10 Best 21st Century Movies Set in the ’90s, Ranked

Movies


The 1990s were an incredible decade for many things, particularly pop culture. With plenty of movies and remarkable songs released during this era, it makes sense why so many people are drawn to this particular period. While most of the love for it is understandably rooted in nostalgia, it is an undeniable fact that the 1990s were an iconic decade that helped shape history, bringing innovation in different fields and technological advances.



While a good number of quintessential 1990s movies accurately represent their unforgettable surroundings, a handful of features from later decades have also managed to capture the essence, atmosphere, and even depict the historical events that made the decade such a beloved one. From the MCU’s Captain Marvel to Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, these are the best 21st century movies set in the ’90s that fans of the decade would probably enjoy checking out.



10 ‘Captain Marvel’ (2019)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Image via Marvel Studios

Despite its mixed reviews, Captain Marvel is one of the most talked-about movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for several reasons. In the year it was released — a historic one for Disney — Captain Marvel became one of seven movies to gross $1 billion. According to Box Office Mojo, it is also one of Marvel’s highest-grossing. The film stars Brie Larson in the lead role and follows the titular character on a self-discovery journey, where she attempts to learn more about her past while stuck in an intergalactic conflict between two alien civilizations.


On top of its entertaining narrative that portrays the cinematic universe in a different light and draws inspiration from some action movies of the mentioned decade, what makes Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s movie stand out from other MCU installments is the fact that it is set in the 1990s, offering audiences a good dose of nostalgia and throwback, especially when the Blockbuster video store is shown. It is a fun film throughout (particularly for cat lovers), even if hardly a masterpiece.

Watch on Disney+

9 ‘Honey Boy’ (2019)

Director: Alma Har’el

Noah Jupe in Honey Boy with his face covered in cake.
Image via Amazon Studios


Filmed in Los Angeles over a short course of three weeks, Alma Har’el‘s heartbreaking coming-of-age tale Honey Boy sees a young actor, played by both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges at different ages, navigate a stormy childhood and early adult years. In the meantime, he struggles to reconcile with his father (Shia LaBeouf, who originally wrote the script while in rehab) and his alcoholism and declining mental health.

Although Honey Boy is technically set in the early 2000s, it also sends audiences back to the mid-90s (most specifically 1995) to illustrate Otis’ troublesome childhood. Har’el complex film manages to recreate the charming, nostalgic atmosphere of the decade while also sending out poignant messages about generational trauma that triggers severe mental health issues and the subsequent results (which would be addiction, in this case).

Watch on Amazon Prime


8 ‘Into the Wild’ (2007)

Director: Jon Krakauer

Emile Hirsch and Kristen Stewart in Into the Wild smiling. She holds a puppy in her arms.
Image via Paramount Vantage

One of the best movies for nature lovers, Into the Wild is an adaptation of the 1996 non-fiction book of the same name written by JonKrakauer. It tells the incredible though heart-wrenching real-life story of top student and athlete ChristopherMcCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, who hiked across North America into the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s after graduating from Emory University.

Although its depiction of the beloved decade certainly differs a bit from other movies on this list, the Sean Penn-directed, beautifully shot Golden Globe-nominated film will likely keep audiences intrigued throughout, offering them a memorable and visually striking depiction of life in the wilderness. As expected, Into the Wild deals with existentialist themes, including loneliness, isolation, alienation, and the individual versus society.


Watch on Apple TV

7 ‘Good Bye, Lenin!’ (2003)

Director: Wolfgang Becker

Daniel Brühl looking at Katrin Sass in 'Good Bye Lenin!'
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Next up is Wolfgang Becker‘s must-see comedy war drama Good Bye, Lenin! starring Marvel’s Zemo, DanielBrühl. Set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the movie centers around a young man who must keep his fragile mother (KatrinSass) from a fatal shock after waking up from a long coma: she must not learn that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.


This critically acclaimed German tragicomedy is surely essential for moviegoers keen on the genre, as it perfectly encompasses what a great dark comedy should look like. Reflecting on the 1990s post-communist war Germany, this contemporary classic and socially conscious tale by Becker is surely worthwhile, especially if readers are looking to watch a film that addresses relevant historical events that happened in the decade.

Watch on Tubi

6 ‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

A close-up shot of Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich sitting at her desk in Erin Brockovich.
Image via Columbia Pictures


Featuring Julia Roberts in one of her most career-defining roles as an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant — for which she ended up winning Best Actress at the Academy Awards — Erin Brockovich follows the titular character as she brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply (almost) solely on her own in 1993.

