12/05/2012


Many of the movies we enjoy today could not have existed without these films.

Above Image: Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park (1993)

Every decade has a set of movies that define it's time and a generation. The 90s were an amazing time in U.S. history and a decade that led to a revolution in the film industry.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) 
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What it's About
 Directed by James Cameron, Terminator 2 is the sequel to the wildly popular Schwarzenegger film Terminator (1984) about a cyborg sent back in time to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance. In the second film, Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) is in a mental institution and John (Edward Furlong) is in a foster home when two Terminators come back in time. One, a metal shape shifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is coming to kill them, while the other (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is coming to protect them. The battle escalates when Sarah and John set out to prevent SkyNet's attack on humanity and stop nuclear war.
Why it’s Important
The sequel transforms the character of Sarah Connor from the "damsel-in-distress" in Terminator to a fiercely independent warrior in the second.  The image of the T-1000 melting and reforming has entered pop culture and been used by everyone from the parody film Hot Shots: Part Deux to Simpsons. Besides bringing the image of the metal melting man into popular culture, the movie was a landmark moment in special effects. The first fully realized computer generated actor. The budget was an unheard of $93 million, much of which went to the special effects. At the time Tron (1984) was the only film to use CGI extensively and Terminator 2 led to the revolution in the technology that we see today. While this film was a technical achievement, the next film is just so well known it stands in history.

Total Recall (1990)
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What it’s About
A construction worker, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), obsessed with going to Mars, decides to go for a virtual vacation at the company Recall that implants false memories. During the process they discover that he really is a secret agent with false memories making him a construction worker. Or is he? Quaid is chased from Earth to Mars to discover the secrets hidden in his own mind. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, it was widely recognized for its over-the-top violence and action.
Why it’s Important
The movie stands as one of the few successful adaptations of a Philip K. Dick story grossing over $261 million.  Film scholar William Buckley called it better than Paycheck and Imposter. The movie spawned a short lived TV series called Total Recall 2070 in 1999 and an unsuccessful reboot in 2012. It's one of the last Hollywood films to use live action miniatures instead of CGI. Besides being a hallmark moment in film history, the script written for a sequel was based on another Philip K. Dick story. While Total Recall 2 was never made, eventually the script gave us the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. The next cinematic gem drives people crazy. Literally.

The Truman Show (1998)
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What it’s About
A mild mannered man named Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) unknowingly lives in a giant movie set surrounded by actors, including his wife (Laura Linney) and best friend (Noah Emmerich). As he slowly comes to realize his situation, he fights to break free. While the show producers, led by Christof (Ed Harris), try to keep him on the show.
Why it’s Important
This film has several interesting influences. The most interesting is that it spawned a psychological condition: "Truman Syndrome." The paranoid delusion that the afflicted are the unwitting star of a TV show and everyone around them are actors. The next movie actually influenced television.

Stargate (1993)
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What it's About
Daniel Jackson (James Spader), an Egyptologist and a group of soldiers, led by Colonel O'Neil (Kurt Russell), travel to a far off planet through a portal known as "The Stargate." There they find an alien king, known only as Ra, has influenced Egyptian culture on Earth and the planet. The group fights Ra, and his warriors, to free the people and return home.
Why it’s Important
The movie spawned a TV series, Stargate SG-1, which is was the longest running science-fiction series ever made. It had two spin-offs (Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate Universe). It also revitalized the career of former MacGyver actor Richard Dean Anderson. Speaking of revitalized careers, what about this next picture had an impact on several prominent careers.

12 Monkeys (1995)
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What it's About
Directed by Terri Gilliam, the movie is about a future ruined by a plague. A prisoner (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to find out the cause of the viral outbreak and help find a cure. As he bounces back and forth in time, he discovers that the secrets of the plague go deeper than he could have imagined.
Why it’s Important
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam has a handful of brilliant films, and this one of his greatest works. While it wasn't a commercial success, because of its non-linear format and "confusing" plot, it gained critical acclaim and is a cult classic.  It was a turning point in Brad Pitt's career too. He was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the insane mental patient Jeffrey Goines. An insane visual was tattooed into pop culture with the next flick.

