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The 40 Best Movies of 1996

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Best Movies of 1996 - Best Films of the 90s

The Best Movies of the 1990s Part 7

My Subjective List of the Best Films of 1996

1996 was the year Madonna became a mom, Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip, and Oprah convinced you to buy more books. It was the same year the Spice Girls hit number 1 with “Wannabe” and E.R. beat Seinfeld in ratings to become the most viewed show on television. Dolly the cloned sheep was born in July and in March of 1996, a search tool called Google started indexing the web. It was the year Beanie Babies were everywhere, Tickle Me Elmo dominated Christmas toy sales and No Doubt topped the Billboard charts.

When we talk about amazing years in video games, few compare to 1996, a legendary era filled with classics and the genesis of many long-running series that continue to this day. With PlayStation and Sega Saturn hot on the market, Nintendo launched the N64, which Time Magazine names the Machine of the Year calling it “the most anticipated video gaming event of the 1990s, possibly of all time.”

As for movies, James Cameron started production on Titanic; Trainspotting put British cinema firmly on the film map and Jim Carrey became the first actor to make $20,000,000 to star in a single film, The Cable Guy. Independence Day dominated the box office making $817,400,891 worldwide, followed by Twister, Mission: Impossible and The Rock. Indie films continued to flourish and find worldwide success with Welcome to the Dollhouse taking the top prize at Sundance and Mike Leigh ‘s Secrets and Lies winning the Palme d’Or.

What can I say, the 90s was a great decade for movies and 1996 gave us arguably three masterpieces and a horror film that would forever change the genre moving forward.

A few quick notes before moving ahead:

As with all lists, the choices here are obviously subjective.

Normally, in the past, I would write one capsule review for each film but since I plan on releasing a list for every other year in the decade, I’ve instead decided to simply include one screenshot along with the official plot synopsis courtesy of IMDB.com. Sorry guys, but these lists are time-consuming, and I’ve quickly come to learn that most people don’t bother reading every capsule review either way— so why bother?

That out of the way, here are the 30 best movies of 1993, each represented by one perfect screenshot. You can find my list of the best films of 1995 here.

40 Perfect Screenshots from the Best Movies of 1996

****

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

40. Sleepers

Director: Barry Levinson

When friendship runs deeper than blood

After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized. Thirteen years later, an unexpected random encounter with a former guard gives them a chance for revenge.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

39. That Thing You Do!

Director: Tom Hanks

In every life there comes a time when that dream you dream becomes that thing you do.

A local Pennsylvania band scores a one hit wonder in 1964 and rides the star-making machinery as long as they can, with lots of help from its manager.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

38. The Celluloid Closet

Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

37. The Enforcer (a.k.a. My Father the Hero)

Director: Corey Yuen

An undercover cop struggling to provide for his son and ailing wife, must infiltrate a ruthless gang. But things turn sour when another cop blows his cover and he quickly finds himself battling for his life and the lives of his family.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

36. Mars Attacks!

Director: Tim Burton

Nice planet. We’ll take it!

Earth is invaded by Martians with unbeatable weapons and a cruel sense of humor.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

35. Romeo + Juliet

Director: Baz Luhrmann

The Classic Love Story Set in Our Time.

Shakespeare’s famous play is updated to the hip modern suburb of Verona still retaining its original dialogue.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

34. The Van

Director: Stephen Frears

They got soul in The Commitments and a scandal in The Snapper. Finally they’re getting their act together and taking it on the road.

Set in the fictional Dublin suburb of Barrytown, Bimbo is a baker who loses his job after being made redundant. Bimbo then acquires the help of his best friend, Larry, to set up a successful burger van.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

33. Girls Town

Director: Jim McKay

When high school senior Nikki commits suicide, the rest of her outcast friends try to figure out why. They stumble onto her diary and learn she had been raped, a fact that draws the others closer together as they fight through their own personal struggles. Patti has a child with a violent father. Emma (Anna Grace) is also a rape victim. Angela clashes with a student from another clique. And all aim for a better future amid the turmoil.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

32. Kansas City

Director: Robert Altman

Kansas City, 1934. Anything could happen here. One night it did.

A pair of kidnappings expose the complex power dynamics within the corrupt and unpredictable workings of 1930s Kansas City.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

31. From Dusk Till Dawn

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Vampires. No Interviews.

Two criminals and their hostages unknowingly seek temporary refuge in a truck stop populated by vampires, with chaotic results.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

30. I Shot Andy Warhol

Director: Mary Harron

You only get one shot at fame.

This is the story of Valerie Solanas who was a 60s radical preaching hatred toward men in her “Scum” manifesto. She wrote a screenplay for a film that she wanted Andy Warhol to produce. After many times of ignoring her, Valerie shot him.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

29. Sling Bade

Director: Billy Bob Thornton

Sometimes a hero comes from the most unlikely place.