Erin Brockovich is an extremely well-executed dramatization of the true story of an environmental activist’s incredible doings. After all, it ended up getting a Best Picture nomination for a reason. Steven Soderbergh’s movie is probably not the picture that comes to mind immediately when readers think of “1990s movies,” but it is still a notable film that takes viewers back to the decade while also shedding light on an important occurrence.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Release Date
March 17, 2000

Runtime
131 minutes

Watch on Apple TV


5 ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (2015)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr., Jason Mitchell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Corey Hawkins as N.W.A. walking away from their concert in Straight Outta Compton
Image via Universal Pictures

This biographical drama by F. Gary Gray follows a rap group named NWA (made up of Eazy-E,Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJYella) that emerged from the streets of Compton in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and revolutionized hip-hop culture with their groundbreaking movies and tales about life in the neighborhood. In the lead roles are O’Shea Jackson Jr., CoreyHawkins, JasonMitchell, Neil Brown Jr., and AldisHodge.

Although Straight Outta Compton took liberties with the band’s story for dramatic effect, it is obviously inspired by a real-life band that is still talked about these days despite its fall. While F. Gary Gray’s movie also takes place in the 1980s, it sheds light on the early 1990s time period when the band split. Needless to say, fans of rap music will probably enjoy this Academy Award-nominated feature (Best Original Screenplay).


Watch on Max

4 ‘Mid90s’ (2018)

Director: Jonah Hill

Sunny Suljic as Stevie and his friends sitting down next to their skateboards in 'Mid90s' (2018)
Image via A24

As the title suggests, Mid90s is a great movie for 1990s enthusiasts; in particular those who spent their childhoods in Los Angeles, as it perfectly depicts the city during the decade. The story centers around thirteen-year-old Steve, played by Sunny Suljic, who spends his summer navigating between his chaotic home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.


Written and directed by well-known comedy actor Jonah Hill in his directorial debut, this A24 coming-of-age movie is not, by any means, a groundbreaking or life-changing one. However, Mid90s still provides audiences with an entertaining slice-of-life narrative that accurately incorporates 1990s elements — especially when it comes to 90s adolescence — with great results, managing to reproduce the magic and nostalgia that makes the decade such a beloved one for many.

Mid90s

Release Date
October 19, 2018

Runtime
84

Watch on Max

3 ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) takes in the applause in 'I, Tonya' with her arms opened and smiling.
Image via Neon


Focusing on the real-life incident revolving around Tonya Harding, I, Tonya stars Margot Robbie in a career-defining performance that earned her her first and only (so far) Academy Award nomination. Craig Gillespie‘s movie, which illustrates Harding’s rise and fall as a competitive ice skater, is filmed in a well-crafted documentary-like style, with Robbie nailing the role. SebastianStan also stars, playing Harding’s abusive ex-husband.

Like some other films mentioned here, I, Tonya helps illustrate an unforgettable event during the 1990s, detailing it with precision and providing audiences with an accurate illustration of the heartbreaking twist that happened in Harding’s life, for which she suffered the consequences in the form of a three-year probation. While Robbie’s performance is easily the standout in the film, I, Tonya is undoubtedly engaging.

I, Tonya

Release Date
January 19, 2018

Runtime
119 minutes

Watch on Max


2 ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ (2012)

Director: Stephen Chbosky

Emma Watson and Logan Lerman as Sam and Charlie sitting on some stairs holding red cups in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Image via Summit Entertainment

Stephen Chbosky‘s movie, based on the devastating novel of the same name also by Chbosky, stars Logan Lerman as a 15-year-old introvert who befriends his seniors and slowly learns how to cope with his friend’s traumatizing suicide as well as his traumatic past. In the meantime, Charlie navigates through his life in high school and everything that encompasses.

Considering the sensitive themes it deals with, including trauma, abuse, and violence among others, The Perks of Being a Wallflower can be a triggering film, which is why viewer discretion is advised. Despite its at times sorrowful central coming-of-age tale, Chbosky’s movie also provides audiences with a thoughtful and nostalgic in front of the screen, especially when looking at the pop-cultural 90s references it features.


Watch on Fubo

1 ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort raising his hand while addressing a cheering crowd in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Image via Paramount Pictures

Although debatable, some would argue that The Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese‘s best. This is not surprising considering the cult following it earned. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, this 2013 movie tells the real-life story of JordanBelfort, depicting his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his ultimate fall involving crime, corruption, and the federal government.


The Wolf of Wall Street takes place during the late 1980s and early 1990s, perfectly capturing the lush life that would come for rich people at the time. It makes sense why audiences would be so drawn to Scorsese’s epic, especially when considering all the stunning visuals it features on top of the astounding acting performances and the memorable story at its center.

Watch on Apple TV+

NEXT: ‘That ’90s Show’ & 9 Other Modern Shows Set In The 1990s



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