20 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1993

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1993. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Thirty years after its release, the first ever Chinese language Palme d’Or winner has finally been made more accessible through Criterion Channel through its uncut 4K restoration. Farewell My Concubine is one of those classical epics that is considered essential viewing, but even with its near 3 hour runtime, the film still holds up all these decades later with its startlingly heartrending love story and depiction of the tumultuous shifts of 20th century China. Director Chen Kaige masterfully balances both sides, tapping into the pain Dieyi (Leslie Chung) chooses as he clings to the classical opera, the very art form that allows him a sliver of his unrequited love to be realized, but that is also limited depending on whichever government is in charge at the moment. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful and most miserable films ever made.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Li, David Wu, Fei Zhenxiang, Ge You, Gong Li, Huang Lei, Jiang Wenli, Lei Han, Leslie Cheung, Li Dan, Lu Qi, Shen Huifen, Yang Lixin, Yin Zhi, Ying Da, Zhang Fengyi, Zhi Yitong

Director: Chen Kaige

Rating: R

The visceral pain at the center of this adaptation from period drama powerhouse Merchant-Ivory comes not from fading or unrequited love but unrealized affection. Try as he might to repress his feelings, devoted butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) can’t stifle the blossoming attachment he shares with housemaid Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). And yet, at every opportunity she gives him to do something about it, he balks, squandering the potential for something truly beautiful — something that actually belongs to them, not their aristocratic employer.

The Remains is partly told in flashbacks to the period leading up to the Second World War. From his stately home, Stevens’ master Lord Darlington and his peers play at international relations and try to avoid another war by pandering to the Nazis, but find they’re woefully under-equipped to decide the fate of Europe in this changing world. One of the many brilliant things about The Remains is the way this political drama doubles the devastation of Stevens’ die-hard commitment to his job — because now, he’s sacrificing his one chance at love for something that won’t even survive the decade. Sublime filmmaking and performances turn Stevens’ every minute choice into a pillar of profound tragedy, giving us a maddeningly heartwrenching life lesson for the ages.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abigail Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Chaplin, Brigitte Kahn, Caroline Hunt, Christopher Brown, Christopher Reeve, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Ian Redford, James Fox, Jeffry Wickham, Jo Kendall, John Haycraft, John Savident, Lena Headey, Michael Lonsdale, Miles Richardson, Patrick Godfrey, Paul Copley, Paula Jacobs, Peter Cellier, Peter Eyre, Peter Halliday, Peter Vaughan, Pip Torrens, Rupert Vansittart, Steven Beard, Terence Bayler, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tony Aitken, Wolf Kahler

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

Before Turning Red and Crazy Rich Asians, there was The Joy Luck Club. Based on the bestselling novel, the film adaptation centers around the four Chinese-American women and their relationships with their mainland-born mothers. Explaining that the club isn’t particularly joyful or lucky, the film starts from June’s perspective, a perspective of a Chinese-American woman who’s lived all her life in America. However, through strategic screenplay structure and effective sequence arrangement, we learn the struggles of the founding club members, the struggles that brought them to another country, which forms the dynamics between them and their American daughters. Because of how comprehensive and layered the film is, this underrated film adaptation is a phenomenal take on the immigrant experience. Tears are inevitable with how they deal with difficulties, but so is hope.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Andrew McCarthy, Chao Li Chi, Christopher Rich, Diane Baker, Fen Tian, France Nuyen, Irene Ng, Kiều Chinh, Lauren Tom, Lisa Lu, Michael Paul Chan, Ming-Na Wen, Philip Moon, Rosalind Chao, Russell Wong, Tamlyn Tomita, Tsai Chin, Victor Wong, Vivian Wu, Yu Feihong

Director: Wayne Wang

Rating: R

How do you get rid of an irremovable stain? In Lodge Kerrigan’s psychological thriller, characters shave the dirt off in hopes of returning things to their original pristine state. In the process of doing so, however, permanent damage is incurred, which begs the question: is the eradication of filth correspond to cleansing?

Through erratic editing and an unsettling sound design, not only does Clean, Shaven put its audience in the disturbed mind of the protagonist Peter Winter, it also effectively depicts his struggle (and inability) to retain sanity amidst a prejudiced society. The film contrasts post-Cold War paranoia with the nobility of paternal love, and finds tragedy in Peter’s futile attempts to prove his “cleanliness” in a world intent to brand him as dirty.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alice Levitt, Eliot Rockett, Ismael Ramirez, J. Dixon Byrne, Jennifer MacDonald, Karen MacDonald, Molly Castelloe, Peter Greene, Peter Lucas, Rob Benevides, Robert Albert

Director: Lodge Kerrigan

True Romance is a wildly entertaining and twistedly enjoyable crime film, directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun) and written by a young Quentin Tarantino. It stars Christian Slater as a young nebbish comic book store employee named Clarence who falls in love with a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette), and sets his mind to rid her of her indebtedness to a volatile pimp named Drexel (Gary Oldman). The story eventually finds them absconding to California with a suitcase full of cocaine, with the intention of selling off their illicit cache to a Hollywood bigwig in order to pursue their dreams of freedom and opportunity. Replete with a remarkable cast of famous names and familiar faces (including Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken and even Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis), True Romance is a true 90’s-era classic. It showcases Tarantino’s trademark witty dialogue throughout, enmeshed with the savage humor and jarring violence that he has become so well known for. It’s very much an homage to Hollywood classics such as Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands (including a rousing score by Hans Zimmer inspired by George Tipton’s score for Badlands), and ultimately serves as one of Tarantino’s most underrated career accomplishments.

Genre: Action, Crime, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anna Levine, Anna Levine Thomson, Anna Thomson, April Freeman, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Chris Penn, Christian Slater, Christopher Walken, Conchata Ferrell, Dennis Garber, Dennis Hopper, Ed Lauter, Enzo Rossi, Eric Allan Kramer, Frank Adonis, Gary Oldman, Gregory Sporleder, Hilary Klym, Jack Black, James Gandolfini, Joe D'Angerio, John Bower, John Cenatiempo, Kevin Corrigan, Laurence Mason, Maria Pitillo, Michael Beach, Michael Rapaport, Nancy Young, Patricia Arquette, Patrick John Hurley, Paul Bates, Paul Ben-Victor, Said Faraj, Samuel L. Jackson, Saul Rubinek, Steve Gonzales, Tom Sizemore, Tony Scott, Val Kilmer, Victor Argo

Director: Tony Scott

Rating: R

, 1993

Part documentary yet part surreal daydream, director Derek Jarman’s final film is one last rallying cry into a blue void. Against an unchanging screen of International Klein Blue, most of the film is Jarman’s voice, drifting through various subjects, from day-to-day complications of AIDS to contemplations about the color blue. Some of his frequent collaborators chime in. Choirs singing about damnation occasionally pop up too. While essentially a radio drama, the combination of voices, foley, and scores all merge together into an ethereal, haunting soundscape, that sticks in your head long after the film ends. Mirroring his partial blindness, Jarman’s last experiment leaves an impression of his own experience. It’s absolutely devastating.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton

Director: Derek Jarman

Rating: Not Rated

Prepare to be captivated by the bittersweet tale of Strawberry and Chocolate, a 1994 Cuban film that immerses you in the complexities of friendship, love, and societal taboos. Set against the backdrop of Havana, the movie beautifully explores the relationship between an earnest university student and a sophisticated gay artist. With its poignant storytelling engrossing itself in the socio-political climate of Cuba, the film delves into themes of identity, acceptance, and the clash between tradition and individuality. Powerful and emotionally resonant, the vibrant Cuban culture is expertly woven into the narrative, transporting you to the heart of Havana's vibrant streets. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Francisco Gattorno, Jorge Perugorría, Mirta Ibarra, Vladimir Cruz

Director: Juan Carlos Tabío, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea

Light-hearted and compassionate, Raining Stones is one of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films. It’s also one of his funniest, telling the story of an unemployed chancer trying to raise enough money to buy his daughter her first Communion dress. Desperate for the cash, he falls foul of ruthless loan sharks.

As ever, Ken Loach is keenly attuned to the concerns of the working class, as he finds humour even in the most depressing of circumstances. The dialogue is natural, funny, and yes, profane. He also gets excellent performances from the non-professional actors in the cast, with club comedian Bruce Jones superb in the lead.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Anna Jaskolka, Anne Martin, Bruce Jones, Gemma Phoenix, George Moss, Jack Marsden, Jimmy Coleman, Julie Brown, Karen Henthorn, Lee Brennan, Little Tony, Mike Fallon, Ricky Tomlinson, Ronnie Ravey, Stephen Lord, Susan Cookson, Tom Hickey, Tony Audenshaw, William Ash

