The 90s weren't *all* grunge...
May 15, 2008 4:31 PM   Subscribe

What movie defines the 90s?

It seems like at least once a decade, there's a hugely successful movie that taps into the contemporary social zeitgeist that shapes a large part of how people remember an era. Back to the Future in the 80s. Saturday Night Fever in the 70s. Easy Rider in the 60s. Rebel Without a Cause in the 50s.

What film will future generations look at and say "Now that was the 90s"?
posted by I EAT TAPAS to Media & Arts (93 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Pulp Fiction
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:34 PM on May 15, 2008 [7 favorites]

Wayne's World
posted by Frasermoo at 4:34 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Singles? Although not my fave cup of tea, the grunge movement did make an impact.
posted by davebush at 4:37 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wayne's World was my first thought as well. It absolutely defined the early 90s in my world.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:37 PM on May 15, 2008

Forget what I said, Pulp Fiction wins, hands down.
posted by davebush at 4:38 PM on May 15, 2008

Empire Records
posted by fire&wings at 4:39 PM on May 15, 2008

Fight Club
posted by telstar at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Pulp Fiction in the US, Trainspotting in the UK.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by proj08 at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Clueless. (sadly.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:42 PM on May 15, 2008

posted by phunniemee at 4:42 PM on May 15, 2008

Reality Bites was my first thought. Pulp Fiction is probably a better answer, though.
posted by naoko at 4:43 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh God, Trainspotting, yes.

Also ... and it pains me to say it ... Reality Bites.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:43 PM on May 15, 2008

Pulp Fiction is right.
posted by AwkwardPause at 4:44 PM on May 15, 2008

Reality Bites.
posted by bondgirl53001 at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2008

Reality Bites.
posted by at 4:46 PM on May 15, 2008

Very Bad Things
posted by TorontoSandy at 4:54 PM on May 15, 2008

Pulp Fiction
posted by griphus at 4:55 PM on May 15, 2008

COOL AS ICE. Nobody every said the 90's were cool. I don't know what the rest of you are thinking. Pulp Fiction took music from earlier decades, the story of trainspotting was based in the 80's, and empire records had renee zellweiger. BLECK. Also, growing up in white suburbia...a movie that defined jr high was Boys in the Hood. So true, so true...
posted by hal_c_on at 4:56 PM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just to be different; The Big Lebowski?
posted by justnathan at 4:58 PM on May 15, 2008

I just watched Hackers, and that screeeaammms 90's.
posted by radioamy at 5:00 PM on May 15, 2008

In the interest of not repeating other people's answers, I'll say that The Matrix closed out the 90's pretty well.
posted by CheshireCat at 5:10 PM on May 15, 2008

Seconding Empire Records.
posted by awesomebrad at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2008


Sorry, it's true.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:12 PM on May 15, 2008

I came in here to say Singles but...

posted by inconsequentialist at 5:13 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe KIDS as well.
posted by inconsequentialist at 5:16 PM on May 15, 2008

Jurassic Park
Forrest Gump
posted by Widepath at 5:18 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more, sorry.

Office Space
posted by inconsequentialist at 5:18 PM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Definitely Reality Bites.
posted by Who_Am_I at 5:19 PM on May 15, 2008

Human Traffic
posted by pompomtom at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just to be a contrarian: Grosse Pointe Blank.

Also: Until the End of the World. One of the finest, most unheralded sci-fi films ever made...
posted by Chrischris at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

sorry, Reality Bites - early 90s. Human Traffic - late 90s.
posted by pompomtom at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2008

Another vote for Empire Records.
posted by jmd82 at 5:23 PM on May 15, 2008

Nthing Clueless.
posted by hjo3 at 5:26 PM on May 15, 2008

Loved the 90's. Thought Pulp Fiction a very mixed bag and hated The Matrix.

