There were a lot of classic British films in the 90s, and indeed, it seemed as though the 90s were a golden age of the British film that crossed the Atlantic and became huge successes, making the careers of many an actor along the way.
And a true test of your Britishness is exactly how many of these films you have seen, and in our opinion, I think questions need to be asked if you haven’t at least seen 7 of these 10 classic films.
These films are where it all began for some of the most well recognised actors and directors of our time, so let’s have a look at the list, and see how many you have seen!
10.The Full Monty
This was one of the true surprise films of the latter part of the 90s. I can imagine that when they were making it, they never in their wildest dreams imagined that The Full Monty, a comedy drama set in Sheffield with a relatively small budget, would end up being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
The film follows a group of once proud steel-workers, now unemployed because of the collapse of the steel industry in the north, as they fight various battles to try and put on a male-strip show so that they can raise money for Gaz so that he can pay child support to his ex wife.
Though it may be light hearted in places, and definitely hilarious in others, The Full Monty is a deep and thought provoking film that asks questions about father’s rights, body image, male identity, suicide and homosexuality. And it does so in a way that never betrays the overall tone of the move.
The cast features a lot of famous faces that any British TV fan will be familiar with. Robert Carlyle plays the central role of Gaz, who showed off the true depth and range of his acting ability with his role in Trainspotting around the same time (more on that later), Mark Addy who steals the show with his hilarious yet candid performance as Dave. Also included are Paul Barber of Only Fools and Horses fame playing Horse and Tom Wilkinson as Gerald.
This is a classic 90s British film, and if you haven’t seen it, you really must put it on your list.
9.Four Weddings and a Funeral
From one end of the British class system to the other, Four Weddings takes place in a world vastly different than that of The Full Monty, as Richard Curtis pens his breakout feature film and introduced the world not only to Hugh Grant, but to his upper-middle class universe of disparate yet charming and very typically English characters.
Originally developed as a vehicle for American actress Andie MacDowell, the film follows a collection of privileged late-20s/early 30s friends as they try to navigate their way through the tricky waters of love. The movie was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and introduced the world to a relatively unknown Hugh Grant, who went on to become the poster boy for romantic comedies, and who would go on to become one of the biggest actors in the world.
The film also features some of what are now the most recognisable actors in Britain, such as Simon Callow – who completely steals every scene he’s in – James Hannah, James Fleet and Kristen Scott Thomas.
The idea reportedly came to Curtis when he was reading some old diaries, and it suddenly dawned on him that he had been to 72 weddings in the last ten years, and boom, the face of British cinema was changed forever. And thereafter, there aren’t many British films, whatever they may be, that don’t owe some degree of gratitude to Four Weddings for their success.
Four weddings opened the door for financial success state-side for British films, and Richard Curtis began a career of penning all the films that your girlfriend will make you watch.
8.East is East
Released in 1999, East is East centres around the journey of a mixed race family in early 70s Salford, Manchester, as fish-and-chip shop owner George Kahn, who is of Pakistani decent, expects his family to follow his strict devotion to the Muslim religion.
His children, however, with an English mother and having been born in Britain, are increasingly identifying as British and as a result, they start to reject their father’s rules on dress, food, religion, and living in general.
The film was well received when it was released, with The Guardian reviewing the film and saying: “Damien O’Donnell has given us a rip-roaring but carefully structured adaptation of East Is East, Ayub Khan-Din’s play about the trials and tribulations of a mixed family in 1970s Salford.
“O’Donnell’s film, like the play, is funny without being patronising, warm without being sentimental, and strongly characterised almost always, but not quite without recourse to parody.
“It also has a holding centre in Om Puri’s George Khan the Pakistani chip shop owner whose plans for his seven children include arranged marriages, Muslim orthodoxy and a proud recognition of what to them are increasingly alien traditions.
“They call him Ghengis, and with some justification. But as played by Puri, one of India’s finest screen actors (Gandhi, My Son The Fanatic), he is not a villain. He just doesn’t understand when his eldest son walks out of his arranged marriage at the last moment in front of the entire community. And, once he’s got over that shock, he surreptitiously plans the engagement of two more of the boys to the sisters of a Bradford businessman. A revolt is clearly under way.
“Comedy almost always has to have some pain behind it to be properly effective. The triumph of East Is East is that it realises that and refuses to avoid it.”
7.Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
This may be a controversial opinion, but I actually think Snatch is a better film than Lock Stock, but hey, that’s just one guy’s thought. That aside, Lock Stock is still one of the best British films of the 90s.
But anyway, Lock Stock introduces the world to Guy Ritchie’s style of witty, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny yet unnerving and downright violent gangster films.
This crime thriller saw Guy Richie shoot to immediate recognition, and gave the world the glorious talents of Jason Statham.
Having also been co-written by by Peter Cattaneo (director of the Full Monty), Lock Stock follows Eddy (Nick Moran) and his friends Bacon (Jason Statham), Tom (Jason Flemyng) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher) as they rack up a debt of £500,000 in a card game that was rigged by a local mobster.
In desperation, the group turn to robbing a neighbouring flat of their marijuana crop. But in true form, the heist only sees them become further involved with the world of crime.
In many ways, Guy Richie’s first two films, Lock Stock and Snatch, are the British answer to Pulp Fiction, with many sprawling storylines intertwining and coming together for the climax.
Chocked full of classic lines and classic performances, Guy Ritchie made a film so good that A-list Hollywood film stars were calling him and asking for a part in Snatch (that actually happened with Brad Pitt, which Ritchie thought was a wind up).
6.The English Patient
Widely regarded as one of the greatest British films of all time, this romantic war drama stars Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche and takes place just before the end of World War II, with a young nurse tending to a badly-burned plane crash victim.
