I am a proud Millennial and 90s kid. Growing up I was introduced to film through classics like “The Lion King”, “Toy Story”, “Jurassic Park” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” just to name a few which have all become classics in cinema and landmark movies of the decade. However, these are far from the only films to define the 90s generation as many other nostalgic 90s properties are a little more overlooked today. While the aforementioned movies have stood the test of time as legendary cinematic works that are as respected today as they were back then other films are more nostalgic for those who grew up enjoying them because of their impact at the time even if today they are less respected or even largely ignored except by the most devoted of fans they still serve as flashbacks to a decade gone by. Those are the movies I wanted to tackle today as I took a look back into my childhood and pulled out some of my favorite 90s flicks that I feel represent nostalgia of the decade but aren’t necessarily considered must-watch products as landmark examples of cinema. They’re more a snapshot of 90s culture than anything else. So let’s take a walk down memory lane. These are my picks for the Top 10 Nostalgic 90s Movies.
For this list I took a look at the biggest hits of the 90s and even cult classics that anyone who grew up in that decade would likely see as an important part of their youth even if today those movies are less respected. With that in mind my goal for this list was to put the focus on those movies that 90s kids specifically would see as a callback to their younger days rather than films that were so successful and popular that even today the masses seem to enjoy watching them with as much joy and excitement as those who first saw them in theaters so long ago. These movies had to be RELEASED in the 90s too not just carryovers from the 80s that had a lasting impact of their own.
I chose to leave out holiday specific movies like “Home Alone” and “Hocus Pocus” because they’re relevance has been forced down the throats of the masses so they have extended far beyond simple 90s nostalgia. Also I ignored certain 90s flops like “The Iron Giant” that have since become pop culture staples in their own right and are beloved by the masses more today than they were before.
Remember, this list isn’t the BEST of the 90s, its movies that people like myself would probably remember fondly but others who grew up before or after their peak popularity in that decade would probably overlook or refuse to watch due to their dated presentation or any other factors. For us thought they’re prime examples of what it was like to be a 90s kid.
Obviously because I grew up in the 90s this list is highly subjective, but as usual I’d like to hear from you especially my fellow 90s kids. What 90s movie that time or the masses chose to forget gives you that nostalgic feeling? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
Animal based comedies were a big thing in the 90s but the one that arguably set the bar for these films was “Beethoven”. Release in 1992, this family comedy focused on a St. Bernard dog named after the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven who is adopted by the Newton family. Beethoven turns out to be quite the troublemaker leading to hilarious hijinks and, eventually, bonding moments for the family. “Beethoven” was a commercial success earning over $147 million at the box office while also garnering recognition from the Humane Society of the United States (likely for its plot involving illegal animal experimentation) and rose above poor critical ratings to charm families into seeing it over and over again on home video. The popularity of the film led to a sequel the next year that also earned box office success and years later the youth of the 2000s would be reintroduced to the franchise through numerous forgettable direct-to-video sequels that have sense faded into obscurity. However, it’s the original that earns a spot on this list as today it’s seldom viewed but was a big part of many children’s lives including likely serving as one of the first family movies some 90s kids probably saw on the big screen. It remains a cult classic to this day even if only to those who grew up enjoying its quirky humor.
9. “Free Willy”
A year after “Beethoven” hit the big screen a different animal stole the hearts of children in “Free Willy”, a whale of a tale starring an Orca trying to escape into the wild. The film earned over $153 million at the box office AND earned critical praise eventually spawning several sequels in the process further cementing itself in the hearts of 90s kids. How many 90s kids can resist the visual of Willy jumping over the seawall? It was even presented on the poster and is considered among the most iconic movie moments of the 90s even today. The film pushed the killer whale into the mainstream and made the animal infinitely more popular than it ever was before, contributing to the increased visits by 90s children to SeaWorld in the years after the movie’s release. I nthe years since however scandals like “Blackfish” have shined the light on the darker side of the killer whale and Seaworld making the animal look less adorable and more like, well, a wild animal. Still, while today “Free Willy” is an often-forgotten treasure containing some admittedly dated 90s cliches it’s still an everlasting cult classic that kids from its decade turn to now and then to relive their youth and the amazement of seeing Willie make his famous epic jump.
