Thirty years ago Terminator 2 raked in more than $520 million which, when adjusted for inflation, would be just a hair short of $1 billion today. The third biggest film of 1991 remains in the discussion for greatest animated film ever as Beauty and the Beast turns thirty this year. The story, the voices, the animation, and choreography were so breathtaking that it got nominated for Best Picture, where it lost out to Silence of the Lambs (more on that below). Movies thirty years ago certainly were devoid of superheroes, weren’t they?
The following is a list of the stand-out films of 1991.
Whether you have visited or lived there, L.A. Story is a hilarious spin on every stereotype the City of Angels has to offer from traffic to cosmetic surgery. Steve Martin plays a weatherman that you can’t help laugh along with as he tries to find a sense of meaning in his life.
If you liked Airplane!, this is right up your alley. It has the same director, Jim Abrahams, and the same style of laughs only this time they come courtesy of Top Gun and the Gulf War. Charlie Sheen plays a slapstick take on Tom Cruise’s Maverick character. If you like a good spoof comedy, this is worth your time.
What About Bob?
Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss may seem like a surprising duo for a comedy, but they are wonderful here. Murray is the neurotic Bob Wiley, a man driven by his multiple phobias who gets therapy from Dr. Leo Marvin, a self-centered therapist played by Dreyfuss. Their clash of personalities turns this into a comedy gem.
La Femme Nikita
If you like films about bad ass females, look no further. A thieving junkie turned assassin, Nikita is a teenage killer working for top secret government agency called Section One. This French action-thriller is one of director Luc Besson’s (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) best films.
Silence of the Lambs
The legend of Hannibal Lecter begins on screen with Anthony Hopkins’ knockout performance of the highly intelligent, cannibalistic doctor. The movie itself, starring Jodie Foster as a detective trying to hunt down a serial killer, is creepy, terrifying, and gripping; it is a classic.
This thriller is one of Scorsese’s most underrated (or forgotten?) films. Rarely have you seen Robert De Niro in the role of a villain but he is frighteningly nasty here as a ruthless sex offender seeking vengeance on the lawyer (Nick Nolte) who helped put him behind bars for 14 years by withholding valuable evidence.
New Jack City
Wonderful film about the crack epidemic in the inner city during the ’80s. Wesley Snipes hits a home run as flamboyant drug dealer Nino Brown and Ice-T gives one of his best performances as an undercover cop and there is also a stellar cameo by Chris Rock as a crack head. This film not only took the crown as highest grossing independent film of ’91, it is enmeshed in hip hop culture forever.
The Josephine Baker Story
This is a fantastic biopic on Baker, known as the first international Black celebrity during a time in America where racism had no boundaries and civil rights were nonexistent. Lynn Whitfield is stunning here as the exotic dancer, with a performance that earned her an Emmy nomination. If you like biopics and dazzling art design and costumes, you will not want to miss this HBO original.
If you’re a fan of Coen Brothers (Fargo, No Country for Old Men) movies then this quirky yet funny film about 1940’s Hollywood. John Turturro and John Goodman are wonderful in this movie about a playwright suffering from writer’s block after being recruited to Hollywood to write a screenplay. The costume and set design is worth your time alone.
You won’t be able to put your feelings about race or interracial relationships aside during this film, an oft-forgotten one from Spike Lee’s marvelous filmography. It’s about a married Black architect that falls in love with his white secretary. Great performances all-around but the standout is Samuel L. Jackson as the architect’s crack-addicted brother.
This is one of the best movies about drug addiction, even more compelling because the addicts are two undercover cops trying to bust a big-time, yet evasive, drug dealer. The deeper the case gets, the worst the addiction and the movie becomes more of a cautionary tale than anything else. This is also the film that Eric Clapton’s, “Tears in Heaven” was recorded for and would become his best-selling U.S. single.
Beauty and the Beast
Look, I’m not one to get gushy or all that interested in animated films but this one is simply magical. The mere fact it was the first ever animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award says it all. Its stunning beauty filled with rich scenes and memorable characters is a timeless treat for all to enjoy.
Boyz N The Hood
NWA introduced the world to Compton; Boyz N the Hood gave us a slice of life in South Central, Los Angeles. To be more specific, it’s a beautifully done coming-of-age story that is anything but a happy fairy tale. Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. are incredible as a father trying to raise his son to avoid the distractions of his rough surroundings.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Not much else needs to be said about it other than it remains in the debate for greatest action film ever. Between the thrilling action sequences from beginning to end coupled with revolutionary special effects, it is, in my opinion, close to flawless as an action film.
There are only so many terrific political thrillers in the last 40 years but this is one of them. As director Oliver Stone takes you on a thrilling journey that questions everyone (and everything) involved, you’ll leave the movie questioning the reality around JFK’s assassination in every way imaginable.