Can't think of an 'iconic' film for the nineties and think that that speaks for just how good a decade it was. Undefined. A place where things happened mostly unnoticed. The demise of imposed mainstream culture.

posted by Sitegeist at 5:27 PM on May 15, 2008

Someone sort of touched on the point already, but the examples from the previous decades all featured music from their respective eras pretty prominently. So, yet to be mentioned:

Terminator 2

...and I'm going to throw Do the Right Thing in there, even though Chuck D's voice is featured very prominently saying "1989" - for the same reason The Matrix really belongs in this decade, regardless of release date.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:29 PM on May 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding, not without regret, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix and Titanic.
posted by box at 5:32 PM on May 15, 2008

Definitely Office Space and the Big Lebowski. Pulp Fiction, I think, will define cinema in the '90s, but I think the two films I mentioned are a better reflection of the 'contemporary social zeitgeist' in the 90s.
posted by mullacc at 5:34 PM on May 15, 2008

I'll add The Fugitive.
posted by shadow vector at 5:35 PM on May 15, 2008

I'm assuming you want movies that have a very '90's "period feel" to them, so I'll say:

For depicting urban strife: Boyz N the Hood.
For Sci-Fi/Action: Terminator 2
And hell yes, The Big Lebowski.
posted by krippledkonscious at 5:40 PM on May 15, 2008

contemporary social zeitgeist movie is definitely reality bites.

bad ass movie from the 90s that kinda defined 90s movies is the matrix or pulp fiction. but neither of those really embraces the feel of what it was like to be alive in the 90s.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:40 PM on May 15, 2008

to qualify I think the movie has to live in the times, the fashion, the economy, etc.

Pulp Fiction is a too bit timeless -- and/or retro -- to qualify.

Office Space is solidly fixed in the late 90s. -- InitTech, Y2K issue, etc.
posted by tachikaze at 5:44 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing Pulp Fiction.

But I'll offer another which will more starkly reflect what has changed between 90s/00s. For it's treatment of geopolitics and outmoded action filmmaking, I nominate The Peacemaker.
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:45 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have to second Fight Club.

It's hard to argue against most of the suggestions here, though.
posted by dogwalker at 5:45 PM on May 15, 2008

oh, I forgot:

"PC LOAD LETTER? WTF does that mean?"
posted by tachikaze at 5:47 PM on May 15, 2008

Was going to second Clerks. But maybe N^th Office Space. It's hard to pick one movie. The end of the Cold War and 9/11 aside, you could just as easily group 85-95 and 95-05 together as you could 80-90 and 90-00.

Anywho, I would also vote against Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, and Titanic. To me, the question seems to be asking something like "what movie gives a definitive depiction of life in the 90s". Titanic fails, obviously. The Matrix could, I guess. And just as much as Back to the Future does of the 80s. So maybe I take that back. And I don't think Pulp Fiction does either. It has that whole retro aesthetic that often overshadows contemporary stylings in the movie. Sure, these are all movies that people went nuts of in the 90s, which can be telling in its own right, but my understanding of the question is that the movies themselves should give some representation of the decade.

In other words, what mullacc said.

There are some other movies people mentioned that I would vote against on the same grounds. Forrest Gump, although I do get a thoroughly nineties vibe from it, despite the events of the film spanning the 50s-90s. Jurassic Park. This gives a good nineties vibe too, but watching it, I still find the dinosaurs grabbing my attention more than the nineties-ness of it.

And to add a movie that came just a bit too late, High Fidelity. It was probably/maybe filmed in '99. The book was written in '95. It's sort of on the cusp, but a good candidate otherwise.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:50 PM on May 15, 2008

Kicking and Screaming
Ditto Clerks, Fight Club, Grosse Point Blanke, Office Space.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:51 PM on May 15, 2008

Come to think of it more, I really want to push High Fidelity, despite it being made in 2000. In fact, that may make it an even stronger candidate to represent The 90's, and not just a-part-of-the-90s.

I feel it definitely captures the whole slacker, gen X theme very well. But at the same time, it doesn't have a thoroughly early 90's feel like many other "slacker" movies. And at the conclusion, it shows what happens after one ends their slacker gen X phase and movies into the Real World. It sort of nicely sums of the 90's/gen X thing.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:55 PM on May 15, 2008

Tough question, but I think Office Space wins. Downsizing/evil corporate HR, rise of technology and ensuing backlash, soulless chain restaurants, mainstreaming of rap music, litigious society (the guy who gets the accident settlement)--what more do you want? (Well, grunge/"alternative" is missing, but I can't think of anything else.)
posted by equalpants at 5:58 PM on May 15, 2008


Benny & Joon
Space Jam
Beavis & Butt-Head Do America
Pretty Woman
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:01 PM on May 15, 2008

Singles and Reality Bites for the first half of the 90s, Office Space for the last half.

Draw the line in spring 1994, if you like.
posted by holgate at 6:03 PM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Pulp Fiction is a too bit timeless -- and/or retro -- to qualify.

