Every avid movie lover knows that to find some of the best stuff, you have to look towards the past. Hands down one of the best decades for cinema was the ’90s. As directors perfected film cinematography and experimented with digital, some of the most prolific works of all time were created.
Far from being the cheap and cheesy genre the popular imagination makes it out to be, romance films have the potential to access some of the deepest, darkest truths about what is perhaps the most profound and universal human emotion: love. When it comes to romance in films, the ’90s gave the world some of its best.
10 True Romance (1993) – 3.88/5
Available to rent on Amazon Prime
This ’90s crime thriller follows the undying love of Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and Clarence (Christian Slater), who end up entangled in a web of gangs, drugs, and murder through a series of well-intentioned mishaps.
Popular in its time, the film has seen a resurgence in recent years following its reference in the renowned show Euphoria when Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) dresses up as Alabama for Halloween. The central relationship of True Romance is perfect, the only problem is the rest of the world. If it’s more crime than romance, it is certainly one of the most romantic crime movies of all time.
9 Edward Scissorhands (1990) – 3.88/5
Stream on Disney+
Johnny Depp plays the soft-spoken, artificially-animated product of a scientist opposite Winona Ryder, the teenage daughter of a kind suburban woman who takes him in after his creator’s untimely death.
Depp’s look in the film, seemingly loosely inspired by The Cure, probably helped to accelerate the cultural revolution of emo influence that would propel grunge bands like Nirvana to mainstream fame later in the ’90s. The onscreen chemistry between Ryder and Depp was equally strong offscreen as well and the two actors actually dated during the making of the film.
8 Buffalo ’66 (1998) – 3.89/5
Stream on Hoopla and Tubi
In this twisted take on a meet-cute, a recently released felon, Billy (Vincent Gallo) kidnaps a tap dancer (Christina Ricci) to pretend to be his wife in order to impress his emotionally distant parents. Gallo is also the film’s writer-director, making his performance uniquely personal.
The main character of this film is thoroughly unlikable, and the central relationship is nothing short of painful. Moments of extreme discomfort give way to incredibly touching vulnerability and intimacy from a person terrified of connection. Buffalo ’66 is definitely not a feel-good romance, but it gets at some of the most unsettling and complex emotional truths about love.
7 But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) – 3.97/5
Stream on Hoopla and Tubi
Orange Is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne appears in her breakout role as Megan, an all-American girl who, despite denying having homosexual urges, is sent to a conversion camp against her will.
Led by a strong cast and thematically ahead of its time, But I’m A Cheerleader is a feel-good movie for the LGBTQ+ community from a time when not many films centered on love stories that were not conventional and heterosexual. The quirky, deadpan humor and campy, colorful set design make it an unmissable cult classic.
6 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – 3.98/5
Stream on Disney+
Hands down one of the best teen romance movies of the decade, 10 Things I Hate About You stars Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles as reluctant romantic interests. The movie is a cleverly disguised Shakespearean adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.
Anyone who didn’t get a chance to see this movie when it came out probably caught it in a very cool teacher’s English class during a Shakespeare unit. This modern repackaging of the centuries-old tale is an ingenious way to get teenagers to engage with a story that is written in antiquated and at times alienating language.
5 Breaking The Waves (1996) – 4.01/5
Stream on HBO Max
In Lars Von Trier’s twisted love story, a girl in a remote village believes she can speak directly with God and prays that he send her lover home. God obliges her by causing a horrific accident that leaves her husband paralyzed and bed-stricken for life.
Breaking the Waves is a perverse moral tale that harshly warns the viewer to be careful what they wish for. Like many of von Trier’s other films, it has been met with equal amounts of controversy and acclaim from critics in the decades since its release. When a woman’s guilt and desire to please her husband are at odds with her husband’s sexual requests, conflict ensues.
4 Forrest Gump (1994) – 4.12/5
Stream on Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+
The underdog story for the ages is a romance at its core between the titular protagonist Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) and his pure love Jenny (Robin Wright) who suffers a terrible fate.
The dynamic between these two lovers and the tragic ending it meets is made all the more upsetting by Forrest’s simple-mindedness. It might be said that Jenny was too smart to be a good match for him, but she ultimately loved him just as the rest of the world did for his undying tenacity and optimism.
3 Three Colors: Red (1994) -4.24/5
Stream on HBO Max
The third film in a stunning dramatic trilogy by renowned Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, Three Colors: Red centers around an unlikely budding relationship between a part-time model and a retired judge.
Through an unsuspecting series of events that hold a quasi-slapstick irony, Kieślowski wraps up his opus trilogy in this stunning masterclass in cinema. Between the quirky characters and light-hearted mystery, this thoroughly European romance is perfect for those who want to see the tones and themes of the ’60s French new wave in a distinctly ’90s texture.
2 Chungking Express (1994) – 4.26/5
Stream on Criterion Channel
Taiwanese director Wong Kar-wai collaborates with national pop idol Faye Wong for a dreamy and mysterious set of interweaving romantic tales loosely centered around a pineapple can’s expiration date.
The film features an elusive plot and an even more elusive set of leading ladies. There is also a breathtaking cover of The Cranberries “Dreams” with vocals from Wong herself. For those drawn in by the early influences of Y2k aesthetics and not scared off by subtitles, this internationally renowned film is a must-see.
1 Before Sunrise (1995) – 4.32/5
Stream on Hoopla
The first in a trilogy that would span several decades about a one-night European rendezvous between perfect strangers, Richard Linklater’s romantic opus features stellar performances from acclaimed actors Ethan Hawke as hard-headed American Jesse and Julie Delpy as a romantic Parisian.
This timeless masterpiece explores the dangerous balance between fantasy and reality that must be maintained to keep the magic of a romantic encounter alive. It is an undeniably charming, utterly heartbreaking, and expertly crafted film that has captivated international audiences for over a quarter of a century and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
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