Actor Tom Hanks in an army uniform in the 1994 movie 'Forrest Gump'.

50 best movies from 1994

Written by:
February 4, 2019
Updated on February 8, 2019
Paramount // Getty Images

50 best movies from 1994

Like the 1970s, the 1990s represented an extraordinary time for serious, groundbreaking cinema. Thanks to the emergence of studios like Miramax, auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino struck a deft balance between commercial viability and artistic vision. In the process, they redefined the possibilities of narrative, content, and style. Meanwhile, directors like Martin Scorsese experienced a second wind of sorts and churning out some of their best work in over a decade.

Naturally, 1994 was no exception to the rule. Put simply, this was not a year belonging to big-budget franchise installments or formulaic sequels. That's not to say those didn't exist—as they most certainly did—rather that they weren't exclusively what people talked about at the water cooler on Monday. Indeed, a seminal work like "Pulp Fiction" garnered just as much traction as an action-packed thriller like "Speed."

Stacker ranked 1994's best films, with IMDb user ratings as the data source. Each film needed at least 15,000 votes to qualify. In the case of a ratings tie, the title with more votes ranked higher on the list. Here are the 50 best films from 1994.  

#50. The Ref

IMDb user rating: 6.9
Votes: 21,825
Director: Ted Demme
Runtime: 96 min.

After fleeing from a botched heist, a cat burglar (Denis Leary) takes a dysfunctional couple hostage (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) in this R-rated comedy. Things are going poorly enough until the couple's conniving son and obnoxious in-laws enter the picture. Leary's rapid-fire comedic style is on full display as he squares off against spoiled members of the elite class.  

#49. Clear and Present Danger

IMDb user rating: 6.9
Votes: 79,946
Director: Phillip Noyce
Runtime: 141 min.

Harrison Ford reprises his role as Jack Ryan for this Tom Clancy adaptation, which came on the heels of 1992's "Patriot Games." Facing enemies on all sides, Ryan gets embroiled in an illegal conflict between the U.S. government and the Colombian drug cartel. Willem Dafoe co-stars.

#48. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

IMDb user rating: 6.9
Votes: 250,128
Director: Tom Shadyac
Runtime: 86 min.

Jim Carrey co-wrote and stars in this wildly idiosyncratic comedy, which launched his career as a bankable movie star. It finds his character—a downright goofy pet detective named Ace Ventura—on the hunt for a stolen NFL team mascot. The movie was a veritable box office smash in 1994, though some of its scenes aren't exactly politically correct by today's standards.  

#47. The Mask

IMDb user rating: 6.9
Votes: 308,055
Director: Chuck Russell
Runtime: 101 min.

Jim Carrey's hot streak continued with this blockbuster comedy, about a cowardly bank clerk (Carrey) who discovers an ancient mask. Whenever he wears the mask, the timid clerk transforms into a hyperactive and boldly confident superhero. Not only did the movie cement Carrey's A-list status, but it helped turn actress Cameron Diaz into an overnight star.

#46. Maverick

IMDb user rating: 7.0
Votes: 93,512
Director: Richard Donner
Runtime: 127 min.

Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster were on top of the world when they starred in this action comedy, which re-teamed Gibson with "Lethal Weapon" helmer Richard Donner. Based on a once-popular TV show, the movie follows Bret Maverick (Gibson) as he finagles his way into a high-stakes poker game. Look for a cameo and some adjoining meta-jokes from Gibson's "Lethal Weapon" co-star Danny Glover.

#45. Exotica

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Votes: 16,378
Director: Atom Egoyan
Runtime: 103 min.

Set largely inside an exclusive strip club, Atom Egoyan's gripping drama explores a range of psycho-sexual themes. Similar to other films from the same director, this one uses traumatic past events to explain the behavior patterns of its main characters. Critic Emanuel Levy called it an "engaging tale of sexual desire and alienation."

#44. The Last Seduction

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Votes: 18,646
Director: John Dahl
Runtime: 110 min.

The 1990s was quite simply a great time for independent films, including this one from John Dahl. It centers on a scheming con artist named Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino), who uses both her body and her brains to lure in her next mark. The project was originally pitched as a "skin-e-max"-type flick in order to secure financing, though the intention was always to make a quality art house movie.

#43. Swimming with Sharks

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Votes: 20,753
Director: George Huang
Runtime: 93 min.

A young Hollywood assistant turns the tables on his sadistic boss in this ruthlessly dark comedy. Writer and director George Huang reportedly based some of the material on his own experiences working for uber-producer Joel Silver. The movie doesn't render the same impact 25 years later, though Kevin Spacey's performance is as cringe-inducing as ever.   

#42. Four Weddings and a Funeral

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Votes: 123,823
Director: Mike Newell
Runtime: 117 min.

British actor Hugh Grant was just one year away from a very public scandal when he headlined this romantic comedy-drama. It follows him and his friends to four weddings and one funeral, where he keeps crossing paths with the same American woman (Andie MacDowell). Made on a budget of under $5 million, the movie earned over $245 million at the worldwide box office.

#41. Stargate

IMDb user rating: 7.1
Votes: 163,353
Director: Roland Emmerich
Runtime: 116 min.

What would eventually become a full-blown franchise began as this popular sci-fi film, in which a group of humans travel through an interstellar teleportation device. Upon their arrival on a distant planet, the humans discover an alien civilization with strong ties to ancient Egypt. James Spader and Kurt Russell star.  

#40. Cemetery Man

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Votes: 18,239
Director: Michele Soavi
Runtime: 105 min.

Originally titled "Dellamorte Dellamore," this Italian horror comedy stars Rupert Everett as a cemetery caretaker in the small town of Buffalora. As zombies rise from their graves, the caretaker dutifully goes about destroying them. Overlooked by the masses, the film endures as a cult classic for those who have actually seen it.

#39. Muriel's Wedding

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Votes: 31,814
Director: P.J. Hogan
Runtime: 106 min.

This romantic comedy-drama hails from Australia, and centers on an ABBA-loving outcast named Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette). After stealing money from her parents, Muriel takes off for the tropics to reinvent herself and find happiness. With help from her kooky friends, she might even have the fancy wedding of which she has always dreamed.

#38. In the Mouth of Madness

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Votes: 52,148
Director: John Carpenter
Runtime: 95 min.

Horror legend John Carpenter (of "Halloween" fame) still had some tricks up his sleeve by the 1990s. Enter this twisted effort, in which an elusive writer's terrifying visions spring to life. Carpenter considered "In the Mouth of Madness" to be the final film in a trilogy of apocalypse-themed works.

#37. True Lies

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Votes: 215,944
Director: James Cameron
Runtime: 141 min.

On the heels of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" came this comedic spy thriller from James Cameron. Based on a French film, it finds a fearless secret agent (Arnold Schwarzenegger) struggling to balance his dangerous work and his stifled marriage. When he decides to recruit his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) for a fake assignment, the situation goes from bad to worse.

#36. Speed

IMDb user rating: 7.2
Votes: 296,932
Director: Jan de Bont
Runtime: 116 min.

Actress Sandra Bullock got her big break when she starred alongside Keanu Reeves in this adrenalizing blockbuster. Most of the action takes place aboard a speeding bus, which will blow up if it goes below 50 mph. Monitoring from afar is a devious mastermind, played by Dennis Hopper.

#35. Death and the Maiden

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 20,070
Director: Roman Polanski
Runtime: 103 min.

Based on a play of the same name, this Roman Polanski film confines most of its action to one location. The story centers on a political activist named Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver), who's convinced her new guest (Ben Kingsley) is the same man who once tortured and raped her. A taut and tightly wound showdown ensues.  

#34. Little Women

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 42,874
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Runtime: 115 min.

Both preceded and followed by a string of adaptations, this romantic family drama brought Louisa May Alcott's timeless novel onto the big screen. It tells the story of the March sisters, who come of age in post-Civil War America. Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Bale, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, and Gabriel Byrne star.

#33. Shallow Grave

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 52,023
Director: Danny Boyle
Runtime: 89 min.

Danny Boyle's directorial feature debut—not counting TV movies—offers a gripping take on a classic premise. When three close friends discover a dead roommate and a bag full of cash, it kicks off a series of chaotic events. Whether the film still holds up is for viewers to decide, but Boyle's late father always considered it his personal favorite.

#32. The Hudsucker Proxy

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 71,876
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Runtime: 111 min.

Filmmaking legends the Coen Brothers aimed for commercial viability with this comedy-drama, only to see it flounder on all fronts. Set in the late 1950s, it follows naive mailroom employee Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) to the top of the corporate ladder. His quick ascension is part of an unethical stock scheme, but little do the schemers realize that Barnes has a game-changing idea up his sleeve.

#31. Natural Born Killers

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 196,743
Director: Oliver Stone
Runtime: 118 min.

Adapting a story by Quentin Tarantino, director Oliver Stone delivered what's arguably his darkest and most hallucinatory work. It chronicles the exploits of two serial killers named Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), whose brutal killing spree captures the heart of America. The movie's themes of celebrity and exploitation remain prescient, to say the least.

#30. Dumb and Dumber

IMDb user rating: 7.3
Votes: 324,094
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Runtime: 107 min.

Jim Carrey capped off an extraordinary year with one of his most iconic performances, playing a dim-witted limo driver named Lloyd in this Farrelly Brothers comedy. Desperate to reconnect with a beautiful passenger (Lauren Holly), Lloyd and his brainless friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) embark on a road trip of disastrous proportion. Despite its well-earned title, the movie's signature brand of raunchy comedy remains quite clever.

#29. Nobody's Fool

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Votes: 16,645
Director: Robert Benton
Runtime: 110 min.

Based on a novel, this lowkey comedy-drama finds a stubbornly independent man (Paul Newman) grappling with a range of conflicts as he nears retirement age. Newman received multiple award nominations for his performance, including Best Actor at the Academy Awards. This was also the last film to star actress Jessica Tandy before she died.

#28. Pom Poko

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Votes: 18,891
Director: Isao Takahata
Runtime: 119 min.

Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata wrote and directed this animated fantasy, adapting an idea from fellow legend Hayao Miyazaki. It tells the story of a shape-shifting raccoon dog community, which struggles to survive in the face of urban development. As with a number of Studio Ghibli productions, this one examines the fragility of the natural world.

#27. Heavenly Creatures

IMDb user rating: 7.4
Votes: 55,400
Director: Peter Jackson
Runtime: 99 min.

Years before helming "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" and its prequels, Peter Jackson churned out this dark drama. Based on a true story, it sees the relationship between two teenage girls turn deadly when their parents interfere. In addition to directing, Jackson co-wrote the script with his wife, Fran Walsh.

#26. Queen Margot

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 15,092
Director: Patrice Chéreau
Runtime: 159 min.

Based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas, Patrice Chéreau's period drama takes place in late 16th-century France. In hopes of quelling a violent war between Catholics and Protestants, Catherine de' Medici arranges for her daughter, Margot de Valois, to marry King Henri de Navarre. Despite the arrangement, Margot embarks on a dangerous love affair with another man.

#25. Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 16,459
Director: Sooraj R. Barjatya
Runtime: 206 min.

The highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time (when adjusted for inflation) clocks in at just under three-and-a-half hours. Awash with epic song and dance numbers, the story brings two big families together at a young couple's wedding. Not only did the film change India's cinematic landscape and turn its lead actors into stars, it even influenced local wedding traditions.

#24. Immortal Beloved

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 21,362
Director: Bernard Rose
Runtime: 121 min.

Gary Oldman plays the legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven in this highly fictionalized biopic. The movie takes viewers behind the music to explore the man and his many female lovers, hoping to uncover his true immortal beloved. Oldman spent serious amounts of time preparing for the role, so he could play all the piano pieces with perfect technique.  

#23. Bullets Over Broadway

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 32,787
Director: Woody Allen
Runtime: 98 min.

The 1990s saw Woody Allen exploring new ground with a slate of narrative-based films, including this acclaimed crime comedy. Set in the late 1920s, it follows a struggling playwright (John Cusack) as he tries to secure financing for his latest effort. That means cutting a deal with a local mobster, and casting the mobster's slow-witted girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) in the lead role.

#22. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 42,417
Director: Stephan Elliott
Runtime: 104 min.

Australian filmmaker Stephan Elliott sends two drag-queens (Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp) and a transgender woman (Guy Pearce) across the desert in this celebrated comedy. Along the way they meet a bevy of quirky characters, and some aggressively ignorant ones, too. The movie earned accolades for its positive representation of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

#21. Quiz Show

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 59,929
Director: Robert Redford
Runtime: 133 min.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, this historical drama tells the true story of the 1950s quiz show scandal. Ralph Fiennes plays real-life quiz show contestant Charles Van Doren, who receives all the answers in advance. A lawyer named Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow) is tasked with investigating the matter.  

