10 Drama Films From The 1990s That Everyone Should See

Split image of The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler's List, and A Few Good Men

Men tend to avoid the drama movie genre like the Bubonic Plague, but every once in a while a film comes out that isn’t just made for the fairer sex. These drama films have grit, substance, a great story, and characters that go the distance. The 1990s had its fair share of great drama films that made their mark, and switched the focus away from clichéd romantic tearjerkers.

Newer generations of movie lovers may not have had the opportunity to dip back in time and give these gems a shot. Others may have had these titles on their watch list for years, but never got around to viewing them. Now’s the time to see what all the fuss is about.

American History X (1998)

Derek shows off his Nazi tattoos in prison in 'American History X' (1998), New Line Cinema

Derek shows off his Nazi tattoos in prison in ‘American History X’ (1998), New Line Cinema

Perhaps no other director in history tackled the subject of white supremacist racism quite like Tony Kaye, who directed then-rising star Edward Norton in the infamous American History X. The film circled the life of Derek, a normal kid indoctrinated into Neo-Nazism after the tragic death of the family patriarch, which eventually leads to him murder a black gang member in cold blood.

In prison, he discovers the futility of his own racist ideology after befriending a black inmate. After being released, Derek must put all his effort into steering his younger brother Danny (Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong) from going down the same path. It’s an extremely difficult movie to watch, but also one that delivers the most impact.

One Eight Seven (1997)

Trevor Garfield loses his cool on a student in 'One Eight Seven' (1997), Warner Bros.

Trevor Garfield loses his cool on a student in ‘One Eight Seven’ (1997), Warner Bros.

Samuel L. Jackson turned out an incredible performance as Trevor Garfield in this film about a substitute teacher who was nearly murdered by a gang member in an inner city school. One year later, he takes a new job at another school, where he quickly becomes a target of the delinquent students who make up the local gang scene.

When one of the gang members turns up dead, people begin to wonder whether Garfield was responsible. Things become dangerous when Garfield’s feud with a student named Cesar reaches the boiling point, which threatens both their lives. One Eight Seven shined a light on inner city gang violence in schools, and the tribulations that teachers were faced with each and every day on the job.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Jim, Jack and Fred in 'Apollo 13' (1995), Universal Pictures

Jim, Jack and Fred in ‘Apollo 13’ (1995), Universal Pictures

Director Ron Howard knocked it out of the park with 1995’s Apollo 13, a retelling of the true story surrounding the ill-fated mission of the same name. The film starred Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon as astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, who suffer a catastrophe during the mission, and are forced to fight for their survival.

Apollo 13 was beautifully shot, the cast performances were excellent, and the tone of the film successfully conveyed the hair-raising tension of a mission to the moon gone horribly wrong. It was also a visual effects masterpiece that laid new ground, and continues to stand up to this day.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Andy and Red watching a movie in 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994), Columbia Pictures

Andy and Red watching a movie in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994), Columbia Pictures

Frank Darabont has made quite a name for himself with shows like The Walking Dead, and films like The Green Mile, but neither would have been possible without The Shawshank Redemption. Based on the 1982 Stephen King story, the film follows the torturous imprisonment of Andy, a banker found guilty of a crime he did not commit.

He endures through sheer hope, while befriending “Red” Redding, a black marketeer who becomes his closest ally. The film was equal parts gritty and glorious, showcasing the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. The Shawshank Redemption landed with a thud when it first debuted in theaters, but it has since become an iconic piece of cinematic history.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Blake scolds the salesmen in 'Glengarry Glen Ross' (1992), New Line Cinema

Blake scolds the salesmen in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (1992), New Line Cinema

Considered a piece of art by snake pit salesmen all over the globe, Glengarry Glen Ross continues to be one of the most understated, yet riveting drama films of the 1990s. It boasts an all star cast including Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and one standout performance by Alec Baldwin.

