When it comes to pop culture, I look back on the ‘90s fondly. (Whereas I look back on my fashion and hairstyle choices from that time not so fondly.)
There were so many incredible movies that came out in the ‘90s, and in today’s list I’ll be highlighting some of the films that best capture the zeitgeist of the time.
To be clear, I’m not talking about movies that came out in the ‘90s but were either set during a different time period, or movies where the ‘90s didn’t factor heavily into the movie — like Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park or The Silence of the Lambs. For this list we’re sticking with movies where the ‘90s made its presence known!
Clueless – Now back at the Box in addition to being available to stream through Redbox on Demand, Clueless is one of the most quintessential ‘90s movies. In fact, it even influenced mainstream slang with phrases like “As if!” Many people don’t realize that its story is a modern-day take on Jane Austen’s Emma — so if you didn’t know that before, now you have a reason to rewatch it with some new context. I was lucky enough to attend the Clueless cast reunion panel last year at C2E2 (the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo) with stars Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer, and it was amazing. It also confirmed that Paul Rudd DOES NOT AGE.
Clerks – Director Kevin Smith’s simple story about a day in the life of two slacker friends (played by Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson) spawned several sequels and spin-offs, but for me, nothing can compare to the original, which was considered a groundbreaking indie at the time. From the characters’ clothes to their conversations to their attitudes, the ‘90s are all over this cult favorite.
Friday – Director F. Gary Gray brought us along for a day in the life of two other friends — played by Ice Cube and Chris Tucker — as they trade barbs on the porch while observing the comings and goings in their neighborhood … and preparing for a confrontation with a local drug dealer. This film not only spawned two sequels (with a third one still rumored), but also a chart-topping soundtrack that represented the time period and the phrase “Bye, Felicia” (which kind of randomly had a resurgence nearly 20 years later in 2014).
Swingers – It may be hard for some younger movie fans to imagine, but A-list Disney and Marvel director Jon Favreau used to be an indie screenwriter — and star! He wrote the film that put director Doug Liman as well as Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Heather Graham and himself on the map. Swingers is a story about friends trying to cheer up the heartbroken Mike (Favreau), and it remains one of my favorites to this day. It is so very ‘90s, but I’m very much OK with its signature phrase — “You’re so money” — no longer being a thing.
House Party – Hip-hop duo Kid ‘n Play star in this teen comedy about, you guessed it, a house party. I looooovvvveed Kid ‘n Play back then, and I still do now — I actually saw them on the “I Love the ‘90s” concert tour a few summers ago and it was everything. In addition to just being a light and fun movie, it’s yet another film on this list with a great ‘90s soundtrack.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – This entire movie revolves around the title character (Mike Myers) — a groovy spy from the ‘60s who was cryogenically frozen by his nemesis and unthawed 30 years later — learning to navigate the 1990s. Shagadelic, baby!
Wayne’s World – We’re not worthy of the most successful Saturday Night Live adaptation of all time, starring Mike Myers (again!) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth, the co-hosts of the Aurora, Illinois public-access TV show “Wayne’s World.” From the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene down to the very last “schwing!”, this film is pure ‘90s fun…
Reality Bites – … Whereas Reality Bites is synonymous with the young-adult angst of the early time. Starring a love triangle represented by Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke and Ben Stiller (who also directed), the film was literally about an aspiring filmmaker (Ryder) documenting the issues affecting Gen Xers in the early days of the grunge era. Yet again we have an excellent soundtrack — which includes the #1 hit “Stay,” by Lisa Loeb. I personally associate this movie with the ‘90s more than any other on my list.
What’d I miss? What’s another movie that just screams “the ‘90s”?