That's a perfectly valid point. Pulp Fiction was not about the 90s in the same way Reality Bites, Office Space and Grosse Pointe Blank were. So it depends on how you define the question.

I'll counter that what made Pulp Fiction memorable, though, was that its presentation style was the apotheosis of 90s art:

* Fast-talking, literate, yet low-class characters
* Heavy emphasis on wordplay
* Fractured timelines
* Stylized violence
* "Classic" reverence for and presentation of actors/music that are not actually classic (Travolta?)
* Heavy, heavy borrowing of themes and shots (the video store geek cred of Tarantino, and besides, what was grunge if not a shout-out to 70s guitar rock?)

This is what makes the 90s, art-wise. If someone asks, what was 90s art, you'd point to Pulp Fiction. If you ask, what were the 90s like, you'd point elsewhere.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2008 [6 favorites]

Draw the line in spring 1994, if you like.

So, like April 8, 1994, for example?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2008

What about Scream? Like Pulp Fiction it captures the ironic, pop-culture-obsessed vibe of the 90s perfectly.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:09 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

inconsequentialist mentioned Office Space and it immediately clicked to me. nthing that.
posted by lilac girl at 6:10 PM on May 15, 2008

Big Lebowski
Office Space
The Professional
posted by iamabot at 6:15 PM on May 15, 2008

Ok, but Red Dawn is the 80's.
posted by iamabot at 6:15 PM on May 15, 2008

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
posted by nowonmai at 6:25 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

From IMDB's All Time Box Office List:

5. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
12. Jurassic Park (1993)
16. Forrest Gump (1994)
17. The Lion King (1994)
25. Independence Day (1996)
27. The Sixth Sense (1999)
32. Home Alone (1990)
44. Men in Black (1997)
46. Toy Story 2 (1999)
50. Twister (1996)

So, let me be the first to say that box office receipts have nothing to do with capturing the zeitgeist of the decade. Many of those movies are set in different places and/or times so don't even really count towards what you're asking. The movies you mention were all set in the present day when they were released and, if you substituted a John Hughes movies for Back to the Future, all reflect the nature of life at that time (I would have chosen Pretty in Pink or Breakfast Club for the 80's movie. Or Working Girl, which has not aged very well. Those computers! Secretaries!) Also, all the movies you mention generally star young characters that are part of a sub- or counter-culture that would later on break out and become part of the overall zeitgeist. They're all stories of alienation on some level. And they're generally not sci-fi or action flicks which removes most of the biggest/most memorable movies of the 90's.

I'm not sure if any movie in the 90's really ever did what the movies you mention did. Certainly there were great movies made in the 90's but when you look back in hindsight very few seem to really have the same "dating" as Saturday Night Fever or Pretty in Pink, both of which couldn't really be set at any other time. In those movies, the fashions and music were as much of a character as any of the people. Additionally, movies became a little more backward looking in the 90's - you got films like Forrest Gump which is basically boomer "best years of my life" porn and Austin Powers where the hero is a guy from the past. Wayne's World, like a lot of Mike Myers' stuff, is also really set more in the 80's than in the 90's - it's basically his teenage years in Scarbourough souped up with Tia Carrera.

Office Space is as good a choice as any for the 90's as would be anything by Kevin Smith, like Clerks or Chasing Amy. If there was a "grunge movie" it would probably be Clerks.

You had Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction which were great films and definitely made him one of the hottest directors of the decade, but did either of them really capture the real zeitgeist of the decade? I would say no - they were as cool and stylized as we wish we could have been, but they don't resonate with any real underlying people like Easy Rider or Saturday Night Fever did.

The 90's was when CGI techniques really broke out and I think that it sort of coloured the whole decade for filmmakers. There were probably some great dramas that really captured the spirit of the day but I think they got eaten by dinosaurs. And then sliced up by a dude with a double-ended lightsaber. Before being dissed by Will Smith. And smacked by Macauly Culkin. And then getting sucked up in a tornado. (Seriously, how did Twister make so much money? What a stinker!) The film you're asking for may simply not exist - although I'm not that much of a film buff and I would be glad to be corrected.
posted by GuyZero at 6:47 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Argh - having re-read the comments, it seems anything with John Cusack is a good candidate - either Grosse Point Blank or High Fidelity. I would say that High Fidelity has many of the same characteristics as the movies you mention - character-driven, reflects some of the social issues of the day indirectly and it dates itself slightly; the mixtape was a late 80's/90's phenomenon.
posted by GuyZero at 6:50 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reality Bites.
posted by jayder at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2008

