10 Movies that Waaay sum up the nineties
Travel back in time with Ben Keenan to when checked shirts ruled and Paul Rudd looked... well, more or less the same as he does now
At the time, the 90s seemed like a bit of a dud. The post 80s calm before the new millennium hit and we all got our jetpacks and high-speed internet. Looking back, however, it was an amazing time for pop culture. That in mind, and the fact that the decade is so hot right now, here are our favourite, decade-defining 90s flicks.
Brimming with classic one-liners ("Way harsh Tai" and "You're just a virgin who can't drive spring to mind) and a mind-blowing cacophony of 90s fashion – hello, knee socks – Clueless has dated only insofar as it now defines its decade's aesthetic, but remains as fresh and funny now as it did (brace yourself) 19 years ago. It was the first time we'd seen someone under the age of 30 using a mobile phone, and was definitely the first time we saw a touchscreen used in a non-science-fiction movie.
It's also notable for the parade of now-familiar faces like Donald Faison (Scrubs) and was when the world fell in love with Brittany Murphy's laugh, and discovered the now-eerily ageless Paul Rudd. We're telling you – there's an attic somewhere hiding a portrait of him that would make your brain explode.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Proof, perhaps, that America had moved on from the unthinking testosterone that characterised so many movies from the previous decade, director Harold Ramis' finest film is deep, smart and incredibly funny. Thoroughly mining its rich ideas, it is replete with unforgettable comic moments from Bill Murray, like "What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today!" Forced to shoot and re-shoot for months to account for every possible kind of weather – an unforeseen consequence of having to replay the exact same day over and over again – Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin refined their supernatural comedy until it was, more or less, perfect.
Starring Patrick Swayze in full-on heartthrob-cum-ceramics-artist mode, improbably directed by legendary comedy writer Jerry Zucker (Airplane!), and not just the soppy love-story it's made out to be, Ghost is a fun thriller shaking off vestiges of the 80s – namely a mullet and a storyline centred on financial crime. Bar the iconic pottery scene with Demi Moore, the tone is quite dark and while it does venture into absurdity, it's saved from any sense of silliness found in the seldom-visited romantic fantasy crime thriller genre (that's right) by Whoopi Goldberg's laugh-out-loud Oscar-winning performance and Swayze's capacity for masculine sensitivity.
Wayne's World (1992)
The film that propelled Mike Myers and Dana Carvey from Saturday Night Live regulars to international comedy superstars seemingly overnight thanks to their laid back chemistry and razor-sharp jokes. Though Carvey's later career culminated in little more than 2002's abysmal Master of Disguise, and Myers' bright star had faded by The Love Guru in 2008, this will always have a special place in the hearts of the generation who first learned to headbang to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and "schwing!" with conviction.
The strongest and most successful Lorne Michaels-produced film to come from the SNL stable of characters, it endures thanks to its warm, inventive script and pitch-perfect supporting turns by Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere and Chris Farley – who inexplicably cameos in the second film in a different role, not that we're complaining, the free-wheeling barrage of ideas are what make this film work so well.
Even though this came out the same year as the comparatively timeless Magnolia and The Matrix, Go couldn't be more of a 90s flick – plaid, check, block colours, coffee, clubbing and ecstasy, this film has it all. It almost had Melissa Joan Hart, and later Christina Ricci in the lead, but we're glad director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow) went with Sarah Polley, who brings a cynical, desperate intelligence to the lead role (though inexplicably she hasn't worked at this level since.)
Beyond the kitsch value, the interwoven plot told from different points of view is well-executed, managing to feel both like a series of fun vignettes and a cohesive whole. Featuring Katie Holmes in surprisingly likeable form, and Taye Diggs firing on all cylinders, it's a roller-coaster from start to finish.
Independence Day (1996)
While technically sci-fi, Independence Day would qualify for any 90s list worth its slap bands based on Jeff Goldblum's vintage Apple Mac love alone. Nerd porn aside, this bombastic Will Smith vehicle is noteworthy for the naiveté and lightness of its apocalyptic tone, as it would be only a few years later that blowing up New York City would be unthinkable without acknowledging the tragic spectacle of 9/11. Despite the questionable casting of Bill Pullman, this alien invasion epic brings the cheese and po-faced patriotism the way only American blockbusters can.
A touching and brutal film about a girl who witnesses her family's murder by a corrupt lawman and then shelters with her shy neighbour, who just happens to be a quiet, sensitive hitman. Director Luc Besson's retelling of Pygmalion in early 90s Manhattan constantly plays against expectations, balancing elegant action sequences with childish vulnerability.
The script could easily have come apart as a corny idea lacking credibility, but it's brought to life by its incredible cast. Gary Oldman's unhinged DEA agent is outshone only by Natalie Portman's Mathilda, who steals the show in her debut role as the precocious orphan who falls into Léon's life, played with baleful bewilderment by Jean Reno.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Famously, after making Kindergarten Cop, Arnie was going family-friendly, only agreeing to star in T2 on the condition that he play a good guy – a wise move. Steeped in violence and dread of a nuclear holocaust, this is not your average shoot-'em-up action flick. The best science fiction is grounded in reality, and even with its ridiculous explosions and brilliant chase sequences, this story of a time-travelling cyborg sent to protect humanity's saviour from a different time-travelling cyborg is believable (to a point), vicious and dramatic. Linda Hamilton is terrific as deranged Sarah Connors, and the unstoppable T2, as played by Robert Patrick, remains one of cinema's greatest villains.
Opening with a provocative, clubby monologue that grabs you from the first frame and closing with the thundering Born Slippy by Underworld, this British druggie saga flirts with trendy drugs like valium and methamphetamine, but it never loses focus on heroin, its villain.
Unapologetically Scottish (the first 20 minutes had to be dubbed for the American release) and filled with poetic visual touches, director Danny Boyle finds fun without losing the story's edge, moving easily between light comic sequences and scenes of horror that will stick with you for years to come.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Originally written to be played by Tom Hanks, the role of a sports agent who found a soul and then lost his job as a consequence was perfect for Tom Cruise, hot off spy-thriller Mission Impossible. A reassuring, soothing balm after the 80s fixation on the ruthless pursuit of wealth, the film was showered with awards nominations, and put Cuba Gooding Jr on the map when he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Rare as a romantic comedy that's both romantic and funny, this feel-good story sneaks up on you, finding its heart in Renée Zellweger, who diffuses any hint of cynicism we might get from Cruise's megawatt grin.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent