The 1990s was a golden era for cinema, with numerous blockbuster hits that left a lasting impact on Hollywood. The decade witnessed a cinematic revolution, captivating audiences with the evolving possibilities of film. From disaster flicks to space adventures and the resurrection of extinct creatures, ’90s blockbusters embraced limitless possibilities. Advancements in computer effects transformed the industry, solidifying computer animation as a visual storytelling tool. Disney thrived, Star Wars made a triumphant return, and fresh ideas vied for box office supremacy.
If you’re curious about which of your favorites made the biggest splash, we’ve compiled a list of the highest-grossing ’90s movies.
These top 10 movies dominated the box office during that iconic decade.
1. Titanic (1997)
Worldwide Gross: $1.84 billion
Studio: Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
“Titanic” sailed into the ’90s and emerged as the decade’s undisputed box office champion. In fact, it still holds its place as the fourth highest-grossing film of all time. Initially, it raked in a staggering $1.84 billion worldwide, doubling the box office numbers of “Jurassic Park” and making history as the first film to surpass the billion-dollar mark. With subsequent re-releases, its earnings now stand at an impressive $2.26 billion.
James Cameron’s epic retelling of the Titanic’s ill-fated voyage satisfied the public’s curiosity about the real Titanic disaster with its sheer scale and attention to detail. It offered something for everyone – romance, action, a Celine Dion ballad, and special effects that still hold up. The film received a remarkable 14 Academy Award nominations and won 11, including the coveted Best Picture award, not to mention catapulting Leonardo DiCaprio to superstardom.
This epic tale of romance and disaster endures as an icon, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s performances etched in memory, even as they’ve taken on numerous iconic roles since. “Titanic” was the indisputable king of ’90s box office hits.
2. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Worldwide Gross: $924 million
Studio: 20th Century Fox
The return of Star Wars to the big screen was a monumental event in the world of cinema. After a 16-year hiatus since the last film of the original trilogy, “Return of the Jedi,” fans were eagerly awaiting its comeback. When “The Phantom Menace” hit theaters, it received generally positive reviews, and people were thrilled to have Star Wars back. The one notable exception was the character Jar Jar Binks, who didn’t sit well with audiences.
During its initial release, it surpassed $400 million domestically and $900 million worldwide, eventually crossing the $1 billion mark globally after a 2012 re-release. Despite mixed reactions to its characters and plot, “The Phantom Menace” laid the foundation for the subsequent prequel films and demonstrated its financial success, even if it remains a divisive topic among fans. Over time, the film’s reputation has seen its ups and downs.
While some die-hard Star Wars fans criticize it, the film performed well at the box office. When looking solely at their original ’90s box office runs, “Star Wars: Episode I” actually outperformed “Jurassic Park.”
3. Jurassic Park (1993)
Worldwide Gross: $914 million
Studio: Universal Pictures
This 1993 Steven Spielberg masterpiece ranks among the highest-grossing films ever and left an indelible mark on the possibilities of CGI in filmmaking. “Jurassic Park” took audiences on a sci-fi adventure, following a group of individuals battling for survival against genetically engineered dinosaurs wreaking havoc on their island paradise. The film received acclaim for its groundbreaking portrayal of dinosaurs on screen – they were the true stars, overshadowing the human actors and characters. Its heart-pounding excitement, jaw-dropping visuals, and epic scale proved irresistible to audiences.
Contributing to its box-office success is its brilliant marketing strategy that created buzz through widespread product placements while keeping the actual look of the dinosaurs a well-guarded secret. This ensured everyone knew about the film and left them eagerly anticipating more. It gave birth to immediate sequels, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Park III.” The franchise came back to life with “Jurassic World” in 2015 and continued with “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” in 2018, breathing new life into this beloved series.
During its initial release, “Jurassic Park” grossed over $914 million worldwide for Universal, with a domestic haul of $357 million. Thanks to several re-releases, especially in 2013, “Jurassic Park” padded its box office earnings with an additional $118 million, soaring to an impressive $1.11 billion.
