As the last decade of the 20th Century, the 1990s were an interesting time. Computers and the internet weren’t truly mainstream yet. Media wasn’t politically correct or heavily censored. The decadent, egotistical, coke-addled, homophobic 1980s had ended. The nihilistic, gloomy, post-9/11 era hadn’t yet begun. Here are the decade’s most iconic movie characters that reflect this uncertain, transitional phase.
9. Tyler Durden: Fight Club (1999)
The ’90s were a depressing, confusing time for working-class American men. Their “big, tough” American values didn’t make sense anymore. Computers had already begun to take away jobs. Factory work moved overseas. College degrees didn’t mean as much anymore. Thousands of young guys felt forgotten. Tyler Durden of Fight Club is basically a physical manifestation of that wannabe-macho angst. He’s the personification of toxic masculinity long before it became a hot topic. He’s also the one that turned “snowflake” into an insult. He helped make this extremely memorable, well-directed film one that defined a generation.
8. Mark Renton: Trainspotting (1996)
In the ’80s and ’90s, heroin became a serious issue around the world. The drug’s purity increased, which made snorting and smoking possible. These methods didn’t have the same stigma as injection use. As a result, tons of kids ended up hooked (including fashionable types and socialites, but that’s another story). They felt there wasn’t much else to do but get wasted. By the ’90s, many suffering from addictions died, got clean, or switched to needles. The character of Mark Renton in Trainspotting reflects this phenomenon. His future seemed quite bleak but he managed to escape the junkie lifestyle by running away, a recovery technique that rarely works in real-life.
Only in the ’90s would someone make a movie like Pretty Woman, which practically glamorizes prostitution. In the politically-correct, post 9/11 world, that never would’ve happened. We can’t picture anyone green-lighting this film in the ’80s or earlier; it probably would’ve been censored. Just look at the clothes Vivian wears: the iconic pink-and-black ensemble with the thigh-high boots. Nobody on this side of 1999 dresses like that. Vivian Ward is the ultimate cheerful, simplified ’90s rom-com character, complete with happy ending.
6. Forrest Gump: Forrest Gump (1994)
Innocent and foolish, though also a savant, the main character of Forrest Gump isn’t as ’90s as some of the others listed here. He doesn’t reflect a specific year or predict the future. Instead, his life is a review of the entire latter half of the 20th Century. He witnessed most of the major political events of the era. There’s something so nostalgic, so “we’ll miss this time period” about the guy. That’s fitting for a character from the final decade of the 20th Century.
5. Ellie Sattler: Jurassic Park (1993)
Full of wonder, yet also practical and moral. Who could forget the caring, strong-willed, highly intelligent scientist Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park? She’s one of the coolest and most relatable characters in the film. She’s strong and even slightly feminist. She inspired a number of young women to get involved in science. Plus, instead of being used to showcase designer clothes, she actually dresses appropriately for her job, in khaki shorts and button-down shirts. There’s something so nice about a blockbuster film character wearing ordinary clothes. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened in other time periods in film.
4. Cher: Clueless (1995)
Cher is the epitome of a snobbish, mall-loving rich girl with a heart of gold in Clueless. Who could forget her hilarious sense of fashion? Or her amusing slang? She becomes a matchmaker for teachers and tries to make an “un-hip” girl cool. She’s a ’90s, Beverly Hills version of Emma from the Jane Austen book of the same name. (Updating classic novels and plays was a trend at the time.) Also, only in the ’90s would someone have a cell phone that huge.
There’s nobody quite like Edward Scissorhands. His origin story sounds like a fantastical fairy tale. Visually, he seems goth in an otherworldly way. Those sharp hands of his only add to the overall strangeness. Yet he isn’t scary. No, there’s something so innocent, so endearing, so vulnerable about him. He’s like a wide-eyed puppy abandoned by its beloved owner. It makes you want to hug him or, perhaps, find him a much more suitable set of hands. He’s certainly one of the decade’s, and one of Tim Burton’s, most recognizable characters.
2. Mia Wallace: Pulp Fiction (1994)
There’s something mysterious about Mia, the wife of crime boss Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. She appears on the film’s posters, too, looking oddly stuck-up, in a stylish way. It’s impossible to forget that short, sharp hairstyle of hers. She’s so charming, so beautiful, so powerful. And she can dance! Like many of Tarantino’s characters, she’s complex and fascinating. Yet there’s something daring, even reckless, about her, too. After all, she does use cocaine…and you’d have to be a bit bold to marry a mobster.
1. Wayne Campbell: Wayne’s World (1992)
Wayne Campbell is a ridiculous slack of a talk show host in Wayne’s World. He broadcasts a public access show from his mom’s basement. His facial expressions are odd, his eyebrows are severely arched, his hair is long, and he wears the most ridiculous hat (that’s what we call shameless self-promoting). Also, he uses words like “bogus” and “excellent.” Still, he’s also oddly endearing. There’s something so lovable about the guy. Plus, he clearly has pretty good taste in music. Remember the Bohemian Rhapsody scene? Though more ’80s than ’90s in some ways, he’s still one of the most iconic characters of the era.