Some of the biggest movies the world has ever seen came out and absolutely crushed it at the box office, setting records that wouldn’t be broken until years later. But while we all remember Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace reigning supreme for months upon their respective release, there are some ‘90s movies with surprising returns.
Well, since we are fans of digging through box office totals and geeking out when we find movies that made way more than we remembered, we have put together a list of nearly 30 theatrical releases that might make you take a second look to make sure your eyes aren’t playing tricks. And please note, we are only talking about domestic box office numbers throughout this list.
There is no denying Ghost as being one of the best ‘90s movies, but the 1990 romantic fantasy starring Patrick Swayze as a banker who is brutally murdered, turns into a spirit, and tries to reconnect with his girlfriend, played by Demi Moore, was also the second most successful release of the year. According to Box Office Mojo, the eventual Academy Award winner brought in $217.6 million domestically, which has it placed behind just Home Alone. This means it beat out Dances With Wolves, Pretty Woman, and other stiff competition.
Problem Child (1990)
Released just a few months before another movie about a mischievous kid dominated at the box office at the end of 1990, Problem Child came into theaters and made a respectable $53.4 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo. And although that may not seem like all that much money, this little dark comedy about a young orphan bonding with his adoptive father, played by the late John Ritter, and getting into all sorts of trouble ended up beating Goodfellas, Rocky V, and dozens of other more-remembered movies.
Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery will forever go down as one of the most terrifying psychological thrillers, but you might have forgotten that it was one of the most successful movies of that year, bringing in $61.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning portrayal of an obsessive fan was enough to put the movie in the top 20 of domestic releases, beating out Edward Scissorhands, Look Who’s Talking Too, and Goodfellas.
City Slickers (1991)
Sure, City Slickers is one of the best Billy Crystal movies and it has quite a legacy, but some will forget just how successful it was in theaters. According to Box Office Mojo, the western comedy made $124 million domestically, which has it in the top five of all releases in 1991. Only Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast, and The Silence of the Lambs did better financially.
Wayne’s World (1992)
Aladdin, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and Batman Returns all seem like movies you would expect to see when looking at a list of the most successful movies of 1992, but what about Wayne’s World? Arguably one of the best Saturday Night Live movies, the Mike Myers and Dana Carvey comedy about a public access show made a whopping $121.6 million domestically, per Box Office Mojo.
One of the best Clint Eastwood movies, Unforgiven blasted its way into theaters with its story of a retired gunslinger reluctantly coming out of retirement, bringing in just north of $101 million, per Box Office Mojo. And while it’s often remembered as one of the best westerns (it won four Oscars, including Best Picture), its nine-digit domestic return is nothing short of impressive and kind of hard to believe considering the competition in 1992.
The Fugitive (1993)
There’s a case to be made for The Fugitive being one of the best Harrison Ford movies, but there is no denying its place in the top tier of 1993 domestic releases. This cat-and-mouse crime thriller that also starred Tommy Lee Jones trying to track down an escaped convict trying to clear his name was only beat out by Jurassic Park and Mrs. Doubtfire, bringing in $183.8 million, per Box Office Mojo.
The Pelican Brief (1993)
John Grisham movies typically do quite well, which happens to be the case for the 1993 legal thriller The Pelican Brief starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington as a law school student and reporter who uncover a deep conspiracy. But it’s crazy to think about how the movie made $100 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, which has is just ahead of Schindler’s List and Cliffhanger in the top 10 movies of the year.
Clear And Present Danger (1994)
Although there aren’t too many surprises with 1994 box office numbers, there is one top movie of note that performed better than you probably remember. Clear and Present Danger, the second of two Tom Clancy movies with Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, brought in a staggering $122 million upon its release, per Box Office Mojo. To put this into perspective, the spy thriller out-performed Speed, The Mask, and Pulp Fiction.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)
With the success Jim Carrey had in 1994 (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask), it should come as no surprise that 1995 would be another landmark year for the actor. And he did just that with not one, but two movies in the top five domestic releases: Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. And while the former is no shocker, the latter, however, is quite surprising with its $108.3 million gross, per Box Office Mojo. This puts it ahead of Goldeneye, Jumanji, and several others.
David Fincher’s Se7en will forever go down as one of the most frightening crime thrillers, but it also went down as one of the most successful movies of 1995. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie about a pair of detectives hunting down a sadistic killer using the deadly sins as his motive made $100.1 million domestically. I guess people really wanted to know what was inside the box.
The Birdcage (1996)
Robin Williams was still in the middle of his impressive box office run by the time The Birdcage was released in 1996, but the movie’s domestic take is still something impressive. According to Box Office Mojo, the hilarious comedy about a man trying to hide his sexuality and lavish lifestyle from the conservative parents of his son’s girlfriend made $124 million, which has it just below The Nutty Professor.
