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The 10 Best Acting Performances of 1990s, Ranked

October 10, 2015
4 min read

Like the seventies, the nineties was a remarkable ten-year period for films, and therefore, performances. New names pop onto the list as well as those who have been around a few years, still doing sublime work. Tom Hanks emerged as a major dramatic actor, moving from light comedic work to the back to back Oscars he won for AIDS afflicted lawyer in Philadelphia (1993) and his challenged, history walking lead in Forrest Gump (1994). Hanks was also brilliant in A League of Their Own (1992), Apollo 13 (1995) and best of all Saving Private Ryan (1998). Sean Penn stunned audiences and critics with his powerful work in such films as Carlitos Way (1993), his seething death row criminal on Dead Man Walking (1995) and his guitarist in Sweet and Lowdown (1999). Jodie Foster would win a second Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and then stun audiences and critics with Nell (1994) and yet again in Contact (1997) for which she should have been nominated for another Oscar.

Both Susan Sarando and Geena Davis were outstanding in Thelma and Louise (1991), Warren Beatty was terrifying in Bugsy (1991) then hysterically funny in Bulworth (1998) as a rapping senator suddenly spouting the truth. The great Robert Duvall, working consistently since his last Oscar gave an astounding poerformance in The Apostle (1997), a film he also directed and wrote, not to mention financed, putting up the cash when no studio, major or minor would. Jack Nicholson was busy through the decade doing fine work in A Few Good Men (1992), The Crossing Guard (1995) and won an Oscar for As Good As It Gets (1997).
Meryl Streep continued to be the greatest actress in movies with several great performances the best being the gentle love story between she and Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), though there were better performances, however slightly given that one.

In a film that dominated the Oscars, Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins was terrifying as the serial killer Dr. Lector in The SIlence of the Lambs (1991), both he and Jodie Foster winning Oscars for their work. Cate Blanchett arrived with Elizabeth (1998), Russell Crowe knocked it out of the park in The Insider (1999), and Kevin Spacey was superb in American Beauty (1999). Johnny Depp proved to have massive talent with Edward Scissorhands (1991) and Ed Wood (1994), Jeff Bridges was outstanding as always in the ignored Fearless (1993).

For a few short years in the early nineties, Emma Thompson was a force to reckon with, winning every award available to her for Howard’s End (1992), being Oscar nominated for The Remains of the Day (1993) and In the Name of the Father (1993), and then earning another Oscar for writing Sense and Sensibility (1995) and being nominated for Best Actress as well. After earning respect for his performances in Rain Man (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Tom Cruise continued to earn strong reviews for performances in A Few Good Men (1993), Interview with the Vampire (1994), especially Jerry Maguire (1996) and his superb seething work in Magnolia (1999).

Greats from years gone by did some terrific work, Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool (1994), long forgotten John Travolta rocked it in Pulp Fiction (1994), in fact the entire cast was superb in Pulp Fiction (1994), Al Pacino was excellent for once in Donnie Brasco (1997), Dustin Hoffman superb in Wag the Dog (1997), and Clint Eastwood was superb in Unforgiven (1992). And finally Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding in In the Name of the Father (1993) and even better in The Crucible (1996) yet as we know now the best from him was yet to come. Here are the best of the decade…and yes numbers seven and ten are indeed ties.

1. Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993)
2. Robert Duvall in The Apostle (1997)
3. Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
4. Denzel Washington in Malcolm X (1992)
5. Anjelica Huston in The Grifters (1990)
6. Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994)
7. Edward Norton in American History X (1998)
7. Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
8. Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
9. Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
10. Hilary Swank in Boys Dont Cry (1999)
10. Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking (1995)

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