The 90s gave us some of the coolest sci-fi action movies of all time. That was the decade when action stars were the biggest they would ever get—both in physical size and cultural relevance.
Remember Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis, Will Smith? None of these guys ever again reached the prominence they held during that glorious bullet-spewing high-octane decade.
Here's our walk down memory lane as we revisit some of the best sci-fi action movies from the 90s. These are the gems that stand out in a crowd full of worthy contenders.
9. Congo (1995)
Some people might argue that a movie with a 22% Rotten Tomatoes critic score shouldn't be included on anyone's best of list—and those people are wrong.
This movie is awesome!
Congo is one of those films with a B-movie premise that, for whatever reason, got a large budget and great actors. The final product is well-made and well-acted.
It just has such a ridiculous premise that audiences and critics didn't respond well to it. But once you concede that it is absurd and strap in for the ride, Congo is a really fun time.
The movie ends with evil gorillas getting cut in half by diamond-powered laser guns during a volcanic eruption. Plus that awesome scene with Tim Curry and coffee cake. What's not to love?
8. Demolition Man (1993)
Demolition Man is one of the most 90s things that has ever happened. It takes place in the future, but if anyone ever asks what 1993 was like, you can just show them this movie.
It's the perfect encapsulation of how people in 1993 thought we'd be dressing like in the future, and that gives us a fun glimpse into the general mindset of pop culture at the time.
The 90s-addled mind of the audience is reflected in the movie's outlandish vision of the future: swearing is outlawed, Taco Bell reigns supreme, and Rob Schneider and Dennis Leary are funny.
Demolition Man is ridiculous and fun. Not only is it a time capsule that tells a tale of the strange people we once were, but it's insanely rewatchable even today.
7. Starship Troopers (1997)
Most audiences failed to catch the satirical nature of Starship Troopers when it was first released. But it has experienced a delayed positive reappraisal among movie fans.
Starship Troopers is a movie—starring the cast of a soap opera—about humanity's struggle for survival against space bugs. But on a satirical level, it's a scathing indictment of a fascistic society.
It's a fun sci-fi movie whichever way you choose to view it. And it's not just a great action flick! It's a cult classic.
6. Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is best described as a paranoid tech-surveillance thriller, starring Will Smith in one of his more competent acting roles.
Gene Hackman plays an ex-intelligence agent gone underground. Jon Voight plays the government baddie. The goons have ridiculous 90s haircuts that we may never see again on film.
Everyone is great in this movie. The pacing is perfect, the plot is solid, and the tech is ridiculously implausible. And yet, it really holds up! I recommend it if you're looking for a good thriller.
5. Men in Black (1997)
Men in Black is a fun buddy-cop sci-fi comedy with a blockbuster pace. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play a perfect comedy cop duo that's memorable and iconic.
Jones is the straight man while Smith plays the wise-cracking goofball. The movie has fun with classic sci-fi tropes and adds a few of its own ideas to the mix.
Men In Black was designed to be watched while stuffing your face with popcorn, swilling soda, and having a great time. It still fills this role all these years later.
4. Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid: a man caught between two realities. He isn't sure if he is a construction worker or a secret agent embroiled in an interplanetary conspiracy.
The movie does a good job of unrolling the plot in a way that doesn't let the audience know what's going on any more than Quaid does. You figure it out along with him.
It's a hilarious yet bizarre ride that will surprise you at every turn. (Skip the 2012 remake, which wasn't nearly as good.)
3. The Fifth Element (1997)
There was nothing quite like The Fifth Element before its 1997 debut, and we haven't seen anything like it since. How this movie got major studio backing and a large budget, I'll never understand.
But I'm glad it did!
The lead protagonist and the primary antagonist never meet. There's an alien pop-opera music sequence/fight scene. And Chris Tucker delivers what's easily one of the most flamboyantly out-of-control performances ever put on film.
Despite all of these unconventional features, The Fifth Element was greenlit by Hollywood and humanity is better off for it.
2. The Matrix (1999)
Techno. Leather. Kung-fu. Sunglasses. Guns. These are the elements that, when combined, created one of the coolest CGI-fueled action movies ever made.
The overlord machine's plans in The Matrix make no sense, but who cares! Leather-clad computer geeks are running on walls and shooting endless amounts of bullets.
And everything looks great while they do it.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day changed everything for action movies when it came out. It's one of the greatest movie sequels of all time, on par with The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back.
The special effects blew 1991 audiences away and still hold up today. That bar wasn't raised again until The Matrix.
There's a scene where Arnold drives a Harley with one hand while reloading a shotgun with the other. Robert Patrick is a metallic-liquid killing machine. Linda Hamilton is a jacked, unhinged mental patient and is absolutely terrifying.
The opening scene is a robot stepping on human skulls while lasers fly around in the background. I mean, come on!