September 27, 2023
Top Movies Of 1990 A 30th Anniversary Perspective

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Steve shares his top movies from 1990

It is hard to believe sometimes that 1990 was 30 years ago.  There was a lot going on, historically speaking, that year.  The fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the Gulf War, just to name a few.  That years the 49ers won the Super Bowl, the Reds won the World Series, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup (hockey for those that don’t follow), the Pistons won the NBA Championship, and West Germany won the World Cup (soccer, again, if you don’t follow).  1990 was the birth of bands Pearl Jam and Tool, among many others.


In film, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to Dances with Wolves and the highest-grossing movie of the year was Ghost.

There were quite a few good movies out that year.  Celebrating the 30th anniversary of 1990 in film, I put together this list of my favorites from that year.

10.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This was the first attempt at adapting the popular comic series that started out in the mid-80s.  This one was directed by Steve Barron, who went on to direct Coneheads.  It did not have a lot of huge names in the cast unless you count Corey Feldman providing the voice of Donatello.  The film itself made over $200 million, putting it in the top 10 grossing films for that year. 

I thought the movie was fun.  It wasn’t the best movie of the year but I enjoyed it more than other films that were released that year.  It deserves a spot here.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990

9.  Flatliners

The premise of this film was intriguing.  A crew of med students purposely ending their lives temporarily to experience what life after death is like.  Horrifying results of course.  Pretty big cast for the time.  Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt star as the med students.  This one was directed by Joel Schumacher.  This was, of course, prior to his the utter damage that he performed on the Batman franchise.  This movie was remade in 2017.  I never got around to watching the remake. 


8.  Total Recall

This sci-fi film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was based on a Philip K. Dick short story titled “We Can Remember It for you Wholesale,” that was originally published in 1966 by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also directed RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Showgirls (which we try to forget ever happened), and Hollow Man, among others.  In addition to Arnold in the lead role, it also starred Sharon Stone as his “wife,” as well as Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside as the main antagonists.  I enjoyed the film.  I enjoy just about anything that adapts Philip K. Dick’s material.  There was even a sequel planned for this film that was supposed to be based on Dick’s “Minority Report.”  Well, that didn’t happen but what did happen was “Minority Report” was turned into its own film directed by Steven Spielberg and Total Recall  itself was remade in 2012 directed by Len Wiseman and starring Colin Farrell in the role that Arnold played.  Another remake I’ve never gotten around to viewing. 

Total Recall Poster

7.  Back to the Future Part III

Personally, I liked this one better than Part II.  This third and final (maybe?) installment of the franchise took Marty and Doc to the wild west.  Robert Zemeckis returned as the director. It was the 6th highest-grossing film of 1990, raking in a little over $244 million.  I enjoyed the way this story combined western and sci-fi elements in a way that only the BTTF universe could do. 

Back to the Future Part III

6.  The Hunt for Red October

This John McTiernan film was the first time in film that the world got to see the Jack Ryan character.  It was adapted from Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel of the same name.  It is set in a time when the Cold War still existed and tells the story of a rogue Soviet submarine captain.  I enjoyed the story elements and the cast, generally speaking, was great in their roles.  Sean Connery, amazing as always, played the rogue captain brilliantly.  Sam Neill and Tim Curry played members of his crew.  James Earl Jones played the character of James Greer for the first time.  He went on to play that same role in 1992s Patriot Games and 1994s Clear and Present Danger.  The role of Jack Ryan in this one was played by Alec Baldwin.  He was okay in the role but for me, Harrison Ford is who I think of when I think of Jack Ryan.  Overall though, great film.  It is strange to me that this film did not gross higher than it did.

The Hunt For Red October

5.  Days of Thunder

Okay, I know.  How the hell did this movie end up in my top 10 for 1990?!?  Admittedly, I like to think I am not much of a Tom Cruise fan but, as much as it pains me, I have to come clean and admit that I like most of the movies that he has been in that I have seen (with the exception of his role in the 2008 movie Tropic Thunder).  Sure, this is little more than a Top Gun with race cars but hey, Top Gun was a great movie.  Days of Thunder was directed by Tony Scott (also known for directing The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, and Spy Game, among others).  It had a strong cast of folks like Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, Rand Quaid, Fred Thompson, and John C. Reilly.  It even had some cameos by actual NASCAR drivers such as Richard Petty and Rusty Wallace.  To be honest, I’m not a racing fan but I still really liked this movie. 

Days of Thunder Poster

4.  Young Guns 2

I liked this almost as much as I liked the first one.  Geoff Murphy took over directing duties from Christopher Cain in this sequel to the 1988 western film.  It details the continuing adventures of Billy the Kid with Emilio Estevez reprising the role.  Also returning for this film were Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Philips as Doc and Chavez, respectively.  New entrants to this one included Christian Slater, played a very entertaining version of Arkansas Dave, and William Peterson as the crew’s main antagonist, Sheriff Pat Garrett.  It even includes a small role played by Viggo Mortensen.  It tells the tale from the perspective of an old man that claims to be Billy the Kid and he tells his story to an attorney in the hopes of getting a pardon for his crimes.

Young Guns 2 Poster

3.  Goodfellas

Goodfellas was directed by Martin Scorsese and included one hell of a cast!  It is based on the book Wiseguy which was written by Nicholas Pileggi that details the life of former mobster Henry Hill who becomes an FBI informant.  It stars Ray Liotta as Hill, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Paul Sorvino.  It was nominated for several Oscars.  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Lorraine Bracco, and Best Supporting Actor for Pesci, who won the Oscar.  It often shows up on best films lists and rightly so. 

GoodFellas Poster

2.  Die Hard 2

Strangely enough, I saw this sequel before I saw the original.  I remember that I was on vacation and had several hours to kill while staying at a hotel.  I noticed a movie theater across the street so I wandered over to it and decided to see this one.  I am glad I did.  I love this franchise!  I don’t know if it is because it was the first one I saw or not but it has always been my favorite of the series.  Just as the original Die Hard was based on a novel, in its case “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp, this sequel was based on Walter Wager’s “58 Minutes”.  This installment in the series puts former LAPD detective John McClaine in an airport in Washington, DC and pits him against a group of former U.S. Special Forces turned terrorists led by William Sadler as his group tried to rescue a drug lord from U.S. custody.  This film made the top 10 grossing films list of 1990, coming in at #7 and pulling in just over $240 million.

Die Hard 2 Poster

1.  Pump Up the Volume

This one did not pull in a lot of money nor did it win any major award nominations or placement on any well known best of lists, despite its mostly positive reviews.  However, this is one of my all-time favorite films.  It tells the story of an outsider.  The new kid in school who is secretly a shock disc jockey on a pirate radio station.  Christian Slater plays the role of Mark Hunter, aka Hard Harry, perfectly.  He was the perfect choice to play this role.  His love interest in the film is played by Samantha Mathis who went on to co-star with Slater again in the 1996 action film Broken Arrow, and also had roles in notable films such as the 1995 rom-com The American President, and 2004s The Punisher

Pump Up The Volume

In addition to a great story and a great performance by Slater, this film had a great soundtrack!  Songs by Leonard Cohen, the Pixies, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Concrete Blonde, and Descendents were featured in the movie.  Such a crazy good movie.  If you have never seen this one, I urge you to consider tracking it down. 


What are your top movies from 1990? Share your favorites in the comments section below. 


The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.


Steve Long is a new addition to the Future of the Force roster. Aside from being a passionate Star Wars fan, he also co-hosts the Rogue One Radio Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @otter272 where he channels his passion frequently!


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