8. “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”
Here’s another animal themed movie from the 90s that has been completely swept under the rug since the 2000s, but in the 90s “Homeward Bound” was a home video classic. It wasn’t a glorious box office success, earning only around $41 million in 1993, but it took off on home video and led to a sequel three years later. A big theme for 90s films was that a movie didn’t really have to succeed in theaters to make money. It could also translate to later success on the small screen and “Homeward Bound” was one of the purest examples of that. The film was based on the novel “The Incredible Journey” and remade from the 1963 adaptation to be a bit more family friendly using real trained animals to portray the trio of pets trying to find their way home while voiceovers were used to provide speaking voices to the animals. While today the filming style is incredibly dated, the animal’s mouths don’t even move because CGI technology was primitive for that era, and yet despite how many stories have tried to replicate its charm “Homeward Bound” remains one of the most complete and respectable pet-themed movies of days gone by. Children and teenagers today may have a hard time seeing what made “Homeward Bound” so special, but 90s kids will always understand how charming and entertaining it was in a simpler time.
7. “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger The Movie”
The Power Rangers may still be a small screen sensation today even 25 years after they premiered but the live-action show about a group of teenagers (and sometimes adults) with attitude taking on monsters and other villains is first and foremost a staple of the 90s. So, of course, the property got the cinematic treatment with the rangers having their own movie, a tentpole summer flick from 20th Century Fox, in 1995. The film served as a non-canon telling of the rangers’ discovery of new ninja-based powers to take on a villain known as Ivan Ooze and while dated today the film is one of many on this list that is a perfect time capsule of 90s culture. The film rode the success of the television series to $66 million at the box office and received polarizing critical reviews while Ivan Ooze would go on to live in infamy as the butt of many “Powers Rangers” jokes for years. The film was followed by two other “Power Rangers” movies, one that actually served as a big screen reimagining last year, but the original never gets old to die hard fans of the show like myself as it captures all the wonder and action that drew us to the show in the first place. It might look cheesy and lame to modern audiences who have chosen to forsake it and the show itself may have completely erased it from the ranger’s history, but those factors are part of its charm to 90s kids and allow it to stand as a self contained story.
6. “The Sandlot”
Every generation seems to have its share of sports movies. The 90s had many and one of the most memorable was “The Sandlot”, a film that actually holds up pretty well today even if it’s been forgotten with time to some extent. This 1993 film grossed $33 million worldwide and eventually went on to become a cult hit that captures the magic of backyard baseball at its best before videogames, the internet and television surpassed these activities as the primary source of entertainment. Seeing a group of kids from all walks of life and with all different personalities bond over America’s favorite pastime was inspiring to us 90s kids. It made us feel like we could be part of the gang and over the course of the film we also got to see the boys engage in some pretty outrageous coming-of-age moments as well. Seriously, how many 90s boys DIDN’T want to be Squints when he kissed the lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn? Despite being dated “The Sandlot” still has it’s charm and it’s sad that the newer generation hasn’t embraced it as much as the kids of the 90s. Still, if you want to show Generation Z what it was like growing up and having fun in 90s America this is the kind of film to show them what it was all about.
5. “A Goofy Movie”
Surprisingly the only Disney animated movie on this list, “A Goofy Movie” is in my opinion one of their most underrated films and sadly those who grew up in the 2000s and early 2010s probably don’t even remember this movie exists. We do though, us 90s kids, because it had that certain undeniable charm about it that managed to blend old-school Disney shenanigans with modern (at the time) pop culture. Yes, Disney provided some great movies in the 90s, but this film above all of them made us 90s children feel like we were understood. Watching Max and Goofy bond during their father-son trip was heartwarming and reminded all of us in 1995 that the value of your parents doesn’t fade with age. And who could forget that killer soundtrack? I can still remember rocking out to all of Powerline’s music every time I watched the film. It’s definitely a period piece of 90s nostalgia from one of the greatest, if not THE greatest animated studio of all time and it’s sad that it’s often left behind when it should be included with Disney’s other tremendous 90s offerings as a must see.
Robin Williams was THE MAN in the 90s. Many of his films didn’t qualify for this list simply because even now they are considered respected cinematic classics. However, there’s one film that has always divided fans and is often overlooked by today’s youngsters while the kids of the 90s still fight over how good or bad it really is. That movie is “Hook”, a 1991 fantasy adventure that told the story of Peter Pan AFTER he has left Neverland and grown up. Captain Hook steals his kids and it’s up to Peter to rekindle his childhood wonder and get them back. The movie was a huge hit that year earning $301 million at the box office, several Academy Award nominations, and spawned merchandise a plenty. Over the ten years that followed however its glory faded. Williams became remembered for more iconic roles like Mrs. Doubtfire and the Genie. Critics and fans readdressed the film still unsure what to make of it. Eventually it became one of those movies where people simply said “yup, that happened” and moved on. In recent years the movie has become noted as a primary source of 90s nostalgia that remains studied, analyzed and dissected to this day not because it has some deeper meaning but because many are still unsure whether it’s really good or bad or even anywhere in between. Maybe this is why the current generation hasn’t clung to it the way 90s kids have. Regardless it’s a fine cinematic joyride that my generation still holds close to our hearts.
In the 90s Mara Wilson was THE child actress. She was like the female equivalent of Macauley Culkin only a much better performer. She was in EVERYTHING that required a female child but possibly one of her most iconic roles was in 1996’s “Matilda” where she played the titular young girl living with an abusive family and discovers she has special telekinetic powers. She uses those powers to improve her life and help her friends. Watching “Matilda” today people would probably scoff and wonder how any film could ever portray some of the child and student abuse seen throughout the project, but in the 90s this was more respected because, well, we knew it was fiction and meant to be ridiculous. It’s still a classic for 90s kids to this day, but why is it often forgotten or only watched on select television reruns in the 2010s? Maybe that’s because Mara Wilson isn’t acting anymore. She left the business a long time ago. Even then her more iconic roles helped movies like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the “Miracle on 34th Street” remake become must see classics in their own right. Maybe “Matilda” as a concept is just outdated. It’s hard to tell. Regardless “Matilda” taught 90s kids to stand against anything that keeps them from finding peace in their lives and that’s a message that should resonate with any generation.
2. “The Mighty Ducks”
Like I said the 90s had A LOT of sports movie, but this is by far one of the most iconic although today when you talk about the Ducks most children will probably only acknowledge the NHL team from Anaheim. Well this is where that team began. That’s right, the Anaheim Ducks were once owned by Disney and originated as a real-world counterpart to the 1992 film “The Mighty Ducks”. The film focused on a lawyer and washed up hockey prodigy who must complete community service by coaching a team of misfit hockey players. He eventually learns important lessons from the kids and vice versa before turning the team around and helping them win the big game. That’s not a spoiler because that’s literally how every 90s sports movie ended. The good guys ALWAYS won in dramatic fashion. Since the 90s though the popularity of hockey has declined. It’s still there, but it’s not the cool thing to make movies about anymore. “The Mighty Ducks” utilizes cheap child friendly comedy that had us 90s kids rolling on the floor and, like “Matilda”, features some awkward child treatment that would probably not fly by today’s standards. It may have a worthy legacy, but you don’t hear a lot about it anymore and that’s sad because “The Mighty Ducks” still packs plenty of charm and fun for those who are willing to take the time to appreciate it.
1. “Space Jam”
And our top spot goes to…another sports film but probably the COOLEST sports movie to come out of the 90s by far. Believe it or not YES “Space Jam” is statistically overlooked today and the reasons are simple: The Looney Tunes aren’t as popular as they once were, and Michael Jordan retired with LeBron James moving in as the go-to NBA player. In fact, a sequel film is supposedly on the way to reintroduce this concept to the current generation with James taking over for Jordan as the main focus. This 1996 box office smash however will always be the OG crossover film between the NBA and Looney Tunes and it made for some incredible fun both in theaters and on home video. I don’t know ANY 90s kids who didn’t see this movie at least once and while some call it one of the worst things to come out of the decade others celebrate it as the ultimate example of 90s nostalgia at its greatest. For me it’s the later but due to many factors its popularity and relevance never blended into the new millennium. In fact, one of the main arguments against the forthcoming sequel is that only 90s kids respect the original film to begin with so there’s no reason to adapt it for a newer crowd. With a killer soundtrack, fluid animation, a superstar athlete front and center, and a REALLY fun finale featuring one of the most out of control basketball games in movie history “Space Jam” is as 90s as it gets and earns its place here at the top of this list.