10 Movies That Prove 1990 Was a Criminally Good Year for Crime Movies

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10 Movies That Prove 1990 Was a Criminally Good Year for Crime Movies

While 1977 seemed to be a good year for horror, and 1982 and 2009 were quite good for science fiction, 1990 belonged to the crime genre. Sure, there are noteworthy crime movies released yearly; it’s a timeless and seemingly always in-fashion type of genre. Despite that, some years will stand out more than others, and of the years that stand out, 1990 arguably stands out the most.

When it comes to the following movies, not all are perfect by any means, but all are more than worth watching for fans of crime films. Some of these 1990 releases are entertaining and comedic, others are violent and intense, and some are bleak or even tragic. All fit within the framework of a crime movie quite squarely, though, showing how varied it can be while also demonstrating how strong 1990 was for the genre.



10 ‘Goodfellas’

Image via Warner Bros.

It might well be harder to argue Goodfellas isn’t perfect than argue it is. Of all the fantastic films Martin Scorsese has directed throughout his long and legendary career, this 1990 release is perhaps his very best, standing as one of the few crime movies that’s just as good as a certain pair of films from the 1970s, with titles that begin with “The” and end with “Godfather,” (well, okay, one of those ends with “II,” technically).

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Goodfellas is a stylish yet remarkably grounded film, telling an authentic story in a fast-paced way that explodes off the screen, staying riveting for every second of its nearly 2.5-hour-long runtime. Its release in 1990 alone qualifies the year to be a notable one for the genre, though it’s far from the only great crime movie to be released during the first 12 months of the 1990s…

9 ‘Miller’s Crossing’

Miller's Crossing
Image via 20th Century Fox

The Coen Brothers rose to prominence in the 1980s, largely due to the success of their debut feature, 1984’s Blood Simple. That was a neo-noir/crime/thriller film that immediately established the duo as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with, and within six years, they’d become even more skilled and, as such, became capable of releasing a film as great as Miller’s Crossing.

It’s a gangster film set during the Prohibition era and focused on two men — both affiliated with organized crime — clashing with each other when they realize they’re both in love with the same woman. It’s far from a love triangle-focused movie, though, seeing as most of the film is more concerned with depicting a violent gang war. It balances tones well and juggles numerous characters throughout, making for an immensely satisfying early Coen Brothers film.

8 ‘Bullet in the Head’

bullet in the head john woo

Between two of John Woo’s most famous movies — 1989’s The Killer and 1992’s Hard Boiled — he also made Bullet in the Head, which is equally impactful, though not as well known. It also shouldn’t be mixed up with the similarly titled Bullet to the Head (2012), though admittedly, so few people remember that movie a mix-up’s probably not too likely nowadays.

Bullet in the Head is extremely ambitious, being a tense movie that’s simultaneously a crime, war, action, and drama/thriller film, given it takes place during the Vietnam War and sees its main characters in Vietnam for much of the runtime. It can be a disturbing and difficult-to-watch movie, but it’s undeniably powerful, and Woo’s unique directorial style shines bright as always.

7 ‘Boiling Point’

Boiling Point - 1990
Image via Shochiku Co., Ltd.

Just as Bullet in the Head (1990) could be mixed up with Bullet to the Head (2012), so too could Boiling Point (1990) be mixed up with Boiling Point (2021). Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of there only being so many words in the English language. Some titles are going to start partially (or completely) repeating at a point, inevitably.

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While the more recent Boiling Point is a tense drama film set in a restaurant during one hectic night, 1990s Boiling Point is a Japanese crime film directed by the great Takeshi Kitano. It’s a very dark film about various characters involved with the yakuza, each seeking revenge for various reasons, only for things to fall apart for pretty much everyone involved. It’s blunt, straight to the point, and a great showcase for Kitano’s singular filmmaking style.

6 ‘The Grifters’

The Grifters - 1990
Image via Miramax Films

The Grifters is about a group of very shady characters, all acting in their interests and attempting to con the various other con artists around them. It largely focuses on a con man, his relationship with his mother (also a criminal), and the difficulties that come frofm him dating another woman who might be a little con-happy.

It’s what you’d expect from a movie called “The Grifters,” and it can all be a little hard to keep up with. But this feels by design, to a point, and so for viewers who are willing to go along with a movie that’s not afraid sometimes to treat them like they’re on the receiving end of a grift, The Grifters might well satisfy.

5 ‘King of New York’

Christopher Walken in The King Of New York

In King of New York, Christopher Walken shines in a rare leading role and gives a magnetic performance. In it, he plays a powerful gangster who has two lofty goals: he wants to eliminate all the other gangsters who serve as competition to him, and he wants to seek some redemption by redistributing his wealth to the poor in New York City.

It’s an incredibly gritty film, and even though its main character has some sympathetic or even noble qualities, it still manages to be pretty downbeat and not exactly fun to watch. Still, it hits hard and presents itself as proudly uncompromising, so for those who don’t mind hard-edged crime films, King of New York should satisfy.

4 ‘The Godfather: Part III’

Andy Garcia standing next to Al Pacino in The Godfather III
Image via Paramount Pictures

To deal with the (very large) elephant in the room, yes: The Godfather: Part III is not as good as the other two that came before. The first, from 1972, is widely regarded as a rare perfect movie, and then its 1974 sequel is seen as even better by some, thanks to it expanding the scope of the first film and being more intense and tragic.

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But even with its faults, this final film in The Godfather trilogy still manages to be very impressive at times, largely thanks to Al Pacino’s central performance and a go-for-broke final act. It’s not as vital, and there are clear problems, but it has a good deal to offer at the same time, making it a flawed yet compelling third part of the trilogy.

3 ‘A Moment of Romance’

A Moment of Romance - 1990
Image via Media Asia Entertainment Group

Melodrama, romance, crime, and even some action all combine to great effect in A Moment of Romance. This is something of an underappreciated gem within the crime genre, being a Hong Kong film about a gangster who falls in love with someone he shouldn’t, with the young love leading to tension, violence, and, ultimately, tragedy.

It’s unashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve, and it makes for a confident, passionate, and engaging watch. It’s pretty easy to get swept up in, and thanks to a fast pace, it manages to take the audience on quite the journey despite being only 90-ish minutes long. Those who love Hong Kong cinema (particularly 1990s releases) should ensure it’s on their radar.

2 ‘Quick Change’

quick change0

Another 1990 crime movie that’s at least a little obscure is Quick Change. It starred Bill Murray and was the only film he ever directed, with the plot centering on a man and his accomplices successfully pulling off a bank heist, only to find that getting out of New York City alive is much harder than the actual robbery.

Its episodic nature makes it uneven, and while some moments and characters are quite funny, others aren’t. But it is an interesting and, at the end of the day, perfectly decent film, and it will scratch an itch for viewers who like their crime movies with a decent helping of broad comedy on the side.

1 ‘Dick Tracy’

The cast of Dick Tracy
Image via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

The Godfather: Part III wasn’t the only 1990 crime movie Al Pacino appeared in, given he was also the (very over-the-top) villain in Dick Tracy. It’s a strange, stylish, and memorable film based on the comic book character of the same name, following the title character’s love life and his efforts to take down a large criminal gang.

It’s a vibrant, comedic, and often wild movie to watch, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. But getting on its level (and appreciating what it’s going for) can be very rewarding. Also, as far as presenting the look and feel of an old-school comic book in live-action goes, few have done it quite like Dick Tracy does.

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