15 Best Thriller Movies of the 90s

The 1990s was an amazing decade for the cinema. Be it action, thriller, drama or any other genre, that decade was a breath of fresh air. After a relatively lackluster 80s, the new decade was bold enough to explore new areas and challenge viewers with offerings they were not quite used to. New talents such as Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher and the Coen brothers had just stepped into the industry and were ready with their tricks to amaze their audiences.

The thriller genre had seen some fantastic films in the earlier years, thanks to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, however, it was during the 90s that the genre truly flourished. Here’s the list of top thriller and suspense movies of the 90s that every cinephile should have seen. For those of you have missed out on any of the films on the list, a spoiler alert would be in order. You can watch many of these good 90s thriller movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

15. Speed (1994)

Speed is an immensely gripping thriller with a minimalistic plot. The beauty of the film lies in the number of thrills it can deliver based entirely on the premise of driving a bus that can’t slow down. Or else, it explodes. After a brief character introduction, we are directly taken to the central theme and as soon as Keanu jumps into the bus to rescue the innocent passengers, we are totally engaged until all of them are safe.

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14. Total Recall (1990)

Dennis Quaid, just like a few other normal human beings, lives a normal life, with his beautiful wife for company. But at night, he gets these strange dreams about a mysterious lady in a mysterious place. Discouraged by everyone, upon asking about his dreams, he reaches out to Rekall, a company who specialises in planting memories for fantasy. But as the procedure starts, Quaid starts getting flashes of a subdued memory. And all of a sudden, his world does not seem to be the one he practically lived his entire life. Or so he believed. Based on Philip K Dick story, which incidentally served as a prequel to the ‘Minority Report’, ‘Total Recall’ was a thriller considered to be way ahead of its time.

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13. Basic Instinct (1992)

Recognized as one of the best erotic thrillers ever made, ‘Basic Instinct’ is a powerful movie, mainly due to the antagonist played boldly by Sharon Stone in her most rememberable performance. Stone plays a self-obsessed psychopath posing as a mysterious writer, who is the prime suspect in a murder case being investigated by a detective played by Michael Douglas. The movie is also scary at times as we go ahead with the story due to the sheer mysterious nature of Stone and her brutal ways.

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12. The Game (1997)

David Fincher’s third commercial film is the perfect example of how to build up suspense. The film is so well written that it has the ability to engage even the least interested viewer. We see everything happening from the protagonist’s point of view without ever realizing what’s really going on. It’s a thrill ride as we see the protagonist fighting someone faceless and being at risk all the time before finally realizing what it all really means. The ending is somewhat polarizing. But it was a reasonably good climax. It is rather hard to deliver an excellent climax when the build up is the main highlight of your film.

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11. Primal Fear (1996)

This critical and commercial hit gave us one of the most underrated gems of modern cinema. Yes, we are talking about Edward Norton. For his debut, Norton delivers one of his best performances till date, playing a young altar boy accused of murdering a priest. To his aid, comes Richard Gere, playing a hot shot lawyer in the film. The crime-thriller is gripping to the end and the climax is one of the best moments of the film that proves it is a gem of a suspense-thriller.

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10. Cape Fear (1993)

What’s more exciting than a Scorsese-DeNiro film? One where Bobby D plays a psycho rapist! This is, without a doubt, the creepiest character DeNiro has played in a Scorsese film and that’s saying a lot. DeNiro plays a convicted rapist who believes he has been wronged by his lawyer, played by Nick Nolte. And hence, he comes back for revenge after serving his 14-year term. Threatening his lawyer’s family at every turn, the film is equally scary for the viewer. Do give it a try if you’re yet to watch this film.

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9. Funny Games (1997)

This Austrian psychological thriller by Michael Haneke is disturbing beyond description. What makes the film this scary and disturbing is the fact that it is way too relatable by the average viewer. Even if all of us do not own humungous vacation homes or play golf for recreation, we can imagine two people breaking into our homes and holding our family hostage. And that’s what happens in the film. What seems to be a friendly neighborhood introduction turns out to be a kidnapping situation, where the couple and their young child are taken hostage by the two strangers. The reason is obviously unknown. Well, they were both psychos. That’s reason enough. I still remember imagining myself in the situation, as it was just too ummm, plausible. However, another key feature of the film is that at a point, Haneke starts talking to the viewers, reminding them how it is just a film and how helpless we as viewers really are. This is among the best meta moments in meta history. You’ll have to watch the film to truly experience what we want to say.

