10 Entertaining Movies That Capture the Spirit of the ’90s

Each decade has its own set of characteristics that define that era in the general sense. In the cinema, audiences can usually decipher a movie’s production era by the clothes, the music, and the overall feel of the movie. The 1990s proved no different, but certain films stand apart from the rest and genuinely capture the essence of the decade.

1. Clueless (1995)

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.


Does any film define the 1990s more quintessentially than Clueless? No other movie comes close. The teenage rom-com follows Cher, a sweet, naïve, popular girl who loves to play matchmaker, whether it’s for two awkward teachers or the new girl in school. Cher discovers how clueless she can be when her own love life grows complicated.

Clueless captures the 90s spirit with fun, bubbly, and endlessly quotable humor. The colorful costumes reflect the era while starting numerous trends in the day’s fashion. Moreover, the soundtrack is popular even with those unfamiliar with the movie with such artists as Radiohead, Coolio, Counting Crows, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. What’s fascinating about Clueless is that the film feels undeniably of its era and yet takes inspiration from Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma.

2. Before Sunrise (1995)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.


Richard Linklater’s dreamy and utterly romantic Before Sunrise follows two strangers who meet on a train and decide to spend the day together in Vienna. As they walk and talk throughout the city, Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) learn about each other, themselves, and the magic of unexpected meetings.

The beauty of Before Sunrise lies in its timeless qualities and era-defining aspects. Jesse and Celine’s thoughtful, intellectual, and emotional conversations reflect 90s culture to a “T.” Moreover, the costumes, particularly Delpy’s dress with a T-shirt and sweater, scream 90s fashion. The script, however, also acts as a 90s time capsule, with a look at love that still resonates with audiences.

3. Swingers (1996)

Image Credit: Miramax Films.


The 1990s saw a resurgence of specific fashion and musical trends, slang, comedic style, and ensemble films. Swingers features each of these in a hilarious and undeniably fun film.

The story follows a group of 20-something men who try to help a friend get over a bad breakup. They drink, play video games, and spend their nights trying to pick up women in bars and nightclubs. The 90s style comes from the fashion that’s 1940s and 50s inspired. They all dress as if they’re the Rat Pack reincarnated. This soundtrack also reflects the era’s resurgence of jazz, big band music, and swing dancing.

4. The Net (1995)

Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.


Thrillers of the 1990s have an unmistakable tone and look that makes them easy to distinguish from other decades. The Net has a particular feel and qualifies as quintessentially 90s for its technology. In the film, computer analyst Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) has her identity stolen while vacationing in Mexico and stumbles into a massive, deadly conspiracy involving computer security.

While some balk at The Net‘s dated technology, it’s no different than any other era that centers on the technology of the day. The film merely looks at a specific time: the emergence of the internet and our lives becoming increasingly digital. Consequently, The Net gives audiences an intense, edge-of-your-seat ride that acts as a 90s time capsule.

5. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.


The quintessential rom-com of the 90s, much of You’ve Got Mail‘s charm lies in the period it depicts. In this remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940), director Nora Ephron takes the story to the modern world where two rival bookstore owners, unbeknownst to them, anonymously write emails to each other.

No one can deny that this film firmly belongs in the 1990s era with its use of dial-up internet, America Online, Starbucks commentary, and Fox Books bookstore, a Barnes and Noble-type business that no longer exists in the same form.

Still, a film from the heyday of rom-com continues to delight viewers thanks to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s exceptional chemistry and Ephron’s clever, natural, romantic script.

6. She’s All That (1999)

Image Credit: Miramax Films.


If someone were looking to watch a teenage rom-com that defined its era, She’s All That would be the ideal choice. While Clueless proves the most iconic, She’s All That rivals the film in its 90s spirit with its fashion, music, tone, and ensemble cast. Interestingly, also like CluelessShe’s All That takes inspiration from a play written many years previously: 1913’s Pygmalion.

The plot sees Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the big man on campus, who makes a bet that he can turn the unpopular, artsy Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook) into the prom queen. The story alone feels of its era, but the fun-filled, upbeat, and surprisingly poignant moments capture what so many movies from that time aimed for.

The exceptional supporting cast includes Paul Walker, Dulè Hill, Matthew Lillard, Anna Paquin, Gabrielle Union, ‘Lil Kim, Usher, Elden Henson, Kevin Pollack, Kieran Culkin, and Tim Matheson. That impressive roster, 90s fashion galore, and music from artists like Sixpence None the Richer and Fatboy Slim make She’s All That a nostalgic gem.

7. Fight Club (1999)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.


Even those who have never seen David Fincher’s classic know its iconic line, “The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.” Those who understand and love the film know well how it captures a certain 90s vibe — dark, gritty, and provocative. The story has an insomniac (Edward Norton) start a club with the charismatic Tyler (Brad Pitt), where men release their pent-up aggression in brutal, no-holds-barred fights. Soon, however, the chaotic club turns wildly destructive and goes far beyond its singular confines.

Fight Club reflects the 90s in its style and themes about letting go. While much of the era possessed a carefree spirit, a more intense, cynical vibe also permeated the minds of many — and filmmakers like Fincher reflected that back to them.

8. Scream (1996)

Image Credit: Dimension Films.


Scream centers on Sydney Prescott, a sensitive high school student with unresolved trauma from her mother’s murder. After two of her classmates are murdered, the ghost-face killer with a penchant for making threatening phone calls begins terrorizing Sydney and her friends. The horror genre has seen many era-defining traits, and no other film encapsulates that concept more than Scream. This self-referential horror film features the expected tropes these stories became known for but also peppers in lots of humor and references to other movies. Much of the plot relies on those films to push the narrative forward while remaining its own thing.

The duality of tones reflects the off-balanced feelings many 90s teenagers faced. At the same time, the cast reads like a drama class of the era, including Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Drew Barrymore, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy. Despite many good sequels, the original Scream remains the best film and an excellent example of the 90s spirit.

9. Speed (1994)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.


In Speed, a deranged, disgruntled man places a bomb on a Los Angeles bus that will go off if their speed falls below 50 mph. A cop (Keanu Reeves) and the bus driver (Sandra Bullock) work together to find a way to safety.

One can always tell a 90s action film from those of other eras. They have a certain quality and typically feature big stars, plenty of white-knuckle, over-the-top moments, twists, and humor. Many films fall under this criteria, but Speed should be at the top of that list.

10. The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.


One may not think a movie based on a 1970s family sitcom could capture the 90s spirit. However, The Brady Bunch Movie manages to do so because it sees the endlessly cheerful family stuck in a 70s pastiche of fashion, music, and sensibilities living in 1990s L.A.

A hilarious but loving parody of the original series, this film also acts as a 90s time capsule with the distinct clash between the sunny Bradys and the cynical grunge era. It finds common ground between both eras, becoming one of the most seminal 90s films.

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

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