the 1970s become the 1980s. Director Paul Thomas Anderson had a huge vision and a ton of characters and plot points, but he somehow held it all together. He'd only get more ambitious from here. 

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18. ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks both had incredible runs in the 1990s, and when they teamed up for this World War II flick about the Invasion of Normandy expectations were very high. The harrowing Omaha Beach scene is one of the most realistic portrayals of war ever captured on film and the movie grossed nearly $500,000,000 and got Steven Spielberg his second Academy Award for Best Director. He paired up with Hanks a few years later for the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers

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17. ‘Schindler’s List’

Steven Spielberg spent years trying to figure out whether it was a good idea to make a movie about the Holocaust. The story is simply too big and endlessly tragic to capture in a single film, and how do you wrap it up with the audience feeling anything but despair? To get around this, he decided to focus on the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who worked tirelessly to save Jews from the gas chambers. This doesn't seem like the recipe for a commercial smash, but it was a huge success and it won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. 

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16. ‘The Matrix’

Not many people saw The Matrix coming in 1999. The Wachowskis' previous film was the lesbian heist flick Bound. It's a brilliant little movie, but a super-complicated science fiction movie staring Keanu Reeves? It didn't seem like a winning formula. But in a year when science fiction fans were let down by Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, The Matrix gave them a new franchise they could truly believe in, at least until the sequels hit. 

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15. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

After a horrible sequel, a needless prequel and a surprisingly watchable TV series, it's a little easy to forget how terrifying Silence of the Lambs was when it hit screens in 1991. Anthony Hopkins instantly made everyone forget that anyone else had ever played Hannibal Lecter and he won an Academy Award for Best Actor, even though his screen time was fairly limited. The film also was made the world forever view fava beans in a new light. 

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14. ‘Fargo’

On paper, Fargo hardly seems like the movie that would finally get the Coen Brothers mainstream love and Academy Awards. It's the story of a pregnant police chief in Minnesota that investigates a kidnapping and a series of murders in her small town. Roger Ebert said it was "one of the best movies I've ever seen." Many critics agreed, though it was so beloved that when they followed it up with a weird movie about a slacker and his bowling buddies it was widely seen as a disappointment. 

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13. ‘True Romance’

About a year after Reservoir Dogs hit, Quentin Tarantino proved he wasn't a one-hit-wonder with True Romance. He didn't direct this Christian Slater/Patricia Arquette romantic crime film, but he wrote the screenplay and even found himself agreeing with director Tony Scott's decision to completely change the ending. Tarantino originally wanted to direct the movie himself, but he didn't have the pull at that point to make that happen. That wouldn't be a problem for much longer. 

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12. ‘Seven’

It doesn't matter if you've seen Seven 200 times and know every sickening twist and turn about to unfold on the screen, there are certain moments that are likely to shock you. This David Fincher thriller cooked up some pretty horrific ways for people to die, leading to the infamous climax where Brad Pitt gets a package in the middle of an open field. This wasn't Fincher's first movie, but it was certainly the one that got Hollywood to finally see him as a major force. 

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11. ‘Dazed and Confused’

Dazed and Confused didn't set out to do much of anything but tell the story about a group of stoned-out teenagers wrapping up high school in 1976. It barely made back its modest budget despite positive reviews, though it's since become a cult classic. More importantly, it introduced the world to Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey and many others who went on to bigger and better things. It also gave McConaughey his "all right, all right, all right" catchphrase, which is no small accomplishment either. 

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10. ‘The Usual Suspects’

Among many other things, The Usual Suspects meant that Stephen Baldwin's legacy isn't going to just be Bio-Dome and The Fintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. He actually managed to appear in one absolute classic. It's the story of a group of small-time criminals and one (possibly mythical) super-criminal overlord named Keyser Soze. The twist at the end is one of the all-time greats in film history. 

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9. ‘American Beauty’

Five years after portraying a criminal mastermind in The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey played a suburban dad who undergoes a serious mid-life crisis. The film has had a curious afterlife. It was hailed at the time for its brilliantly cynical take on suburban America, but a backslash soon began. The film still has its supporters, but many now see it as a bit too heavy-ended with its message.

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8. ‘Reservoir Dogs’

Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut was shot for a mere $1.2 million. The former video store clerk managed to convince Harvey Keitel it was a project worth taking on and together they raised the money and attracted a killer cast that included Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Michael Madsen. It's the story of a heist that doesn't go exactly as planned, and you'll never feel the same way about "Stuck in the Middle With You" again after watching it. 

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7. ‘Trainspotting’

Ewan McGregor was just 25 when he starred in this movie about about a bunch of junkies in 1980s Edinburgh. It's just about the least glamorous look at drug use ever shot, but critics and audiences loved it and it helped turn Danny Boyle into a big-name director. There's been talk of a Trainspotting sequel for years, but they've yet to confirm any plans. 

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6. ‘Forrest Gump’

Like American Beauty, Forrest Gump is one of those movies that was so beloved and successful when it came out that a backlash was inevitable. What was once seen as a feel-good classic is now seen (at least by some) as an oddly conservative tale about the endless dangers of drugs, sex and the anti-war movement. Jenny experiments with free love and drugs, only to become a pathetic junkie that eventually dies of AIDS. Forrest Gump meets up with Black Panthers, only to discover they are hypocrites that beat up women. It's almost like Sean Hannity wrote this thing. 

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5. ‘Fight Club’

20th Century Fox didn't think that Fight Club was going to be a hit. Even with a huge star like Brad Pitt, they decided to use a pink bar of soap as the dominant marketing image and they advertised during WWF events, thinking the movie would appeal to rowdy teenagers. These decisions drove director David Fincher insane because he knew he had a great, challenging film on his hands that could be a hit. Even though it made about $100 million worldwide during its original run, the studio saw it as a failure. The movie finally found a big audience when it came out on DVD and remains one of the biggest cult classics of the decade. 

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4. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

Stephen King's 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption came to the big screen in 1994 as The Shawshank Redemption. With hindsight, they probably should have changed that title even more. It surely played a role in the film's commercial disappointment, though it did find a huge audience on cable and today it's ranked Number One on the IMDB's list of the greatest movies of all time. That's probably a little high, but this is indeed a fantastic movie. 

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3. ‘Goodfellas’

Is there any movie in the history of the world that's more re-watchable than Goodfellas? OK, maybe Die Hard and possibly Die Hard: With a Vengeance and Rocky IV, but that is it. Besides those, Goodfellas wins hands down. Even if it's on USA and they've edited stuff out and you just watched it on Blu Ray and it's 3/4th over and you have plans you can't break, it's impossible to stop watching Goodfellas until it ends. Martin Scorsese has made many great movies since this, but he's never topped it. It's a near-perfect movie.

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2. ‘The Big Lebowski’

The week that The Big Lebowski first hit theaters it was crushed by the Fugitive quasi-sequel U.S. Marshals. It also made less than the fourth week of the Wedding Singer, the 12th week of Titanic and the opening of Twilight. That's not the vampire movie, but a widely forgotten thriller starring Paul Newman and Gene Hackman. It did manage to make about $100,000 more than Hush. For those that don't remember, Hush is a horrible Gwyneth Paltrow movie that's almost been erased from history. Nobody throws Hush conventions where fans come dressed like Jessica Lange. Even Tommy Lee Jones probably forgets about the existence of U.S. Marshals and the less said about Twilight the better. What's happened to The Big Lebowski since that disastrous opening weekend is proof that greatness sometimes triumphs over mediocrity. It just takes a little time. 

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1. ‘Pulp Fiction’

If Hollywood in the 1990s had to be defined by a single image it could very well be John Travolta dancing with Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It may have gotten creamed at the Oscars by Forrest Gump, but good luck finding someone today who thinks that was a good call. Pulp Fiction is the movie of the decade, not just that incredible year of 1994. It kickstarted an incredible indie revolution that continues to this day and forever proved that America can embrace non-traditional, subversive movies. It also brought John Travolta back from the the sad depths of Look Who's Talking Now. That alone is a pretty remarkable thing. 

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