The 15 Most Underrated Romance Films of the 1990s

Think you know the best 1990s romance films? You’ll be surprised by these underrated hits.
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Romance, ironically, doesn’t get a lot of love when it comes to highbrow literary critics. But that’s the world of prose. On the silver screen, romance has always reigned supreme. Ever since the earliest days of film, romance has captivated film viewers, catapulting them into a world of magic, where the suspense of relationships and all the foible’s love is prey to are writ large upon the screen.

Of course, regardless of what any literary critic thinks, romance is one of the most popular genres beyond the film screen as well. This has always made sense to me, since romance is, at its core, a study of the relationships we all find ourselves taking part in throughout our lives, as well as a way of playing out the dream of that perfect outcome, where love and circumstance align. There’s a majesty, a beautiful brilliance, in the depiction of love unfolding through a well-told tale.

And yet, as with all genres, film captures something of the essence of the romance narrative and makes it larger-than-life, highlighting a world that can at once be entered by the viewer whilst remaining forever slightly out of our reach. In a sense, that’s lovely, because it gives us something to strive for. Film also provides a template, in our deeply repressed societies, for how to form emotional connections, deal with trauma, and overcome differences in communication. Without romance depicted through film, we might become so defective in terms of our relationships that we’d simply stop having them altogether!

But, what makes a great romance film? What turns a film from something ordinary, into something grand? We all know the famous “greats” of the genre, but how many hidden gems lay beneath the average viewer's notice, waiting to be rediscovered… waiting to change lives? Quite a few, as it so happens, and these I’ve included here.

The Netflix age

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.

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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Ghost (1990)
Ghost (1990)
Director Actors
Jerry Zucker Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger, with the help of a reluctant psychic.

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Ghost (1990)

Ghost (1990) still reverberates through the pop-culture landscape, though not as strongly now that we’re three decades out from its release. Still, people vaguely remember the pottery scene, and the move lives on. Honestly, this film doesn’t get the love it deserves, partly because it’s deeply melodramatic. But it does its melodrama really well; it’s a film that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything different. If you walk in accepting that, and ready for some solid performances from the main cast, you’ll leave happy.

Meet Joe Black (1998)
Meet Joe Black (1998)
Director Actors
Martin Brest Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani

A mysterious young man appears in the life of a wealthy media giant and falls in love with his daughter. The only problem is that “Joe Black” isn’t human.

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Meet Joe Black (1998)

Meet Joe Black (1998) is a long film at around three hours, and the general pace of the film is often quite slow. But modern audiences seem to have more patience with long films than they did in the 90s, which, I think, is a good thing, and is certainly good for this film! The performances, especially with Anthony Hopkins, are fantastic, and it really is a worthwhile 90s romance despite not always getting the love it deserves. The chemistry between Claire Forlani and Brad Pitt is sizzling.

The Bodyguard (1992)
The Bodyguard (1992)
Director Actors
Mick Jackson Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston

A former United States Secret Service agent turned bodyguard is hired to protect a famous singer from a mysterious stalker.

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The Bodyguard (1992)

The Bodyguard (1992) is definitely a film with issues, largely because Costner and Houston kindle about as much glamorous passion between them as two pieces of wet wood. And yet, when you go deeper, there is something fascinating… it’s not Hollywood romance at its norm, it is a more subtle, everyday sort of thing. Juxtaposed to the melodramatic soundtrack and intense plot elements, the film contains an odd and extraordinarily cheesy “something” that makes it a worthwhile watch… at least once.

The Remains of the Day (1993)
The Remains of the Day (1993)
Director Actors
James Ivory Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson

A butler devoted to the service of his master realizes, as World War II looms, how misguided his loyalty was to his employer has been.

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The Remains of the Day (1993)

The Remains of the Day (1993) was listed as one of the finest films of 1993, and yet I rarely see anyone talking about it these days. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins are powerhouses of acting talent and, together, they are like the light of the sun and moon in the same sky. This is a subtle, powerful, and very human film that absolutely deserves attention. Especially given rising problems of global authoritarianism today.

The American President (1995)
The American President (1995)

| Director | Actors | | --- | --- | --- | | Rob Reiner | Aaron Sorkin | Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, and Richard Dreyfuss |

The sitting U.S. President, a widower, pursues a relationship with an environmental lobbyist who captivates him. But his personal life will be highlighted as he attempts to win a crime control bill during an election year.

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The American President (1995)

The American President (1995) is typical grade-A Sorkin writing, with a superb cast and killer directing by Rob Reiner. I don’t always agree with Sorkin’s politics, nor his exemplification of America, but this is absolutely one of his best scripts. It’s also a script that works perfectly under Reiner’s direction. **This is absolutely one of the most important 1990s films that needs to be looked at, seriously, as we dive into one of the most fractious eras in the history of the country.

Chasing Amy (1997)
Chasing Amy (1997)
Director Actors
Kevin Smith Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams

A comic book artist falls in love with a woman without realizing there’s one hitch to their relationship. She’s a lesbian.

