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The 30 Best Movies of 1991

Film

The 30 Best Movies of 1991— The Year Horror Took the Biggest Prize

Best Movies of the 1990s Part 2

1991 saw a massive artistic shift in pop culture. It was the year that grunge rock found commercial success due to releases such as Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. The success of these bands boosted the popularity of alternative rock and made grunge the most popular form of rock music at the time while sending fashion into a tailspin. Roseanne finally overtook Cheers as the number one sitcom on television and the long-running prime-time soap opera Dallas came to an end after fourteen seasons. 1991 also marked the start of the 16-bit era when Nintendo released the Super NES, and SEGA released Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis. It was a time when kids lined up at arcades to play Street Fighter II and the year the first website was made as the World Wide Web became a publicly available service. Adam Sandler became a featured player on Saturday Night Live; Johnny Carson announced he would retire from the Tonight Show; Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their second NBA championship, and Magic Johnson retired after revealing that he had tested positive for HIV.

1991 was also a great year for movies. James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day topped the box office and it was the first time a horror film (Silence of the Lambs) swept the Oscars. Joel and Ethan Coen jumped into the scene winning the Palme d’Or for Barton Fink and Todd Haynes won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for his feature directorial debut, Poison— a movie which is now regarded as a seminal work of New Queer Cinema.

1991 was the year that John Singleton took us deep into the dangerous streets of the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, while over on the east coast, Mario Van Peebles showed us how two unorthodox police officers brought down a drug gang at the height of New York City’s crack cocaine epidemic. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves starred in his first action film, David Cronenberg had audiences scratching their heads over The Naked Lunch, and plenty of international filmmakers such as Lars Von Trier and Edward Yang began finding success stateside.

1991 was indeed a great year for cinema and after careful consideration, I’ve whipped up a list of the 30 best movies released that year.

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 1991, each represented by one perfect screenshot. You can find my list of the best films of 1990 here.

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30 Perfect Screenshots from the Best Movies of 1991

Straight Outta Brooklyn 1991

30. Straight Out of Brooklyn
Director: Matty Rich

A young man living in poverty makes a plan to rob a drug dealer and change the life of his family.

People Under the Stairs

29. The People Under the Stairs
Director: Wes Craven

In every neighborhood there is one house that adults whisper about and children cross the street to avoid.

Two adults and a juvenile break into a house occupied by a brother and sister and their stolen children. There, they must fight for their lives.

New Jack City

28. New Jack City
Director: Mario Van Peebles

It was a time that there was a new gangster in………

A crime lord ascends to power and becomes megalomaniacal while a maverick police detective vows to stop him.

Thelma and Louise

27. Thelma & Louise
Director: Ridley Scott

Somebody said get a life… so they did.

Two best friends set out on an adventure, but it soon turns around to a terrifying escape from being hunted by the police, as these two girls escape for the crimes they committed.

Cape Fear 1992

26. Cape Fear
Director: Martin Scorsese

There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light. Except fear.

A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

The Rupture 1991

25. The Rapture
Director: Michael Tolkin

One of the strangest little films of 1991.

A telephone operator living an empty, amoral life finds God and loses him again.

Riki-Oh The story of Ricky

24. Riki-Oh: The story of Ricky
Director: Ngai Choi Lam

The Greatest Hong Kong Martial Arts Action Revenge Gore-Soaked Prison Breakout Love Story

A young man with superhuman strength is incarcerated at a prison run by corrupt officials and seeks to use his martial arts to clean up the system.

Kafka 1991

23. Kafka
Director: Steven Soderbergh

To solve a mystery he will enter a nightmare.

Kafka works during the day at an insurance company, where events lead him to discover a mysterious underground society with strange suppressive goals.

Shadows and Fog movie 1991

22. Shadows and Fog
Director: Woody Allen

With a serial strangler on the loose, a bookkeeper wanders around town searching for the vigilante group intent on catching the killer.

once-upon-a-time-in-china-a

21. Once Upon a Time in China
Director: Hark Tsui

Never was a Hero needed more…

Late 1800s Foshan, Guangdong: Wong Fei Hung/Jet Li trains men in martial arts to help defend against foreign powers already holding Hong Kong and Macau. He looks after cute 13th Aunt, who’s just returned from England. Lots of fight scenes.

