Though 90s produced plenty of great movies… but the point of this list isn’t to (necessarily) talk about the greatest movies of the 90s. Instead, we’re going to talk about the movies that are just so 90s that they simply couldn’t have come from anywhere else. So just what makes a 90s movie a 90s movie? Read on to find out!
Home Alone (1990)
Based on the fairly ridiculous premise that a large family could go on vacation to Paris and forget one of their children, the entire film follows 8-year-old Kevin’s (Macaulay Culkin) adventures while home alone. Get it? He’s Home Alone! Of course there’s more to it than Kevin watching TV and eating junk food without adult supervision — because this is the world of movies, Kevin’s home is targeted by a pair of very dedicated, very inept thieves led by Joe Pesci. Spoiler alert: Kevin outwits the thieves in spectacular slapstick fashion and his mother finally makes it home to see him again, ending things on a particularly warm and fuzzy note.
Successful by any means you choose to measure, Home Alone was a huge hit — maintaining a #1 rating at the box office for 12 straight weeks. That kind of breakaway success meant there were five Home Alone movies and three video games. (Three!) But we’ll never forget our first adventure with Kevin and the dream of joining on his exciting (for a kid) adventures like going to the grocery store. (The drama!)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Sure, Terminator 2 is a fantastic movie even today, with the action sequences and CGI effects standing up despite their age. Somehow, despite having starred in Kindergarten Cop just the year before, Arnold Schwarzenegger once again becomes the ultimate badass by reprising his role as the T-800 from 1984’s The Terminator.
Though T2 has very 80s roots, this is a film solidly grounded in the 90s — primarily through its main character John Connor (Edward Furlong) who epitomizes the child of the 90s. We’re pretty sure it’s not possible to get more 90s than young Connor, with his asymmetrical haircut, rebellious attitude, dirt bike (is he even old enough to drive?!), and sweet Atari portable computer. Connor simply radiates the 90s, so it’s not really a surprise that his affectations wear off on his new Terminator pal, who he teaches to hi-5 and use action hero catch phrases.
Of course these heartwarming child/robotic killer moments meant that the Terminator had to die at the end. What? No, I’m not crying. He was just a robot! I’m definitely not crying.
Wayne’s World (1992)
Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!
Who could forget the classic opening to this Saturday Night Live skit of the 80s and 90s? The 90s was a particularly good time for SNL skits, many of which became movies… though not always successful ones. Just how many? After Wayne’s World, there was Wayne’s World 2 (1993), Coneheads (1993), It’s Pat: The Movie (1994), Stuart Saves His Family (1995), A Night at the Roxbury (1998), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), and Superstar (1999). Wayne’s World stands out as a skit that made the transition well, taking everything that made the original fun and expanding it into a feature-length film.
Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) as twenty-somethings who do a weekly public access show from Wayne’s parents’ basement…. which wouldn’t seem out of place today, except you’d expect to find Wayne and Garth on YouTube rather than television. In the movie, Wayne and Garth’s public access show is bought out by a big corporation and the two social outcasts think they’ve finally made it… up until Wayne is fired from the new show and our heroes have to win the show back.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Remember Jim Carrey? The 90s was a breakout decade for him, and 1994 was the year he embedded himself into the public consciousness with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hitting theaters… but it was Ace Ventura, written by and starring Carrey, that introduced his particular brand of slapstick comedy to the world.
In it Ace Ventura (Carrey) plays the Miami’s only pet detective… so, of course, he’s the one they call when the Miami Dolphins mascot, Snowflake, is kidnapped. (Or dolphin-napped.) On paper, this is a pretty straightforward whodunnit, but in reality you’re mostly watching to see Carrey be a total goof, which he does very, very well.
Pop quiz, hotshot: what’s the best action film about a bus ever made? There’s no contest: it was Speed. In it, Keanu Reeves plays the role of badass cop so well that his character, Jack Traven, is practically a trope into itself. As the film opens, Jack’s partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) presents him with a theoretical situation: what do you do when the bad guy is getting away with a hostage? Jack’s answer is probably the movie’s best-known: “Shoot the hostage.” And it’s a theory he soon puts into action, shooting his own partner so the villain of the hour, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) couldn’t escape using Harry as cover.