#20. Legends of the Fall

IMDb user rating: 7.5
Votes: 130,249
Director: Edward Zwick
Runtime: 133 min.

Actor Brad Pitt was one of Hollywood's brightest new stars when he appeared in this sweeping melodrama. Set in the early 1900s, it chronicles the bitter rivalry between two brothers who are in love with the same girl. The film has its moments, but fails to reach the same heights as 1989's "Glory," director Edward Zwick's previous historical drama.

#19. Fist of Legend

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Votes: 20,691
Director: Gordon Chan
Runtime: 103 min.

Martial artist Jet Li hadn't yet penetrated the American mainstream when he starred in this acclaimed remake out of Hong Kong. It takes place in 1937, and explores historical tensions between the Chinese and Japanese. Upon returning to Shanghai in the wake of his master's death, a kung fu prodigy (Li) settles the score.

#18. Drunken Master II

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Votes: 39,426
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
Runtime: 102 min.

Jackie Chan is one of the biggest names in the kung fu game, and this Hong Kong actioner finds him reprising the role of folk hero Wong Fei-hung. Against his father's wishes, Fei-hung gets embroiled in a violent conflict over the exportation of precious artifacts. A series of sensational showdowns helped make this one of the 10 best action movies of all time, according to the British Film Institute.

#17. The Crow

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Votes: 152,840
Director: Alex Proyas
Runtime: 102 min.

Since a new remake appears to be dead in the water (for now), viewers will simply have to make do with this 1994 original. Thankfully, it provides a dark and refreshing alternative to the standard superhero fare. Against a backdrop of gothic architecture and industrial sound, a young man (Brandon Lee) rises from the dead to avenge his and his fiancée's murder.

#16. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

IMDb user rating: 7.6
Votes: 270,075
Director: Neil Jordan
Runtime: 123 min.

Tom Cruise stars opposite a "miserable" Brad Pitt in this adaptation of Anne Rice's best-selling novel. Under the tutelage of Lestat (Cruise), a newly christened vampire (Pitt) learns how to become a creature of the night. Hulu is reportedly launching a TV series reboot in the near future.

#15. Il Postino: The Postman

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Votes: 30,049
Directors: Michael Radford, Massimo Troisi
Runtime: 108 min.

It's love, Italian style, in this award-winning romantic comedy-drama. With help from the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, an uneducated postman uses his newfound love of poetry to woo a local beauty. Co-director, co-writer, and star Massimo Troisi delayed heart surgery so he could complete the film, and died just 12 hours after shooting wrapped.

#14. Three Colors: White

IMDb user rating: 7.7
Votes: 54,184
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Runtime: 92 min.

The second installment in Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's beloved "Three Colours Trilogy" blends comedy, drama, romance, and revenge. After the collapse of his marriage, a man loses his livelihood and moves back to Warsaw. It's only when he devises a payback scheme against his ex-wife that the man is able to restore balance.

#13. Eat Drink Man Woman

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Votes: 16,241
Director: Ang Lee
Runtime: 124 min.

Taiwan-born filmmaker Ang Lee trained as an actor and director in the United States before shooting this romantic comedy-drama in his homeland. It tells the story of a widower chef and his three daughters, all of whom live under one roof and commune for dinner every Sunday. As each respective family member pursues his or her personal desires, it disrupts the household dynamic.

#12. Clerks

IMDb user rating: 7.8
Votes: 199,042
Director: Kevin Smith
Runtime: 92 min.

Armed with a budget of just $27,575, director Kevin Smith created one of cinema's most iconic independent films. It takes place inside (and outside) a New Jersey strip mall, and chronicles the hilarious exploits of two clerks named Dante and Randal. As the clerks discuss everything from movies to personal relationships, a series of life-changing events subtly unfold.

#11. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Votes: 15,680
Director: Kundan Shah
Runtime: 158 min.

Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan headlines this romantic comedy-drama, which he later described as his all-time favorite film. Tackling the rare role of underdog, he plays a happy-go-lucky musician named Sunil. When he discovers the girl of his dreams is hitting it off with another man, Sunil tries to keep the two apart to disastrous results.