Independence Day (1996)
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What it’s About
When a superior alien force devastates the Earth, it’s up to a soldier, a scientist, the President and a group of rebels find a way to destroy the aliens and drive them from Earth.
Why it’s Important
The film was an unqualified success and break several box office records. It single handedly proved the success of large scale disaster films and brought a new wave of science fiction films like Armageddon (1998) and 2012 (2009). The image of the alien ship destroying the White House has come to symbolize alien invasions. The next movie brought us the image of a cup of water to symbolize a dinosaur attack.

Jurassic Park (1993)
What it’s About
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park is about a group of scientists (Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum) and children (Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello) that travel to a mysterious island owned by an eccentric billionaire. John Hammond (David Attenborough) is using genetic engineering to create a zoo out of cloned dinosaurs. When the park is sabotaged, they have to fight for survival and escape from the island's terrifying inhabitants.
Why it’s Important
Jurassic Park set a record with its $900 million worldwide gross making it the highest grossing film over E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It won Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing, Editing and Visual Effects. The film also spawned two sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001). It's most significant influence was in the use of computer imagery to create some of the dinosaurs. The movie has become a bridge between the uses of animatronic robots to computer generated creatures. George Lucas said, while watching the CGI demos, "It was like one of those moments in history, like the invention of the light bulb or the first telephone call. A major gap had been crossed, and things were never going to be the same." He was right. It may even have led Lucas to make the Star Wars films in, mostly, CGI. The film changed the way movies are made and things have never been the same. We've never been the same since seeing this next movie.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
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What it’s About
In the eighth feature film in the Star Trek science fiction franchise the Borg have conquered Earth. The crew of the USS Enterprise x travel back in time to the 21st century to stop them from changing history.
Why it’s Important
Star Trek: First Contact is the first Trek film to feature no cast members from the original Star Trek television series of the 1960s. This was a big gamble at the time since the original series had legions of die-hard fans. It's also the first appearance of the Borg in the movies and tells the story of Earth's first warp drive flight. First Contact is one of the most highly rated of the Star Trek films. Movie critic James Berardinelli said, "It has single-handedly revived the Star Trek movie series, at least from a creative point-of-view." The next flick showcased another creative point-of-view from a "new" film-maker.

Mimic (1996)
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What it’s about
 In New York, giant genetically engineered insects that mimic people begin a reign of terror underground. The scientist along with others try to find a way to destroy them before they surface and destroy humanity.
Why it’s Important
While the movie was not a commercial success, it stands out as  Hispanic director Guillermo Del Toro's first Hollywood film and shares many of Toro's trademarks.  It proved the director could make a mainstream English film and led to his landmark films like the award winning Pan's Labyrinth (2006). The director has said it shares his love of insects, the unborn and dark places. Speaking of dark places. They don't get much darker than this next movie.

Dark City (1996)
What it’s About
A man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a hotel room with no memory and finds a murdered woman in the next room. As he does to find his identity he’s pursued by police inspector Bumstead (William Holden) and mysterious men called "The Strangers."
Why it’s Important
While writer\director Alex Proyas’ movie was not a commercial success, it's been praised for its film noir style and stunning visuals. Film critic Roger Ebert lists it as one of his "Great Films" and uses it in his film teaching classes. Often compared with The Matrix for it's themes of finding yourself in an unreal world, it stands on its own as a piece of cinematic history. 1995 brought us another piece of cinematic history. Unfortunately.

