1990s Movies That Were A Huge Deal - Then Faded Into Obscurity

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Vote up the '90s box office hits that deserve to be remembered.

One of the unusual things about cinema is that even box office hits can fade into obscurity. People can't wait to see them, and they're big deals in the moment, but they eventually reach a point where no one talks about them. 

That's definitely the case with many 1990s movies. It was a different time. Having a big star and a catchy premise was all it took to get at least two or three solid weekends at the box office. 

The following films from that decade were all major hits. They featured A-list stars of the era like Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Kevin Costner, and Sharon Stone. People still remember them, and they still have their fans, of course. However, the flicks just didn't have the ongoing cultural footprint that Jurassic Park, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, and others from the '90s had. 

Additionally, they struggled to attract younger generations of viewers. A few are undeniable turkeys, but the majority were successful, which makes them worth a chance for people who have never seen them. Who knows - maybe they'll become big deals again!

  • Some movies are duds in their theatrical release but grow into cult favorites over time. Fried Green Tomatoes is slightly different. It was a considerable hit in 1991, yet later shrank into more of a cult favorite. It's the tale of two friends, Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker), and how their lives change in and around a small Alabama restaurant in the 1920s.

    The film had a lot of Oscar buzz upon its release, eventually earning a best supporting actress nomination for Jessica Tandy, along with a best adapted screenplay nomination. That undeniably helped drive ticket sales. It didn't win anything, though, and failed to nab that all-important best picture nomination. 

    Fried Green Tomatoes has settled into a place where it's beloved by a specific demographic, who rightly view it as one of the decade's quintessential female-driven pictures. Younger viewers don't seem to have connected with it, however.

    Of note, it's worth mentioning that Fried Green Tomatoes carries the bizarre designation of being a heartfelt movie with a subplot involving cannibalism.

    1,025 votes
  • It's difficult to understate how heavily hyped Bram Stoker's Dracula (also called simply Dracula) was in 1992. Acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame, was delivering his big-budget interpretation of the classic novel. He lured red-hot stars Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves to be his leads. And as Dracula, he landed Gary Oldman, a performer quickly establishing himself as a fascinating chameleon.

    The movie was a solid hit, although not the blockbuster it was presumed to be. Similarly, reviews were solid, yet not rapturous. The overall consensus was that Bram Stoker's Dracula was an interesting, visually lush take on the source material, but not a defining one. That reputation has likely hindered how people perceive it. With many Dracula-centered films to choose from, fans of the character are perhaps slower to gravitate toward this one than to the 1931 Bela Lugosi or 1979 Frank Langella versions. 

    1,062 votes

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  • The main character in Mr. Holland's Opus is a high school band director - an occupation you almost never see portrayed onscreen. Richard Dreyfuss plays the titular Glenn Holland, and the movie spans many years of his career, during which he inspires countless students. The film was warmly received by critics and earned Dreyfuss an Oscar nomination as best actor. In terms of the box office, it was one of those pictures that hangs on, week after week, propelled by good word of mouth.

    Even though there are always new high school musicians, Mr. Holland's Opus failed to become a cross-generational hit. Other popular films from 1996 - including Jerry Maguire, Independence Day, and Scream - have continued to resonate, burrowing into the pop culture consciousness. 

    This one may be remembered by people who saw it at the time or shortly afterward on VHS, yet seems relatively unknown among anyone born after 2000. Some of that may be due to the unrepentant sentimentality of the story, which could come off as old-fashioned today. Nevertheless, there's a lot of heart in the movie, and it certainly speaks to anyone who played in a high school band. 

    876 votes

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  • Released in January 1992, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was a sleeper hit, earning $88 million at cinemas domestically. No one saw that coming, as it lacked major stars and came out during a month that's normally a bit of a dead zone for new releases. Working in its favor, however, was an irresistible premise. 

    Rebecca De Mornay played Mrs. Mott/Peyton Flanders, a deranged woman working as a nanny for married couple Claire and Michael Bartel (Annabella Sciorra and Matt McCoy). Mott blamed Claire for her own miscarriage, and sought revenge by trying to turn Claire's husband and children against her.

    The movie was tautly directed by Curtis Hanson, who would later direct L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile. After a decent $7.6 million opening, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle saw its popularity increase over the next three consecutive weekends. Of course, the buzz over hits like this doesn't last forever. What was a you-gotta-see-it sensation in 1992 has become a hidden gem ripe for rediscovery by new audiences.

    817 votes

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  • 5
    1,006 VOTES

    Maverick was a rousing success in 1994, despite many audience members being too young to remember the TV show on which it's based. Mel Gibson played Bret Maverick, a card shark looking to make a profit in a big poker game. To earn the money necessary to compete, he first conned a few other players out of their cash. Jodie Foster co-starred as con artist Annabelle Bransford, and James Garner (who played Maverick on TV) was Marshal Zane Cooper.

    Teaming Gibson and Foster was a brilliant idea back then, as both were at high points in their careers. Bringing in Garner, meanwhile, was a canny example of stunt casting. Maverick got generally good reviews, with critics pointing out that it was fun, if not necessarily substantive. 

    After a string of personal matters, including making racist comments and allegedly beating up his ex-girlfriend, Gibson's star has fallen considerably since the 1990s, which may account for why Maverick isn’t talked about much anymore. Lethal Weapon is beloved enough that it maintains a fandom, whereas much of Gibson's other work holds little appeal to younger audiences who primarily know him for his problematic behavior.

    1,006 votes

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  • 6
    973 VOTES

    In 1992, Kevin Costner was one of the most popular working actors, coming off an amazing run of films that included Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and JFK. At the same time, Whitney Houston was the biggest recording artist in the world, selling millions of records and scoring hit after hit. The two joined forces for The Bodyguard, which predictably became a smash hit. 

    A weird thing happened in the more than two decades afterward. Everyone remembers the soundtrack, including the chart-topping “I Will Always Love You.” But who remembers much about the actual story, aside from the basic premise that he's a former Secret Service agent hired to protect a pop star from a stalker? Reviews were poor, and the movie's afterlife reflects that. Removed from its era, when Costner and Houston were at the height of their fame, The Bodyguard is remembered generally, as opposed to specifically.

    973 votes

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