4. Independence Day (1996)
Worldwide Gross: $817 million
Studio: 20th Century Fox
“Independence Day” was another blockbuster driven by cutting-edge special effects, featuring an alien invasion intent on destroying humanity and plundering Earth’s resources. The aliens wreaked havoc by obliterating many of the world’s major cities, with the destruction of the White House during the invasion becoming an iconic moment. “Independence Day” shares similarities with the epic disaster films of the 1970s, such as “Earthquake,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”
Like those films, “Independence Day” boasts an ensemble cast, and the main characters grapple with obstacles created by the unfolding disaster. However, the film benefits from superior special effects that enable a much grander narrative. It earned a whopping $817 million at the global box office for 20th Century Fox, with $306 million in domestic ticket sales.
While “Independence Day” might not be the pinnacle of either Will Smith’s or Jeff Goldblum’s film careers, this sci-fi action flick remains an iconic ’90s movie. The movie received favorable reviews for its gripping and intense storyline that resonated strongly with audiences. The film’s success led to a sequel, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” released in 2016, continuing the story and captivating fans once more.
5. The Lion King (1994)
Worldwide Gross: $763 million
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
For ’90s kids, “The Lion King” remains the quintessential Disney movie of the decade and still holds a place among the greatest animated films ever made. Unlike many Disney films based on classic stories, “The Lion King” is not directly adapted from any literary work, although it draws inspiration from Shakespearean themes. The tale of King Mufasa and his son, Simba, was a massive success, both critically and commercially.
In its time, Disney’s “The Lion King” stood as the studio’s most beloved animated film. It marked the fifth installment of the “Disney Renaissance,” an era in which Disney reaffirmed its position as the leading animation studio globally, alongside hits like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Ironically, in an era where Disney heavily relies on reboots and adaptations, their most successful film from the ’90s Renaissance was also their most original.
During this period, “The Lion King” represented the pinnacle of achievement, amassing $763 million at the global box office, with $312 million coming from domestic ticket sales. Its enduring popularity later led to a Broadway musical and a CGI remake in 2019. The original “Lion King” outperformed its sequels and even the live-action remake in terms of box office impact. “The Lion King” set such an extraordinary standard that subsequent films and animated endeavors struggled to match its brilliance.
6. Forrest Gump (1994)
Worldwide Gross: $677 million
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Paramount’s “Forrest Gump,” based on the relatively lesser-known 1986 novel by Winston Groom, tells the tale of a mentally challenged man who offers an innocent perspective on the unfolding historical events around him. Remarkably, Forrest Gump unknowingly influences history. The film is structured more episodically than as a linear narrative, offering audiences a distinct and engaging cinematic journey.
Starring Tom Hanks, this comedy-drama proved to be both a critical and commercial sensation. The film emerged as the second-highest-grossing film of 1994 (trailing only “The Lion King”), accumulating $677 million in worldwide box office revenue, with $329 million of that coming from the domestic market. Not only did “Forrest Gump” become a financial powerhouse, but it also secured the prestigious Best Picture award at the 1995 Academy Awards and the Best Actor award for Hanks.
“Forrest Gump” has left an indelible mark on modern pop culture, capturing the hearts of viewers with its epic yet emotionally resonant story. Several quotes from “Forrest Gump” have become part of the American lexicon, solidifying its status as one of the most quoted movies ever.
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Worldwide Gross: $672 million
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis, and Haley Joel Osment, all recognizable names with impressive resumes, will forever be linked by the 1999 psychological thriller “The Sixth Sense.” The film boasts numerous iconic quotes, with “I see dead people” encapsulating its exceptional essence. It dominated the 1999 box office, ranking as the second-highest-grossing film of 1999, trailing only “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” This critically acclaimed movie amassed $672 million globally for Disney, with $293 million coming from the domestic market.
The film revolves around a young boy who claims to see ghosts and his psychiatrist, and it became the talk of the town that year, largely due to its shocking twist and surprise ending. The film’s astonishing twist ending, revealing Dr. Crowe’s true nature, continues to astound audiences and stands as one of cinema’s most mind-blowing revelations in history. The combined star power and the film’s success have solidified “The Sixth Sense” as an enduring masterpiece.
