Top 10 Things Movies Taught Us In the 1990s

by Warren Cantrell on January 5, 2010

in Top 10s

Well, the 00s have come to a close. Maybe now it’s time to look back at the decade before this last one. Maybe there’s a little more clarity with distance. Maybe Scene-Stealers contributor Warren J. Cantrell from 10rant.com is the man to examine the Top 10 Things Movies Taught Us In the 1990s. I think he is. If you have a Top 10 of your own you’d like to contribute, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com. Here’s Warren with another fantastically verbose Top 10:

Like any decade, it took the 90s a bit of time to figure out its identity and sort through what it had to offer the world. Early entries in the decade such as “Philadelphia,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Boyz N the Hood” hinted at a watershed decade for film, promising more visceral and realistic violence as well as deeper themes regarding the basic truths shrouding humanity. Yet for every “Jurassic Park,” there was also an “Eraser” – for every “Saving Private Ryan,” there was a “Thin Red Line.” New classics like “Out of Sight,” “Election,” “Man Bites Dog,” “Fight Club” and “Rushmore” worked hard to overcome the growing void of shit that widened in the 1990s, one that swallowed many promising pictures into special-effects action-dramas (thank you, “Titanic,” for inventing one of the shittiest film sub-genres in history).

Because of pioneers like Tarantino and Soderbergh, Hollywood began scaling back budgets to make way for smaller, more introverted pictures that reinvested in the script and the depth of understanding needed by actors to pull off these performances. Yet this transformation took some time, and along the way, some desperately needed lessons fell upon movie executives and audiences alike. Below are some of things discovered after filmmakers pulled their heads out of the coke pile for more than ten minutes, lessons that, while not always heeded, were certainly made abundantly clear to those watching during a very confusing decade of cinema.

hackers 199510. Technology In the 90s Was Trite and Stupid, and Nobody Realized This

People also thought technology in the 80s was cool, and couldn’t stop publicly stroking that either, but in the 90s, people strutted around like they were on the verge of walking onto a “Star Trek” set every time they got up to take a leak. Yet where the ridiculous really took off was when pictures started coming out that warned of Orwellian-like consequences for those who did not respect and fear the all-powerful tech. Laughably bad movies like “The Net” and “Hackers” warned of a secret computer underworld, a cast of nefarious dorks lurking in the shadows waiting to steal your essence the second you dialed up to connect with PRODIGY or AOL.

The rise of computers in films during the 90s also gave birth to a fascinating trend in Hollywood pictures wherein the male computer dork was almost always troll-level ugly while the female hacker was consistently hot (seriously, almost every time: why?). While films like “Die Hard 2″ began the 90s extolling the wondrous virtues of the miracle that is fax technology (McClane: “Holly told me to wake up and smell the 90s.”), it wasn’t until the mid-90s that computer-paranoia took millions of scared, middle-aged white people straight up terror mountain (elevation: suck).

congo 1995 laser monkeys9. John Grisham and Michael Crichton Wrote Every Book In History

I’m having a hard time coming up with a film from the 90s that wasn’t first a book authored by one of these two panty-stains. It’s not an easy task. Between these two men there were (count them, I dare you) 14 Hollywood adaptations of their novels in the 90s, most of them God-fucking-awful. That’s an average of almost 1.5 movies a year written by either one or the other! What’s worse, each author obviously couldn’t have cared less what became of their creations once optioned, as the films never made it on celluloid as much more than a discreet shadow of the former plot or storyline.

