The 17 Iconic Movies Are Celebrating Their 25th Anniversaries in 2021
You might have forgotten, but 1996 was a really, really good year for movies! With the 25th anniversary of the year’s biggest hits coming up soon, we’re taking a look back at the year in film, and as it turns out, a surprising number of classics came out that year. The first installments in what became several massive franchises came in 1996, as well as a few individual movies that we’re still watching over and over again, even a quarter of a century later.
The ’90s were truly an iconic time in pop culture. To celebrate all these major anniversaries, we’ve ranked some of the best movies that are turning 25 in 2021. Keep reading for our complete list, leading up to what we think was the most iconic movie of the year!
Kenneth Branagh’s intense, prestigious adaptation of Shakespeare’s broodiest tragedy has an all-star cast that includes Kate Winslet, Derek Jacobi, Rufus Sewell, Julie Christie, Judi Dench, Robin Williams, and more. It might not be the kind of film you watch over and over again, but it has endured thanks to the fact that pretty much everyone watched it in high school English class at some point!
The English Patient
The year’s biggest award winner hasn’t quite had the same cultural impact as other best picture winners, but it deserves recognition nonetheless. It’s the tale of a dying soldier who tells his story to the nurse watching over him, revealing an epic adventure and romance in 1930s Egypt. While it’s very much a typical awards-bait drama of the ’90s, it’s still worth a watch today!
The Nutty Professor
Eddie Murphy was pretty much one of the kings of ’90s comedy, and The Nutty Professor became one of his most iconic roles. His 1996 remake of the Jerry Lewis comedy allows him to play no fewer than seven characters, including his two “alter egos” for the main character. Is it a little slapstick-y and silly? Sure – but it’s a classic for a reason.
Remember the era when Gwyneth Paltrow was the queen of dreamy, warm-hued historical films? Long before Anya Taylor-Joy took on the role of Jane Austen’s messiest heroine, Paltrow starred in this romantic period drama as the meddling, proud Emma Woodhouse. Bonus points for a long-haired, early career Ewan McGregor, too!
We have to spare a moment for The Birdcage, which put comedy icons Nathan Lane and Robin Williams opposite each other in a surprisingly touching dramedy about a gay couple who run a drag club and their son who’s bringing his fiancée’s conservative family to meet them. Although it doesn’t feel groundbreaking looking at it in 2020, when it first debuted, it earned serious praise for depicting a gay couple and their family with more nuance than stereotype.
We were really into teen witches in the ’90s, but The Craft has to be one of the most memorable entries in that trend. The story of four teenage outcasts who dabble in witchcraft and get in over their heads struck a chord with the alt culture of the era and with every teenage girl who felt “different.” It isn’t exactly an Oscar-winning hit, and it’s clearly a product of its times (especially where production values are concerned), but it’s become a cult classic with themes that have held up in surprisingly strong and interesting ways.
Disney live-action remakes are all the rage now, but Glenn Close did it 20 years before it was cool! Her creepy-cool version of Cruella DeVil intrigued and terrified a generation in this live-action version of the classic cartoon, proving that, in some cases, it really was possible to translate some of the best elements of animation to a live-action film. It might pale in comparison to the splashy, big-budget adaptations today, but the current slate of live-action features owe a big debt to this movie.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Disney movies of a few years earlier would probably rank higher on a list like this; by the time Hunchback came out, the Disney animation “renaissance” was at its tail end. Still, Disney’s darkest animated feature has a lot going for it, especially the downright stunning animation of Paris and the Notre-Dame cathedral. It’s also one of the most sophisticated and stunning scores in any Disney movie, with classics like “Out There,” “God Help the Outcasts,” the haunting theme “The Bells of Notre Dame,” and the downright terrifying “Hellfire.”
It’s the kind of movie that could have only originated in ’90s pop culture: an animated/live-action mashup featuring NBA stars, comedians, and Looney Tunes characters in a madcap comedy. Does the plot really matter? Not really – it’s an icon based on its premise and characters alone. It’s even celebrating its 25th anniversary in a perfect way: a sequel starring today’s biggest basketball stars, set for a 2021 release.
Romeo and Juliet
Be honest: what teen of the ’90s and ’00s didn’t swoon a little bit over the wild, over-the-top Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo and Juliet? It’s got young Claire Danes and a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio as its leads, a bizarre but magical anachronistic aesthetic, and all the emotions and tragedy that stuffier adaptations might not have tapped into quite as powerfully. It’s not a movie for everyone, and it didn’t exactly spark a long line of imitators, but you can’t talk about this era of movies without paying tribute to Luhrmann’s wildly weird work.
There have been plenty of horror franchises that have hit the big screen over the last few decades, but Scream remains one of the most memorable. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Ghostface first started making creepy phone calls. What makes this movie – and the franchise it started – really stand out is its choice to wink at the fourth wall, turning it into a slasher flick that also satirizes slasher flicks and kicking off a whole new subgenre of self-aware horror movies.
The Coen brothers’ dark crime comedy is a masterpiece of genre mashup, earning it a spot among some of the most iconic movies of all time. It’s the story of a pregnant police chief in rural Minnesota who’s investigating a string of roadside murders linked to a man who paid criminals to kidnap his wife in order to collect a ransom from his rich father-in-law. The weird, dark comedy proved to be a risk that paid off and inspired a new subgenre of similar movies – not to mention a TV show spinoff beginning in 2014!
What ’90s kid didn’t feel just a little bit seen by Matilda, that delightful dark comedy about a book-loving girl with telekinetic powers? For every kid who was a bit “weird,” for every kid who tried to explain their hobbies to adults, for every kid whose life was changed by a great teacher, Matilda was (and still is) a champion.
It’s hard to think of a movie that’s more emblematic of the late-’90s mood than Independence Day: a rah-rah action epic about international cooperation to combat a big-budget alien invasion, with a huge cast of recognizable stars. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman led the ensemble cast and turned the movie into an instant classic. It’s true that the 2016 attempt to revive the franchise met with much less success, but don’t let that color the legacy of the original summer blockbuster.
Americans got their answer to James Bond when the Mission: Impossible series launched in 1996 as a sleek, action-packed spy caper. Not only did the Tom Cruise-led movie launch a franchise that’s still going strong 25 years later, but its influence expanded to pretty much become a template for a whole genre of look-alike movies going forward.
There are few movies quite as quotable as Jerry Maguire, which also managed to make Tom Cruise into a viable romantic lead, not just “action hero guy.” The story of a self-centered sports agent who slowly gains a conscience isn’t exactly a new narrative, but the humor and wit of the script – not to mention some iconic performances – elevated it into the pantheon of movie history, to the point that even people who have never seen it can quote its most famous moments.