The highest-grossing movies of the 90s included some of the most successful films of all-time. Many featured state-of-the-art special effects; others were touching romantic comedies that connected with audiences on a more human level.
Wondering which of your favorites performed the best? We put together a list of the 19 highest-grossing movies of the 90s
Table of Contents
- 1. Titanic (1997)
- 2. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
- 3. Jurassic Park (1993)
- 4. Independence Day (1996)
- 5. The Lion King (1994)
- 6. Forrest Gump (1994)
- 7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
- 8. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
- 9. Men in Black (1997)
- 10. Armageddon (1998)
- 11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
- 12. Aladdin (1992)
- 13. Ghost (1990)
- 14. Twister (1996)
- 15. Toy Story 2 (1999)
- 16. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
- 17. Home Alone (1990)
- 18. Pretty Woman (1990)
- 19. The Matrix (1999)
1. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron’s epic telling of the sinking of the Titanic was not only the biggest film of the 1990s, at the time it was the biggest film ever. To this day, Titanic ranks among the most successful films ever made. The movie had a little something for everyone – romance, action, a song by Celine Dion, and amazing special effects that hold up even today. Titanic brought in $1.8 billion globally for Paramount Pictures during its initial release, with $600 million coming from the domestic box office.
Over the years, rereleases have boosted its total box office to more than $2.1 billion. The film garnered 14 Academy Award nominations, winning 11, including Best Picture.
This makes Titanic the highest-grossing movie of the 90s
2. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
The return of Star Wars was among the most anticipated events in film history. It had been 16 years since Return of the Jedi, the final film of the original trilogy. At the time of its release, The Phantom Menace received positive reviews, and people seemed just to be happy Star Wars was back. The one exception was Jar Jar Binks, a character despised by audiences. Over the years, The Phantom Menace’s reputation has taken numerous hits.
It currently holds a mediocre 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, upon its release, the movie was a massive hit for 20th Century Fox, generating just over $924 million worldwide during its initial release, with $431 million in domestic ticket sales.
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park delivered director Steven Spielberg yet another massive hit. The story of an amusement park full of genetically recreated dinosaurs who proved irresistible for audiences. The film was lauded for bringing dinosaurs to life on screen – they were the star of the film, not the actors or characters who inhabited the screen. The film brought in more than $912 million at the global box office for Universal during its initial release, with a domestic take of $357 million.
4. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day was another special effects-driven blockbuster, with aliens arriving to destroy humanity and take Earth’s natural resources. The aliens do a great job of blowing up most of the planet’s large cities. The destruction of the White House during the invasion has become iconic. Independence has more than a little in common with the epic disaster films that were popular in the 1970s – Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure.
Like those films, Independence Day has an ensemble cast, and the main characters spend much of their time grappling with obstacles created by the disaster at hand. The difference is better special effects allowing for a much more expansive story. Independence Day generated $817 million at the global box office for 20th Century Fox, with $306 million in domestic ticket sales.
5. The Lion King (1994)
Disney’s The Lion King was, at the time, the studio’s most popular animated film ever. The story of King Mustafa and his son, Simba, was a huge critical and commercial hit. It was the fifth film of the so-called “Disney Renaissance,” a period in which Disney reestablished itself as the preeminent animation studio in the world. Other films during this period include The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.
The Lion King represented the pinnacle of success during this period generating $763 million in the global box office, with $312 million coming domestically. The Lion King’s enduring popularity led to a Broadway musical and a CGI remake in 2019.
6. Forrest Gump (1994)
Paramount’s Forrest Gump, based on the little read 1986 novel by Winston Groom, tells the story of a mentally-challenged man who presents an innocent view of the historical events that unfold around him. Gump also impacts history, often unknowingly. The film is more episodic than a linear story, provided audiences with a unique filmgoing experience. Starring Tom Hanks, the comedy-drama was a critical and commercial smash hit.
The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hanks. It finished as the second most popular film of 1994 (Behind The Lion King), generating $677 million for Paramount in the worldwide box office, including $329 million domestically.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense dominated the box office in 1999. The story of a little boy who says he sees ghosts and his psychiatrist was the most buzz-worthy film of 1999, fueled in large part by the film’s twist and surprise-ending. The movie launched Shyamalan’s career as a filmmaker, although the need to have a big twist in his films to meet the expectations set by the huge success of The Sixth Sense became somewhat burdensome in subsequent films.
It was the second-highest-grossing film of 1999, finishing only behind Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The critically acclaimed film generated $672 million globally for Disney, with $293 million coming domestically.
8. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Steven Spielberg’s sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, continued the story of genetically recreated dinosaurs. Special effects had advanced a bit from the first movie, allowing for more computer-generated special effects. Critically the film was considered mediocre, but audiences flocked to this Jurassic Park follow up. It had $618 million in global ticket sales for Universal, with $229 million coming domestically.
The sequel was good enough and successful enough to keep the series going. A third Jurassic Park film would be released in 2001, and a reboot would launch in 2015 with Jurassic World.
9. Men in Black (1997)
In the 1990s, Will Smith often was box office gold. It seemed every year included at least one Will Smith blockbuster. Coming one year after Independence Day, Men in Black told the story of a secret Earth organization that polices aliens who live among us. Smith starred along with Tommy Lee Jones. The movie seamlessly blended sci-fi action and comedy, raking in $589 million globally for Columbia Pictures. The movie spawned two sequels and a reboot in 2019 – Men in Black: International.