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8. Bound (1996)

This underrated jewel is from the time when the Wachowskis were yet to make their masterpiece, ‘The Matrix’. With a limited number of characters and a relatively simple plot, ‘Bound’ is one of those thrillers that rely solely on the story and not visuals or cameras or make-up etc. The plot revolves around the two leading ladies falling for each other and planning a way for one to get rid of her gangster husband and start a new life together. Things don’t go as planned and new characters start appearing which render the two in a delicate situation. This is indeed a brilliant film that showcases how a good story can create a great film.

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7. Following (1998)

Christopher Nolan’s breakout film is often touted as one of his best films so far. Powered with a strong narrative and an engaging storyline, the film is minimalistic and goes on to prove the “Less is More” theory, that we’ll discuss in depth in another article. Critically acclaimed but relatively unknown, this film showcases the many talents of Nolan sans the visual imagery that he has come to be known the most for lately. Not only was the film produced on a small budget, the runtime is restricted to 70 minutes as well, ensuring that there are no fillers in the plot to sway the viewers’ minds away.

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6. Fargo (1996)

The critically acclaimed Coen Brothers flick is based on a true story. It involves a married man, Jerry, going through a bad time, planning his wife’s kidnapping to get money from her rich dad. Things go wrong with some misunderstanding between Jerry and the guys he hired and soon, it turns into an actual kidnapping. The film also has some funny moments and is also considered as a dark comedy by many. Also, Frances McDormand’s Oscar-winning performance makes the film definitely worth watching even if you’re not into a lot of violence as she makes one of the most brutal murder scenes look “all right” due to her lighter moments as a cop.

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5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Another directorial debut on our list is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The film has many accords to its name and is counted among the best independent and the best heist movies. However, it is also one of the best thrillers and the key here is character development, something Tarantino deals really well with. Each of the characters is very different from another and their personalities are very cleverly explained in the story. The impulsive Mr. Pink, the whacko Mr. Blonde, and the thoughtful Mr. White are very well written characters. The beauty of the film is in the events that follow the plot twist, where the true identity of Mr. Orange is revealed and the follow up keeps us on the edge of our seats, proving that ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is a perfect thriller.

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4. The Sixth Sense (1999)

M Night Shyamalan proved that keeping things simple and easy to comprehend can be as impactful as a complex plot and his genius at twists. Although his later work didn’t match up to the expectations that his first major success set for him as a director, he is still regarded as a man with immense potential in wake of his recent ‘The visit’ and ‘Split’. ‘The Sixth Sense’ follows a psychiatrist trying to help a child who can interact with the supernatural. From chilly visuals to well-written dialogues to jump scares, the film has everything that makes a good thriller.

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3. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Bryan Singer’s ‘The Usual Suspects’ takes us to the lives of criminals in a way much different from ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Reservoir Dogs’. These anti-heroes are not glorified but are shown as vulnerable and much more realistic in their conflicts and mistakes within the team. However, that is just the central theme of what is essentially a suspenseful thriller. Narrated through the investigation of Kevin Spacey, the film is crafted with really fine detail. Driven largely by Spacey’s character and acting, the film goes on and on building a story and making it believable before turning the tables on all stakeholders including the audiences. PS: The ending line is among the best ever in film history.

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2. Se7en (1995)

The dark and gritty Fincher movie revolves around a psychopath preaching through the murders of his victims and two detectives on the hunt for him. The film is a quintessential thriller and also an emotional roller coaster keeping it real and relatable through its characters. The antagonist portrayed superbly by Kevin Spacey is scary and unyielding and his planned conduct keeps him one step ahead of the good guys and the audiences on the edges of their seats.

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1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

1991’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ was such an impactful film that it literally scared girls across the USA. Anthony Hopkins delivered his most memorable and legendary portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, a high functioning psychopathic cannibal, along with Clarice Sterling, a FBI agent played well by Jodie Foster. The film is high on thrills and features some of the chilliest and thrilling moments such as Lecter’s escape and Buffalo Bill kidnapping a girl right off the street. These scenes have become so recountable in modern times that it’s a feat in itself.

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