The actors play various salesmen involved in the high stakes world of the real estate business, and the nefarious lengths – and lies – they’ll stoop to in order to make a sale. When a stack of highly coveted leads goes missing after a break-in, it’s every salesman for himself as they dodge an investigator, while simultaneously trying to score the next big payday.

A Few Good Men (1992)

An angry Colonel Jessep in court in 'A Few Good Men' (1992), Columbia Pictures

An angry Colonel Jessep in court in ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992), Columbia Pictures

Hokey as it may be by today’s standards, A Few Good Men is still one of the most intriguing and entertaining drama films of the 90s decade. Tom Cruise stars as Lt. Daniel Kaffee, an underachieving military lawyer tasked with investigating the sinister death of a marine while on base, and defending two fellow marines who may, or may not have been responsible.

Together with Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway and Lt. Sam Weinberg, Kaffee begins unraveling a scandalous coverup instigated by the terrifying Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, who he believes was responsible for the murder. A Few Good Men is riotously overdramatic, but it’s all part of the fun of watching this inventive dramatic classic. 

Ghost (1990)

Sam confronts a spirit on a subway train in 'Ghost' (1990), Paramount Pictures

Sam confronts a spirit on a subway train in ‘Ghost’ (1990), Paramount Pictures

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore knocked it out of the park with a drama/thriller that both men and women could enjoy in equal measure. Ghost told the story of Sam Wheat, a banker murdered by his corrupt friend and partner over a simple deal. Rather than die peacefully, Sam comes back as a ghost who learns how to interact with the physical world, while trying desperately to communicate with his widow Molly.

Ghost had everything, from tension, to sporadic and well-timed action scenes, and even some hilarious comedy thrown in to balance out the bleak premise. At its heart, however, was a drama film about a husband and wife whose love for one another transcended death itself. Few drama films managed to have such a wide appeal.

Titanic (1997)

Jack and Rose on deck in 'Titanic' (1997), Paramount Pictures

Jack and Rose on deck in ‘Titanic’ (1997), Paramount Pictures

Even the most fervent hater of drama films was forced to admit that Titanic was a great film, despite the juxtaposition of a love story amidst the backdrop of a catastrophe. The film is a loose – very loose – retelling of the famed Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

Terminator and Aliens director James Cameron put all his knowledge and experience into recreating the iconic ship, while casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to create a compelling dramatic narrative. The result was a box office behemoth that shattered every single record for years, until Cameron dethroned himself once again with 2008’s Avatar. 

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest participates in a run in 'Forrest Gump' (1994), Paramount Pictures

Forrest participates in a run in ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994), Paramount Pictures

During the 1990s, Tom Hanks traded in his comedic roles for dramatic ones, and Forrest Gump remains one of the most popular. The film is no less iconic than it was when it first debuted, thanks in large part to the quirky story, excellent casting, and of course, Hanks’ performance as the simpleton Gump.

The story is remarkable in that it depicts Gump as a low I.Q., yet well-intentioned man who inadvertently stumbles from one adventure to the other, leaving his mark in significant ways each time. As Gump inspires everyone he meets, he simultaneously struggles to save the soul of his childhood sweetheart Jenny, whose life has spiraled out of control.

Schindler’s List (1993)

Oskar Schindler breaks down in 'Schindler's List' (1993), Universal Pictures

Oskar Schindler breaks down in ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993), Universal Pictures

No other dramatic film of the 1990s had the same impact as Schindler’s List. Director Steven Spielberg traded his summer tentpole blockbuster formula for a deeply personal story about the Jewish Holocaust of WWII at the hands of the Nazis. The authenticity of the film was displayed in its shocking, gruesome violence and subject matter, which were done on purpose to reflect the savagery of the time period.

Liam Neeson rose to fame thanks to his portrayal of Oskar Schindler, a failed businessman who makes a small fortune during the height of the war. However, his conscience soon wins out, prompting him to forge an actionable plan to save the lives of over one-thousand Jews forced to work in his factories. To this day, it’s nearly impossible for most viewers to make it through the end of the film with a dry eye. 

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