Once A thief

20. Once A Thief
Director: John Woo

They only stop to reload.

A romantic and action packed story of three best friends, a group of high end art thieves, who come into trouble when a love-triangle forms between them.

Van Gogh movie 1991

19. Van Gogh
Director: Maurice Pialat

The final sixty-seven days of Van Gogh’s life are examined.

Lovers on the Bridge 1991 movie

18. The Lovers on the Bridge
Director: Leos Carax

Romance… In a most unlikely place.

Alex, who’s homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who’s losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris’s Pont-Neuf bridge.

Jungle Fever 1991

17. Jungle Fever
Director: Spike Lee

Friends and family of a married black architect react in different ways to his affair with an Italian secretary.

The Commitments 1991

16. The Commitments
Director: Alan Parker

They Had Absolutely Nothing. But They Were Willing To Risk It All.

When Jimmy Rabbitte wants to start a band, he has open auditions at his house.

Beauty and the Beast 1991

15. Beauty and the Beast
Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

The most beautiful love story ever told.

A prince cursed to spend his days as a hideous monster sets out to regain his humanity by earning a young woman’s love.

Point Break 1991

14. Point Break
Director: Kathryn Bigelow

27 banks in three years. Anything to catch the perfect wave!

An F.B.I. Agent goes undercover to catch a gang of surfers who may be bank robbers.

Center Stage 1991 movie

13. Center Stage
Director: Stanley Kwan

Biopic of 1930’s Chinese actress Ruan Ling Yu.

The_Fisher_King-428169451-large

12. The Fisher King
Director: Terry Gilliam

A good, old-fashioned story of guilt, poverty, love, madness and free video club membership.

A former radio DJ, suicidally despondent because of a terrible mistake he made, finds redemption in helping a deranged homeless man who was an unwitting victim of that mistake

La double vie de Véronique |  Best Movies of 1991

11. La double vie de Véronique
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Each of us is matched somewhere in the world, by our exact double – someone who shares our thoughts and dreams.

Two parallel stories about two identical women; one living in Poland, the other in France. They don’t know each other, but their lives are nevertheless profoundly connected.

10. JKF
Director: Oliver Stone

The Story That Won’t Go Away

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there’s more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.

delicatessen |  Best Movies of 1991

9. Delicatessen
Directors: Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet

A futuristic comic feast

Post-apocalyptic surrealist black comedy about the landlord of an apartment building who occasionally prepares a delicacy for his odd tenants.

The Naked Lunch movie  |  Best Movies of 1991

8. The Naked Lunch
Director: David Cronenberg

Exterminate all rational thought.

After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally kills his wife, and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.

Boyz in the Hood | Best Movies of 1991

7. Boyz n the Hood
Director: John Singleton

Once upon a time in South Central L.A. … It ain’t no fairy tale.

Follows the lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence, and future prospects.

Zentropa 1991 | Best Movies of 1991

6. Europa
Director: Lars Von Trier

Just after W.W.II, an American takes a railway job in Germany, but finds his position politically sensitive with various people trying to use him.

Barton Fink 1991 | Best Movies of 1991

5. Barton Fink
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Between Heaven and Hell There’s Always Hollywood!

A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood.

A Brighter Summer Day |  Best Movies of 1991

4. A Brighter Summer Day
Director: Edward Yang

Based on a true story, primarily on a conflict between two youth gangs, a 14-year-old boy’s girlfriend conflicts with the head of one gang for an unclear reason, until finally the conflict comes to a violent climax.

Terminator 2 Judgment Day | Best Movies of 1991

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Director: James Cameron

Same Make. Same Model. New Mission.

A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her teenage son, John Connor, from a more advanced and powerful cyborg.

My Own Private Idaho | Best Movies of 1991

2. My Own Private Idaho
Director: Gus Van Sant

Some people take your heart, others take your shoes, and still others take you home.

Two best friends living on the streets of Portland as hustlers embark on a journey of self discovery and find their relationship stumbling along the way.

Best Movies of 1991

1. The Silence of the Lambs
Director: Jonathan Demme

To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman.

A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.

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This article is part of an ongoing series.

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

Written By

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 Sordid Cinema Podcast and NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, 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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