Waterworld (1995)
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What it’s About
In a post-apocalyptic world the polar ice caps have melted and the world's oceans have flooded the Earth, covering most of the dry land. Humanity lives in floating cities on the ocean. A mysterious stranger, known as The Mariner (Kevin Costner), along with Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola a young girl (Tina Majorino) go on a quest for the mythical "Dryland" being chased by Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and the murderous gang known as "Smokers."
Why it’s Important 
 Costing $172 million to make, it’s widely regarded as one of the most expensive flops ever made. It only made $80 million at the U.S. box office. This was a huge sum back then. Even now, if you adjust for inflation, it's the most expensive box office failure ever. From its massive life size sets that moved to avoid boats or planes in the background, the hurricane that destroyed a multi-million dollar set and director Kevin Reynolds leaving before the film was done, the film was a budgetary disaster. The cost overruns affected the budgets of several other films Universal was making as well. While the film itself is not terrible, it has become a symbol of failure with its massive cost overruns, over ambitious plot and the general overconfidence of actor/producer Kevin Costner.

Gattaca (1996)
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What it’s about
Written and directed by Andrew Niccols, Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) lives in a world where pre-birth genetic testing and manipulation leads to a world  separated by those deemed defective (invalids) and perfect (valid). When Freeman uses Jerome Eugene Morrow's (Jude Law) genetic material to impersonate him and fulfill his dream to become an astronaut he unwittingly becomes the target of a murder investigation. The murder investigation threatens to reveal him and destroy his budding romance to a fellow “Valid.”
The Influence
The movie didn't make much at the box office, but it is critically acclaimed.  Roger Ebert  called it "one of the smartest and most provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas." Beyond that, it has become vital in the discussion about the social effects of genetic testing and eugenics. Lee M. Silver, a prominent molecular biologist said, "Gattaca is a film that all geneticists should see if for no other reason than to understand the perception of our trade held by so many of the public-at-large." The next film is one every sci-fi fan has seen and loved.

Galaxy Quest (1999)
What it’s About
A group of washed up actors from an old science fiction show "Galaxy Quest" (Tim Allen Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Daryl Mitchell, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub) are taken into space by aliens who believed the show was historical and need them to fight an evil alien warlord.
Why it’s Important
Although it was made as a parody of Star Trek and Trek fandom, it was done with such love that it's been embraced by science fiction fans. J.J. Abrams, who directed the Star Trek 2008 film, calls Galaxy Quest the "greatest 'Star Trek' film ever made." 1999 brought us a movie that was also made with love and changed the way science-fiction treats action films.

The Matrix (1999)
What it’s About
A man named Thomas "Neo" Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is taken by a group of mysterious strangers that exhibit superhuman abilities. They reveal to him that the world he lives in is a computer program run by sentient machines. He and the others, led by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishbourne) fight the "Agents" to free the people and being down the virtual world called "The Matrix."
Why it’s Important
The Wachowskis refined action films by blending American film making with Asian fight choreography.  Thanks to The Matrix, wirework went mainstream. Often used in Asian cinema, the technique found its way into films like X-Men and more. Plus, many film making techniques of Asian directors like John Woo found their way into American films. Techniques like slow motion, spinning cameras, dual guns and the so called "bullet time" have become common place thanks to the Matrix. While lots of people enjoyed The Matrix, many are deeply divided over the next movie.

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
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What it’s About
Two Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), go to resolve a trade dispute and flee to the planet Naboo. There they meet Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and, along with a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), fight the evil Trade Federation and their mysterious leader and Sith assassin.
Why it’s Important
The first Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi (1983). To say reviews are mixed is an understatement. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times called it "an astonishing achievement in imaginative filmmaking." Actor Ewan McGregor said The Phantom Menace lacked some of the "humor and colour" of the forthcoming prequels and was "kind of flat." But its effect on the world of cinema is undeniable. It's the last Star Wars filmed in 35mm. The other two prequels were made using high definition digital cameras. Episode I is ground-breaking in its use of CGI and digital sets with several original computer programs created just for the film. What makes it most notable is that it led to the animated series Star Wars: The Clone War and created whole new generations of Star Wars fans. Speaking of new generations.


Star Trek: Generations (1994)
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What it's About
When the Enterprise is sent to escort two survivors from an energy ribbon called the "Nexus" and discover a plan that threatens to destroy the universe.
Why it’s Important
This is the first film to feature the cast from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there’s something else that makes this movie influential. Today websites promoting films are common, but this is the first website used by Hollywood. It was a huge success. The site was visited millions of times by Americans even though only an estimated one million people had Internet access.  This led to using the Internet as a key method of marketing in the film industry today.

Honorable Mentions
  • Being John Malkovich (1998)

Updated: Thanks to Lis, Tony and David

Do you have any memories of the movies in the list? What do you think are the most important movies of the 90s?

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24 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

I don't think Kevin Costner learned anything from "Waterworld" because right after that he did "The Postman" which was also a huge dud.


Dark City is one of those underrated movies. It's so cool how the aliens stop everything in the city and then change things around just to see what happens. Plus it has a young Jennifer Connolly in it. Yeah, baby.

Melissa Bradley said...

I agree with most of these, but I don't consider Truman sci fi. It's simply drama with an extreme reality show spin. I liked it but it was a film crew using everyday f/x. They didn't break any new ground within the film or even develop a Twilight Zone like feel. It's just intriguing drama to me.



Phantom Menace should be struck from the minds of the collective consciousness of the world. LOL Sorry, but nothing about that film or any of the subsequent SW films is worthy of anything. They ruined the true Star Wars. ;)

Colin "Fitz" Biggs said...

I haven't seen Gattaca yet, every time I've heard it mentioned, it's been the butt of a joke. Good to hear that it has a cult following.

Michael Abayomi said...

Awesome list. Especially loved Mimic, and of course, The Matrix. Haven't seen The Truman Show, up till now. Really need to do something about that one of these days.

David Black said...

"Stargate SG-1, which is the longest running science-fiction series ever made"

Doctor Who?

I'd probably have gone for Buffy The Vampire Slayer over Stargate, and included Being John Malkovich

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

We certainly got a lot in the 1990's!
Certainly agree with Jurassic Park, T2, and the Matrix. And while the movie Stargate was rather lame, it spawned two of the best series ever created.
And of course, I'm partial to any Star Trek movie, and that include Galaxy Quest.

Tom Badguy said...

wOOt for Stargate!

Tony Laplume said...

The Truman Show was released in 1998, Star Trek in 2009. Otherwise pretty interesting survey. I forgot that about Generations.

Tony Laplume said...

It's fantastic. Any jokes are made strictly at the joker's expense.

S. L. Hennessy said...

This is a phenomenal list. I seriously think these are some of the best sci-fi movies ever made (excluding of course, those that came before like The Terminator and Alien).

Maurice Mitchell said...

Glad you liked the list S.L. Good point. The 90s were a great time for sequels.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good catch Tony. I'll fix it tomorrow. I forgot Star Trek began in 2009 with Chris Pine. ;)

Maurice Mitchell said...

Woot woot!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Woot woot!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Interestingly Alex I loved the movie and didn't care for the show. But that's mainly because I find ancient Egypt fascinating.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I forgot they overtook it in the Guinness book of world records. I'll fix that. Being John Malkovich is a brilliant film.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Colin, I'd love to hear those jokes. It's a very moving film.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Truman show was borderline Melissa. Thanks for catching that. ;) I call it sci fi since it would be impossible to make a movie set that big and complicated.
I'm not a huge SW1 fan, but it's hard to deny it was an important film. If nothing else it gives geeks something to argue about.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Pat, you are right that Costner learned nothing. Dark City is very underrated. Yeah baby indeed.

Lis said...

My only problem is Schwarzenegger was *Douglas* Quaid in Total Recall. Dennis Quaid is the guy who was married to Meg Ryan.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good catch Liz. Although a Roadhouse Total Recall mashup would be awesome.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Great film indeed Michael. The scene with the Charles Dutton still chokes me up.

Melissa Bradley said...

"gives geeks something to argue about." LOL too true.

Nigel Mitchell said...

'Buffy' wasn't sci-fi, it was fantasy.

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