The late 90s were a transformative period in the world of cinema, with the emergence of unique storytelling and unforgettable characters as well as darker and more mature themes. In 1998, a remarkable lineup of films captured the essence of that era, each offering a distinctive perspective on life, love, and humanity. Join us on a journey through time as we count down the 10 best movies of 1998, each a masterpiece in its own right.
The Prince of Egypt
Directors: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
The Prince of Egypt takes us back to ancient Egypt in a biblical and animated biopic of Moses’ life. The film beautifully combines traditional hand-drawn animation with innovative computer-generated imagery, creating a mesmerizing world filled with captivating characters.
Part of its success lies in how Dreamworks spared no expense in one of its earliest animated ventures in a bid to compete with Disney. With a memorable soundtrack featuring songs like “When You Believe,” this animated epic delivers a timeless message of faith and redemption.
To this day, it’s arguably still unmatched as an animated Hollywood adaptation of a bible story.
A Bug’s Life
Directors: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
In the world of 3D animation, 1998 was a year of bugs, and “A Bug’s Life” is a standout gem, squashing out similar competitors such as Antz (also released in the same year). This delightful Pixar film takes us into the miniature world of ants. A misfit named Flik embarks on an epic journey to save his colony from menacing grasshoppers in a rather subtle Marxist allegory.
With its charming characters, witty humor, and breathtaking animation, A Bug’s Life continues to captivate audiences of all ages as one of Pixar’s earliest works. More importantly, it placed Pixar in the spotlight as a bonafide master of stories for all ages.
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Elizabeth is an epic biopic and historical drama that transports us to the tumultuous world of Queen Elizabeth I. It depicts a rather significant era in European history and England after several ‘Henry’ kings nearly ran the empire to the ground, leaving Elizabeth with a fractured nation assailed on all sides, and how she ushered a Golden Age despite the adversity.
Cate Blanchett’s brilliant portrayal of the iconic monarch earned her an Academy Award nomination, and the film’s exquisite costumes and lush cinematography will immerse you in the opulent throne rooms of the 16th century. This gripping tale of power, politics, and intrigue is the unparalleled masterpiece that all Queen movies strive to be.
Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Speaking of feminism in Hollywood, Mulan is a Disney classic that tells the inspiring story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the Imperial Army. The original folktale was set during the 4th and 5th centuries, though Disney took a lot of liberties with its timelines.
With its memorable songs, including “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” and a strong, independent heroine, the film broke new ground in animated storytelling as well as imparting a social message. Mulan (at least the animated original) remains a beloved and empowering tale for audiences of all generations.
The Thin Red Line
Director: Terrence Malick
There’s our epic war movie. Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line is an introspective and contemplative war film that explores the complexities of human nature amid the brutality of battle.
Set during World War 2, the film features a remarkable ensemble cast and offers a poetic and introspective perspective on war and the human condition.
Its evocative imagery and philosophical themes take centerstage, and the typical war movie action is relegated to the periphery though the second half of the film is still filled with enough carnage to make jaws drop.
The Big Lebowski
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Some of the most legendary memes were born long before the meme generation. The Big Lebowski is a cult classic that defies categorization and was notably ahead of its time as a funny film, blending elements of noir, comedy, and surrealism into a one-of-a-kind cinema experience.
Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges, is an iconic slacker-hero who gets roped on a bizarre misadventure involving a stolen rug, a kidnapping, and a bowling league. With its quirky characters, jokes that will catch you off-guard, and endlessly quotable dialogue, this film has earned its place in cinematic history.
The Truman Show
Director: Peter Weir
As one of the more serious Jim Carrey films, The Truman Show presents the actor in a different light. It’s a thought-provoking and prophetic film that explores the nature of reality and the boundaries of personal freedom.
Jim Carrey delivers a remarkable performance as Truman Burbank, a man who unwittingly lives his entire life on a reality television show. As Truman begins to question the authenticity of his world, the film raises profound philosophical questions about identity and autonomy.
It’s a satirical and poignant commentary on the dangers of entertainment as well as the notion of determinism.
American History X
Director: Tony Kaye
There has to be an anti-racism film that will resonate throughout generations, and in 1998, that would be American History X. This powerful and unflinching exploration of racism and redemption in America has Edward Norton delivering a tour de force performance as Derek Vinyard.
Derek is a former neo-fascist who seeks to prevent his younger brother from following the same path of hatred and violence. The film’s uncompromising look at the roots of bigotry and its consequences makes it a thought-provoking and essential Hollywood achievement with a heartbreaking tale about hate and forgiveness.
Life is Beautiful
Director: Roberto Benigni
As far as Oscar baits go, the irresistible combo of World War 2 and anti-racism has proven to be an effective award magnet.
Life is Beautiful features Roberto Benigni’s endearing performance as Guido, a Jewish father who uses humor and imagination to protect his son from the harsh realities of a concentration camp. This earned the actor critical acclaim and an Academy Award. As expected.
More importantly, the Italian magnum opus reminds us that even in the darkest of times, love and laughter can shine through.
Saving Private Ryan
Director: Steven Spielberg
At the top of our list, and based on general consensus, is Steven Speilberg’s best war movie to date, Saving Private Ryan. Set during one of the biggest turning points of World War II, the film follows a group of soldiers on a mission to save Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in combat.
Saving Private Ryan is known for its visceral and unflinching portrayal of war, featuring some of the most realistic and intense battle sequences ever captured on film. It also weaves a moving human story into the chaos of war, offering a profound perspective on sacrifice, heroism, and the bonds of brotherhood.
Unlike other war movies that merely indulge themselves and their viewers in action and violence, Saving Private Ryan also makes an effort to humanize all sides of war. By the end of the film, you’re guaranteed to be as war-weary as its heroes and participants.