26 Best Movies & Shows Released in 1994

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 1994. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Slow cinema might be an acquired taste for many viewers, but Tsai Ming-liang's gorgeous feature debut about Taiwan's aimless youth should have enough mystery and suspense to draw anybody in. They key, as with many of these films, isn't to demand that things happen or actions get explained, but to surrender to every possibility and suggestion of what might be motivating these characters beneath the surface. And through patient, perceptive observation, Tsai gives us so much to chew on: the sleeplessness of urban life, the unpredictability of relationships, and most importantly the morality that forms when a disillusioned young man fully embraces his being an outcast.

And if nothing else, Tsai provides us with some of the most beautiful and honest images of city life around. It's hard to describe, but just the neon-lit arcade halls and dingy hotel rooms are enough to let you into who these characters are. It's an experience not to be missed.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tian, Miao Tien, Wang Yu-wen, Yu-Wen Wang

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Sandra Oh earned her breakout in this warm, candid Canadian indie, which — not uncoincidentally — shares its name with that of a decorative Chinese symbol associated with marriage. The movie’s title is also a reference to 22-year-old Jade Li’s (Oh) struggle to pursue her own ambitions and meet the clashing romantic and professional expectations her disapproving first-generation immigrant parents have for her. As she puts it, “Double happiness is when you make yourself happy and everyone else happy, too.”

An aspiring actress who dreams of playing Blanche DuBois, Jade is instead asked by unimaginative casting directors to adopt a pronounced Chinese accent for tiny bit parts. In essence, she’s typecast everywhere: on set, and at home, where she struggles to play the good daughter who’ll give up acting for a more conventional job and will only marry a man her parents approve of. It’s a jarring existence, but Double Happiness never feels claustrophobic because it gives Jade the freedom to finally be herself via witty, confessional monologues and fantasy sequences. There’s undoubtedly bittersweetness to this portrait of a young woman fighting to be herself on every front, but that it's nevertheless such an irresistibly charming, never-flippant watch is a testament to first-time director Mina Shum and Oh’s already mature talents.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alannah Ong, Callum Keith Rennie, Donald Fong, Frances You, Gene Kiniski, Sandra Oh, Stephen Chang

Director: Mina Shum

We’ve heard of films within a film, but it’s crazy how many layers Through the Olive Trees operates in. Writer-director Abbas Kiarostami completes his metanarrative journey in the Koker trilogy through a slice-of-life comedy about a couple in the periphery of the previous installment And Life Goes On. As the young man Hossein repeats his plea for marriage to Tahereh, casted as his wife, the insistence can be slightly grating, but in doing so, the everyday dealings of the Iranian village hint at what’s underneath– the earthquake from four years ago that still shapes their lives, the socioeconomic and culture barriers, and the mirrored struggle of creating the artistic vision of the film within the film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abbas Kiarostami, Farhad Kheradmand, Hossein Rezai, Jafar Panahi, Mohammadali Keshavarz, Tahereh Ladanian, Zarifeh Shiva

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vasquez, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Rating: R

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa, Bozena Szymanska, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Florence Pernel, Francis Coffinet, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Wanda Wróblewska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Cornelia Ryan, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, David Stepkin, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Katherine Borowitz, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Reno, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas. You will fall in love with that song (if you haven't already) after watching this movie. Two stories, entangling into one; both about Hong Kong policemen falling in love with mysterious women. It was recommended by my friend after I said I loved Frances Ha. I don't know whether you can call this as offbeat romance.. but to me it was, and it's well worth the watch.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brigitte Lin, Chen Jinquan, Faye Wong, Jimmy Wong Chi-ming, Kwan Lee-Na, Lee-na Kwan, Liang Zen, Lynne Langdon, Piggy Chan Kam-Chuen, Rico Chu, Rico Chu Tak-On, Songshen Zuo, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Valerie Chow, Vickie Eng, Wong Chi-Ming, Zhiming Huang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG-13

In 1994, Danish auteur Lars von Trier came up with a TV series called The Kingdom, an absurd supernatural comedy that takes place in a rundown hospital in Copenhagen. The show was well-received enough to warrant a second season, but just as von Trier was polishing up the third and final installment, the deaths of more than one lead actor pressed pause on the project, till now.

