Each decade has its own classics, sequels and rip-offs of those classics, trademarks and clichés. The 1990s were the era of serial killers, as Jonathan Demme and David Fincher pushed the boundaries in their respective hits, “Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en”, studious were interested in to give us more. Nowadays sex don’t sell as major studios try to avoid R rating as much as possible but back in 90s it did.
As “Basic Instinct” stormed the box office we got more and more sexual thrillers with lots of provocative scenes. Then “The Usual Suspects” came out and we wanted our movies with twists. It’s not like we totally forgot the previous decades, “Fatal Attraction” popularity was still alive as was the theme of obsession in movies.
And of course, there are just some trademarks of the decade more than just their storylines. The filming techniques, the soundtracks, the movie stars that are nowhere around these days and so many other things. Here are some thrillers that feature many things we loved about and never got enough of 90s thrillers.
14. Fear (1990)
So, the 90s has come and now that the “Brat Pack” days are over, Ally Sheedy was starting to disappear just like most of other teen stars of her decade but even though “High Art” is often regarded as her only (at least, critically) success in the 90s, this very little known thriller should also be brought up among her best works.
It’s a small film but for genre enthusiasts, it may come off as very entertaining one as it has an interesting premise, a bit similar to “Eyes of Laura Mars”. The film is about a psychic (Sheedy) who helps the police to catch murderers and killers by mentally connecting with their minds but this time things are little different: the murderer also has some similar powers.
Not to be confused with Reese Witherspoon/Mark Wahlberg thriller with the same title, though that film is also okay.
13. The Bone Collector (1999)
Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie are two of the biggest, major movie stars of cinema for more than two decades, so obviously “The Bone Collector” has been seen by more people than any other film on the list but still given how entertaining, solid thriller this is and how it has two big movie stars, it’s almost puzzling how it doesn’t get enough of mention these days.
Thanks to the success of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en”, 90s were full of serial killer films. Some were strong stuff that went unnoticed, some were just ridiculously silly. Take “Knight Moves” (1992) for example, if you exclude Diane Lane’s masterful acting skills and her remarkable beauty, then all you get is just an uninteresting, pointless story with no thrills..
Denzel Washington does the best that could be done with his character who’s paralyzed, which gives him a chance to show his emotions through his facial expressions and voice and Jolie is also good in a complicated role.
“The Bone Collector”, of course, is not on the level of “Se7en” or any other much acclaimed serial killer mysteries. But it has many elements we loved about 90s thrillers: charismatic leads? Check. Interesting main character? Check. Twist ending? Check. Serial killer? Check. Then just lay back and enjoy.
12. China Moon (1994)
If you love the movie “Body Heat” (1981), then chances are you’ll like “China Moon” as well as it’s almost like the 90s version of it. It has its major differences of course.
Unlike that one, “China Moon” plays more like a neo-noir romance drama for most of the time and less interested in sexual provocation. It has a compelling narrative and some strong acting work (including young Benicio del Toro who was not a popular name yet) and when the story takes some dark twists and turns, it keeps on being entertaining as it is.
The film is about a detective, portrayed masterfully by Ed Harris who tries to help a woman (always wonderful Madeleine Stowe) trapped in a violent marriage. It was filmed in 1990-91 but as the production company faced with bankruptcy, its release delayed for years and when it got released in 1994, seems it didn’t get the audience it deserve.
11. Unlawful Entry (1992)
Even though it was a box office hit for its time and received mostly positive reviews, Jonathan Kaplan’s “Unlawful Entry” seemingly got forgotten through the years. Michael and Karen Carr are a couple living in an upscale part of Los Angeles. After a break-in at their house, they get help from one of the cops that answered their call but that cop will soon become obsessed with Karen.
The plot structure is bit similar to other home invasion thrillers or those that deal with obsessed people. But if you never get enough of “Fatal Attraction” type of stories or just other 90s thrillers about obsession (like “Single White Female” or “The Hand That Rocked the Cradle”), then “Unlawful Entry” would make a great choice to watch. The strength of the film lies mostly in Ray Liotta’s performance as an obsessed cop from hell. His performance makes the film even more gripping than it could be.
10. Deceiver (1997)
Textile company heir James Wayland (Tim Roth) is accused of murdering a prostitute named Elizabeth Loftus (Renée Zellweger), whose body was found cut in two (just like Elizabeth Short, “Black Dahlia”). Her murder is investigated by detectives Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) and Braxton (Chris Penn). But James has memory problems, also is a compulsive liar and then the detectives have their own secrets to hide as well. All these will lead into a psychological game our characters will play with each other.
For a film like this, you need a thought-provoking script and “Deceiver” has got it. Another thing it needs is of course, strong acting because the script doesn’t aim to be much convincing as it’s more interested in the psychology of characters and just to play games with its audience. No worries because the cast is doing an impressive job here, especially Tim Roth.
9. Blink (1993)
Madeleine Stowe may have been the queen of underrated thrillers. As mentioned in “The Bone Collector”, this type of thrillers needed a unique, interesting lead character to make the story more compelling and more interesting.
Directed by Michael Apted (and it’s not his only film on our list), “Blink” deals with a young musician who has been blind for 20 years who finally restores her vision but sometimes she faces with “vision flashes” (retroactive hallucination) that makes her uncertain about what she saw.
It happens again when she is awakened by some scary noise above. She thinks it’s a murder and that she had seen the murderer but she’s not sure of how did he look or even… did she see him at all. This poses an obvious problem for the detective on the case (Aidan Quinn), who can’t be sure his witness isn’t hallucinating but he desperately wants to believe in her and support her as he’s also falling in love with her.
The reason why all of these work so well is because of Stowe’s terrific work. Stowe, who learned how to play a violin for her part and visited some doctors at UCLA to study blindness gives a very interesting psychological profile of her character and helps the film to deliver its thrills.
8. Dream Lover (1993)
Ray (James Spader, don’t you just miss him in seeing him in movies?) is a charming, handsome, young businessman who has just divorced his wife. One day he meets with gorgeous, attractive, smart and slightly mysterious Lena (“Twin Peaks” star Mädchen Amick). He enjoys his time with her, starts to forget all the painful processes he had to face because of his recent divorce. Soon they fall in love, get married, and even have children but after some time Ray start to get suspicious about his wife. Is she cheating on him? Or is it something else? Or is it Ray just being paranoid?
Nicholas Kazan won an Oscar for his script for “Reversal of Fortune” in which he masterfully created a suspense around Jeremy Irons character: “did he do it or did he not?”. Here yet again we get a suspenseful story which keeps engaging us. It also has some tastefully done erotic touch. It uses the acting talent and screen presence of both of its stars very well.