The 1990s were an exciting time for cinema. They saw Batman get better, then precipitously worse. They cemented Sean Connery’s place as a performer who would never, ever do an accent other than his own, regardless of whether he was playing a Russian submarine commander, a disgraced SAS captain, or a dragon. They reminded us that any movie could be improved one hundred fold through the addition of a plot-specific Will Smith musical number during the end credits.
Now, you can revisit this remarkable decade for the unbeatable price of no money at all, thanks to YouTube’s ever-growing list of feature films offered to you, the viewer, free of charge. We took a gander at some of the movies being offered on the streaming service and picked out a few of the best that the 1990s had to offer. Boot up your Tamagotchi, frost your tips to perfection, and crack open a refreshing Orbitz soda. We’re bringing all the wonder of a Blockbuster VHS aisle straight to your smart TV.
Back before "The Three Stooges," "The Heartbreak Kid," and "Green Book," the Farrelly brothers were the team to beat when it came to dependable, toilet-centric comedy movies. Nuzzled between their debut feature "Dumb & Dumber" and the Golden Globe-nominated "There’s Something About Mary" was 1996’s "Kingpin," a motion picture that bravely asked "what if Randy Quaid was a little bit weird?"
The setup: Woody Harrelson plays Roy Munson, a disgraced and behanded ex-professional bowler. Without cash, prospects, or dignity, his life is in a spiral, until he spots a man with what sure seems to be the raw talent necessary to become the world’s next bowling sensation. The problem: his would-be ward, Ishmael Boorg, is a member of the local Amish community, and his life on the lanes has to be kept a secret.
Like a lot of the Farrelly brothers’ work, "Kingpin" divided critics, managing to land a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans have been kinder, and the film has been singled out as a high point in Woody Harrelson’s career, as well as a rare moment when Bill Murray managed to reach peak on-screen skeeviness.
The Red Violin
We’ve all looked at old, well-used musical instruments and wondered about their history — where they’ve been, who played them. "The Red Violin" takes this experience and chisels it into an epic, centuries-spanning drama.
Based in part on real-life folklore surrounding an 18th century Stradivarius, the movie begins in 1681, with a craftsman constructing a violin in the final hours of his pregnant wife’s life. His wife asks to have her fortune read, unknowingly receiving the fortune of the violin that her husband is building instead. The story continues on in segments, each foretold by a part of the tarot reading in the movie’s opening scene.
Equal parts high-concept art piece and two-hour "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" segment, "The Red Violin" didn’t break any box office records. It was, however, an awards show regular in 1999 and 2000, taking home an Academy Award for Best Score, earning a nomination for Best Foreign Language Picture at the Golden Globes, and landing a glut of Genie and Jutra awards for its writing, direction, acting, and design.
That’s right, "The Crucible" — it’s not just for first period high school english teachers with a VHS player and a hangover anymore. That said, here’s how they would describe the story while sipping Gatorade from a coffee cup.
"The Crucible" is a film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, written as an allegory for McCarthy-era anti-communist actions taken by the U.S. government. Set during the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s, it presents a community overcome by faith-based paranoia and a marked willingness to listen to teenagers when they accuse their neighbors of being in congress with the devil.
The movie takes liberties with the plot of the original play, especially in its final act, but the lessons remain the same. Witch hunts are bad. Power corrupts. Fear and suspicion tear through a community a hell of a lot faster than quiet, considered logic. Add to that a cast that includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, and the best use of Winona Ryder’s soul-shatteringly intense eyeballs since the 2017 SAG awards, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a deeply heavy movie night.
Dancer, Texas Pop. 81
If you grew up in a small town, leaving can feel almost impossible. For receipts, check out "Dancer, Texas Pop. 81," a hidden indie gem that was hard not to love when it first came out in 1998, assuming you got the chance to see it.
Written and directed by Tim McCanlies, the writer of "The Iron Giant" and writer/director of "Secondhand Lions," "Dancer, Texas" follows a quartet of recent high school graduates trying to come to terms with their decision to leave home. The cast is solid — the four leads are played by Breckin Meyer of "Clueless," Peter Facinelli from the "Twilight" franchise, Ethan Embry of "Grace and Frankie" fame, and Eddie Mills from the cult ’90s show "Wasteland."
In total, the film made less than a million dollars at the box office, but critics who came across it were generally gushy. A Variety review listed on Rotten Tomatoes compares the movie to "Our Town" and Capra, sans mushiness and rose-tinted takes on the innocence of youth.
Maybe you’ve already seen "Bats," maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, you probably think that you’ve got a handle on the story just based on the VHS cover. "It’s a movie about evil bats," you’ve probably thought to yourself. You’re so far off base it’s embarrassing. It’s a movie about Lou Diamond Phillips fighting evil bats. Yes, that Lou Diamond Phillips.
The place: Gallup, Texas, a nice enough place to live if you like towns that aren’t being terrorized by bats. But change is the only constant, and Gallup soon finds itself bat-tered and bruised, bat-tenning down the hatches for a bat-tle that no one saw coming. "Gallup?" nobody says, "More like Bat-on Rouge."
The problem arises when a well-meaning scientist tries to turn Bruce Wayne’s favorite animal into a more viable version of itself through genetic engineering, accidentally creating a swarm of critters that are smarter, stronger, and hungrier for delicious human flesh. If you think that explosions don’t factor into the solution, you are living in a fantasy world.