Flashbacks and love affairs followed, and not only that, but also nine Academy Award wins followed, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The film regularly appears on top 100 lists of best British films of all time, with reviewers commenting that “with The English Patient, Minghella proves that a movie love story can be smart, principled and provoking, and still sweep you away.”
5.Drop Dead Fred
Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat entry. But I think it deserves to be on this list because though it is technically an American film, it did introduce the wider world to the manic fireball energy and charisma of Rik Mayall.
The British Comedy legend stars in his first major Hollywood role after enormous success in Britain on the comedy circuit in The Young Ones and The Comedy Strip Presents to name a few. However, where many thought that this might be the breakout role for Mayall in Hollywood, the film (and there is no way to really put this kindly) was destroyed by the critics upon its release.
The film follows a young woman Elizabeth (played by Phoebe Cates) and her anarchic imaginary friend (Rik Mayall) as he returns to her psyche as an adult and causes all kinds of chaos.
It sounds like a role that Rik was born to play, but though the film is a lot of fun to watch if you’re not expecting The Godfather, reviewers weren’t kind to it. With one even saying: “The imaginary friend is cavortingly rude for a reason; he served to push the girlchild to do mischief for attention and as a cry for help. Now grown up, the woman has forgotten and is about to lose her soul, so events call for some kind of literal return of her demon to force the exposure of her pain.
“This psychic crisis is poignantly realistic… The creature who is visible only to the woman is like a poltergeist energy of her repressed self, a problematic ego container into which her powers of assertion and creativity were poured and stored. The movie’s resolution is startlingly beautiful.”
All of that said, it’s still a classic film that I think was slightly unfairly treated by the critics at the time, and is definitely worth a watch for any Rik Mayall fan.
4.The Crying Game
Though Neil Jordan’s film floundered at the UK box office, it was nonetheless very successful in the USA and even led to a boatload of Academy Award nominations. The film is set in the backdrop of the Irish troubles with the IRA, as a British soldier, Jody (Forest Whitaker), kidnapped by IRA terrorists soon befriends one of his captors, who then becomes drawn into the soldier’s world.
The film was a huge success state side not least because of its ‘big reveal’, when IRA member Fergus seeks out the girlfriend of the late Jody, and vows to protect her. Eventually, he falls for her but his true nature is tested when he discovers that she is transgender.
It was nominated for, and subsequently won at the Academy Awards in a number of categories, and remains as one of the most well reviewed British films of the 90s.
Though it may feel a little gimmicky by today’s standards, Sliding Doors was a sleeper hit in 1998 and remains as one of the more well received British romantic drama films of the 90s. The film follows Helen, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and James (played by John Hannah) as the film alternates between two parallel universes, based on the actions of the central characters depending on whether Helen catches a train or not.
Whether she gets on or she doesn’t shows the true meaning of the phrase The Butterfly Effect, and shows just how fragile our destinies can be, with her entire life being altered purely on the basis of whether she catches a train or not.
For any 90s British film fan, this is a must!
This is not just one of the best British films of the 90s, but in my humble opinion this is one of the best films of the 90s period. Danny Boyle’s iconic film features the breakout performances of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewan Bremner and Jonny Lee Miller – all of whom going on to become some of the biggest names not only in British cinema, but in cinema worldwide.
The film follows the desperate life and times of a young Renton (McGregor) as he tries to navigate the world of his working class Scottish town through the lens of heroin addiction.
As much of a pop culture phenomenon as it is a movie these days, iconic scenes set to the music of the time have gone on to help define the spirit of Britain in the 90s.
The film was universally praised upon its release, and still stands today as one of the best British films of all time, with reviewers commenting: “It holds up terrifically well. This movie was the first, maybe the only successful 90s British attempt at answering films like Goodfellas or Pulp Fiction; it has a version of their spirit and power – and matches them for hardcore violence, horror and drugs.
“But John Hodge’s screenplay, taken from the novel by Irvine Welsh, brings in a grittily British kind of social-realist pessimism.
When its sequel was released over 20 years later, T2 Trainspotting doesn’t only acknowledge the passage of time, but explores it, revealing the crippling melancholy of lost youth, mistakes, returning to one’s roots and examining where it all went wrong.
Like Trainspotting, T2 isn’t just an exceptional film in its own right, but it also adds to the universe in which the first film is set. And in my opinion, it actually makes the first film better, now that we know where the characters end up. Trainspotting is so iconic because not only did it need the time in which it was created, but it helped define the scene out of which it came. And T2 does the same for modern times. Unlike many sequels or reboots, T2 needed 20 years to pass before it could be made.
This film, quite simply, is a must for any university house pre-drinks. It is an obnoxious celebration of youth, of hedonistic celebration, of simply not giving one.
Human Traffic is a film, which was released in 1999, that came to define the true feeling of the rave culture of the 90s – the second summer of love, as they call it – through explorations of themes such as coming of age and relationships against the backdrop of the rave, drug and club culture.
They called it the second summer of love for a reason – acting as the preface for the decade that would follow it that brought with it a sense of optimism and yearning for change, the like of which never seen on the same scale before and maybe never again. It was a time when the Spartanesque hooliganism of the mid 80s, fuelled by alcohol, gave way to a little pill called ‘e’ and before long people stopped fighting and started hugging.
Of course the rave years were not without their negatives, but Human Traffic leaves that for Panorama, and instead focuses on the “vibe, the venues and the mood” of the dance movement, according to the Channel 4 review. The film has achieved cult status and, as previously said, remains as one of the best films to watch while pre drinking at your university house.
So, how many of these films have you seen? Let know on Facebook!