Three great 90s thrillers : Pop Culture Happy Hour When you're talking about the movies of the 1990s, you have to mention the decade's huge assortment of thrillers. From courtroom standoffs and frantic chases to wild twists and A-list stars, today, we are recommending three of our favorite 90s thrillers.

Three great 90s thrillers

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When you're talking about the movies of the '90s, you have to mention the decade's huge assortment of thrillers.


Courtroom standoffs, frantic chases, wild twists and A-list stars. We're here to recommend a few of our favorites. I'm Linda Holmes.

THOMPSON: And I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about three great '90s thrillers on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.


THOMPSON: It's just Linda and me today. Holmesy (ph), I know you love a thriller. You love a caper. You love a courtroom drama. And the '90s were packed with great ones. So let's get right into it. What's your first pick?

HOLMES: OK, so this whole entire genre to me is so rich that I felt like every one of these picks, to pick three, had to stand for more than just itself. So these are all here to represent a larger idea within the realm of '90s thrillers. The first one that I picked is "The Pelican Brief" from 1993. It is directed by Alan J. Pakula. And it is also an adaptation of a John Grisham book. And so this stands in for a few things. A, there were a bunch of John Grisham adaptations which make up a lot of the '90s, what I think of as the trenchcoat thriller...


HOLMES: ...The kind of - there's always, like, FBI guys and other mysterious guys walking around in trenchcoats - but also because Denzel Washington is in many ways the king of the '90s/'00s tense thriller. You know, he appeared in this. He appeared in "The Bone Collector." He appeared in - if you count "Devil In A Blue Dress," which is...


HOLMES: ...More of a mystery, maybe, than a thriller, but it still counts. And into the aughts with things like "Inside Man," he is kind of my ideal thriller dude of this era. So I picked "The Pelican Brief" for that reason. And also, Julia Roberts is one of the sort of not - maybe not at quite the level that he is but also somebody who showed up in a bunch of thrillers, especially the unforgettable "Sleeping With The Enemy," which is both a very tense and exciting movie and also an extraordinarily silly movie.

So "The Pelican Brief" is the story, if you're not familiar with it, of a young law student, played by Julia Roberts, who accidentally figures out via speculation who killed two Supreme Court justices. And, you know, it becomes clear that her life is in terrible danger because the people who did it realize that she's onto them. So there's a lot of kind of running around. And then she connects with this journalist played by Denzel Washington. And then they kind of team up to go out and both uncover the conspiracy and get the guys that were responsible but also to save her life and save his life.

There is all kinds of great stuff in this movie in terms of skulking around at different institutions, pretending to be somebody you're not in order to get information from a bank or a hospital. You know, he goes and at one point has to fight with a law school to get information about students. There are just all these great scenes of just trying to dig up information. It's very exciting in that way. So I love "The Pelican Brief." Also, Pakula, of course, is a distinguished director of '70s paranoid conspiracy thrillers. So he comes with this rich resume of things like "All The President's Men" and stuff like that. So you know that you're getting kind of one of the greats in the director. I also love a good Grisham adaptation. Some of them are forgettable, but I love a good Grisham adaptation. So this, "The Pelican Brief" from 1993, is my first pick for '90s thriller.

THOMPSON: An outstanding choice. Give us your next one.

HOLMES: All right. So my next choice is "The Fugitive."


HOLMES: This is also from 1993, directed by Andrew Davis. This is here to represent the kind of prestige thriller because there are thrillers in this category that wound up being, like, more kind of recognized as terrific movies than some of the other ones. So "The Fugitive" was actually nominated for best picture. Tommy Lee Jones won for best supporting actor. This is the movie in which Harrison Ford - and this is based on an old TV series. But Harrison Ford plays this man who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife. R.I.P. Sela Ward. And he knows that the person who actually killed his wife is this one-armed man. So he manages to escape in a very wonderful sequence involving a bus and train, goes on the run, trying to find the one-armed man. And Tommy Lee Jones plays the U.S. marshal who is sent to collect him. This is where you get Tommy Lee Jones giving the speech about I want you to search every outhouse, penthouse, doghouse, whatever it is. Love that speech.


TOMMY LEE JONES: (As Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard) What I want out of each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse or doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at 15 miles.

HOLMES: Tommy Lee Jones actually went on to play this character again in "U.S. Marshals" 'cause it was - it's such a, like, fun and interesting performance. But I love this movie because it is a - this really tense, terrific story that leads to this very ridiculous ending where, you know, Harrison Ford is walking into this fancy banquet and confronting somebody. I love this movie. If you've never sat down in front of "The Fugitive," it is an absolute delight. It is, again, kind of weird and of its time, but it has great performances - love it. Harrison Ford didn't make enough thrillers like this for me. So "The Fugitive," prestige thriller - that is my second pick.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And this movie is a perfect example of the kind of thing that can get swallowed up by references to it...


THOMPSON: ...Where you see so many echoes of this movie in other pop culture, so many parodies of it. Go back and rewatch it. It still holds up so, so, so well on its own. Great pick. Give me the last one.

HOLMES: All right. So if you're going to indulge in '90s thrillers, you have to leave some room for the really silly ones, the really sort of I'm-sorry-what-happened? kind of thriller. As I mentioned earlier, "Sleeping With The Enemy" has some elements of that, but the one I picked to represent this idea is "Double Jeopardy." "Double Jeopardy" is a 1999 thriller starring Ashley Judd as a woman who is, again, wrongfully convicted of killing her husband. While she's in prison, she finds out that her husband is actually still alive and that she was framed. This is all sort of the setup, so I don't feel it's spoiling anything, really. Also, it's a 1999 movie. But anyway, so while she's in prison, her friend, played by the great character actress Roma Maffia, tells her - (laughter) it's a great legal theory - now that you've been convicted of killing your husband, if you ever get out and you find your husband, you can actually kill him in the middle of the street and they can't do anything to you because of double jeopardy.

THOMPSON: Airtight (laughter).

HOLMES: This is not a sound legal theory, I just want to say. I am not your lawyer. Do not rely on that advice. So she eventually goes kind of looking for her husband. And again, the hilarious thing is her parole officer, who is trying to track her down since she's now broken her parole, is played by Tommy Lee Jones, basically playing the same person that he played in "The Fugitive," basically trying to recapture that magic. This is a movie that not only has an absolutely ridiculous central premise, but it also has a bunch of really weird and goofy sequences in it. And one of the sequences that I love the best - there's a chase. I'm just going to say there's a chase that involves somebody getting trapped in a coffin, as you do, and shooting your way out because, of course, that's the sound thing to do. When you're inside a small enclosed space, what you want to do is fire a gun right next to your head.


HOLMES: It's absolutely great. So "Double Jeopardy" - very goofy, but lots of fun and kind of in the great tradition of very goofy '90s thrillers.

THOMPSON: Nice. Holmesy, why don't they make twisty thrillers like this anymore? I mean, they do occasionally.

HOLMES: They do, but a lot of them are really, like, super trashy, and you see them on, like, a streaming service or a basic cable channel, and they don't have the kind of verve.

THOMPSON: They used to have A-listers - A-listers everywhere. You just named so many A-listers.

HOLMES: I don't feel like it's as vibrant of a thing as it once was.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Bring them back, I say. All right, well, we want to know your favorite thriller from the '90s. Find us at That brings us to the end of our show. Linda Holmes, thanks for being here.

HOLMES: Thank you, buddy.

THOMPSON: And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow.


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