But that’s just the beginning: soon Howard’s planted a bomb on a bus and, if the bus falls below 50 miles an hour the bomb will go off. What follows is an entire movie of crazy car stunts as the bus plows through cars and clear seemingly impossible gaps. Instant classic.
Technology has advanced a lot in the past twenty years, and nowhere is that more obvious than Hackers, which focuses on the digital subculture of 90s teens (including Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie). (“Hidden beneath the world we know… is the world they inhabit.”) What follows is part wacky teen hijinks movie in which the main characters pull high-tech pranks on one another and part thriller when they wind up framed for planting a dangerous virus.
This wasn’t the only cyberthriller from the 90s, which also saw Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and The Matrix (1999), but it is by far the most 90s of the lot. There’s rollerblading! There’s hacker nightclubs! There are pay phones! Which is to say the whole thing is a little dated, considering we now all carry iPhones in our pockets, which are more capable than anything this movie can imagine.
This 90s teen comedy follows Cher (Alicia Silverstone), a popular and fashionable valley girl, in her adventures (and misadventures) through high school. Cher decides to take on a pet project in the form of Tai, a “tragically unhip” new girl in school, but is disappointed when Tai’s popularity exceeds her own.
There’s plenty of valley girl tropes to be found here in Cher’s speech (like, whatever) and shopping habits, but the whole affair is actually more Jane Austen than Not Another Teen Movie, having many parallels to Austen’s 1815 novel Emma… though obviously with a very modern (and very 90s) twist.
Ah, the mall — where all kids of the 90s whiled away their days. Though Kevin Smith’s sophomore directing effort didn’t do as well as 1994’s Clerks (to put it mildly), it hits on a lot of 90s tropes. The plot follows T.S. (Jeremy London) attempting to get his girlfriend Brandi (Claire Forlani) back… though the adventure grows stranger from there as T.S. and friend Brodie (Jason Lee) head to the mall where they encounter magic eye posters, the local drug dealers (Jay and Silent Bob), and a live taping of TV dating show Truth or Date.
Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) spend the film trying to break up Truth or Date in increasingly ridiculous ways (including Silent Bob doing a turn as Batman), Stan Lee offering Brodie relationship advice, and a fist fight with the Easter Bunny.
We told you it was strange.
Con Air (1997)
We can’t imagine a stranger cast for an action movie, but this was the 90s, when it was apparently possible to make an action flick that starred Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovitch, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, and Colm Meaney. If that cast can work, truly anything is possible, so live your dreams, people.
An in-flight riot breaks out in a flight transporting convicts to a new prison, leaving these worst of the worst to take over the plane for a dramatic twist on the standard prison heist. What they don’t know is that Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is a former Army Ranger jailed for killing someone who threatened his wife, and as a genuine good guy he’s plans to save the day… hopefully before the authorities get around to shooting the plane down. Featuring a plane landing on the Las Vegas strip, you really can’t get more action-packed than this.
Office Space (1999)
Getting stuck in traffic, living in life in a perpetually gray maze of cubicles, getting fired for no reason… okay, that’s not a concept that’s stayed in the 90s, but the endless frustration that is work life came to a head in Office Space.
Tired of his job, Peter (Ron Livingston) decides to get fired by missing work, disassembling his cube (to get a window view), stealing his boss’s parking spot, and ignoring the company dress code… however, this only gets him singled out as having management potential and promoted. With Peter’s toe-the-line friends getting fired instead, they hatch a plan to steal fractions of a cent per transaction from the company… too small to be noticed, but eventually adding up to a sizable sum.
Though this doesn’t work (everything goes up in flames by the end, figuratively), we see Peter has finally found happiness working construction (and clearing the debris of his former office, which probably help) instead of behind a desk.
Do you have any favorite 90s movies that ought to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!