The Canon – 1990s Edition

Summer is upon us, which means that we’ll hopefully be seeing lots of gorgeous days perfect for getting outside and having fun.  Or it could end up being so miserably hot that all you want to do is hunker down in some nice air conditioned spot.  If you’re going to be inside anyway, how about watching some movies?  With that in mind, it’s time for another (and possibly the last.  More on that at the end.) edition of my movie canon posts.  “What movie canon posts?” you ask?  Ah.  You must be new.  Welcome!  And here’s a bit of an explanation:

(Cribbed shamelessly from THIS post about the film canon for the 1980s)

I don’t know if it’s as big of a deal now, but when I was in high school, there seemed to be a big push for cultural literacy.  I remember the lists of books we should read and historical events we should know about in order to be considered culturally literate.  In today’s world, though, I do not believe that our shared culture really comes from books and historical events.

It comes from our films.

Let me just say right now and very firmly that I offer no opinion on this state of affairs.  I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English.  I love books.  But when was the last time you heard someone casually quote “The Canterbury Tales” in conversation?  Meanwhile, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve heard someone give some variation on “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto” or slip into a bad Schwarzenegger impression to say “I’ll be back.”

There are movies that have shaped our pop culture and are still referenced today.  Just before I wrote the 1980s Canon post, I showed my teenager Speed (Yes, Speed is a 1990s film. I know. It’s on this list.), and he came to me a few days later to tell me that he’d overheard someone using “Pop quiz, hotshot” in a conversation.  Does knowing where that phrase came from really matter?  Maybe not, but I feel that I am doing my children a disservice by not showing them the origins of references they may encounter.  I suppose you could call it pop cultural literacy.

I’ve already taken a shot the 1970s and 1980s.  Now here, in no particular order, is my list of the pop culture film canon for the 1990s (Your mileage may vary.  Keep your kid’s age and maturity level in mind when selecting films to show them.  Don’t put American Pie on for a ten-year-old.  Angry tirades about objections or omissions may be left in the comments.): 

The Hunt for Red October

Pretty Woman

Total Recall


Home Alone

The Sandlot

Billy Madison

Dances With Wolves

Edward Scissorhands

The Silence of the Lambs

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Thelma and Louise

Basic Instinct

The Crying Game

Reservoir Dogs

Tommy Boy

Wayne’s World

Army of Darkness

The Fugitive

Groundhog Day

Jurassic Park

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Sleepless in Seattle


The Lion King

The Mask


Pulp Fiction

The Shawshank Redemption

Apollo 13


Bad Boys





Toy Story

The Usual Suspects

Independence Day

Jerry Maguire


Air Force One

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Men in Black



The Big Lebowski

Saving Private Ryan

There’s Something About Mary

The Wedding Singer

American Pie

The Blair Witch Project

Fight Club

Galaxy Quest

The Green Mile

The Iron Giant

Office Space

The Sixth Sense

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Toy Story 2

The Mighty Ducks


And then there are a few films that, while I wouldn’t consider them to be essential, I’d also include because I like them (but not enough for me to make them a Pick of the Week).  It’s my list, so I can do that! –


The Cutting Edge

Hard Boiled

In the Line of Fire

The Crow

The Craft

Aladdin (Arguments about whether or not it belongs on the main list can begin now.)

Being John Malkovich

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut


I said at the beginning that this may be the last of the pop culture film canon posts.  While there are many films from before 1970 that still affect pop culture, I don’t think there are enough to warrant a post for each decade.  At most, I might do a single post covering the pre-1970 period.  As for going later than 1999, I think it’s just too soon to tell.  Many of those films are too fresh in our minds, and we don’t really know if they’ll stand the test of time.  Once we get to 2024, we’ll know if there’s a 2000s equivalent of “I’ll be back.”

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter