The 15 Most Underrated Crime Films of the 1990s

The 1990s were a changing era that saw some crazy crime movies.
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Mystery and crime are linked but separate genres, with deeply different expectations and styles. Crossover exists, sure—and, as the famous saying goes, all stories are mysteries in the end—but there’s something intrinsic about the crime genre that takes things further: crime films focus in on the criminals themselves in a different way, and almost always offer a detailed introspection of the darker side of life.

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Once upon a time, Netflix’s DVD library hosted well over 100,000 titles and sent out roughly 12 million DVDs per week. Now, with the advent of easy-to-use streaming services, the amount of content viewers have available has shrunk to the low thousands. Look up any list of “films to watch” and you’ll find a tiny selection of movies, usually curated by people all reading the same lists and commenting on the exact same hot new show or film.

But, is that all there is? With over a hundred years of incredible filmmaking on the planet isn’t there something missed when we only pay attention to the latest and greatest? This series is dedicated to answering that question and to exploring a small handful of the unsung films from decades past.

I’ll examine each decade in turn, all the way back to the earliest days of film, and I’ll be exploring every genre of film there is! From science fiction, to drama, to romance, to comedy—I’m going to cover the entirety of film history for you, bringing out the golden nuggets for you to enjoy.

The most underrated crime films of the 1990s

The 1990s saw some of the hottest flicks emerge in every genre. The landscape of film was shifting dramatically as new technologies emerged and a new generation of star actors, directors, and screenwriters blossomed.

A certain 1990s fascination with the dark and the violent stirred as well, offering cleverer films than some previous generations had afforded, called back to the sharp twists and turns of the golden age of noir.

Yet, despite all the great films made during this decade, many have been forgotten, much to the detriment of the viewing public.

As always, with these articles, I love hearing your feedback in the comments section, or on Twitter @indubitablyodin. Let me know what your favorite films of the decade were, which ones you think I should have included, and which you hope I’ll mention in one of my next decades!

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One False Move (1992)
One False Move (1992)
Director Actors
Carl Franklin Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams

Billy Bob Thornton’s screenwriting debut and a powerhouse of tension that film critic Gene Siskel voted his favorite film of 1992. It’s an action-packed ride as three criminals on a murder spree flee toward a small town in Arkansas. There, waiting for them, are the local sheriff and the L.A. detectives assigned to track the killers down… only, there might be more going on than anyone is prepared for.

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One False Move (1992)

One False Move (1992) was not destined to make it big. With a budget of just two and a half million (insanely small for a film), it had been scheduled for a release direct-to-video. But word of mouth fired people up and the studio opted to give it a theatrical release at the last moment, where it raked in $1.5 million—not bad for something so small and last-minute!

It remains one of my favorite crime films. This is, I think, largely due to the deep characters and the way the actors play them; the plot is solid enough, but it’s the characters you’re going to remember.

Miami Blues (1990)
Miami Blues (1990)
Director Actors
George Armitage Fred Ward, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Frederick J. Frenger Jr. Is a sociopath with a new obsession: the straight life, but his stolen identity is about to get him far more than he bargained for.

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Miami Blues (1990)

Miami Blues (1990) is a dark comedy that will have you glued to your seat. Alec Baldwin is superb in this piece, playing the part with a wild charisma that sells the story in the best way.

The 1990s contain some of the best films, period, and so many have gone unseen. This little gem is really worth your time.

Jackie Brown (1997)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Director Actors
Quentin Tarantino Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert De Niro

Jackie Brown is a flight attendant with something up her sleeve: gun runner Ordell Robbie’s cash, snuck in 30,000 feet above the Mexican border in her bag. But when things get heated, they also get complicated, and soon everyone has their eye on a cool $500k that seems to be up for grabs.

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Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown (1997) doesn’t get quite as much attention as Tarantino’s other work, but I think it’s arguably one of his best works.

Normal Life (1996)
Normal Life (1996)
Director Actors
John McNaughton Ashley Judd and Luke Perry

Based on a true story. Chris and Pamela love each other, go stargazing, and spend their time in all the steamy ways young couples do. They also rob banks. As crime mounts and insanity sets in, the two descend on a spiral that will take an untold number of people down with them when they go.

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Normal Life (1996)

Normal Life (1996) there are few criminal couples more entrancingly insane than these two. The fact that the film draws so much from the very real exploits of Jeffrey and Jill Erickson makes it a ride like no other.

Man Bites Dog (1992)
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Director Actors
Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde Benoît Poelvoorde

A dark mockumentary about a documentary film crew following around a serial killer. But what starts off as a “fly on the wall” documentary turns horrific as the crew is drawn ever deeper into their psychopathic subject’s world.

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Man Bites Dog (1992)

Man Bites Dog is incredibly violent, with an NC-17 rating that is more than earned (seriously, now, this is not for the squeamish). However, it’s a masterpiece due to its exploration of the cultural fascination with serial killers. It asks the question: how much horror will you watch for entertainment? How far will you let yourself go in pursuit of entertainment?

If you’re used to the high-octane violence and gore of other 1990s hits like Saw, think again. Man Bites Dog is styled in a far more intimate and realistic way, its mockumentary approach lending it a visceral quality that Hollywood productions lack.

It’s become a Criterion Collection pick due to its stark and dark portrayal of the glorification of death and violence inhabiting our media, and the casual cruelty and pain inflicted throughout the film is only sharpened by the black humor that the lead actor so effortlessly creates.

Personally, I’d never watch this outside of film school, but if you’re a crime-film addict, maybe this is something you need to see.

