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Classic 90s movies that are still all the rage

In the early 90s, we didn’t have Starbucks and Pearl Jam was still known as Mookie Blaylock. Huh? We didn’t use the Internet for everything (yet), and AOL was king. Google wasn’t even invented until 1998 (though didn’t officially become a verb until 2006); instead, we had Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista, Netscape, Lycos, Earthlink, MindSpring, or Yahoo (among others) to search the mysterious, new World Wide Web. 

We also saw the birth of email, or Email, or e-mail, or E-mail; yes, it took a while until we settled on a universally accepted spelling for the abbreviation for electronic mail.  AOL Instant Messenger was the first chat-like service to exist in the mainstream and it was life-changing. We could chat friends and make plans to go to happy hour after work right from our work computers without ever picking up the phone. We loved it.

We didn’t have iPhones or iPods, but here’s what we did have: grunge and slam dancing, ripped jeans, Dr. Martens (which are totally back, btw), and the slacker voice of Generation X as we were coming of age in the (early 90s recession/late 90s dotcom boom) workforce. And we had a long list of classic 90s movies that were so very different from what was popular in the 80s. Yes, we still had 90s movies about high school (like Dazed and Confused, Never Been Kissed, Varsity Blues), 90s movie comedies (like What About Bob?, Father of the Bride, Happy Gilmore), endless Disney 90s movies for kids (like 101 Dalmations, Tarzan, Toy Story), and popular 90s movies about killers (like American Psycho), slackers (like Reality Bites, Threesome),  and blockbusters (like Titanic and Jurassic Park)

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Music soundtracks were still a major feature of 90s movies 

In addition to loving soundtracks to our favorite movies, we graduated from mixtapes to burned CDs for great music mixes. As film director Cameron Crowe himself described back then, One of the most fun things for me is to make a road tape. I’ve done it once a month for years.” Cameron Crowe’s early 90s movie Singles, he says, was “like a blown-up version” of a music/mood mix.  

We loved his ode to the music and mood of the 90s, listening to the Singles’ soundtrack of grunge music over and over again. Then we moved on to an obsession with Pulp Fiction’s soundtrack, followed by Magnolia’s soundtrack featuring Aimee Mann’s music. We also had a serial killer haunting us every time Tom Petty’s “American Girl” played on the car radio. In the 90s, we had grown men obsessing over IKEA furniture and accessories in the cult movie Fight Club (once IKEA opened its New York City-area store in Elizabeth, NJ in 1990, it officially went mainstream in the U.S.). We had rapper-model Marky Mark (Wahlberg) evolving into a critically acclaimed actor by decade’s end, when Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights made Mark Wahlberg’s 1992 Calvin Klein ad seem prim.

We had “90s royalty” actors like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, and John C. Reilly who became big through “small” movies distributed by studios like Miramax Films and New Line Cinema. Indie movies took off in the 90s, through the film festival circuit, and at the box office. Stars like Bruce Willis and John Travolta appeared in both independent and Hollywood studio films. Hollywood conglomerates eventually took over the indie film industry and also created independent studios of their own, like Sony Pictures Classics and Searchlight Pictures.

Throughout the 90s, many Hollywood blockbusters were increasingly more “indie” in sensibility (like Shakespeare in Love, Trainspotting, and Swingers). One notable exception: Pulp Fiction went up against the very un-indie Forrest Gump in the 1995 Academy Awards. Forrest Gump won for Best Picture, sparking an outcry — and proving for Hollywood that “Life IS like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” (wink) Pulp Fiction fans preferred the Royale with Cheese, it seems, over the box of chocolates, so they were not happy about the perceived snub.

How we watched movies in the 90s 

At home, we watched 90s movies on DVDs from Blockbuster (bye-bye VHS), until Netflix came along in 1997. To rival Blockbuster, Netflix offered pay-per-rentals through the mail, meaning you never had to leave your home to rent movies again. 

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For the most part, the experience of going to the movie theaters in the 90s vs. going to the movies in the 80s, was mostly the same in that multiplex cinemas with supersized concessions were still all the rage. One way it did change, though, is at the indie movie houses, which suddenly became a totally hip place to see a movie, due to the types of movies being made and the cultural benchmarks of the time. While movies in the 80s were much more focused on comedy, coming of age, and music-themed dramas, 90s movies explored the human experience a lot more deeply and broadly than had been done in the past. 

Suddenly, important movies were being made that gave a voice to people who were gay, transgender, Black, women, veterans, young adults, parents, prisoners, criminals, and children in a way that we previously had not experienced.  We were eager for movies that told stories about people who were maybe nothing like us, but with whom we could empathize and sympathize, and from whom we could learn a great deal.  Simply put, 90s movies were finally being made to celebrate the diversity of humans, and audiences appreciated the opportunity to live and share in the realities of their stories — and in the process, we, the audience, became more compassionate and understanding about the lifestyles and struggles of others. 

How we bought movie tickets in the 90s

Movie theatres were still the place where we met friends, took our children for birthday movie parties, and were central to date-nights-out. In the 90s, dating meant dinner and a movie at chains like Applebees, TGI Friday’s, Houlihan’s, Bennigan’s, Pizzeria Uno, and other bar-restaurants that popped up near malls with movie theatres.  

To find out what was playing, the newspapers were still a reliable source, however, with the internet gaining in popularity in the late 1990s, some theatre chains began creating websites advertising the movies playing in their theatres. In fact, Hollywood.com was the first site to list movie showtimes online back in the 90s!

The film call-in hotline MovieFone offering movie showtimes, locations, and ticket purchases over the phone was still the most popular way to learn what was playing; eventually, MovieFone expanded its services online through MovieFone.com. By the close of the decade, MovieFone had grown to become the nation’s #1 movie and ticketing service, serving more than 100 million moviegoers annually; it was acquired by AOL in February of 1999.

The movies that make us miss the 90s

Overall, the movie zeitgeist of the 90s was defined by important social and political issues and complicated explorations of love. Hollywood woke us to the brave new world we’ve come to know. In style and subject matter, 90s films had the shock of “the new.” Movies like Pulp Fiction, The Crying Game, Silence of the Lambs, and The Sixth Sense were unlike anything we’d seen before.

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Here’s a round-up of stand-out movies that defined the culture of the 90s.

Most Culturally Significant Classic 90s Movies: Singles (1992)

Directed by Cameron Crowe, this era-defining rom-com stars Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott, Bill Pullman, and Sheila Kelley, with cameos from Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden.

Cameron Crowe, a former Rolling Stone writer, said that Singles<