I was born in 1982, so I firmly consider myself a child of the 1990s. I was 8 years old when the decade began and passed through grade school and junior high wrapped in the comforting blanket of 1990s music, movies and pop culture.
The early-to-mid-90s were an incredible time to be a kid. In fact, I would argue that they were the best time to be a kid. Unlike today, when it seems that most kids’ amusement comes in the form of in-app purchases, the 90s were the last time that there were multiple chains of brick-and-mortar toy stores filled with physical toys, games and especially action figures that I wanted to own and play with. The impetus behind many of these toy obsessions came directly from the excellent kid-centric TV shows and movies of the time. If you take a look at all the movies that were released in the 1990s, you’ll notice a compelling trend: the kids movies were awesome. There’s a reason so many became instant classics.
Thanks to Buzzfeed and Jimmy Fallon, there is lots of 1990s nostalgia floating around in pop culture today, but I’m proud to say that for me and those my age (sorry, Fallon, you’re 8 years older than me) this nostalgia is not a bandwagon–we were kids at the perfect time, we lived through it and we remember how great it was.
Therefore, I believe that the following list of movies proves without a doubt that my 1990s childhood was the best time to be a child. [Editor’s Note: For the purposes of this list, I’m referring to the years 1990-1996, when I was 8 to 14 years old.] I remember anticipating the release of all of these movies and reading about them in those Movie Facts brochures., seeing them in a theater (at least once) and then later owning merchandise related to most of them. Consumerism at its finest? Perhaps. But also childhood at its finest.
So settle into your seat and let the General Cinema Candy Band lead you back to a simpler time…
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1992)
Our tour begins with a commercial property that would probably survive a nuclear holocaust and leave the cockroaches playing with nunchucks. I was in a mall the other day and saw a green, child-sized Michaelangelo hoodie that I caught myself briefly lamenting my inability to buy and wear. Turtle Power is still going strong! But I digress. Since the TV cartoon series began airing in 1987, I was already primed to see these Heroes in a Half Shell hit the big screen in 1990. The live-action movies–which don’t really hold up very well upon adulthood viewings–did not disappoint at the time. And the sequel perfectly combined two important 1990s touchstones, bad rapping and ninja fighting, in a scene that was almost too awesome to handle. Also, let’s be honest: if not for the Ninja Turtles, there would have been no 3 Ninjas (1992) or many other ninja knockoffs. I look forward to one day taking my own children to see whatever cinematic incarnation of the Ninja Turtles exists at that point. It will be incredibly helpful for playtime purposes that I’m already completely familiar with all the characters and mythology. And we’ll all get hoodies.
9. Hook (1991)
He wasn’t exactly a ninja, but Rufio was still 90s cool. (Admit it, you couldn’t even read his name without “ROO-FEE-OH!” chanting through your head.) Besides, he was the leader of a gang of boys who all lived on their own and did whatever they wanted, ate whatever they wanted and rode around on modified skateboard contraptions. Is there anything more appealing to a 1990s nine-year-old? Well, maybe watching Peter Pan and the Lost Boys have an epic fight with Captain Hook and his pirates. This movie has that, too. It also stars Robin Williams, who was arguably one of the Kids Movie Kings of the 1990s.
8. Jumanji (1995)
Speaking of Robin Williams, let’s talk about Jumanji. Everyone had read the beautifully illustrated children’s book, but this movie effectively translated it to the silver screen with all the ingredients of a classic 1990s kids film: the aforementioned Williams, children in perilous-yet-desirable situations, a youthful Kirsten Dunst, and extensive CGI that doesn’t look that good today. Nevertheless, to this day I still can’t go into any kitchen without thinking about that scene with the monkeys.
7. Toy Story (1995)
Like several of the flicks on this list, I could probably devote an entire blog post to the near perfection of this movie. Pixar has made a lot of cinematic magic, but I don’t think they ever topped this opening effort. Aside from appealing to both kids and adults, it’s one of the best buddy comedies of all time. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are the perfect mismatched duo and almost every line of this movie is quotable. And I could quote it. Even more interestingly, this movie that I am now nostalgically treasuring also made 12-year-old me nostalgic because of some of the old toys and games included in Andy’s toy box. It’s a nostalgic inception!
6. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day–an epic alien invasion/disaster movie that allowed Will Smith to create an action movie star template for himself that would go on to rule many a summer box office–had lots of things to captivate my 13-year-old interests: aliens, spaceship dogfights, Jeff Goldblum one-liners, Will Smith attitude, and extended special effects sequences of things like the White House blowing up. It also has an epic Bill Pullman presidential speech that everyone still likes to share on Facebook on the 4th of July. And, oh yeah, Harry Connick Jr. is in it! Now that everything
old 1990s is new again, there is a Will Smith-less sequel in the works that could supposedly spawn a whole series of movies in the Independence Day universe. I don’t think any of this is exactly necessary. Just watch the original again.
5. The Baseball Fantasies: Rookie of the Year (1993), The Sandlot (1993), Little Big League (1994), Angels in the Outfield (1994)
The early 90s were a great time to be a movie buff and a baseball fan, which worked out well for me–a kid with a growing collection of baseball cards, a blind allegiance to the abysmal-as-usual Chicago Cubs teams of the time, and an interest in playing Little League even though my talent didn’t live up to my enthusiasm for the sport. These four movies, however, allowed me to at least see some great baseball fantasies played out on the big screen: A kid pitcher leads the Cubs to a World Series! A kid inherits the Minnesota Twins and gets to make all the decisions! A kid sees angels that are helping the California Angels to win games and joins the team as a consultant! A group of kids spend the summer playing endless baseball games and engaging in hijinks! I guess these movie producers really understood their audience. As it turns out, not all of these movies are actually good, but The Sandlot was a true classic and another endless source for timeless quotable lines. Mr. Baseball (1992) also came out in this decade, but we won’t talk about that one.
4. The Mighty Ducks (1992) and D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
It’s hard for me to hear the opening claps and stomps of “We Will Rock You” without thinking about The Mighty Ducks. When the first movie came out, I didn’t know anything about hockey. Heck, I still don’t. But it didn’t matter. I knew about teamwork. I knew about guts. I knew about glory. Quack…Quack…QUACK! Sorry, I got carried away there for a second. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Mighty Ducks is that the sequel is arguably better than the original, even though it was clearly just a moneymaking scheme for Disney, as it spawned an actual NHL team. What? There was a third Mighty Ducks movie? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let’s just leave it at D2.
3. Space Jam (1996)
When I wasn’t watching baseball in the early 90s, I was probably watching Michael Jordan dominate the NBA or Bugs Bunny reruns dominating Saturday morning cartoons. Space Jam magically brought the two together, even throwing in a side of Bill Murray and Wayne Knight. This came out around my 14th birthday when I was in 7th grade, and I thought it was the epitome of awesome. Little has changed in that time. Even the opening credits are cool enough for me to embed here. Come on and slam. And welcome to the jam.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)
Don’t you get a thrill just seeing that gate? At last we come to the impetus for this list. With Jurassic World coming out next week, it was a perfect time to revisit what was not only an instant classic, but also one of the greatest movies ever made. If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, Jurassic World-induced nostalgia is already flooding the Interwebs with think pieces about the glory of Isla Nublar.
Life found a way for Steven Spielberg to create a spell-binding world that seamlessly blends incredibly scary and lifelike animatronic dinosaurs with their still-looking-good-today computer-generated counterparts. The suspenseful and often funny script created legendary scenes and beloved characters brought to life by actors who will be forever tied to their roles in this movie. And how could I forget John Williams’ incredible score? Jurassic Park is quite simply a masterpiece. And if Jumanji didn’t give you nightmares about monkeys in the kitchen, this movie’s kitchen-dwelling raptors surely haunted your dreams at some point.
1. The Disney Renaissance
The only reason Jurassic Park doesn’t stand atop this list is because the early 90s also happened to be when the Walt Disney Company released some of its greatest animated features of all time. Their important place as a pop cultural juggernaut cannot be denied or even argued against. The Little Mermaid set the tone in 1989, but Disney’s creative juices reached a fever pitch a few years later with Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). Oh, and let’s not forget about A Goofy Movie (1995).
Once again, I happened to be just the right age that these instant Disney classics were released when I was the target audience. Everyone can claim to love them, but these movies belong to my generation.
Well, that was a fun trip down movie memory lane. If those weren’t enough to prove my point, check out the list of honorable mentions below. Also, feel free to leave a comment with any of your favorites that I might have missed.
Honorable Mentions: Home Alone (1990),Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Beethoven (1992),Newsies (1992), Sister Act (1992) and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Homeward Bound (1993), Cool Runnings (1993), The Santa Clause (1994), Dunston Checks In (1996)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I just realized that Jumanji is streamable on Netflix right now, so I’m going to make some popcorn.