#10. Once Were Warriors

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Votes: 28,858
Director: Lee Tamahori
Runtime: 102 min.

Based on a best-selling novel, this New Zealand crime drama tells the story of Grace Heke and her troubled family. Descended from a warrior tribe, the Hekes live as outcasts under the guardianship of a violent, alcoholic father. After Grace is raped by her uncle, an already tenuous situation falls apart at the seams.

#9. Ed Wood

IMDb user rating: 7.9
Votes: 155,575
Director: Tim Burton
Runtime: 127 min.

Tim Burton's award-winning biopic follows incompetent director Edward D. Wood Jr. (played by Johnny Depp) as he miraculously gets a number of projects off the ground. Among them are campy cult classics like "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda." Burton makes deft use of black and white to invoke the era in which the film takes place.   

#8. Chungking Express

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Votes: 51,034
Director: Kar-Wai Wong
Runtime: 102 min.

Divided into two sections, Kar-Wai Wong's colorful comedy-drama tells the story of two lovesick policemen. One is recovering from a breakup and pining over a mysterious drug smuggler, while the other is likewise on the rebound and falling for a snack bar employee. Wong enhances the experience by way of kinetic visuals and his brilliant use of music as motif.  

#7. Three Colors: Red

IMDb user rating: 8.1
Votes: 77,748
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Runtime: 99 min.

The final film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colours Trilogy" also is the best, according to critics and audiences. When she discovers that a retired judge has been eavesdropping on his neighbors, a beautiful model (Irène Jacob) finds herself grappling with secrets new and old. Stars from the two preceding films make cameos toward the end.  

#6. Andaz Apna Apna

IMDb user rating: 8.2
Votes: 44,693
Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Runtime: 160 min.

Despite a star-studded cast, this Indian slapstick comedy was a major flop at the time of its release. Nowadays, it's considered an influential and highly rewatchable cult classic, which makes clever use of an identity-swapping premise. The story pits two scheming slackers against one another as they try to marry the same heiress, only to end up embroiled in a series of chaotic events.  

#5. The Lion King

IMDb user rating: 8.5
Votes: 809,974
Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Runtime: 88 min.

With a live-action remake slated to drop later this year, now is the perfect time to revisit Disney's original animated classic. It tells the story of a lion cub prince named Simba, who gets tricked into thinking he killed his father. Years later, Simba returns from exile to reclaim the throne.

#4. Léon: The Professional

IMDb user rating: 8.6
Votes: 898,799
Director: Luc Besson
Runtime: 110 min.

Natalie Portman was just 11 when she auditioned for this dramatic thriller from Luc Besson, landing the role of Mathilda. At the heart of the film is a reclusive hitman named Léon (Jean Reno), who helps Mathilda seek revenge on the men who killed her family. Recent revelations about Besson's personal life have prompted some folks to re-evaluate the movie's illicit undertones.  

#3. Forrest Gump

IMDb user rating: 8.8
Votes: 1,562,221
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Runtime: 142 min.

It's American history as seen through the eyes of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) in this eponymous Best Picture Academy Award winner. Talking to just about anyone who will listen, Gump recounts his extraordinary story while spouting off a number of iconic colloquialisms. Even 25 years later, the film remains a timeless and emotionally draining masterpiece.

#2. Pulp Fiction

IMDb user rating: 8.9
Votes: 1,596,607
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 154 min.

Quentin Tarantino's most quintessential work is also one of the decade's best films, juxtaposing sharp dialogue and gritty violence to downright seminal effect. Set in Los Angeles, the movie conjures a bevy of cool characters as it interweaves three crime-related stories over a killer soundtrack. Thanks to its vibe and rewatch-worthiness, this one hasn't aged a day.   

#1. The Shawshank Redemption

IMDb user rating: 9.3
Votes: 2,043,477
Director: Frank Darabont
Runtime: 142 min.

Adapted from a Stephen King novella, Frank Darabont's exceptional prison drama kicks off in 1947 and unravels over the course of two decades. After being wrongly imprisoned for murder, a once-successful banker (Tim Robbins) changes the lives of all those around him. The movie currently holds the #1 spot on IMDb's "Top 250," so it's position here is a given.

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