slacker (the original 1991 one not Slackers from 2002) defined the decade

but pulp fiction is the more obvious one
posted by beckish at 7:09 PM on May 15, 2008

slacker (the original 1991 one not Slackers from 2002) defined the decade

Good one.
posted by jayder at 7:11 PM on May 15, 2008

Seconding Hackers for capturing the '90s smart-drinking cyber-cheese craze. Of course, I have to second The Matrix as the logical successor for the late '90s/early '00s.

Also, American Beauty.
posted by whitelight at 7:59 PM on May 15, 2008

singles and reality bites.

others under the radar but certainly of their time: the crow, bullworth, boyz 'n the hood, sneakers, before sunrise, benny & joon, and yes, basic instinct.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:17 PM on May 15, 2008

posted by iamabot at 9:03 PM on May 15, 2008

Reality Bites, most definitely. It's the movie most Gen-Xers can relate best to, n'est-ce pas?

(It's got a pretty great soundtrack, too)
posted by Mael Oui at 9:19 PM on May 15, 2008

Alas, Say Anything was released in 1989. Just missed the cutoff.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:23 PM on May 15, 2008

Son in Law
posted by Demogorgon at 9:28 PM on May 15, 2008

Oh wanted hugely successful movies. Sorry.
posted by Demogorgon at 9:30 PM on May 15, 2008

This one's been eating me up inside, so to speak: Silence of the Lambs

The Crow

I thought about Fargo but the 80's-ish setting and story line may leave it out on the view of some.

You could probably throw Scream in there as well.
posted by inconsequentialist at 9:50 PM on May 15, 2008

Best answer: I'm going to go counterintuitive here. This movie summed up the 90s in that:

1) it was not serious. The 90s was perhaps the most unserious decade in American history.
2) it centered around yuppies. Yuppies may have surfaced in the 80s, but the 90s was their decade
3) it had a decidedly anti-corporate message. The 80s gave us Wall Street ("Greed is Good"); the 90s rebelled -- yuppies embraced the BoBo lifestyle and we saw a slew of movies that had corporations as the enemy or that embraced the notion that capitalism was unfulfilling -- Fight Club, The Insider, City Slickers, The Firm and Philadelphia come to mind.
4) it's plot revolved around technology. The 90s were the dot-com decade.
5) it was awful. The downside of the dotcom decade -- the Internet was hyped to no end and disappointed many people once they realized its limitations.
6) it starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The actor and actress who are iconic of the 90s.

That last one should have given it away. You've Got Mail captured the 90s better than any other film. You've Got Mail is a bland Hollywood movie about how bad bland corporate-mono-megaculture is. And much like the Internet, the movie was hyped to no end: it was a can't miss -- Tom Hanks! Meg Ryan! Nora Ephron! And if that doesn't convince you, most of the movie takes place either online, in bookstores or in coffee shops, for goodness sake!

Runners up:
Thelma and Louise: feminism, suicide and Brad Pitt.
Jerry McGuire: narcissism, materialism, Tom Cruise, a woman with low self-esteem falling for a jerk
posted by odragul at 9:57 PM on May 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'll see your You've Got Mail and raise you Sleepless in Seattle. I didn't want to go there initially, but it is a 90's classic and the blueprint for YGM. When Harry Met Sally would be in there too if it had come out one year later. Done now. The nostalgia is killing me.
posted by inconsequentialist at 10:06 PM on May 15, 2008

The Matrix, Office Space, and Fight Club all came out in 1999. That's more post-90's than generation defining. How can it define a generation if it came out when the decade was already over? Wayne's World and Trainspotting on the other hand is really more 80's... take a look at the soundtracks, there are no 90's bands on there.

Pulp Fiction is getting better, but for me an era is defined by the people who are of high school or college age during that period, Pulp Fiction seems to consist of an older cast, retro music, more of a older vibe. Reality Bites is pretty close, Hackers I agree with.

Clerks is getting better. Maybe Mallrats instead. Empire Records I have to concur. My vote though goes for Richard Linklater: Suburbia or (less so) Slacker. Might not be the best movies ever made, but they do a better job at characterizing the 90's.
posted by sophist at 10:11 PM on May 15, 2008

"Wall Street" & the Greed is Good thing. Forecast for the 1990s......