The film also received six Academy Award nominations and has secured its place as a classic in the horror genre. This movie marked the launch of Shyamalan’s career as a filmmaker, although the pressure to deliver big twists in his subsequent films to match the expectations set by “The Sixth Sense” became somewhat burdensome.
8. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Worldwide Gross: $618 million
Studio: Universal Pictures
Steven Spielberg’s sequel to “Jurassic Park,” titled “The Lost World,” continued the saga of genetically resurrected dinosaurs. The film benefited from advancements in special effects, enabling more extensive use of computer-generated visual effects.
While it received mixed critical reviews, audiences eagerly embraced this follow-up to “Jurassic Park.” It amassed a total of $618 million in worldwide ticket sales for Universal, with $229 million of that coming from the domestic market.
“The Lost World” proved to be successful enough to keep the franchise alive. It paved the way for a third Jurassic Park installment in 2001 and eventually led to a reboot with “Jurassic World” in 2015.
9. Men in Black (1997)
Worldwide Gross: $589 million
Studio: Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures
During the 1990s, Will Smith was a consistent box office sensation, often delivering one blockbuster hit each year. Following his success in “Independence Day,” Smith teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones for “Men in Black.” Both actors found their most iconic roles as Agents J and K, respectively, in this film, which told the tale of a covert Earth organization responsible for monitoring aliens living among us. The movie seamlessly blended science fiction, action, and comedy, raking in an impressive $589 million worldwide for Columbia Pictures.
This science-fiction concept, coupled with the magnetic appeal of the lead actors, resulted in a highly entertaining, family-friendly cinematic experience. While it may not have garnered top-notch ratings from critics, it still stands as one of the finest entries in the buddy-cop movie genre. The film’s perfect fusion of sci-fi, action, and comedy owes much to the chemistry between stars.
This successful film franchise later produced two sequels and a 2019 reboot titled “Men in Black: International.”
10. Armageddon (1998)
Worldwide Gross: $553 million
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Michael Bay’s blockbuster disaster film took center stage in 1998 with a gripping plot involving a colossal asteroid on a collision course with Earth and the heroic efforts to avert catastrophe. Starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, this formulaic yet action-packed movie set the stage for Bay’s string of hits, including the Transformers franchise.
“Armageddon” introduces a gripping scenario where an asteroid hurtles toward Earth, with the only hope of stopping it is to drill into the asteroid and detonate a nuclear device. To tackle this monumental task, NASA enlists the expertise of Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), the world’s greatest driller.
As the premise sounds far-fetched, of course, it received primarily negative reviews from critics. But “Armageddon” proved its mettle by amassing an impressive $553 million in global box office earnings for Disney and Touchstone Pictures, despite a substantial budget of $140 million. Domestically, it brought in $201 million in ticket sales.
11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Worldwide Gross: $516 million
Studio: TriStar Pictures
When “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” hit the screens in 1991, it shattered expectations and set new standards for cinematic excellence. This sequel, directed by James Cameron, continued the saga initiated in the classic Terminator film. While sequels often struggle to outshine their predecessors, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” managed to do just that. It left such an indelible mark that subsequent sequels struggled to match the enthusiasm of fans for the original. Even the latest installment, “Terminator: Dark Fate,” attempted to pick up where “Terminator 2” left off but failed to win over audiences and faced critical backlash.
The film continued the gripping saga of Sarah Connor, a woman whose son is destined to lead humanity against a malevolent AI. Much like the first installment, a Terminator cyborg is dispatched from the future, but this time with a mission to eliminate Connor’s son. The movie boasted exceptional special effects, and its visual appeal remains impressive even in the present day.
Audiences and critics alike embraced the film, propelling it to an impressive $516 million in global earnings for TriStar Pictures, with $204 million stemming from domestic ticket sales and $312 million from international markets.
12. Ghost (1990)
Worldwide Gross: $505 million
Studio: Paramount Pictures
In the romantic fantasy-thriller “Ghost,” Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze formed a captivating duo that stole the hearts of audiences in 1990. This film reigned as the top-grossing cinematic masterpiece of the year. The story unfolds as Swayze’s character meets a tragic end, only to embark on a journey to uncover the truth behind his own murder. Along the way, he watches over his grieving girlfriend, portrayed by Moore. Adding an extra layer of intrigue and humor, Whoopi Goldberg shines in what is arguably one of her most memorable film roles—a con artist psychic who unexpectedly discovers her ability to communicate with the departed.
“Ghost” struck a deep chord with viewers and played a pivotal role in cementing Demi Moore’s status as a bona fide box office sensation. Paramount Pictures reaped the rewards as the film tallied an impressive $505 million in global ticket sales, with a substantial $217 million contributed by domestic audiences.
The film left an indelible mark on pop culture, spawning an array of parodies, including the irreverent humor of the Naked Gun franchise, which humorously capitalized on the iconic and sensuous pottery scene. Ultimately, “Ghost” enchanted moviegoers and charmed its way to a remarkable box office. It seamlessly blends side-splitting comedy, heartwarming drama, and spine-tingling scenes that feature otherworldly beings exacting their chilling justice.
13. Aladdin (1992)
Worldwide Gross: $504 million
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Back in 1992, “Aladdin” soared to remarkable heights, becoming the highest-grossing animated film of its time. It held this prestigious title until a few years later when “The Lion King” stepped in. The tale of Aladdin and the magical Genie inside a lamp is a timeless narrative, but this rendition brought its own enchanting twist.
In this version, Aladdin cleverly employs the Genie’s powers to masquerade as a prince and win the heart of Princess Jasmine. Meanwhile, the conniving Jafar schemes to harness the Genie’s magic for his nefarious desires.
Yet, what truly distinguished this film was the exceptional voice performance of Robin Williams, who breathed life into the iconic Genie character. “Aladdin” shone as one of the brightest stars of ’90s cinema, accumulating a staggering $504 million in worldwide box office revenue for Disney, with a substantial $217 million contributed by domestic audiences.
14. Twister (1996)
Worldwide Gross: $494 million
Studio: Warner Bros./Universal Pictures
In the thrilling storm-chasing adventure “Twister,” Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt find themselves at the center of both tornadoes and rekindled romance. Their daring mission? To position themselves in the path of a tornado, deploying a container filled with mysterious sensors in the hopes that the tempestuous whirlwind will sweep them up, allowing these sensors to fulfill their enigmatic purpose. While the plot may serve as little more than a MacGuffin, it sets the stage for our dynamic duo to embark on an electrifying tornado-chasing odyssey.
Yet, “Twister” delivers much more than a whirlwind romance and tornado-chasing escapades. It boasts exceptional special effects that leave audiences in awe, and the stellar performances of Hunt and Paxton anchor the film with their unwavering talent.
As the howling tornadoes swirl, “Twister” struck gold at the box office, amassing a staggering $494 million in global ticket sales for Warner Bros., with a robust $241 million contributed by domestic audiences. Since then, no film quite matches the exhilaration of “Twister,” leaving an indelible mark on the world of storm-chasing cinema.
15. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Worldwide Gross: $487 million
Studio: Walt Disney Studio
In “Toy Story 2,” Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Andy’s beloved toys face an unexpected challenge when they must thwart a toy collector’s plans to sell Woody to a museum in Japan. Originally conceived as a direct-to-video sequel, Disney made a wise decision to give this film a theatrical release, and it paid off handsomely. The movie emerged as one of the standout hits of the decade, further cementing the Toy Story franchise’s place in cinematic history.
Critics praised the film upon its release, and it even outshone the original in terms of box office success. Disney’s “Toy Story 2” charmed audiences worldwide, amassing a total of $487 million in global box office earnings, with a substantial $245 million contributed by domestic audiences.
“Toy Story 2” stands as one of the rare Disney animated sequels that has earned even higher acclaim than the original. With its heartwarming storyline, new characters, and a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it continues to captivate audiences of all ages.