90s Nostalgia: The most iconic films of the decade
Known somewhat as the less cool cousin of the eighties (say what you will about the eighties, at least they had an ethos). While 1990 – 1999 may not be included in any decades of golden cinema features, the generation that grew up with these films are now hitting that age period of 10 year high school reunions, weddings, 30th birthdays, and friends with kids, which of course precedes a nostalgic reflection of youth and speeches that start with “When I was a teenager, <insert subject> was so much better. And cheaper. And we weren’t nearly as bratty.”
Also, there’s been a respectable distance of time now to hold nineties parties.
And so, if you are in this life stage, don’t worry. While the nineties may have been pretty daggy (parachute pants anyone?), there were definite highlights in this confused cultural period.
Now these films may not have won Best Film at the Academy Awards (in fact, none of them did), but they were original and have held up over the years, and isn’t that the real test? Here is my list of the 10 most iconic nineties films in order of appearance:
- Terminator II (1991)
One of the best, if not THE best sequels of all time, Terminator II took the world it created in the original, expanded it, set a new bar for special effects (and in a way relevant to the story), and focused on the strengths of its actors. Arnold Schwarzenegger could be funny; Linda Hamilton could be a badass, and major props to Edward Furlong for not coming across as an annoying, whiny kid (I’m looking at you Anakin Skywalker). When Arnie gives his thumbs up at the end, tell me you did not get teary over a fictional killing machine from the future.
- Groundhog Day (1993)
Originally viewed as a comedy, it is only upon re-watching that the philosophical depths of the film start to resonate. Phil goes through the gamut of psychological reactions when having to relive the same day over and over again, until he strives to learn and improve his life. Bill Murray is brilliant as always, and any film that coins a phrase understood around the world deserves some recognition.
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything you did was the same, and nothing mattered?” Bill Murray’s Phil asks no one in particular.
“That about sums it up for me,” a stranger next to him replies.
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
No nineties best of list is complete without “Pulp Fiction” and this one is no different. The dialogue, the interweaving stories, the career revivals, the music and the dancing. There were many imitations, but there were no successors. It is still the coolest movie ever made.
- The Lion King (1994)
“The Lion King” was recently re-released in cinemas in 3D to massive box office success. Were people dying to see it in 3D? No. Did they just want to see it again on the big screen? Yes. Marketed as a kid’s film, this film came at the end of Disney’s classic animation revival following “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin”, and had the broad appeal that Pixar would so successfully emulate in years to come. The story was so heartbreaking, scary, cute and funny, and hey, it made Elton John cool again. For a while. Long live the King. And Timon and Pumba.
- Clueless (1995)
This film is so nineties, it is them who are calling wanting their nineties fashion back. A tale as old as time, or at least more than 100 years old (way old) this modern version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” spawned so many pop culture phrases and sayings magazines had to publish glossaries. The characters were charming, the clothes were colourful, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. Highlighting the excess and shallow life of teenagers (and L.A.), this movie still resonates, because, well, I guess the fashion has changed but not much else? I know. That was way harsh Tai.
- Trainspotting (1996)
Kick-starting the careers of Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller, this film managed to take a horrific subject – heroin addicts in an economically depressed Edinburgh – and turn it into a film everyone wanted to see. An adrenaline ride with an awesome soundtrack, the film was later recognised as a key contributor to the 1990s British cultural tour de force known as Cool Britannica alongside Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Alexander McQueen and The Spice Girls. Definitely wouldn’t be the nineties without them.
- Swingers (1996)
Before Jon Favreau was embedded in the Marvel universe and driving around Iron Man, he was a struggling actor who wrote and starred in this fantastic low budget film about trying to make it in L.A., getting over a break-up, and hanging with your boys. Directed by Doug Liman, and starring Vince Vaughn (also pre-stardom, and pre-bulge), Heather Graham and Ron Livingston, the film’s snappy dialogue, insight into the Hollywood game, and general ode to film, makes it the ideal film to watch when going through heartbreak. It’s money man, so money.
- The Big Lebowski (1998)
An unexpected follow up to the critically acclaimed “Fargo” from the Coen Brothers, the film follows the journey of a man swept up in a case of mistaken identity, bowling, and a rug that really tied the room together. While audiences were slow to embrace The Dude, he now enjoys his own cult following along with a White Russian. The Dude abides.
- The Matrix (1999)
So the trilogy didn’t quite end with a bang, but come on, how exciting was the original Matrix film? The first ever bullet time, “I know kung fu”, leather, so much leather, an intriguing premise (you have to admit that Agent Smith makes a compelling argument about human beings being a disease), and a pulsing soundtrack. You may have noticed a theme in this list. Music matters. Following on from anime film “The Ghost and the Shell”, “The Matrix” brought Cyberpunk back to the mainstream.
- Fight Club (1999)
A commentary on the neutering of a generation of men raised by women and moulded by marketing, the visual style, messed up characters and overall anarchy of the film has some of the most memorable quotes in recent history. Don’t remember?
Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
What a way to end the nineties. We’ve come a long way baby. Maybe.
From this point the big winners in entertainment were reality TV shows.
So maybe it was a golden age.