The 10 Most Underrated Crime Movies of The 1990s

6. Pusher (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996)


In the debuts of both director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Mads Mikkelsen, Pusher follows a Copenhagen drug dealer called Frank (Kim Bodina). After a heroin deal goes wrong, Frank falls into trouble with the mob. He’s given only a few days to pay them what he owes, facing his own mortality.

Perhaps more than any other film in existence, Pusher feels like reality, even more so than documentaries. The hand-held camerawork, practical lighting and raw acting plants the audience directly in Copenhagen in the mid-‘90s. There is no separation between us and the streets, as if the screen doesn’t exist at-all. We ourselves are walking through and peering around Copenhagen, weaving into pubs, shops, apartments and neon-pulsing clubs in real-time. The camera’s as much a character in the film as Frank is.

Pusher also takes the crime genre to a grittiness and realism that’s never been topped, making audience members experience the tragic consequences of crime firsthand. The criminal underworld in the film is not painted as a romanticised clubhouse, as with many gangster movies. Like the film’s violence, its criminals are merciless and shockingly real. Not only a crime title unlike any other, Pusher is a film unlike any other. It’s a defining piece of Danish cinema and one that launched the careers of Mikkelsen and Refn. Pusher’s nihilistic barbarity is relentless – best suited to diehard crime fans able to endure its visceral violence.


7. The Funeral (Abel Ferrara, 1996)

Abel Ferrara, notable in the crime genre for King of New York (1990) and Bad Lieutenant (1992), takes the mafia tale in a more dramatic direction, in his most underrated, emotional and intimate film. The star-studded cast includes Chris Penn, Christopher Walken, Benicio del Toro, Annabella Sciorra, Isabella Rossellini, Vincent Gallo and Boardwalk Empire’s Gretchen Mol. The story concerns a funeral in an Italian American mafia family. The narrative flits between the event itself and flashbacks, detailing the characters’ backstories.

The Funeral is an outstanding drama because it not only shows audiences how conditioning and experience can lead to someone to becoming a criminal. It also addresses how these factors can cause an innocent person to mutate into a murdering psychopath. Reservoir Dogs’ Chris Penn gives not only the best performance of his career, but also the best performance of the decade. His acting is so sensitive, powerful and heartfelt, it’s dumbfounding he didn’t win an Oscar for his sterling achievement.

Whilst every element of this film is expertly crafted, from the other performances to the ‘30s period costumes to the meaningful writing, The Funeral is worth watching for Chris Penn alone. His characterisation of Chez is the gold standard by which other actors should be judged. Very rarely has an artist reached such heights and depths of emotion, such complexity, such honesty. Penn melded himself thoroughly with Chez, creating a very real, three-dimensional human being. Hollywood has never been the same since Penn’s premature death in 2006.


8. I Went Down (Paddy Breathnach, 1997)


In order to settle his debt with Dublin mob boss Tom French (Tony Doyle), Git Hynes (Peter McDonald) embarks upon a road trip across Ireland with Bunny Kelly (Brendan Gleeson). They’re tasked with bringing French’s associate, Frank Grogan (Peter Caffrey), from Cork back to Dublin.

I Went Down is a buddy comedy of nonstop entertainment. Its hip camerawork is thoughtfully and beautifully executed, referencing American noir, road movies and western cinema. Foreshadowing his comic triumphs in In Bruges and The Guard, Gleeson’s characterisation of Bunny Kelly is hilarious and irreverent. Bunny’s eccentricity comprises the majority of the film’s funniest humour, as does the colourful dialogue he shares with the other characters. A rumination on mortality is also considered. Although an apparent re-working of 1984 British film The Hit, I Went Down marks the height of Irish and crime-comedy cinema. It’s highly recommended for fans of Gleeson, Martin McDonagh and enthusiasts of gangster and road movies.


9. Excess Baggage (Marco Brambilla, 1997)

Desperate for affection from her neglectful father, Emily (Alicia Silverstone) fakes her own kidnapping to get his attention. She locks herself in the trunk of a car, but it’s stolen by Vincent (Benicio del Toro) with her inside. The pair go on the run, pursued by Uncle Ray (Christopher Walken).

One of Excess Baggage’s attributes is the charming, funny and endearing lead performance from Alicia Silverstone, who also produced the movie. What separates Silverstone from many actors in Hollywood is she brings a rare, compassionate quality to her characters. This makes her performances far more loveable and humane than those of stars coldly flouting their ego. Such actors are invisible compared to the vitality and honesty of Silverstone’s kind-hearted approach. What is more, continuing on from her hilarious work in Clueless, she redefines herself as a gifted comedienne in Excess Baggage, utilising slapstick and sarcasm with notable aptitude.

Moreover, her comic repartee with Benicio del Toro makes for consistent entertainment, as does the reliably hilarious and ingenious Christopher Walken. Every moment he’s on-screen is an acting masterclass. The movie contains many of the most sensational strokes of his career. Surprisingly, Excess Baggage is also a tragic, touching film, delving into loneliness, neglect and abandonment. The closeness Emily and Vincent cultivate in the Washington state hotel room scene is where much of the narrative’s treasure lies. Their conversations about relationships, philosophy and their ambitions stimulate rumination in the audience. They demonstrate how to overcome emotional issues from the past, how to build a happier future of one’s own design. This is a suitable car chase crime-comedy for audience members in their ‘20s and ‘30s looking for something funny, stylish and meaningful.


10. Held Up (Steve Rash, 1999)

Following an argument with his girlfriend Rae (Nia Long), Michael Dawson (Jamie Foxx) is dumped at a gas station in the middle of the Arizona desert. While he’s trying to organise a ride to the airport to reunite with Rae, the convenience store’s invaded by a gang of armed robbers.

Dismissed upon its release, Held Up is in-fact a very funny, delightfully goofy caper. As one would expect, Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx’s natural comic talent and flair carries the piece. He’s aided by the character work of Sarah Paulson, Barry Corbin and Airplane!’s Julie Hagerty as the airport barkeep. Every character has a peculiar trait that makes them interesting and comical, especially Michael Shamus Wiles as the mysterious biker. Set almost entirely at the gas station, the film possesses the intimacy of a play, with the action-packed cops and robbers shootout sequences of a western. This is a must-watch for any crime-comedy fan.