Ransom, the 1996 thriller starring Mel Gibson as a father who will do anything to get his son back, doesn’t get talked about all that often these days. This is a shame considering the movie made $136.4 million domestically, per Box Office Mojo, and was only out-performed by Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, and Jerry Maguire. Yeesh.
The 1996 fantasy drama starring John Travolta, Phenomenon, is one of those movies you’ll randomly catch on cable on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but it was one of the highest grossing movies upon its release. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie brought in $104.6 domestically, and was only a few million dollars shy of being in the top 10 that year.
Liar Liar (1997)
Here is something crazy to think about: Liar Liar, the 1997 Jim Carrey comedy about a untrustworthy lawyer whose son wishes he could only tell the truth, was the fourth highest grossing movie the year it came out. According to Box Office Mojo, the comedy’s $181.4 million domestic gross was only trumped by Titanic, Men in Black, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, arguably three of the biggest movies of the final years of the 20th Century.
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
By the time My Best Friend’s Wedding came out in 1997, Julia Roberts was one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood and Cameron Diaz was well on her way to superstardom. But still, despite being one of the best romantic comedies of all time, it’s still surprising how well it performed domestically. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie brought in $127.1 million in the states, which is better than Tomorrow Never Dies, Face/Off, and Batman & Robin.
Con Air (1997)
There are few ‘90s movies I enjoy more than Con Air, but even I was surprised by its domestic haul at the box office upon release in 1997. The over-the-top action flick about prisoners hijacking a plane with a cast featuring Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, and John Cusack sounds like something that should have failed in theaters and found new life on cable, but according to Box Office Mojo, it brought in $101.1 million.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
In 1997, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went from two fairly successful actors to overnight sensations with the release of Good Will Hunting. And while the rags-to-riches story for the two Hollywood powerhouses is still remembered 25 years later, one thing that doesn’t get mentioned all that much is just how much money the movie brought in during its run. All in all, it made $138.4 million, per Box Office Mojo, making it the seventh highest grossing domestic release of the year.
There's Something About Mary (1998)
I know There’s Something About Mary was a massive movie upon release with all of its iconic scenes and side-splitting gags, but I completely forgot it was an absolute juggernaut at the domestic box office upon release in 1998. According to Box Office Mojo, it brought in $176.4 million stateside, putting it behind only Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon.
The Waterboy (1998)
Adam Sandler was on a roll by the time The Waterboy was released in late 1998, but it’s crazy to think that it was the fifth highest grossing movie that year. According to Box Office Mojo, it brought in $161.4 million domestically, which is twice as much as Sandler’s earlier 1998 movie, The Wedding Singer, made during its run.
Doctor Dolittle (1998)
Though none of the subsequent films based on the classic property have done that well at the box office, the Eddie Murphy-led Doctor Dolittle was rather successful domestically and was in the middle of the top 10 highest grossers in 1998. According to Box Office Mojo, the star-studded comedy made $144.1 million in the states.
Rush Hour (1998)
Sure, Rush Hour launched a franchise (that also included a short-lived TV adaptation), had two of the biggest stars of the ‘90s, and had a huge marketing push behind it, but this doesn’t mean its domestic gross was any less impressive. With a total of $141.1, per Box Office Mojo, the Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker buddy cop comedy out-performed Lethal Weapon 4, which is saying something.
Patch Adams (1998)
The 1998 biographical drama Patch Adams, may not be the most successful Robin Williams movie of the 1990s. But the film, which sometimes seems all but forgotten, made $135 million domestically, per Box Office Mojo, with a large chunk of that coming from its Christmas Day opening.
Stepmom, the emotional drama starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, was another movie that opened Christmas Day 1998 and ended up with a domestic total close to reaching nine-figures. According to Box Office Mojo, the tearjerker made $91.1 million in the states by the time its theatrical run concluded.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the sharp and crude Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was a massive hit upon release in the summer of 1999. But what is surprising is just how much money it made when compared to its predecessor two years earlier. According to Box Office Mojo, the Mike Myers spy comedy brought in $206 million domestically, which is nearly $150 million more than International Man of Mystery.
Runaway Bride (1999)
Though not brought up nearly as much as the first movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, 1999’s Runaway Bride will still surprise you with how much money it drew in the United States. Per Box Office Mojo, the night highest grossing film of the year brought in $152.2 million by the time everything was said and done.
Big Daddy (1999)
Adam Sandler was one of the highest grossing comedic actors of the 1990s, and he ended the decade with one of his most successful movies yet: Big Daddy. Opening about a week before the July 4th weekend, this surprisingly heartfelt comedy had an even more surprising theatrical run, bringing in $163.4 million, per Box Office Mojo.
Each of these movies were massive hits, though some of them may not have been remembered that way, but hopefully this helps us all remember how much we loved these titles way back when. If you want to know what movies stand a chance at becoming a surprise hit in the near future, check out CinemaBlend's 2022 new movies schedule.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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