30 Movies That Are Somehow Turning 30 This Year

30 Movies That Are Somehow Turning 30 This Year

Nineties pop culture nostalgia is powerful, and never more so than in these troubled times. And when looking back across the decades at the films released 30 years ago, its interesting to note how many have endured — and how many never got sequels or spinoffs.

I’m not included to get snooty about franchise films, but consider the list of 1993’s top-grossing films, and you won’t find more than a handful of sequels — and not a one of them cracked the top ten at the box office, something you decidedly not say about 2023 (fully half of this year’s top grossers to date are sequels). Sure, some of these movies launched franchises, and some of those franchises are still going, but it’s hard not to wonder if we’re making enough original movies in 2023 to sustain the nostalgia of 2053.

Existential musings aside, 1993 was a good year at the movies, and you could do a lot worse than to spend this year revisiting some of them (before you watch the inevitable reboot).

Matinee (January 29)

Joe Dante’s charming, funny satire of classic-era cinematic showmanship sadly didn’t do much business back in 1993, but time has been kind to it. If it’s not a cult classic yet, it’s on the way.

Groundhog Day (February 12)

If longevity is your aim, it can be useful to associate your movie strongly with a holiday, particularly an underrepresented one. The Andie MacDowell/Bill Murray does better than that, though: think of “Groundhog Day” and you’re as likely to think of an endless time loop as you are a chubby rodent poking its head out of a hole.

Army of Darkness (February 19)

Sam Raimi’s epic fantasy-inspired third entry in the Evil Dead series is wonderfully goofy and quotable, even if it’s not particularly scary. It’s one of only a small handful of sequels to break through in 1993, which isn’t to say you can accuse it of hewing to formula.

Much Ado About Nothing (May 7)

Kenneth Branagh’s joyful take on the Bard’s least-depressing play remains in the top tier of cinematic Shakespeare adaptations, and the cast, in the top tier of hotness.

The Sandlot (April 7)

Somewhere between a cult classic and a bona fide hit, The Sandlot hasn’t had quite the afterlife of some other kids’ classics of the era (there’s no sequel streaming series like the one granted The Mighty Ducks), but it’s a charming, plucky underdog-style story that provides context for the random instances of “You’re killing me, Smalls!” that you might encounter in the broader world. It’s also surprisingly good as a straight-up baseball movie.

Indecent Proposal (April 7)

I’m not sure how often people are watching Indecent Proposal in 2023 — though the 30th anniversary might not be a bad time to revisit this ode to ‘90s horniness. The kinky high-concept — a rich guy (Robert Redford) offers a married couple a million dollars for a night with one of them (Demi Moore) — was so memorable and scandalous as to reach meme status in the 1990s.

Menace II Society (May 26)

Controversial on release for it portrayal of urban violence, the Hughes Brothers’ debut film quickly became a certified classic, in part, for its unerring sense of realism. Leads Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett, and Larenz Tate all give Oscar-calibre performances in a movie that the Academy wasn’t inclined to honour, certainly not in 1993.

Jurassic Park (June 11)

It’s surprising to consider that Steven Spielberg had two movies out in 1993: one that likely remains his most critically acclaimed (Schinder’s List, to which we’ll return) and Jurassic Park, one of his most commercially successful. Not a bad year.

What’s Love Got to Do With It? (June 25)

Angela Bassett’s Academy Award-nominated performance in this musical biopic of Tina Turner probably should have actually won her the Oscar. It certainly catapulted her to icon status.

Sleepless in Seattle (June 25)

A classic rom-com from the late, great Nora Ephron, Sleepless in Seattle updates 1957’s An Affair to Remember for the ‘90s, while also managing to be timeless in and of itself. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have great chemistry, and this was the (hugely successful) movie that helped Hanks seque into more serious films. They don’t really make ‘em like this any more, do they?

The Firm (June 30)

The fifth highest-grossing film of 1993 was this legal thriller that pits ambitious young lawyer Tom Cruise against Gene Hackman, cast as his increasingly sinister mentor. It never strictly received a sequel but launched the “John Grisham Cinematic Universe” in a big way.

Hocus Pocus (July 16)

It received mixed reviews on release, and did decent but not spectacular box-office…but the story of three witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) inadvertently resurrected on Halloween has had an outsized afterlife, as evidenced by the recent sequel, which Disney reported was the most-watched movie premiere to date on its streaming service. Maybe there’s more to it than nostalgia after all?

Free Willy (July 16)

Is there any more memorable moment in ‘90s cinema than the bit when the finally freed Willy leaps over a breakwater and the outstretched hand of the boy who helped him escape? (I’d say “spoiler alert” but it’s on the poster.) The movie might have convinced us that whales generally shouldn’t be held captive in dumb amusement parks; mostly didn’t, but the lesson is timeless.