The Limey (1999)
The Limey (1999)
Director Actors
Steven Soderbergh Terence Stamp, Luis Guzmán

Wilson’s daughter died in a car crash… only Wilson is not so sure. A career British criminal, hardened, and recently released from prison, he sets out to America to discover the truth, by any means necessary.

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The Limey (1999)

The Limey (1999) is a way better revenge film than, say, the far better-known Taken. Less “Hollywood”, this film has a vengeful epic quality to it that’s all the more powerful because of its less-shiny exterior. Plus, the acting is superb.

Ronin (1998)
Ronin (1998)
Director Actors
John Frankenheimer Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce

Sam, an ex-CIA operative now out for his own, accepts a job… but even before the main task is completed things begin to go awry. Is this a set-up? Who is the real one pulling all the strings?

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Ronin (1998)

Ronin (1998) follows a plot that many will have seen before in similar films, but it does so with a taut grace and an incredible cast that makes it feel like a whole different type of film.

Deep Cover (1992)
Deep Cover (1992)
Director Actors
Bill Duke Larry Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum

Russell Stevens Jr. has his share of dark memories, and his psych profile makes him the perfect candidate for an undercover DEA operation that’s so “deep” he might never find his way back to the light.

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Deep Cover (1992)

Deep Cover (1992) isn’t going to be your uplifting holiday flick, but the intelligent, often brutal, script keeps viewers taut the whole time. Add to that the wild and villainous charisma of Jeff Goldblum, and you’ve got something that’s savvy and intense. Don’t come looking for a realistic portrayal of law enforcement techniques, but do stay for the dose of political philosophy.

Guncrazy (1992)
Guncrazy (1992)
Director Actors
Tamra Davis Drew Barrymore, Michael Ironside

After her step-father abuses her, Anita Minteer uses the gun he taught her how to use to kill him. Then, her pen-pal, Howard, recently released from prison, gets pulled into her spiral of crime, until the bodies start piling up knee-high.

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Guncrazy (1992)

Guncrazy (1992) is a B-film, but it’s a really good B-film, of the kind that only comes around rarely and is wickedly entertaining when it does. There’s plenty of violence here, but also moments of bleak humor that grip the viewer all the more.

Homicide (1991)
Homicide (1991)
Director Actors
David Mamet William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna

Detective Bobby Gold doesn’t connect with his Jewish heritage until the murder of an elderly Jewish woman pulls him into a dark underworld of violence and ancient pain.

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Homicide (1991)

Homicide (1991) is dark, witty, and sharp, offering the sort of immersive experience you want from the best action-thriller.

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Director Actors
Carl Franklin Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, and Don Cheadle

World War II veteran Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins can’t find anyone willing to give him work, and in that openly racist era, a shroud hangs over his every effort to provide for himself. But then he is pulled into the searching for a missing white woman, and the twisted maze of schemes and plots that he encounters threaten more than his livelihood: they threaten his life.

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Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) didn’t do so hot in the box office, but it remains one of the absolutely best of the 1990s noir revival with a super cast, snappy script, and serious attention to the detail of 1940s USA.

Miller's Crossing (1990)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Director Actors
The Coen brothers Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro

Tom Reagan is the lead man for a powerful Irish mobster, and he’s playing a risky game. As he tries to avert a gang war, while sleeping with his boss’s wife, he becomes thrust ever deeper into a churning quagmire of deceit.

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Miller's Crossing (1990)

Miller's Crossing (1990) is a neo-noir gangster film in the tried-and-true vein, but the Coen brothers offer up something clever as always within their rich script and solid directing. There are times when the film drags a bit, but true gangster films aren’t all slapdash action—gangster films have pace; their rhythm is slow and sure, punctuated by moments of brutality.

Internal Affairs (1990)
Internal Affairs (1990)
Director Actors
Mike Figgis Richard Gere, Andy García

Dennis Peck is the model police officer, and a caring divorcée father just trying to be the best he can be. At least, that’s how it looks on the outside. In reality, Peck is a clever and manipulative villain sitting like a spider in the middle of the police force. Internal Affairs is on to him, but it will take the grudge and tenacity of a young hotshot to take him down.

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Internal Affairs (1990)

Internal Affairs (1990) features Richard Gere as the antagonist, and this rarity makes this film something special right off the bat. The script is clever, that action vibrant, and the acting superb.

Bullet Ballet (1998)
Bullet Ballet (1998)
Director Actors
Shinya Tsukamoto Shinya Tsukamoto, Hisashi Igawa

Goda’s girlfriend kills herself, leaving him in a bleak way. Determined to kill himself as well, his search for a gun takes him into Tokyo’s criminal underbelly, where he runs afoul of a gang. Ultimately, however, Goda’s dark thoughts must find a release—if not in his own death, then perhaps the death of others.

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Bullet Ballet (1998)

Bullet Ballet (1998) is a grim, brooding film, punctuated by moments of extreme violence; it’s reminiscent of early French noir, nihilistic and violent, while retaining a certain philosophic urgency.

Sneakers (1992)
Sneakers (1992)
Director Actors
Phil Alden Robinson Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, and David Strathairn

Martin Bishop heads a security team that breaks into secure systems at the behest of the organization being breached. When the CIA comes calling, Martin and his people find themselves caught in a shifting hall of mirrors, unable to be certain of anything: including whom to trust.

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Sneakers (1992)

Sneakers (1992) features an amazing cast as long as your arm, but it also has the witty script, the savvy director, and more than enough killer action to keep you in your seat. It’s refreshing to have something a little lighter in the line-up, too, so you’ll enjoy the comedy here.

With the millennium nearing, some brilliant science fiction hit the scene.
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Once upon a time, Netflix’s DVD library hosted well over 100,000 titles and sent out roughly 12 million DVDs per week.