One of the most heinous examples of this was Crichton’s novel “Congo,” a hard-as-shit jungle adventure peppered with savage gorilla murder, dismemberment, and diamond lasers. This was all lost in the 1995 cinematic version, however, which (like pretty much every other movie in the 90s) focused more on its Taco Bell cross-marketing campaign, and less on character development and plot believability (Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson still have nightmares about this disaster from what I’ve heard). Grisham’s “A Time To Kill” was no better (“Now imagine she’s white,” seriously!!???), nor was “The Firm,” which turned the plot from the book on its head in a way that would make “Watchmen” fans blush. Which is not to say that it mattered–these dickheads were more than content to watch the illiterate public gobble up whatever half-assed interpretations Hollywood was willing to pay them for, so long as the checks did indeed keep coming (which they did throughout the 90s). Note to Grisham and Crichton (or Crichton’s estate, rather): Stephen King thinks you went overboard.

life 1999 lawrence murphy8. Racism Can Be Funny

People like Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence practically made a career out of yelling at the camera, scaring good-intentioned, semi-honest white folks with urban ghetto-talk. Thing was, unlike films in the past that pandered to this stereotype as a way to point and laugh, Rock and Lawrence were doing the pointing, at us, and were absolutely hilarious. Comedic deities like Pryor and Murphy (before the latter sold his balls to the 5-12 year old demographic) blazed a narrow, yet clearly defined trail for African-American comedians in the 90s, softening the impact for edgy race-comedy that balanced upon the precarious line between funny and fucked up.

Films like “Lethal Weapon 4,” “Nothing To Lose,” and “Life” all recognized that the decade was ready to confront racism, but not without an empowered sense of humor. Wanda Sykes, Tracy Morgan, Damon Wayans (and all siblings) made names for themselves in the 90s not only through genuine comedic talent, but because they were willing to confront a serious issue with laughs. Hell, even when Hollywood tried to take racism seriously it turned out funny, the hilarious “Higher Learning” being a perfect example (It’s seriously about the most amusing thing released that decade). During the 1990s, at a time when discussions about race and ethnicity in the U.S. were hitting the highest discussion levels since the 60s, Hollywood turned to a new breed of African-American talent, and let them show the world that it was all kind of silly, and, consequently, capable of being funny.

friends tv cast7. The Cast of “Friends” Should Not Get Any More Movie Deals

This trend was ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination and it has mercifully slowed dramatically in recent years. Not only did this uninvited craptastic sitcom nightmare jump into every living room with a suicide-inducing theme-song and hackneyed characters something like four times a day due to almost immediate syndication, the cinemas were lousy with movies the cast crapped out (and there was a lot of crapping). In the years after the sitcom debuted, the six actors made 35 movies in the 90s. 35!! And it’s not like any of them pushed for challenging roles that stretched the bounds of their established television personas, going instead for safe romantic comedies and kids’ films that posed absolutely no threat to their established images.

Had one of the cast actually gotten crazy and starred as a hopelessly addicted heroin-whore, peddling $5 blow jobs in Patterson, N.J. (I’m looking at you, Schwimmer) that might have been something. Instead, we got roughly four thousand of these “Friends”-esque films that vaguely altered plot points and character histories to expand on a proven television character formula. To this day, while the cast gets considerably less screentime, the roles don’t deviate from the previous archetypes: Courtney Cox is about the only one of the six that seems to be making a push at something different. Her show “Dirt” didn’t last, which is a shame, not because it was good, but because I wouldn’t want to give any credence to the theory that she should ‘stick with what works.’ Once Schwimmer or LeBlanc make the aforementioned drug drama, or team up to battle West African poachers via “Predator”-like human-hunting and skinning rituals, I’ll check back in to see what’s going on. Until that day, however, I say keep the TV off, and those six bastards away from the big screen.

street fighter julia van damme6. Videogames Do Not Make Good Movies

While you have to give Hollywood the nod for a good effort in trying to tap the fanboy market before such strategies proved out as successful, the 90s attempts made in this realm were lackluster and half-assed at best. It must have taken some balls for the first film exec to propose sinking a hundred or so million into a kindergarten-level plot scenario, especially when considering the depth of most videogame backstories. Let’s not even talk about the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” movie that nearly killed off the videogame-to-movie genre (Hopper, you are still on my list for that nightmare), moving instead to “Street Fighter” and the miserable distinction that movie earns by clocking in as Raul Julia’s last credited role (disgraceful).

Not only did we get a film as mature and sophisticated as a box of Cracker Jacks, we got Van Damme taking himself seriously in a movie that couldn’t walk a straight line with a compass. “Double Dragon,” “Mortal Combat,” and the former’s unforgiveable sequel (which is too terrible to even mention aloud) rounded out a decade of shitty movies based on games. Sadly, unlike many other entries on this list, the film industry did not take heed of this painful 90s lesson, as they continue to crank out installment after installment of vomit-inducing game interpretations, including “Max Payne,” “Bloodrayne,” “Resident Evil” (and sequels), “Doom,” “Final Fantasy,” and many, many others. It’s not enough that when playing a game and waiting for the next action scene to load we’re often submerged in a veritable pool of half-assed story lines and unnecessary character expositions, but with these films we got extended stretches of this torture. Soon (I hope) people will stop seeing these crapasterpieces, the money will fail to cover costs, and once and for all, this shitty genre will be put to bed.

twister 19965. More Action and Special Effects Doesn’t Always Make a Film Better

Films like “Predator 2,” “Heat,” “Casino,” “Hot Shots Part Deux,” “Commando,” “Die Hard 2″ & “3,” and “True Lies” all respected a hollowed Hollywood tradition of killing faceless bad-guys by the bushel-full, side-stepping realistic plot points and character development for a finale bigger and louder than last summer’s (nothing wrong with that). Before critics began assessing movies on a kill-count scale and bemoaning the loss of low-budget person-pictures, studios in the 90s cranked out a seemingly endless line of balls-to-the-wall action pictures that took for granted the anxious, coke-addled audiences of the 1980s, and the rehab that calmed them all down. The studios had been able to get away with shallow action pics in the 80s as the CGI-less films weren’t all that expensive to make, and usually did moderate enough business to turn a profit. Hoping that they could simply plug in the correct stock actors and formulaic plots to turn out another $100+ million dollar cash-cow, films in the 90s sank more and more money into louder explosions, higher actor-premiums, and cross-market ad campaigns so that the diminishing returns for each summer’s watershed picture might re-coup the losses from the previous year’s disappointment.

When “Twister” and “Independence Day” hit big, the studios resigned themselves to a new strategy: keep the action, but inject more special effects! Hence, there came about the most unholy marriage in cinematic history: blind action laced seamlessly with unnecessary special effects. What was to follow was picture after picture trying to one-up the last, holding on desperately to their action formula whilst trying to kick up the water-cooler buzz with the newest developments in CGI. While these kinds of films did make money at first, the formula was not stable, and people quickly began abandoning these blockbuster pictures for the independent art-house films that started springing up at Sundance and Cannes. Indeed, expensive flops like “Volcano,” “Wild Wild West” and “Last Action Hero” signaled to many at the studios that some serious rethinking was in order if they were to move back into the black, choices that would entail making films about realistic people with actual problems, something that no doubt terrified Hollywood executives who had no experience with such foreign concepts.

Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot!4. Schwarzenegger and Stallone Are Not To Be Trusted

Riding the already-crested wave of “Rambo” and “Rocky” films into the 90s, it was “Cliffhanger” that convinced producers that Stallone could still turn in a buck. Schwarzenegger was practically untouchable at the beginning of the decade, cementing his astronomical per-film asking price with “Terminator 2″ and the river of money that followed from that. Yet as already discussed, the 90s thought the action trend would never die and hence kept casting Arnold and Sly in a series of gut-busting adventure pics that consistently underperformed compared to the previous offering. The signs were there with Seagal and Van Damme’s waning popularity in the mid-90s, indicating that the bastard offspring of greater men could no longer snatch the scraps from Sly and Arnold’s script rejection piles and make them work.