10. Armageddon (1998)
Michael Bay’s disaster flick about a “planet killer” asteroid headed toward Earth, and the efforts to stop it was the biggest film of 1998. Starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, the formulaic blockbuster set the stage for Bay’s run of hits that included the Transformers films. Although receiving mainly negative reviews from critics and made Roger Ebert’s list of most-hated films, Armageddon brought in $553 million for Disney and Touchstone Pictures against a hefty budget of $140 million. The movie brought in $201 million in domestic ticket sales.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
It’s not often that a sequel surpasses the original, but that’s the case with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The movie continued the story of Sarah Connor, a woman whose son will one day lead humanity in its fight against an evil AI. Like the first film, a Terminator robot is sent from the future to set things right – this time by killing Connor’s son. The film featured terrific special effects. The look of the film holds up even today.
The movie expands on the first film and adds themes, exploring the nature of fate. The film was a hit with audiences and critics, bringing in $516 million for TriStar Pictures, with $204 million in domestic ticket sales and $312 million internationally.
12. Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin became the highest-grossing animated film of all time in 1992, only to be surpassed a few years later by The Lion King. Aladdin and the Genie in a lamp is an old story that has told many times. In this version, Aladdin uses the Genie to pose as a prince to impress Princess Jasmine, while the evil Jafar seeks to use the Genie for his own purposes. What set this film apart was the voice work of Robin Williams, who gave life to the Genie. Aladdin was one of the highest-grossing movies of the 90s, generating $504 million globally for Disney, bringing in $217 million domestically.
13. Ghost (1990)
Ghost paired Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in a romantic fantasy thriller that became the top-grossing film of 1990. In the film, Swayze is killed and attempts to solve his own murder while looking out for his mourning girlfriend, played by Moore. Whoopi Goldberg, in probably her best film role, plays a con artist psychic who discovers she can actually communicate with the dead.
Ghost connected with audiences and helped solidify Moore as a box office star. Ghost generated $505 million in ticket sales for Paramount, with $217 million in the domestic box office.
14. Twister (1996)
In Twister, Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt try to rekindle their romance while chasing tornadoes. Their plan? To get in front of a tornado so they can put a container filled with censor things that they hope the tornado sucks up so the senor things can do stuff. The story is little more than a MacGuffin, so our stars can chase tornadoes around. But, hey, the special effects are great, and Hunt and Paxton are solid actors. Twister’s tornadoes generated $494 million at the box office for Warner Bros., with $241 million domestically.
15. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 found Woody, Buzz, and Andy’s other toys grappling with a toy collector who wants to sell Woody to a museum in Japan. Initially envisioned as a direct-to-video sequel, Disney wisely course-corrected and released this film to theaters. It became one of the biggest movies of the decade and solidified the Toy Story series. Toy Story 2 probably is the weakest film in the series, but it’s still pretty good. It was well-received upon its release by critics and actually surpassed the success of the original at the box office. Toy Story 2 earned $487 million for Disney, with a domestic take of $245 million.
16. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Another Steven Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan, was a critical and commercial hit. In this World War II epic, a group of soldiers led by Tom Hanks must find Private Ryan, who is to be discharged after his three brothers died in combat. The film received 11 Academy Award nominations, winning five including Best Director for Spielberg. It lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, which to this day, some consider one of the academy’s most egregious errors. Saving Private Ryan generated $481 million for Dreamworks, including $216 million in domestic ticket sales.
17. Home Alone (1990)
Few could have predicted that this John Hughes story would become one of the most successful comedies of all-time. Home Alone’s story is simple enough: A large family leaves on vacation to Paris and accidentally leaves an 8-year-old Home Alone. Macaulay Culkin’s performance helped carry the film as he captured the exuberance of an 8-year-old unleashed. Much of the film relied on slapstick humor as Culkin’s character did battle with two idiotic burglars.
Home Alone exceeded expectations in every conceivable way and spawned four sequels. The film was the second-highest-grossing film of 1990, finishing only behind Ghost. It brought in $476 million globally for 20th Century Fox, including $285 million in domestic ticket sales.
18. Pretty Woman (1990)
One of the most successful romantic comedies of all-time, Pretty Woman paired Richard Gere with Julia Roberts. Roberts played a hooker who meets Gere’s corporate raider. They fall in love, and in the process, each character learns some things about themselves. It’s a simple story, but the performances of Gere and Roberts carry the film. Mix in a corporate takeover attempt to add some drama, and the film hits on multiple notes. The film initially was supposed to be much darker, and a serious take on sex work in L.A.
Disney had the film rewritten as a romantic comedy/fairytale, and the rest is history. Although one of the top-performing films of the decade, it finished third in 1990 behind Ghost and Home Alone (1990 was a good year for comedies). Pretty Woman brought in $463 million globally, including $178 million domestically.
19. The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix combined big sci-fi ideas with terrific special effects and a great story on its way to becoming one of the biggest films of 1999. Starring Keanu Reeves as Neo, the film tells the story of a young man who discovers his reality is a lie and that humanity is actually at war with an AI that uses human beings as batteries for power. The film was a rare blockbuster that was a hit with critics and audiences.
The success of the movie led to two greatly anticipated sequels, neither of which came close to the original – although the sequels did try to expand and continue the story rather than simply repeat the first film. The Matrix brought in $463 million at the global box office for Warner Bros., including $171 million domestically.