Following my list of The 5 Films That Defined The 2000s, let’s take a look at those movies which defined the 1990s. As the 2010s develop, without a seemingly clear and unique identity, it’s interesting to look back at what made previous decades so interesting and of their time. So, let’s put on our nostalgia goggles and have a throwback to the 90s.

Advancements in animation


Although 3D CGI animation has had its renaissance mainly inside of the 21st century, this revolutionisation of the animated genre began in the late 1990s, namely with Pixar’s Toy Story. Pixar’s first adventure into feature length animated territory has 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 baby, came not even a decade before this film shows how huge a stride this was. Whether or not you like this style of animation is purely subjective, but one thing is certain: animation will never be the same again. Toy Story has firmly cemented its place in cinematic history.

The grungy, punk aesthetic


There tends to be a reinvention of identity following previous decades. People aren’t content with the same old thing, which once seemed so cool, and therefore strive for change. So, what was the obvious way to juxtapose the bright optimism of the bubbly and loose disco-driven 1980s? Well, 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. 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. 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. This was a rebellion driven by the cinematic and musical form.

Race issues again take the limelight

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Racism is the American elephant in the room. From the invention of America to the prosperity built, prejudice and intolerance have played a huge part in forging the American juggernaut. Whilst 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. Whilst it was shunned for a while, the issue of attitudes towards race was inevitably brought to the forefront of American politics again. There was the Rodney King case, in which King, an African American, was brutally beaten whilst police officers looked on. There was also the notorious OJ Simpson case, in which OJ, a major professional sportsman, 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. Whilst prejudice is still a major issue, it’s an issue people are attempting to address in mainstream culture.

The HIV pandemic


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 demonised homosexual lawyer, forced out of his job due to his HVI, 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 sacking, teaming up with a homophobic lawyer who he eventually wins over. This hysteria reached its fever pitch in the 90s, and Philadelphia emphasises the general fears and prejudices this illness evoked, and the want many had to properly discuss and resolve this matter. Whilst still a prevalent disease, HIV has seemingly had its time as the most feared illness.

The Internet is popularised

You've Got Mail

Whilst 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 recognisable form it has taken today. The 90s saw the first example of the internet, a vital aspect of modern life, influencing the real world. Whilst 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 summarises 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. Whilst at the time this seemed like a ludicrous concept, 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.