ByJack Mitchell, writer at
I'm a student at the University of Sussex, studying Drama and Film. I'm a huge cinephile, watching and discussing a wide variety of cinema
Jack Mitchell

Following my list of The 5 Films That Defined The 2000s, let's take a look at those movies that defined the 1990s. As the 2010s develop without a clear and unique identity, it's interesting to look back at what made previous decades so interesting and of their time. Will the 2000s ever be as distinctive as previous eras? Only time will tell. So, let's put on our nostalgia goggles and have a throwback to the '90s, and reveal what makes a decade stand out.

5. Advancements In Animation — Toy Story

'Toy Story' [Credit: Pixar]
'Toy Story' [Credit: Pixar]

Although 3D CGI animation had its renaissance mainly inside of the 21st century, this revolution of the animated genre began in the late 1990s, namely with Pixar's Toy Story. Pixar's first adventure into feature-length animated territory established them as the benchmark of the genre ever since. Though the quality of Toy Story's animation may now seem commonplace, this was the first seamless example of 3D animation, which has all but replaced hand-drawn animation (for better or for worse) in mainstream cinema.

Considering that Tin Toy, Pixar's 1988 CGI venture with the famously haunting, demonic-looking baby came not even a decade before this film shows how huge a stride this landmark moment truly was. Whether or not you like this style of animation is a purely subjective matter, but one thing is certain: animation will never be the same again. Toy Story has firmly cemented its place in cinematic history.

4. The Grungy, Punk Aesthetic — Clerks

'Clerks' [Credit: Miramax]
'Clerks' [Credit: Miramax]

There tends to be a reinvention of identity following previous decades. People aren't content with sticking to the same old thing and strive for a change in the status quo. So, what was the obvious way to juxtapose the bright optimism of the bubbly and loose disco-driven 1980s? Obviously, to go towards a grungy, downbeat, punky atmosphere and aesthetic. The '90s saw bands like Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains come to prominence in popular culture.

Kevin Smith's Clerks, as well as being evidence of a surge in the popularity of low-budget indie cinema, mirrored the '90s grunge aesthetic evident across the board. The slack acting, aimless dialogue, lack of a clear-cut narrative, black and white, and downbeat soundtrack perfectly exemplified this major atmospheric shift. This isn't necessarily "quality cinema," but that isn't the point of this flick. This was a clear rebellion driven by the cinematic and musical form.

3. Race Issues Resurface — American History X

Racism is the American elephant in the room. Prejudice and intolerance have played a huge part in forging the American juggernaut. While we'd like to believe that racism is something we have put behind us, this clearly is not the case. It's alive and kicking, even in the most developed, apparently tolerant countries. Just look at the police brutality directed primarily towards minority groups.

While it was shunned for a while, the issue of attitudes towards race was inevitably brought to the forefront of American politics again in the '90s. There was the Rodney King case, in which King, an African American, was brutally beaten while police officers looked on. There was also the notorious OJ Simpson case, in which OJ, a professional athlete, seemingly murdered his wife, but got away with the crime after the case was made to be about race issues.

America's reevaluation of its horrifically racist past was forced through the emergence of these cases, and American History X, a film all about America's historical guilt and want for change, showed the significance race issues held in the 1990s. This film about a neo-Nazi wanting to alter his views and avoid having the future generations hold the same prejudices is a clear example of film mirroring popular belief. While prejudice is still a major issue, it's an issue people are attempting to address in mainstream culture.

2. The HIV Pandemic — Philadelphia

'Philadelphia' [Credit: TriStar Pictures]
'Philadelphia' [Credit: TriStar Pictures]

There's a strange trend of generations having their defining disease. This generation has seen hysteria directed towards Ebola, and the '90s saw this directed towards HIV. This was a pandemic bathed in mass hysteria. The issue should've been addressed, but instead was shunned due to people's fears. So widespread was this problem that it spawned an entirely new prejudice against the carriers of this disease.

1993's Philadelphia sought to give humanity to and inspire empathy towards sufferers of this illness. Based around a demonized, homosexual lawyer forced out of his job due to his HIV, this tearjerking drama gave a voice to the voiceless and showed that people affected by the disease are still humans. Our lead goes to court over his termination, teaming up with a homophobic lawyer who he eventually wins over. This hysteria reached its fever pitch in the '90s, and Philadelphia emphasizes the general fears and prejudices this illness evoked, and the want many had to properly discuss and resolve this matter. While still a prevalent disease, HIV has seemingly had its time as the most feared illness.

1. The Internet Is Popularized — You've Got Mail

'You've Got Mail' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'You've Got Mail' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

While the internet has never been as influential as it is now, with social media sites like Twitter and Facebook even influencing modern politics, it's easy to forget that it has been around for years. Technically emerging in 1983 in a hugely primitive version, the internet has been developing for years into the widely recognizable form it has taken today.

The '90s saw the first example of the internet, a vital aspect of modern life, influencing the real world. While by no means considered a classic of cinema, 1998's You've Got Mail (Tom Hanks ruled the '90s, eh?), a harmless slice of romantic mediocrity perfectly summarizes the emergence of the internet. Whereas it had previously been a gimmicky tool, the internet began to define relationships and personalities. In the film, our two leads find a spark via their online communications. While this seemed like a ludicrous concept at the time, it's now routine. Every relationship is in some part reliant on internet communications, and people have online personas and invent themselves via social media. This film prophesied the internet's influence and sums up the '90s outlook on this phenomena.

What movies summed up the '90s for you? Let us know in the comments!


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