In partnership with the BFI
The ‘90s was a real golden age for offbeat, provocative and powerful filmmaking, as these 15 (relatively) unsung classics from across the genre spectrum definitely prove.
‘Paris Is Burning’ (1990)
Jennie Livingston’s seminal documentary film shines a spotlight on New York City’s ball culture, a place where African-American and Latino LGBTQ people could live out their high-glamour fantasies. Its influence looms large over RuPaul’s Drag Race – which has adopted much of the scene’s distinctive terminology – and the acclaimed US drama series Pose.
For fans of: Truth Or Dare, The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson
‘Boyz N The Hood’ (1991)
John Singleton made film history with his debut feature, becoming the youngest person ever (and first African American) to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. Featuring breakout performances from Cuba Gooding Jr. and NWA’s Ice Cube, his stunning coming-of-age film offers a compelling and compassionate snapshot of life for a young Black man growing up amid the gang culture of South Central Los Angeles.
For fans of: Do The Right Thing, La Haine
‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (1993)
Though Tina Turner later objected to some of the script’s fictional elements, this riveting rock biopic remains a cut above. It helps that Angela Bassett gives a scintillating performance as Turner, who escapes from her brutally abusive husband Ike (Laurence Turner), then pulls off an all-time great comeback.
For fans of: Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody
‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994)
Directed by Peter Jackson, who’d go on to make The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, this haunting psychological thriller tells the story of a notorious 1954 murder case which shook New Zealand. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey – both brilliant – play teenage girls whose intense friendship and obsession with a fantasy world of their own creation ultimately culminates in murder. It’s a seriously dark and disturbing gem.
For fans of: Monster, Notes On A Scandal
‘Muriel’s Wedding’ (1994)
This cult Australian comedy drama features a brilliant, breakthrough performance from Toni Collette. She plays Muriel Heslop, a small-town misfit who moves to Sydney and fulfils her ambition of becoming a bride by entering into a marriage of convenience with a South African swimmer. It’s an incredibly poignant film, both sweet and salty, with an excellent soundtrack that helped to kickstart the ABBA revival several years before Mamma Mia!
For fans of: My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
In her first lead role, Julianne Moore delivers a dazzling performance as Carol White, an affluent suburban housewife who’s suddenly struck down by a mysterious illness caused by the environment around her. Directed by Todd Haynes, it’s a quietly chilling and deliberately ambiguous film which feels more relevant than ever as we grapple with the threat posed by climate change.
For fans of: Carol, Still Alice
‘La Haine’ (1995)
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, this socially conscious crime drama was hailed as groundbreaking – and considered highly controversial – when it premiered in 1995. Starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui as three disenfranchised young men trying to find fulfilment in a tough Paris banlieue, its raw and righteous exploration of class conflict, racial discrimination and police brutality remains gut-churningly relevant today.
For fans of: Métisse, Bandes Des Filles
‘Secrets & Lies’ (1996)
Directed with tremendous empathy by Mike Leigh, this powerful family drama follows the emotional reunion between Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a middle-class Black optometrist who was adopted at birth, and Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), the anxious working-class white woman who gave her away. It’s a beautifully performed British film which sensitively explores issues surrounding identity, race, roots and class.
For fans of: Vera Drake, Nil By Mouth
‘Beautiful Thing’ (1996)
Adapted by Jonathan Harvey from his acclaimed stage play, this British film felt radical at the time because it gave us a queer love story which doesn’t end in tragedy. Nearly 25 years later, it’s still heartwarming to see Ste (Scott Neal) and Jamie (Glen Berry), two teenage boys from a tough south London estate, fall in love and win acceptance from their friends and neighbours.
For fans of: My Beautiful Laundrette, Call Me By Your Name
‘The Craft’ (1996)
This supernatural horror film starring Neve Campbell and Fairuza Balk has been embraced as a feminist cult classic in the years since its release. Set to a banging alt-rock soundtrack, it follows four teenage outcasts who begin dabbling in the dark art of witchcraft, and soon find themselves out of their depth.
For fans of: Heathers, Scream
‘Under The Skin’ (1997)
Written and directed by Carine Adler, this rather underrated British film offers a searing examination of grief. Samantha Morton stars as Iris, a vulnerable young woman who tries to get over her mother’s death by becoming increasingly promiscuous and hedonistic – much to the disapproval of her strait-laced sister Rose (Claire Rushbrook).
For fans of: Truly, Madly, Deeply, The Virgin Suicides
‘Nil By Mouth’ (1997)
Gary Oldman made his directorial debut with this startling portrait of life in a deprived part of south-east London. Kathy Burke gives a brilliant, award-winning performance as Val, a woman trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with her abusive husband Ray (Ray Winstone). Shockingly violent and liberally sprinkled with F-bombs, Nil By Mouth definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.
For fans of: Harry Brown, Sexy Beast
‘Starship Troopers’ (1997)
Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi blockbuster got drubbed by critics when it first came out, but it’s since been reappraised in a similar manner to the director’s cult erotic drama Showgirls. Often grotesque and sometimes pretty cheesy too, it’s now embraced by many film fans as sly satire skewering America’s weakness for right-wing militarism.
For fans of: RoboCop, Total Recall
Despite earning rave reviews, this high school comedy flopped at the box office. Two decades later, director Alexander Payne’s savage satire of American politics – which follows over-achiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) as she runs for president of student government – remains scarily relevant and on-the-nose.
For fans of: Mean Girls, Sideways
‘All About My Mother’ (1999)
Arguably the best ever film by visionary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, this heartfelt comedy drama is a celebration of womanhood and maternity which also explores – with tender sensitivity – the trials and tribulations of LGBTQ+ life. Almodóvar regular Penélope Cruz gives an especially touching performance as a young nun living with HIV.
For fans of: Volver, Pain And Glory