More than 10 years in the making, The Kingdom part III, also called Exodus, is still very much centered on the weird patients and staff members that populate the Riget hospital, as well as the possible evil buried beneath it. The comedy/horror has a robot dishwasher and a giant head. Danes and Swedes are perennially at war with each other. Willem Dafoe and Alexander Skarsgard make odd cameos.

I’m not sure it’s possible to write a coherent synopsis without sounding like I’ve fallen off the rails, but know that it is a unique headscratcher of a show, more interesting as an experience than anything else. Von Trier was also openly inspired by Twin Peaks, in making it, so David Lynch fans in particular will truly enjoy diving into this world.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, TV Movie

Actor: Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Benny Hansen, Benny Poulsen, Birgitte Raaberg, Birte Tove, Claus Nissen, Claus Strandberg, Danica Curcic, Dick Kaysø, Else Petersen, Erik Wedersøe, Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Finn Nielsen, Ghita Nørby, Gordon Kennedy, Helle Virkner, Henning Jensen, Henrik Koefoed, Holger Juul Hansen, Holger Perfort, Jens Okking, Julie Wieth, Kirsten Rolffes, Kurt Ravn, Lars Lunøe, Lars von Trier, Laura Christensen, Lene Vasegaard, Lise Schrøder, Mette Marckmann, Mette Munk Plum, Michael Moritzen, Morten Eisner, Nis Bank-Mikkelsen, Ole Boisen, Ole Dupont, Otto Brandenburg, Paul Hüttel, Peter Gilsfort, Peter Mygind, Solbjørg Højfeldt, Solveig Sundborg, Søren Elung Jensen, Søren Hauch-Fausbøll, Søren Pilmark, Søren Steen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Tove Maës, Udo Kier, Ulrik Cold, Vic Carmen Sonne, Vita Jensen, Willem Dafoe

Director: Lars von Trier, Morten Arnfred

Rating: TV-MA

Cheerfully outrageous yet heartwarmingly tender, the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was ahead of its time, daring to dive into drag and transexuality, when the rest of the world was still coming around to accepting homosexuality. On the bus which the title is named after, two drag queens and a trans woman have a road trip, that does have some difficult moments, when they drive through intolerant towns, but overall, becomes quite lovely, as the three forge a bond through drag, witty, sarcastic quips and sharing vulnerable moments. While all three leads are portrayed by cis men, and the role of Bob’s Filipino wife feels slightly stereotypical, overall, The Adventures of Priscilla is a grand ol’ time, a joyful film about finding family in a world where tolerance wasn’t a guarantee.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bill Hunter, Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving, Kenneth Radley, Rebel Penfold-Russell, Sarah Chadwick, Terence Stamp

Director: Stephan Elliott

Rating: R

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

Muriel is a young social outcast who spends her time obsessively planning a dream wedding without ever having been on a date. Her life is flipped upside down when she steals $15,000 from the family business to go on a tropical getaway. This brilliant comedy is memorable as much for Toni Collete’s breakout role as it is for its snarky subversion of rom-com tropes.

Muriel’s Wedding arrived in a wave of bright and brash Australian comedies of the early 90s like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom. And like these counterparts, its heightened reality gives way to a surprising and heartbreaking emotional core. Director PJ Hogan would go on to direct My Best Friend’s Wedding - a fun but watered-down imitation of the surprising storytelling that made this a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Annie Byron, Barry Crocker, Basil Clarke, Belinda Jarrett, Bill Hunter, Cecily Polson, Chris Haywood, Dan Wyllie, Daniel Hepner, Daniel Lapaine, Darrin Klimek, Di Smith, Frankie Davidson, Fred Rouady, Gabby Millgate, Geneviève Picot, Gennie Nevinson, Heather Mitchell, Ineke Rapp, Jacqueline Linke, Jeanie Drynan, John Gaden, John Walton, Jon-Claire Lee, Julian Garner, Kevin Copeland, Kirsty Hinchcliffe, Kuni Hashimoto, Louise Cullen, Matt Day, Nathan Kaye, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Pippa Grandison, Rachel Griffiths, Richard Carter, Richard Morecroft, Richard Sutherland, Rob Steele, Robert Alexander, Robyn Pitt Owen, Roz Hammond, Scott Hall-Watson, Sophie Lee, Susan Prior, Toni Collette, Vincent Ball