The Fugitive (August 6)

The decade of the 1990s had its share of nostalgia reboots of its own, few more effective than this take on the David Janssen TV series from a couple of decades earlier. It avoids the winks and nods that plague many similar updates, instead taking the premise and running with it. The Fugitive was one of the top grossing films of the year and was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s a classic example of what pop culture critic Sarah D. Bunting called the “poppy fields” movie — if you run across a screening on TV, you’ll find its pull impossible to resist.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (August 13)

That’s right: it has been 30 years since we saw Jason Voorhees for the very last time.*

*Besides the one where he goes to space. Or the one where he fights Freddy. Or the reboot. Or the upcoming TV series…

The Joy Luck Club (September 8)

The acclaimed and financially successful story of Chinese-American women and their Chinese mothers might have triggered an era of films forefronting Asian and Asian-American themes. It didn’t though — it wasn’t until 2018’s Rich Crazy Asians a Hollywood studio made another all-Asian film. Historical significance aside, this adaptation of the Amy Tan novel is occasionally overly earnest, but offers up tremendous performances from Ming-Na Wen, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom, Rosalind Chao, and pretty much everyone else in the large ensemble. And there’s talk of a sequel that would reunite the original cast.

True Romance (September 10)

Tony Scott’s impressively stylish, ultra-violent film is fully loaded with memorable scenes and characters, portrayed by an impressive cast that includes Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. Written by Quentin Tarantino, it both stands on its own and feels like a warmup for 1995’s Pulp Fiction.

Dazed and Confused (September 24)

“Alright, Alright, Alright…” is perhaps not the cleverest piece of dialogue in Dazed and Confused, but it’s certainly stood the test of time. Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age story plays like a smarter, much more incisive take on the typical stoner comedy — and a signature example of the “hangout movie.”

Cool Runnings (October 1)

Travel back with me to a time when a mid-budget sports comedy about a Jamaican bobsled team could be a box office smash hit. Equal parts inspirational and goofy, the finished product is pretty darn delightful. It was also the last John Candy film released before his death, and stands as a great reminder of his talent and charisma.

Demolition Man (October 8)

Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock are having a ton of fun in this sci-fi action comedy in which a crime lord and the overzealous cop who nabbed him get cryogenically frozen for their crimes and reawaken in the far distant future…of 2032. Which means we’re not far from replacing toilet paper with the three seashells and eating a lot more Taco Bell. The action is solid, but the best part is, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which is to say, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

Rudy (October 15)

It’a not just an inspirational football movie, it’s the inspirational football movie, the one by which all others must be judged. Sean Astin is a memorable underdog for the ages, and it’s impossible not to root for him. (Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (October 29)

Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated marvel is still a hit. Just walk into any Hot Topic in the country.

The Remains of the Day (November 5)

The Merchant-Ivory classic of repressed longing between buttoned-up butler Anthony Hopkins and ever-so-slightly less buttoned up housekeeper Emma Thompson is lovely and heartbreaking and had the good fortune to have been made in an era when such a film could also do serious business at the box office.

Addams Family Values (November 19)

The best Addams Family movie holds up just fine after three decades. Probably because Anjelica Houston and Raul Julia are so incredibly hot.

Mrs. Doubtfire (November 24)

An exploration of ‘90s style divorce and estrangement starring Robin Williams as a crossdressing nanny, Mrs. Doubtfire was the second-highest-grossing film of 1993. It’s goofy, potentially problematic, but surprisingly effective, provided you’re willing to suspend all kinds of disbelief.

Schindler’s List (December 15)

Steven Spielberg received one of his two Best Director Oscars (and his most deserved) for his thoughtful, starkly beautiful, harrowing Holocaust drama. If anything, it’s probably more important and relevant today than it was in 1993.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (December 17)

Hot on the heels of his appearance the same year in This Boy’s Life, Leonardo DiCaprio went from bit player and late addition to the Seaver family in Growing Pains to Academy Award nominee. The stacked cast also includes Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, John C. Reilly, and Crispin Glover.

Philadelphia (December 22)

It’s still fairly rare among mainstream Hollywood films to find positive portrayals of gay people. In 1993, it was all but unheard of, and while HIV/AIDS stigma was waning, it remained pernicious. And while he had tried out a few more serious roles, this was the movie that gave birth to the serious-actor/national treasure Tom Hanks we know today.

Grumpy Old Men (December 25)

Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margaret teamed up for this bit of light comedy nostalgia that did pretty well across age groups. If the writing’s not the sharpest, these legendary actors hadn’t lost a single step.

Tombstone (December 25)

An unlikely cultural touchstone, Tombstone arrived amid a mini-revival of the western genre — movies like Young Guns, released five years earlier, aimed at a younger demographic; Unforgiven had genre subversion and awards prestige on its mind. Tombstone is closer to a “pure” western, and a damn good one, celebrating the tropes of the genre and elevated by Val Kilmer’s memorable performance as Doc Holliday (of “I’m your huckleberry” fame).


Leave a Reply