Even Sly and Arnold must have sensed it, as both began padding their bottom lines with attempts at softer roles, venturing into diabolically shameful exercises in crap such as “Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot!” and “Junior.” By the second half of the decade, even the back-to-basics explosion epics weren’t selling any longer, films like “Assassins,” “Daylight,” “Eraser,” “End of Days,” and “Batman and Robin” (I just shit myself thinking about that movie, the pain 10+ years old, yet still fresh) falling with hallow thuds once released. While respect should be conveyed where due, and plenty of respect should be shown to epic 80s man-fests like “Terminator,” “Rocky IV,” and “Rambo II,” their time had simply passed. Like any pet or amusing creature that has lived a good life, and is now too old to rise without a quivering leg and spontaneous urine stream to match, Sly and Arnold should have been taken to the farm to live “in the country,” their capacity to amuse as dead as their careers.

will smith independence day3. Will Smith Is A More Profitable Actor Than Rapper

Rappers were turning out movies in the 90’s like it was going out of style! Ice Cube, Ice T, LL Cool J, Tupac, Snoop Dogg and ass-loads of other masters of the mic milked their success for every possible drop, makin’ paper six different ways from Sunday. And then there was Will Smith who, until the above-mentioned “Wild Wild West,” was absolutely unapproachable at the box office during the 90s, something he can brag about to this day as he’s still able to guarantee solid returns (though not always good films). Yet it’s hard to remember that in 1995, Will Smith was little more than another in a long line of rappers-turned-actors who just so happened to stumble into a pretty successful Martin Lawrence cop-vehicle the year before. It was this established “Bad Boys” credit that gave the producers enough confidence to cast Smith in their newest special FX dazzler (“Independence Day”), a July blockbuster that went on to redefine the summer movie season like no other film since “Jaws.”

“Men In Black” and an ocean of money followed, as did “Enemy of the State,” which proved every new movie of his did not need a hit single to accompany the release (though I’d be curious to see what the Fresh Prince could have cooked up for an espionage thriller cut). While he obviously took time to refine his craft via acting lessons and careful role choices, it’s amazing to think that there was ever a time that this guy didn’t own the unquestioned respect of the Hollywood machine, commanding eight-figure picture deals and admiration amongst his colleagues (which no longer consists solely of DJ Jazzy-Jeff).

tyler durden brad pitt fight club2. Brad Pitt Can Act

Nobody predicted this, and for good reason, as the 1980s didn’t provide any real hope that good-looking men could achieve anything even remotely close to a believable performance. Richard Gere was the last to pull it off during the early 80s, and by the 90s he was fairly well resigned to making crappy romcoms to keep his accountant happy, leaving a void for respectably handsome men in demanding dramatic roles. Immediately making every woman on the planet wet with his topless turn in “Thelma and Louise,” Brad got his first big break with 1994’s “Legends of the Fall,” getting a co-star credit as the most tragically beautiful, misunderstood, and tortured man on earth in a role that hit with every woman, both living and dead. And to make sure he was tapping any available hidden revenues with the “dead” markets, 1994 also saw the release of Hollywood’s male dream team, “Interview With a Vampire,” pairing Brad up with Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, and Christian Slater.

Yet Brad did something nobody expected in the coming years: he began reading scripts. The evidence of this freakishly uncharacteristic Hollywood move is in the man’s resume, as he began accepting challenging, audience-offending roles like they were going out of style. 1995 provided “Se7en” and “12 Monkeys,” the latter blowing pretty much everybody watching out of the water for not only was Pitt decidedly NOT handsome in the role, but crazy as rat shit (and believably so). An understated co-starring role in “Sleepers” cemented his reputation in the business as a performer who could not only act, but read, as he was picking roles not for the paychecks, but for content. This all culminated in his career-defining turn in 1999’s “Fight Club,” a film that signaled the end of two hollow decades by turning a mirror on all 20 years, revealing to the world what lies hidden in the hearts of most young men standing in a historical void, seeking validation from a batch of years that gave almost nothing yet demanded everything. It was a stunning revelation, especially since it came from the man who, at the beginning of the decade, might easily have set himself up to become the unholy personification of empty commerce his Tyler Durden character likely would have strangled.