Director: P.J. Hogan

Rating: R

Eat Drink Man Woman takes place in Taipei, Taiwan in the mid-1990s. It tells the story of an aging father and his three daughters, all of whom are navigating different phases of adulthood while embracing new relationships. The family uses cooking and eating together as a way to communicate their love.

Food as a love language wasn’t a new concept in 1994, when the film was released, however it is impeccably explored in Eat Drink Man Woman. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chi-Der Hong, Chin-Cheng Lu, Gin-Ming Hsu, Gua Ah-leh, Huel-Yi Lin, Jui Wang, Kuei-Mei Yang, Lester Chan, Lester Chit-Man Chan, Lung Hsiung, Lung Sihung, Shih-Jay Lin, Sihung Lung, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yu-wen, Winston Chao, Wu Chien-Lien, Ya-lei Kuei, Yang Kuei-Mei, Yu Chen, Yu-Wen Wang, 张艾嘉

Director: Ang Lee

Rating: Not Rated

Spike Lee’s semi-autobiographical film is a loving and nostalgic ode to the Brooklyn of his childhood. It also happens to be his sweetest work and while overshadowed by the explosive Do The Right Thing, remains an easy contender for one of his very best. The world of Crooklyn is told through the eyes of Troy, a young girl growing up with her four brothers, and her mother and father in a cramped brownstone. 

Lee’s Brooklyn is a colorful delight set aloft by a swooning soul soundtrack. His ability to capture the vibrant magical tones and textures of the city feels as complete as ever, and marvelous performances from Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as Troy’s parents help create a touching and all-encompassing experience. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfre Woodard, Arthur French, Bokeem Woodbine, Carlton Williams, Carmen Tillery, Christopher Knowings, Christopher Wynkoop, Dan Grimaldi, Danielle K. Thomas, David Patrick Kelly, Delroy Lindo, Emelise Aleandri, Frances Foster, Gary Perez, Harvey Williams, Hector M. Ricci Jr., Isaiah Washington, Ivelka Reyes, Joie Lee, José Zúñiga, Keith Johnson, Kewanna Bonaparte, Manny Perez, Maurie A. Chandler, Michele Shay, Mildred Clinton, Norman Matlock, Omar Scroggins, Patriece Nelson, Peewee Love, Raymond Reliford, Rene Ojeda, Richard Whiten, RuPaul, Sharif Rashed, Spike Lee, Taneal Royal, Tiasha Reyes, Tracy Vilar, Tse-Mach Washington, Ulysses Terrero, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

Before The Rain is a very intriguing and unique film, to say the least. Its cyclical narrative structure may not be for everyone, it will puzzle most, leaving some in wonder while others fume at the illogicality of it all.

While the film's general production values have not aged very well, its intercut story of war and romance is a timeless one, makes this film one that is essential viewing for all international cinema lovers, and serves as a great introduction to Macedonian cinema as a whole.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Abdurrahman Shala, Aleksandar Mikic, Daniel Newman, Džemail Maksut, Gabrielle Hamilton, Grégoire Colin, Ilko Stefanovski, Jay Villiers, Josif Josifovski, Katerina Kocevska, Katrin Cartlidge, Kiril Ristoski, Labina Mitevska, Meto Jovanovski, Milica Stojanova, Mladen Krstevski, Petar Mirčevski, Peter Needham, Phyllida Law, Rade Serbedzija, Rod Woodruff, Silvija Stojanovska

Director: Milcho Manchevski

Rating: Not Rated