Otherwise, I'd nth High Fidelity
posted by Rumple at 10:34 PM on May 15, 2008

So, like April 8, 1994, for example?

Well, that would be too obvious.

I'm going to throw in Strange Days, because it's a mid-90s film speculating on late-90s millennialism with soon-to-be-obsolete technology -- minidiscs, anyone? Not hugely successful, though.

I think Cool Papa Bell has a very good point: if you're looking for the film equivalent of David Carson's Ray Gun, then Pulp Fiction has plenty going for it. So does Aronofsky's π, except that that's a cultish film that doesn't carry its time of making around with it.

But there's definitely a point of cleavage around 1994-5 -- not a coincidence, I think, that it came around the time that people started to become aware of the internets. (The technology, along with the MP3 player, that made the 1999 of Strange Days dated by comparison with the real thing. Anyone want to buy a minidisc walkman?)
posted by holgate at 11:18 PM on May 15, 2008

Reality Bites.
posted by meerkatty at 11:58 PM on May 15, 2008

The Big Lebowski was the best 70's movie made in any decade.
posted by telstar at 3:49 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Matrix, Office Space, and Fight Club all came out in 1999. That's more post-90's than generation defining. How can it define a generation if it came out when the decade was already over?

Might I remind you that Woodstock, Manson, Nixon as prez, Chicago riots, Jimi all manifested in the last couple years of the 1960's?
posted by telstar at 3:52 AM on May 16, 2008

No PCU? It's got identity politics, casual pot use, a little grunge, and a lot of George Clinton.
posted by Alison at 5:49 AM on May 16, 2008

I was going to say Scream, but burnmp3s beat me to it.

I have to say, for the 80's I'd definitely pick Ferris Bueller (although BTTF is a close second).
posted by jluce50 at 7:20 AM on May 16, 2008

...It may be too soon to tell, actually. Picking "the iconic movie of" a decade means that you first have to figure out what the zeitgeist of that decade was first, and that kind of thing takes some distance to suss out; we may not be quite there yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:12 AM on May 16, 2008


I know. It's tv. But THAT was the entertainment that defined the 90s. The 90s had Must-See-TV Thursdays and it started with Friends and ended with ER. Friends had an insane impact on people. Coffee shops, haircuts, clothing, furniture from Pottery Barn. I read recently that after the Rachel character named her baby Emma, that name went up in popularity in the US like 400%.

The 90s were when movies kind of traded soul for CGI. That's why we got Independence Day and Jurassic Park. When you look back at the 60s, you might think Easy Rider. For the 80s, it was Back to the Future. Fine. But seriously, who looks back at the 90s and thinks Reality Bites? If that's the film that defined the 90s.... That's pretty weak. I say Friends.

And I hate Friends. But I don't hate the 90s.
posted by nushustu at 8:27 AM on May 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

And one other thing: Friends was sort of a last-gasp network TV thing. Friends was the last major network hit before the Sopranos came along, and that changed everything. It could be argued that, for the oughts - the film that represents the decade will be another tv show, but something of actual quality, because tv is in a golden age right now. Part of this I think can be traced back to the world wide web, and the idea in general that consumers don't have to put up with crappy network tv anymore. Friends was kind of the last hugely successful classical sitcom. And by classical, I mean the ones w/ proscenium sets, laugh tracks, and mostly non-continuous storylines. Certainly there have been others since then, but nobody talks about them around the water cooler.

It seems to me that this defines the 90s. It was like a bridge decade between the analog world (like Working Girl) and the digital one. And Friends was sort of that bridge entertainment between old tv & movies (watched either at the theater or when a network showed it or on vhs!) and the adult stuff we can see now whenever and where ever we want.

Sorry for the rambling. Back to work for me.
posted by nushustu at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

For me, Trainspotting. But I was a student in the UK and so prone to that kind of thing.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on May 16, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, great answer, odragul. That's just what I was looking for.

"Wait!" I can hear you all asking, "what about my answer? You're giving the best answer to the You've Got Mail guy, are you serious?"

Well, yeah. Part of what I was looking for -- and perhaps I wasn't clear enough about this -- was a film that not only represented the style and concerns of a decade, but was also widely embraced by the general public within that decade in such a way that it had substantial impact on music, fashions, catch phrases, trends. The Friends comment was a great example of what I was looking for, albeit in a different medium. I'm not sure any of odragul's three quite fit that criterion as much as Back to the Future or Saturday Night Fever do, but they're pretty close -- especially Jerry Maguire, which was a huge cultural moment at the time, although one that seems to have mysteriously passed... along with Cuba Gooding's career.

Office Space. Empire Records. Slacker. Singles. Boyz in the Hood. Reality Bites. Grosse Pointe Blank. Fight Club. Until the End of the World. Great answers as far as movies that reflected the era, but none of those films were really a part of the shared American cultural experience (even if they were popular in certain pockets). In a facile sense, very few people in the US escaped "Show me the money," Huey Lewis' "The Power of Love," John Travolta's moves, etc, while plenty of people (although perhaps not the MetaFilter-reading type) still likely haven't seen or heard references to the above films, and certainly didn't when those films were in theaters. Idiocracy, by way of example, satirically and hilariously reflects the aughts -- but outside of small patches of people, it isn't a cultural phenomenon, even if it's been somewhat popular on DVD.

Pulp Fiction. Big Lebowski. Wayne's World. All were certainly influential on pop culture (although Big Lebowski less so than the other two). Problem is, these films don't reflect the 90s experience at the time they were released. Pulp Fiction was set in that bizarre, hip hybrid of 50s, 60s and 70s cinema that only seems to exist in Quentin Tarantino's head. The Big Lebowski takes place in the 70s world of Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye and the decaying remains of the 60s Googie era. People may have sang Bohemian Rhapsody more often after seeing Waynes World, but the experience of singing it non-ironically in a Pacer before WW came out was something fairly unique to the late 70s or early 80s. Sure, sure, I know, Back to the Future spends quite a bit of its time in the 50s, but it does so specifically to provide contrast to the contemporary experience.

Silence of the Lambs, and Scream are great answers; they come pretty close to what I was looking for, too. Forrest Gump is also a great answer, and certainly was both influencial and was a weird reflection of the 90s, but it spends a bit too much time in the past to be contemporary.

Thanks, everyone. I'll come back in 10 years, and we can do the aughts. ;)
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2008

i still want to vote for Natural Born Killers.
posted by jessica at 3:08 PM on May 16, 2008

I'm not going to knock the debrief, but North America ain't the world.

What was interesting about Singles and Reality Bites for me -- at that age at that time -- was that they had an impact, even though suburban ennui and long-hair-and-plaid-shirt (no-one even called it 'plaid' in Britain) were very foreign.

Then again, I can tell you the first time I stumbled across 'Friends' on the box -- home for the holidays, the first 'Fun Bobby' episode, Monica in the silver party dress on NYE -- so that says something in itself.
posted by holgate at 12:47 AM on May 17, 2008

Another: Higher Learning. Though, after reading TAPAS' last comment, it probably wasn't popular enough.
posted by box at 9:29 AM on May 17, 2008

Picking up on the point made by nushustu about Friends, my wife was recently watching old episodes of Party of Five and I couldn't help but sit down for a moment and revel in the '90's feel of the whole thing! Maybe many old '90's sitcoms feel this way, but PoF made no illusion that it was set in the 90's and I think this comes out when you watch it. So, if I had to vote, I'd say Party of Five, even tho it is a TV show!

(Oh, and reading your debrief, I'd argue that you should replace Back to the Future in your list with something like Breakfast Club. I think the latter gives a much more 80's feel than BTTF, while still being iconic of those John Hughes movies that we all watched at least a few of in the 80's!)
posted by ranglin at 7:40 PM on May 17, 2008

You've Got Mail was part of NO-ONE'S "shared American cultural experience".
posted by misterbrandt at 9:37 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I didn't know non-Americans were disinvited.
posted by pompomtom at 9:46 PM on May 18, 2008

Part of my point is that down the road, if not already, we will look at the sappy, superficial optimism and cheerfulness of the 90s with contempt and/or pity. I didn't pick it because it's a good movie -- I picked it because it embodies all that is wretched about the decade that produced it.

I actually agree that Friends captures the 90s better, wich I think proves my point. You;ve Got Mail pretty closely matches up with Friends -- they're both about the love lives of narcissistic Manhattanites with plenty of money and no real problems.
posted by odragul at 8:31 AM on May 23, 2008

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