Something was in the air in 1993. Independent cinema was gaining a stronger foothold than ever at the multiplex and Hollywood films were changing rapidly for modern audiences. Several fledgling directors (including Richard Linklater and Nora Ephron) and actors managed to break through that year — both Angela Bassett and Liam Neeson earned their first Oscar nominations at the 66th Academy Awards — while some soon-to-be classics took a little while to find their audiences on home video.
Whether addressing hard-hitting social issues or delivering cutting-edge roller-coaster rides for moviegoers, here are some of the notable films from '93 that made an impact on cinema.
Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater's cult-classic sophomore feature updates the American Graffiti formula for a new generation, here with a snapshot of high school life in 1976 Austin, Texas. The director's scene-stealing young cast, which includes Jason London, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, and Ben Affleck, gets to shine brightly here. Dazed and Confused also includes Matthew McConaughey's star-making performance, whose role in the film was initially intended to be a tiny one, but would now be considered as one of the more memorable of the entire decade.
The loose, slice-of-life tone of the film became a familiar one in several subsequent Linklater films, including in his "spiritual sequel," Everybody Wants Some!! (2016).
Who says a TV series can’t spawn a great movie? This propulsive update of the hit 1960s program features Harrison Ford as the wrongfully accused Dr. Richard Kimble, who goes on the run from the law after the murder of his wife. Tommy Lee Jones won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his performance as unshakeable U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, intent on apprehending his man whether he's actually guilty or he's innocent.
Directed by Andrew Davis, the film's legendary practical stunts and effects (including a spectacular train crash and a perilous high-altitude dive) are balanced by a taut narrative that condenses multiple seasons' worth of suspenseful plot into 130 exhilarating minutes. In addition to Jones's Oscar win, The Fugitive received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing.
The time-loop comedy against which all others are measured, Harold Ramis' relentlessly quotable and endlessly rewatchable romantic comedy stars Bill Murray as a foul-tempered weatherman forced to relive February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania over and over and over again. Ramis and a colorful cast that includes Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott ensure that the endless variations on Murray's routine fluctuate from the outrageously funny to the surprisingly philosophical and emotional.
The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan's beloved novel-turned-film weaves together the stories of multiple generations of Chinese and Chinese-American woman. The story centers around a group of San Francisco women (played by Ming-Na Wen, Lauren Tom, Rosalind Chao, and Tamlyn Tomita) and their immigrant mothers (Kieu Chinh, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu, and Tsai Chin), whose mahjong sessions are the springboard for interwoven histories of love, loss, separation and reunion. Directed by pioneering filmmaker Wayne Wang, The Joy Luck Club is now considered a milestone in the depiction of the Asian American experience.
Moviegoers everywhere believed in cloning dinosaurs through ancient DNA after laying their eyes on Steven Spielberg's wildly successful adaptation of the novel by Michael Crichton. The most famous theme park in movie history features genetically engineered dinosaurs on an island near Costa Rica overseen by an extremely wealthy entrepreneur (played by Richard Attenborough). After a power failure causes the park's dinosaurs to run loose, no one is safe.
Menace II Society
The Hughes brothers (Allen Hughes and Albert Hughes) arrived in spectacular fashion with their directorial debut, Menace II Society. The film is a gritty crime drama that portrays a teen on the doorstep of young adulthood, Caine (Tyrin Turner), and his friends within the gang culture of South Los Angeles, where escaping to a better life is a day-to-day struggle. A breakout indie success in the wake of 1991's Boyz N the Hood, the film is an unflinching look at the inner city, vividly depicting the entrenched social structures, the racial tensions, and the violence that is an everyday reality for those living there.
Robin Williams crafted one of his most beloved performances, with the aid of Oscar-winning practical makeup wizardry by Greg Cannom, Ve Neill, and Yolanda Toussieng. Here, he plays Daniel Hillard, an extremely talented voice actor whose unfortunate divorce has left him with no choice but to disguise himself as a very English nanny to get to be around his three kids throughout the week. Williams' legendary ad-libbing provoked many of the very real cast reactions that are in the film. Directed by Chris Columbus, the hilarious and poignant comedy co-stars Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, and Harvey Fierstein.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Based on Tim Burton's story and characters, Henry Selick's holiday classic set the standard for stop-motion animation. The film charts the musical mayhem that erupts when Halloween Town's Jack Skellington (whose singing voice is provided by Danny Elfman) decides he wants a change of pace and endeavors to be like Christmas Town's "Sandy Claws." This eye-popping extravaganza, with its iconic score and songs, has become a revival favorite over the years. The Nightmare Before Christmas received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.
In his follow-up to the Best Picture winner The Silence of the Lambs (1991), director Jonathan Demme provided a look at the devastating impact of AIDS on the LGBTQ+ community and the damage of discrimination in the workplace. The first major Hollywood film to deal directly with the AIDS epidemic stars Tom Hanks (in the first of his two back-to-back Oscar-winning roles) as Andrew Beckett, a gay man with AIDS who has been fired from his high-profile law firm. He believes that his termination was due to his sexuality and to having AIDS. Beckett enlists a reticent personal injury attorney (Denzel Washington) to represent him in a lawsuit.
In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Hanks, the film also won Best Original Song for Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia." The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup, and for Best Original Song for Neil Diamond's "Philadelphia."
This beautifully filmed tale of a mute Scottish bride (Holly Hunter) traveling to New Zealand with her daughter (Anna Paquin) for an arranged marriage to a landowner (Sam Neill), only to become sexually entangled with a local retired sailor (Harvey Keitel). The film is highlighted by a haunting piano-driven score by Michael Nyman that often serves as an extension of the emotions that Hunter's enigmatic character cannot put into words.
The Piano received eight Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Jane Campion, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Hunter, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Paquin, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Costume Design. Both Hunter and Paquin went on to win for their performances and Campion won for her writing.
America's favorite pastime became a beloved coming-of-age family classic with this summertime snapshot of elementary school life in 1962 in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. A new kid in town bonds with some buddies thanks to the neighborhood sandlot, but they also have to contend with childhood crushes, the temptation of tobacco, parents (naturally) and a ferocious, baseball-hoarding beast. A favorite among multiple generations, The Sandlot has inspired a number of direct-to-video sequels, with a projected streaming series currently in the works.
Spielberg's second masterpiece of the year was a powerful historical drama. Schindler's List tells the true story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and his efforts to save Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. The chilling performance by Ralph Fiennes as concentration camp commandant Amon Göth was seared into the minds of audiences everywhere, while the score by John Williams with its haunting violin solos by Itzhak Perlman was equally unforgettable.
Schindler's List, widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, was nominated for twelve Oscars, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Neeson and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Fiennes, and went on to win seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Original Score.
Sleepless in Seattle
One of the most iconic rom-coms of the '90s, Sleepless in Seattle featured the first on-screen pairing of Hanks and Meg Ryan (who later starred in You've Got Mail together), while also vaulting co-writer and director Nora Ephron to household-name status.
Openly nodding to the 1957 Hollywood classic, An Affair to Remember, the film tells the story of architect Sam Baldwin (Hanks), who moves from Chicago to Seattle with his son Jonah following the death of his wife Maggie. One night around the holidays, Jonah calls a radio talk show to seek advice on how to help his grieving dad. Sam then gets on the phone reluctantly and opens up about his feelings. Baltimore reporter Annie Reed (Ryan) hears all this and immediately falls in love even though she's actually already engaged to Walter (Bill Pullman). Neither know it at the time, but Sam and Annie are destined to meet one another at the top of the Empire State Building to see where things go. A major surprise hit, Sleepless in Seattle ignited an appetite for romantic comedies for all ages and remains influential to this day.
The Western came roaring back to life a year after Unforgiven with this sleeper smash take on the circumstances surrounding the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and its violent aftermath. Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer star as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, respectively, whose attempts to control the illegal activities of the outlaw group The Cowboys ensnare the lives of many other townspeople and compatriots. A wildly stacked supporting cast (Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Dana Delany, Michael Biehn, and Billy Bob Thornton, among others) lends gravitas to this historical action-adventure that stands as one of the most popular westerns from the past three decades.
An early lovers-on-the-lam screenplay by Quentin Tarantino became a stylish romantic crime film in the hands of director Tony Scott, with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette leading a head-turning cast as Elvis-obsessed Clarence Worley and his new wife, Alabama. Juicy monologues and pop-culture references galore are peppered throughout this pulpy story of Clarence and Alabama on the road from Detroit to Los Angeles with gangsters in pursuit. The film's incredible cast includes Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and James Gandolfini.
What's Love Got to Do with It
Based on Tina Turner’s autobiography, What's Love Got to Do with It tells the story of the legendary singer's life, her rise to fame, and her abusive and destructive relationship with Ike Turner. Angela Bassett stars as the resilient performer and Laurence Fishburne stars as Turner's husband and musical partner, Ike Turner. For their powerful performances, Bassett received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Fishburne received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Turner approved of Bassett's portrayal and told the actress, "You reached deep into your soul, found your inner Tina, and showed her to the world."