star wars episode 1 phantom menace lloyd1. Ruining a Franchise is Quick, Tidy, and Easy

Our current decade has brought us a number of notable entries into the litany of ruined franchises (good Christ, et tu, “Indiana Jones”?), but the 90s swung one hell of a big stick as it concerned sunken cash cows. “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” “Batman,” “Alien,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Child’s Play,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Prophecy”: all of them ruined by appalling sequels that annihilated any credit stored in the bank from previous successes. (The decade tried to kill “Rocky” as well, but Sly simply would not let Balboa go.) As if to signal the horrible promise of the 90s, Coppola dropped his pants and squeezed out a devastating first volley in a decade practically shot to pieces by shit-pics not worthy of straight-to-video release. Personally, I hate Sofia Coppola like doctors hate cancer, and this sentiment is at peak levels these days with the wounds inflicted by “Marie Antoinette” still not fully healed. It was at a young age that I learned to despise that vacant cow, watching, wincing, shuddering as she tried desperately to keep up with astronomically better actors and a script that obviously had way too many big words. And speaking of the script, even if F.F. Coppola had not cast his daughter, and instead went with somebody who actually knew what the hell they were doing, I can’t imagine anybody overcoming the tediously slow and uninteresting plot which kept people in their seats for what felt like nine years.

But to harp too much on Francis would be unfair, for what became of the “Batman” franchise was, if nothing else, fascinating, as each installment after Burton’s 1989 reboot edged Bruce Wayne et al closer and closer toward the campy nonsense that nearly killed the franchise in the 60s. And that’s not even mentioning what Spielberg did to pull an about-face and immediately ruin everything he had begat with the original “Jurassic Park” (keeping Goldblum center-stage in the sequel was a valiant attempt to crank up the awesome, but to no avail). And as for Lucas, you really have to give it up to the guy who not only gave us the first chunk of a three-part pooch-screw in 1999 (“Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”), but actually managed to go back and ruin three already-good films during the originals “Star Wars” trilogy’s re-release! Congrats, Mr. Lucas. Every couple of years you go out there and prove your critics wrong, shocking the world and all the pundits by consistently reinventing the capacities of suck for all connoisseurs of disaster to follow in your considerable wake. Take a bow, sir: you’ve earned it.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier January 5, 2010 at 1:44 am

Best list ever this was awesome

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2 trustthedust January 5, 2010 at 9:59 am

yeah, this is excellent.

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3 Troy January 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Nice list!

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4 Kenny January 6, 2010 at 2:03 am

Complete rubbish.

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5 P-Pain January 6, 2010 at 4:24 am

Best list this decade!!

Seriously though, many people do forget that (really, even AFTER 12 Monkeys and Se7en) Brad Pitt was little more than a six-pack and a pretty face to be displayed on the latest cover of Tiger Beat.

1998 – 2000 saw him release Meet Joe Black, Fight Club, and Snatch, three films that, IMO, cemented his status as a legitimate actor much more so than the aforementioned films (remember that in Se7en, he is struggling to hold his own against both Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey – not an easy task for anyone).

BTW, if Scene-Stealers had a digg button (hint-hint), this’d be dugg for “three-part pooch-screw.”

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6 Eric Melin January 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

P-Pain-
We DO have a Digg button!
At the bottom of the post, hover over “ShareThis”!

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7 P-Pain January 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

http://sadtrombone.com

DUGG FOR THREE-PART-POOCH SCREW

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8 Whitney January 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Possibly my new favorite list ever.

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9 wayne swab January 27, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Eric you have outdone yourself. Awesome list, very funny.

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10 Eric Melin January 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I’d love to take the credit, but this is 100 percent Warren’s list!

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11 wayne swab January 27, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Well way to go Warren!

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12 Salvatore Greco March 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Awesome list man…..Best joke by far was Will Smith not needing DJ Jazzy Jeff lololol

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13 Samuel November 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Hackers is the best!

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