Director: Ken Loach

Known for showcasing the grittier side of New York in his films, Martin Scorsese shifts to its upper echelons in The Age of Innocence. Based on the 1920 novel, the film follows society attorney Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he courts and marries the respectable May Welland (Winona Ryder), despite his desire for childhood friend Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Undeniably gorgeous and impressively shot, what ultimately makes the film stand out among Scorsese’s work is how well the three leads embody the complex characters of the novel on multiple levels. Day-Lewis skillfully turns a corrupt, arrogant lawyer into someone who admirably refuses to be anything but himself, while Pfeiffer hides a stubbornness and frustration within Olenska. But it’s Ryder who best portrays her character's complexity, Welland’s wide-eyed gaze concealing secret manipulations. All of them drive this story that not only mourns for lost love, but acts as a mourning for a lost Golden Age.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alec McCowen, Alexis Smith, Brian Davies, Carolyn Farina, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Cindy Katz, Clement Fowler, Daniel Day-Lewis, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, Geraldine Chaplin, Howard Erskine, Joanne Woodward, John McLoughlin, Jonathan Pryce, June Squibb, Kevin Ash, Linda Faye Farkas, Martin Scorsese, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael Gough, Michelle Pfeiffer, Miriam Margolyes, Norman Lloyd, Pasquale Cajano, Patricia Dunnock, Richard E. Grant, Robert Sean Leonard, Siân Phillips, Siân Phillips, Stuart Wilson, Thomas Barbour, Thomas Gibson, Tracey Ellis, W.B. Brydon, Winona Ryder

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: PG

Warm, enchanting, poetic and delicate, this is an almost silent film about a poor Vietnamese girl who goes to work for a well-off family in Saigon. The film follows her experiences as she grows but is also very focused on the nature around her, and the beautiful little details of this nature, which the young girl seems attuned to and curious about. The feelings in the film come more from the excellent visuals rather than the plot itself.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anh Hoa Nguyen, Hoa Hoi Vuong, Keo Souvannavong, Man San Lu, Ngoc Trung Tran, Thi Loc Truong, Tran Nu Yên-Khê, Vantha Talisman

Director: Anh Hung Tran, Tran Anh Hung

Rating: Not Rated

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Even if it seems like nothing really "happens" for much of The Secret Garden, its characters paint quite the moving picture of neglected children and their indomitable capacity to find hope in the world. Director Agnieszka Holland tells this story with just the right amount of whimsy: at times it's spooky and magical, but everything is grounded in the charming performances of the film's young actors, who are allowed to be difficult, smart, and sorrowful whenever they need to be. It may be old-fashioned, but watching it in this new decade—when we're all trying to guard our kids from sickness and death—makes it feel all the more relevant.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Pickering, Andrew Knott, Arthur Spreckley, Colin Bruce, David Stoll, Eileen Page, Heydon Prowse, Irène Jacob, John Lynch, Kate Maberly, Laura Crossley, Maggie Smith, Peter Moreton, Walter Sparrow

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Rating: G

While most are familiar with Hollywood depictions of the transatlantic slave trade, there were also other countries that depicted this terrible time period, including countries from the African continent. Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima self-funded and self-distributed Sankofa in its initial release, but despite the lack of screens, it still managed to become a landmark classic thankfully restored. Like plenty of films on the topic, Gerima creates a harrowing depiction of the slave owners’ evil, but unlike others, it’s more interested in the difficult dynamics between the enslaved, the ways they sought refuge and freedom in each other, and the inner lives of the community they shared despite the terror, all through Gerima’s striking images and the masterfully mixed soundscape, both in the soundtrack and various accents. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely not easy to watch, but Sankofa has a distinct vision that needs to be seen.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, History, Science Fiction

Actor: Afemo Omilami, Alexandra Duah, Kofi Ghanaba, Mutabaruka, Mzuri, Nick Medley, Oyafunmike Ogunlano, Reggie Carter, Reginald Carter

Director: Haile Gerima

It’s virtually impossible to capture the complexity of a person’s life in just a few short hours, which is why many biopics are so unsatisfying. François Girard avoids this problem by ditching the usual format altogether, creating a rich tapestry of evocative vignettes that gives us a real sense of who the famous concert pianist actually was. 

The short films never show Gould playing the piano, although we do have one short sequence filmed inside the instrument during a concert, and another eccentric moment of him shot in X-ray while in full flow. These internal moments give us the sense that music was part of his very being. 

Colm Feore delivers a generous performance, playing Gould as a verbose eccentric who is constantly amused by the normal rhythms of human life while being forever detached from it by his genius.

Genre: Drama