Karl Childers, a simple man hospitalized since his childhood murder of his mother and her lover, is released to start a new life in a small town.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

28. A Summer’s Tale

Director: Éric Rohmer

Before beginning a new job, Gaspard goes to a beach town to relax for a few weeks. He waits for Lena, a girl he has been casually dating for some time. When she does not arrive, he strikes up a friendship with waitress Margot (Amanda Langlet). Through her, Gaspard also meets Solene, a free spirit open to a physical relationship if he agrees to be faithful. As Gaspard spends time with each, he finds his feelings even further conflicted.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

27. Shine

Director: Scott Hicks

One of the most celebrated and successful films in Australian film history

Pianist David Helfgott, driven by his father and teachers, has a breakdown. Years later he returns to the piano, to popular if not critical acclaim.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

26. La promesse

Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Roger uses his son Igor to ruthlessly traffic and exploit undocumented immigrants. When one of the immigrants is killed, Igor is guilt-ridden and wants to care for the dead man’s family against his father’s orders.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

25. Bottle Rocket

Director: Wes Anderson

They’re not really criminals, but everybody’s got to have a dream.

Three friends plan to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

24. Drifting Clouds

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

The recession hits a couple in Helsinki.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

23. Lone Star

Director: John Sayles

John Sayles invites you to return to the scene of the crime.

When the skeleton of his murdered predecessor is found, Sheriff Sam Deeds unearths many other long-buried secrets in his Texas border town.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

22. When We Were Kings

Director: Leon Gast

The untold story of the Rumble in the Jungle

A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

21. Goodbye, South, Goodbye

Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Fast times, easy money, big trouble.

A glimpse at the lives of two petty criminals in Taipei.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

20. Bound

Directors: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski

It’s not where you’ve been… it’s where you’re Bound.

Tough ex-con Corky and her lover Violet concoct a scheme to steal millions of stashed mob money and pin the blame on Violet’s crooked boyfriend Caesar.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

19. The Rock

Director: Michael Bay

Cocked, locked, and Ready to Rock!

A mild-mannered chemist and an ex-con must lead the counterstrike when a rogue group of military men, led by a renegade general, threaten a nerve gas attack from Alcatraz against San Francisco.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

18. Beautiful Thing

Director: Hettie Macdonald

An urban fairytale.

In a suburb of London, young Jamie is escaping sport hours, to avoid being the victim of his comrades. Young Ste, his neighbor, is beaten by his father, and comes to sleep overnight. They discover new feelings, sleeping in the same bed.

Beautiful Girls

17. Beautiful Girls

Director: Ted Demme

Good times never seemed so good

A piano player at a crossroads in his life returns home to his friends and their own problems with life and love.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

16. Swingers

Director: Doug Liman

This movie plays reality.

Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

15. The Frighteners

Director: Peter Jackson

Death is no way to make a living!

After a tragic car accident that kills his wife, a man discovers he can communicate with the dead to con people. However, when a demonic spirit appears, he may be the only one who can stop it from killing the living and the dead.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

14. Jerry Maguire

Director: Cameron Crowe

The journey is everything.

When a sports agent has a moral epiphany and is fired for expressing it, he decides to put his new philosophy to the test as an independent agent with the only athlete who stays with him and his former colleague.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

13. Hard Core Logo

Director: Bruce McDonald

4 guys, 5 nights, 3000 miles… and one last shot!

A group of washed-up Canadian punk rockers get back together for a road trip in memory of a dear friend who was supposedly shot, or so rumors imply. As they travel, they ignore the underlying psychological darkness within each other.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

12. The Funeral

Director: Abel Ferrara

One family, one murder, too many lies.

After the funeral of one of their own, a criminal family decides to embark on an emotionally unnerving journey in an attempt to exact bloody revenge.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

11. The Cable Guy

Director: Ben Stiller

There’s No Such Thing as Free Cable

A lonely and mentally disturbed cable guy raised on television just wants a new friend, but his target, a designer, rejects him, with bad consequences.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

10. Welcome to the Dollhouse

Director: Todd Solondz

Not all girls want to play with dolls.

An awkward seventh-grader struggles to cope with inattentive parents, snobbish class-mates, a smart older brother, an attractive younger sister and her own insecurities in suburban New Jersey.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

9. Secrets & Lies

Director: Mike Leigh

A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is an underprivileged white woman, but the woman denies it. As emotions run high, everyone’s secrets are exposed.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

8. Mission: Impossible

Director: Brian De Palma

One man has one chance to do the impossible.

An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

7. Scream

Director: Wes Craven

Don’t Answer The Phone. Don’t Open The Door. Don’t Try To Escape.

A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorized by a new killer, who targets the girl and her friends by using horror films as part of a deadly game.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

6. The English Patient

Director: Anthony Minghella

In memory, love lives forever.

At the close of World War II, a young nurse tends to a badly-burned plane crash victim. His past is shown in flashbacks, revealing an involvement in a fateful love affair.

5. Breaking The Waves

Director: Lars Von Trier

Love is a mighty power.

Oilman Jan is paralyzed in an accident. His wife, who prayed for his return, feels guilty; even more, when Jan urges her to have sex with another.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

4. Crash

Director: David Cronenberg

Love in the dying moments of the twentieth century.

After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

3. Fargo

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.

Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

2. Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle

Never let your friends tie you to the tracks.

Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

THE BEST MOVIES OF 1996

1. Dead Man

Director: Jim Jarmusch

No one can survive becoming a legend.

On the run after murdering a man, accountant William Blake encounters a strange Native American man named Nobody who prepares him for his journey into the spiritual world.

This article is part of an ongoing series. The other entries are coming later this week.

1990 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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