10 Most Emotional Movies of the 1990s, Ranked

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The 1990s marked a significant shift in the film industry, offering a wide array of compelling movie choices for fans. It was a time when blockbusters like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park demonstrated that high-budget films could convey deep emotions and meaningful themes. Simultaneously, smaller productions from up-and-coming directors, such as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Kevin Smith’s Clerks, proved that exceptional films could emerge unexpectedly.

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10 Most Emotional Movies

Looking back at the 1990s often evokes a sense of melancholy. It was a time when almost every movie was filled with emotion and unafraid to express sentiment. Admittedly, this occasionally led to overly dramatic films, but when executed well, 90s movies were the epitome of sincere filmmaking. These 10 Most Emotional Movies are some of the most touching from the 1990s, demonstrating that emotional depth can be found in unexpected genres.

10 ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Forrest Gump sitting on a bench against a sky blue background in Forrest Gump
Image via Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump may not be particularly subtle, but it is undeniably moving. The movie delves into the challenges and triumphs of America in the 20th century from the perspective of a man who struggles to fully grasp the events unfolding around him. While Forrest finds himself in some comical situations, the film never belittles his experiences. It stands as one of Tom Hanks’ most successful films, earning him his second Academy Award for Best Actor, just a year after winning the prestigious award for his role in Philadelphia.

Director Robert Zemeckis achieved a flawless balance with Forrest Gump that would be extremely challenging to recreate today. While Zemeckis and screenwriter Eric Roth once contemplated a sequel to Forrest Gump, it never materialized due to the sobering impact of the real-life tragedy of 9/11, which made it difficult to maintain Forrest’s unwaveringly optimistic perspective on life. Nevertheless, the profound humaneness of Forrest Gump creates an emotionally powerful experience that continues to serve as a heartwarming source of comfort for many.

Forrest Gump

Release Date July 6, 1994

Rating PG-13

Runtime 142

Watch on Paramount+

9 ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1998)

Director: Roberto Benigni

Guido, Dora, and Giosué riding a bike down a street in 'Life is Beautiful'
Image via Miramax Films

Roberto Benigni’s poignant historical drama “Life is Beautiful” delves into some of the most tragic events in history through the eyes of a child, adding a layer of hope and despair to the film. Benigni plays the role of Guido Orefice, a Jewish-Italian man captured by the Nazis in the early stages of the Holocaust. Unable to explain the horrors to his son, Orefice instead convinces him that their experiences are all part of a prolonged game.

Life is Beautiful treads a difficult path; if it had been too comedic as a war movie, it might have seemed disrespectful. However, Benigni strikes the right balance to portray Orefice’s experiences with great emotional impact. Dealing with the aftermath of genocide is extremely difficult and draining, but Life is Beautiful stands out as a significant emotional accomplishment due to its portrayal of human resilience and family bonds.

Life Is Beautiful

Release Date December 20, 1997

CastRoberto Benigni , Nicoletta Braschi , Giorgio Cantarini , Giustino Durano , Sergio Bini Bustric , Marisa Paredes

Rating PG-13

Runtime 116

Rent on Apple TV

8 ‘Boyz n the Hood’ (1991)

Director: John Singleton

Doughboy spreading his arms and looking proud in Boyz n the Hood
Image via Columbia Pictures

Boyz n the Hood stands out as one of the most remarkable first-time directing efforts in history. John Singleton, the writer and director, made history as the youngest nominee for Best Director at the Academy Awards, thanks to his groundbreaking work on this film. The story revolves around three young men coming of age in the midst of gang culture in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles.

Boyz n the Hood made a significant impression, as Singleton portrayed the harsh realities without sugarcoating them and delved into the impact of violence on underprivileged communities. The movie showcased a groundbreaking performance by rapper Ice Cube, who later starred in more comedic films over the following decades. Through its genuine portrayal of gang violence and poverty, Boyz n the Hood remains a compelling emotional statement even today.

Boyz n the Hood

Release Date July 12, 1991

Cast Hudhail Al-Amir , Lloyd Avery II , Angela Bassett , Mia Bell , Lexie Bigham , Kenneth A. Brown

Rating R

Runtime 102

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7 ‘Magnolia’ (1999)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Frank T.J. Mackey smiling at someone off-camera in Magnolia
Image via New Line Cinema

The 1990s witnessed the rise of several talented filmmakers, with Paul Thomas Anderson standing out as a notable figure. Known for his skill in creating ensemble dramas centered around emotionally detached characters, Anderson formed strong working partnerships with actors such as Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and William H. Macy. While Anderson first gained recognition for “Boogie Nights,” his subsequent project, “Magnolia,” displayed the confidence of a seasoned director.

“Magnolia” is often deeply affecting and seldom tedious, despite its lengthy three-hour runtime. The film boasts captivating performances, including a rare dramatic role from Tom Cruise, supported by an equally impressive ensemble cast. Anderson skillfully evokes empathy for each member of the film’s large ensemble, making “Magnolia” a compelling and emotionally challenging cinematic experience. Much like exceptional art, “Magnolia” boldly engages its audience, demanding more than mere attention.


Release Date December 10, 1999

Rating R

Runtime 188

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6 ‘Titanic’ (1997)

Director: James Cameron

Jack and Rose embracing and about to kiss while standing on the ship's bow in 'Titanic'
Image via Paramount Pictures

Is Titanic considered cheesy? Absolutely, but that’s precisely the intention! James Cameron demonstrated that melodrama can be effective with his exceptional 1997 historical romance. Although the film’s portrayal of the disaster and remarkable computer-generated imagery are noteworthy, the true strength of the film lies in the interaction between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Their flawless chemistry infuses Titanic with a vitality that would have been lacking otherwise.

Titanic marked the pinnacle of Cameron’s career, achieving an impressive eleven Academy Award wins, placing it on par with Ben-Hur and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the all-time record. Its enduring visual effects remain impressive to this day, but it’s the timeless love story at its core that sets Titanic apart. The heartbreaking tragedy at the heart of the story portrays characters like Jack and Rose, who seem destined for each other, grappling with the harsh realities of histor


Release Date November 19, 1997

Rating PG-13

Runtime 194 minutes

Watch on Paramount+

5 ‘Good Will Hunting’ (1997)

Director: Gus Van Sant

Sean and Will at the park sitting down and looking to the distance in Good Will Hunting
Image via Miramax

Good Will Hunting is the movie that propelled Matt Damon and Ben Affleck into the spotlight as two of the most promising talents of their generation. The lifelong friends collaborated to write the screenplay, drawing from their own upbringing in Boston and delving into the concept of potential. Damon takes on the lead role of Will Hunting, a janitor with exceptional intelligence who has yet to showcase his abilities.

Making use of the natural chemistry between Damon and Affleck, Good Will Hunting quickly became a success, praised for its sincere and genuine approach. Nevertheless, the most moving portrayal in the movie was delivered by the late and esteemed Robin Williams, who received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Will’s mentor, Sean Maguire. Maguire’s heartfelt speech to Will, compelling him to confront his guilt, stands as one of Williams’ most remarkable accomplishments as an actor.

Good Will Hunting

Release Date December 5, 1997

Rating R

Runtime 126

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4 ‘Malcolm X’ (1992)

Director: Spike Lee

Denzel Washington in 'Malcolm X', looking deeply at the camera with two men behind him
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Spike Lee revolutionized the film industry with his 1989 classic Do the Right Thing, delving into contemporary race relations in a thought-provoking and enraging manner. Additionally, Lee delved into America’s deeply ingrained racist ideologies with his 1992 film Malcolm X. The exceptional performance by Denzel Washington as the Civil Rights leader highlights the enduring relevance of his teachings.

Washington’s portrayal in Malcolm X left such a strong impression that it overshadowed any other depictions. The movie solidified his status as a powerhouse actor and one of the most influential performers of his time, a reputation he still holds today. Malcolm X is a remarkable accomplishment that delves into the emotional fragility of an iconic historical figure. While the film avoids sentimentality, Lee anchors it in genuine emotion, creating a distinctive and powerful drama with a deeply humane quality.

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3 ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

Director: Steven Spielberg

A group of soldiers standing in a wrecked city turning around and looking up in Saving Private Ryan
Image via Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures

“Director Steven Spielberg took a different approach with Saving Private Ryan, a World War II film that diverged from his previous Indiana Jones adventures. Unlike his earlier films, Saving Private Ryan offered a raw and realistic portrayal of combat, rather than romanticizing it. The movie, while patriotic, does not sugarcoat war or glorify the nature of battle. Instead, it elicits emotion by highlighting the unwavering loyalty and commitment that soldiers had for their fellow servicemen.”

The movie has been praised for its sensitive and realistic portrayal within the war film category. While Saving Private Ryan is not a true story, it took inspiration from various real-life veterans, including Spielberg’s father, Arnold. Recognized and widely considered a contemporary masterpiece, Saving Private Ryan is a profound accomplishment in war cinema that elicits strong emotions with its impactful conclusion.

Watch on Netflix

2 ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

A little girl in a red coat walking alone in Schindler's List
Image via Universal Pictures

Schindler’s List offers a profoundly impactful and thought-provoking portrayal, standing as one of the most significant films from the 1990s. It eschews Hollywood melodrama as Spielberg tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, portrayed by Liam Neeson. Schindler, a German businessman associated with the Nazi party, utilized his factories to rescue numerous Jewish individuals during the Holocaust. Despite saving countless lives, Schindler remains haunted by the feeling that he could have done more to prevent the tragedy.

Creating Schindler’s List posed a challenge for all those involved. The subject matter became so distressing that Spielberg sought assistance from Robin Williams to maintain his morale. Although not an easy film to watch, Schindler’s List is essential viewing. It tells a heartbreaking tale about the significance of acknowledging evil and resisting oppression, even when taking action is incredibly difficult.

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1 ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont

A man under the rain spreading his arms and looking up in The Shawshank Redemption
Image via Columbia Pictures

Few films have depicted the influence of friendship as profoundly as The Shawshank Redemption. Adapted from Stephen King’s acclaimed short story, the film portrays the unlikely bond formed in the most unexpected of circumstances. Enduring the hardships of prison life, inmates Red (played by Morgan Freeman) and Andy (portrayed by Tim Robbins) discover something rare and precious: hope.

Frequently, the most emotional movies convey the simplest messages. The Shawshank Redemption’s morals are straightforward, yet it has garnered a devoted following over time. The film’s uncomplicated yet inspiring narrative highlights the profound emotional impact of friendship in the most challenging circumstances.

The Shawshank Redemption

Release Date September 23, 1994

Rating R

Runtime 142

Rent on Apple TV

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