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Chasing Amy (1997)

Chasing Amy (1997) lives on today thanks to its cult status and Kevin Smith’s fans, and because it’s a darn fine film. Still, it’s not Smith’s best-known film, and it often gets forgotten or ignored by people on the hunt for romance films due to its lower budget. Sure, this twists some romance genre tropes a bit, but it’s clever and funny, and definitely deserves a watch.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Director Actors
John Madden Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck and Judi Dench

While dealing with writer’s block, Shakespeare discovers a new muse in the form of Viola de Lesseps. Viola has hopes and dreams of her own, and, together, she and Shakespeare forge a wild romantic path through the heart of their crazy society.

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Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare in Love (1998) won plenty of Academy Awards, so how can it be “underrated?” I’ve discovered that a number of folks avoid watching it because it’s not even pretending to be historical (it’s a romance of the fantastic, not a period-piece), and because it “looks cheesy”. Well, those things are true, but they lend to the charm and wit of this film rather than detract from it.

Bicentennial Man (1999)
Bicentennial Man (1999)
Director Actors
Chris Columbus Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davidtz

Based on the 1992 novel The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg (which is itself based on Asimov's original 1976 novelette "The Bicentennial Man") , this is the story of an android who desires to become human.

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Bicentennial Man (1999)

Bicentennial Man (1999) there’s a lot of promise in this film, and critics are right that much of that promise remains unfulfilled by the film’s end…, however, between the comic acting of the main cast, and those plot threads that do carry through, it manages to be far better than the critical response suggests. Don’t walk in expecting a masterpiece—it’s too Hallmark for that—but if you go in expecting some cheese, you’ll leave happy.

The Fisher King (1991)
The Fisher King (1991)
Director Actors
Terry Gilliam Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams

After shock jock Jack Lucas inadvertently provokes a caller into murdering a group of innocent people in a Manhattan bar, he tries to commit suicide. But, at the last moment, he meets a homeless man whose wife was killed in that same shooting, a man who has suffered a complete mental break and is on a quest to find the Holy Grail.

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The Fisher King (1991)

The Fisher King (1991) is seriously one of the most profound films of all time, and the performance by its two leads is simply staggering. The romance, in the strict sense, is all in the sidelines… but there’s an emotional exploration here that cannot be overlooked. As always, Terry Gilliam proves himself a master director of the highest sort.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Director Actors
Stephan Elliott Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp

Two drag queens and a transgender woman journey across the Australian Outback from Sydney to Alice Springs in a tour bus that they have named "Priscilla".

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The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) isn’t your usual romance, and the elements of true romance are not the main focus of the film for one thing, but the emotional exploration that the film goes into is moving and important. It’s funny, sassy, and a great time.

Chungking Express (1994)
Chungking Express (1994)
Director Actors
Wong Kar-wai Takeshi Kaneshiro, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung, Faye Wong

Two lovesick Hong Kong policemen’s stories interweave with the women in their lives in this delicious crime comedy-romance.

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Chungking Express (1994)

Chungking Express (1994) is one of my favorite films—a romance film for people who love film itself, not just the casual viewer who loves a good romance (though it features that as well). It’s artsy and distinctive, and Wong’s incredible directing really makes it all pop in this very realistic way. There’s something surreal and whimsical here that requires an audience-member’s full attention… but that attention will be rewarded.

Carla's Song (1996)
Carla's Song (1996)
Director Actors
Ken Loach Robert Carlyle, Oyanka Cabezas

A Glasgow bus driver meets an emotionally scarred Nicaraguan dancer and helps her confront her traumatic past and the war continuing in her homeland.

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Carla's Song (1996)

Carla's Song (1996) is gritty, driven, passionate, and powerful. It’s absolutely a film that showcases Carlyle’s best acting chops from his early career, and offers an intimate and realistic immersion in the matters of the human heart.

Out of Sight (1998)
Out of Sight (1998)
Director Actors
Steven Soderbergh George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez

A notorious bank robber escapes from prison in a hijacked car with an FBI agent inside. Despite all odds, the two find an attraction that cannot be denied.

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Out of Sight (1998)

Out of Sight (1998) is messy in the best ways, a comedy-crime film brimming with sassy romance and sharp action. It’s definitely one of Clooney’s best early films, and him and Lopez are brilliant alongside one another.

Jeffrey (1995)
Jeffrey (1995)
Director Actors
Christopher Ashley Steven Weber, Patrick Stewart, Nathan Lane

Adapted from Paul Rudnick's off-Broadway hit play, a young, gay man who is determined to remain celibate due to his fear of aids, ends up meeting "Mr. Right".

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Jeffrey (1995)

Jeffrey (1995) didn’t get the love it should have, despite winning a number of awards and being considered a possible Oscar-film. It’s legitimately funny, heartwarming, and clever, and Patrick Stewart’s supporting role brings the whole thing together like nothing else.

Buffalo ’66 (1998)
Buffalo ’66 (1998)
Director Actors
Vincent Gallo Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Mickey Rourke

A convict just released from prison dreads going home so much that he tries to get back inside. In desperation, he kidnaps a young woman and pleads with her to impersonate his wife so he’s not alone when he goes home to his parents. However, much to his dismay, she takes to her role with great enthusiasm.

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Buffalo ’66 (1998)

Buffalo ’66 (1998) is really all about Christina Ricci. The film has many great moments, and its overall style is superb, but in the end it all comes down to Ricci’s magnetic performance. Seriously, one of my favorite offbeat romantic comedies.

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