We’re on our fourth phase of The Daily Fandom’s retro series and we’re heading into an X-treme period called the 90s! We had a lot of weirdly bad stuff in pop culture during this time frame, but they set us up well for the future. You needed the Batman and Robin to have the Daredevil Season 3. With the weirdly bad, there’s also the plainly good. We’ve got some gems across various media and platforms that will bring you back to better times. Whenever you’re ready, you should circle around the campfire and hear about the stories from a different point on the timeline.
10. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film has gone on to become more popular than the novella. The Shawshank Redemption is a film that touches on the subjects of harsh realities of prison, injustice in the legal system, loss, friendship, identity, and as the title would suggest redemption.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman’s character Red, we see Andy Dufresne’s two-decade stint in prison. It’s a journey rife with hardship, humor, mistreatment, and fun. The film masterfully blends the tones of someone finding themselves and the group they would call friends, while also showing the horrors that happen in prison. The Shawshank Redemption is a story about life and enjoying what you have to the fullest.
The Shawshank Redemption influence on pop culture cannot be understated. Shawshank is a term often used to describe what life is like in prison, it gave birth to many hilarious memes and popularised Morgan Freeman’s beautiful voice that he remained destined to narrate. And on a more serious note, this film remains studied in schools around the globe in many Film Studies courses.
The film remains popular to this day and was even inducted in the United States Library of Congress as part of the country’s cinematic legacy. I don’t think there is a higher honor a film can receive to show just how much it impacted not only the industry but culture in general.
9. Final Fantasy VII
Square, before it became Square Enix in 2003, created Final Fantasy VII. Its subsequent influence over the video gaming landscape makes it a perfect candidate for a pop culture roundup. This game boosted the sales of the PlayStation and created a demand for Japanese roleplaying games around the world. Cloud Strife with his spiky blonde hair is a character most people recognize, even if they haven’t touched a Final Fantasy game.
The 90s – Final Fantasy VII; Square Enix
On “Gaia,” the Shinra Electric Power Company siphons the planet’s spiritual energy to power itself for nefarious purposes. These actions threaten all life as a result. The eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE, which includes ex-SOLDIER Cloud and pals, battles Shinra’s military force SOLDIERS and covert branch The Turks for the fate of the world. The mixture of sci-fi and realism was a stark departure from previous Final Fantasy iterations, but it helped to give this RPG a cinematographic aura.
A notable point to this series is how much money Square poured into this game. The combined development and marketing budget reached $80 million dollars. Final Fantasy VII was first in the series to use full-motion video and 3D graphics.
It created a chance for their team to stretch their muscles in both story and character design. The game’s dialogue didn’t need to be dynamic at all points because the 3d models could liven it up with poses and actual reactions. A rare trait that allowed for more depth than usually given in an RPG at the time. With its remake in the works, Final Fantasy VII will continue to exist in gamers’ hearts for years to come.
8. Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)
Some may call foul as the oft-described “show about nothing” technically started in the 80’s. However, only it’s pilot episode aired near the end of 1989. It was actually deemed a failure by NBC despite positive reviews and was canceled. After several behind the scenes deals, the show was resurrected and had four more episodes made for its first season, which would lead to more if they were successful.
Seinfeld has gone on to become a powerhouse of the sitcom genre. It was innovative, different, and wasn’t afraid to touch on taboo topics. One of the best episodes, The Chinese Restaurant, actually came out of a bet. The idea being there was no way an entire 22-minute episode could be set in the lobby of a restaurant. Seinfeld was the show that dared to do what many thought was impossible, talk about the mundanity of everyday life.
Many characters were based upon real-life people, which added to the realistic comedy of the show. George is based on series co-creator Larry David, Kramer is based off Larry’s neighbor Kramer. Jerry plays himself. The series also has a great sense of continuity and like the characters pulls things from the real-life events of its creators.
The Contest, an episode that was quite taboo at the time, is pulled from a real-life contest that Larry David participated in, just ramped up to 11. And of course who can forget the storyline in season 4 where Jerry and George pitch a show to NBC executives which is described as a “show about nothing.” The legacy of Seinfeld continues on as many people still quote episodes to this very day.
7. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by writer Frank Miller and artist John Romita Jr. didn’t feel like it belonged in the 90s. This run created the perfect origin story for Matt Murdock that differentiated itself from the wackiness of the comics boom period.
In many ways, Miller saved the character from obscurity because the depth we remember is from his run. His mentor Stick, his love interest Elektra, and Kingpin who used to be a Spider-Man villain are all central characters to the Daredevil mythos find their stride in his work. The harshness we associate with Matt creates its mark in this beautiful artwork and writing.
For example, the pain of Matt losing his father “Battling Jack” Murdock takes on a harsher nuance when you have 46-page issues to have the blows reign down hard. Jack’s choices hurt more when he practically signs his death sentence by not throwing his fight. In addition, Stick’s tutelage contains stronger storytelling because there’s a more logical premise to Matt’s skills.
He becomes a Daredevil that strokes the realm of possibility. Elektra’s true personality also appears that draws questions to her mental health. It takes her story further from the fantasy woman Matt imagines her to be during their time in college.
These steps all created a character that many fans have fallen in love with due to the Netflix series. Without this particular brand of darkness, we may not have obtained the breadth of media we have today or captured the public’s attention with Daredevil, better known as The Man Without Fear.
6. Kingdom Come
In the 90s, comics were going through a rough patch. The speculator market crashed nearly killing the comic book industry, artists were treated as rockstars while writers were often forgotten, and seven of the most famous comic artists quit the Big 2 in favor of starting their own company, Image Comics. But one of the biggest problems with the 90s, that ripples of are still felt to this day, is the increased darkness that seeped into comics.
Comics for a very long time had been seen as for children. But in the 70’s and 80’s, primarily through the works of Dennis O’Neil, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore, that changed. Their stories took dark, unexpected turns that mirrored real life. However, the darkness in their stories had a point to convey to the reader. Sadly, many people mistook what they were trying to say and glommed onto the darkness and violence, thus ramped it up to the extreme in the 90s.
Enter Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. A clear statement on what was going on the industry at the time, while also telling a gripping story. Kingdom Come is set in the future of the DC Universe when many of the biggest superheroes have retired. A new plethora of superheroes are appearing but they are darker, edgier, and willing to kill. This doesn’t sit well with many of the old heroes and they come out of retirement to confront them. This leads to a tragic war between superheroes, friend against friend, in which no one is the victor.
Kingdom Come presents a more mature look on the superhero genre without going too dark and ends on an optimistic note. If only other comics of the time were written as well as this.
I know we’re talking about Bandai’s Tamagotchi, but does anyone remember Neopets? If you had an internet, you fell in love with cute creatures. This handheld digital game represents the virtual pet genre that overtook the 1990s and early 2000s by a powerful margin. It’s a genre based on taking care of animals with unique designs and features.
The 90s – Tamagotchi; Bandai
The name Tamagotchi comes from the Japanse word for egg ‘tamago’ and the ending of the word ‘watch’ combined together. It makes sense since you have an egg-shaped game with three buttons you’re supposed to use to feed, clean, and discipline your pet. Your gameplay involves filling up meters, playing minigames, and keeping your little creature happy. It was a system selling over 82 million units as of 2017.
As an additional fun fact, Aki Maita invented Tamagotchi earning the 1997 Ig Nobel Prize for economics. The Ig Nobel Prize is a parody of the Nobel Prize that, “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” As well as creating a unique genre, the Tamagotchi also serves this purpose by showing how much human can relate to pixels on a screen, and how they have the capacity to care about another being’s well-fare.
4. Star Trek’s Golden Age
By the time the 90s rolled around, Star Trek was nearly 30 years old, but it had just entered it’s Golden Age. The Next Generation started in the 80’s but it’s final four seasons aired in the 90s. In 1993, Deep Space Nine was the first spin-off of Star Trek to launch while the preceding series was still on the air, and would be a different take on the franchise that is beloved to this day. In 1995, Voyager comes out as the flagship show of a new network. Star Trek pioneered sci-fi television and by the 90s was a giant in the industry.
But Star Trek is more than just television, it also has a successful film franchise that ties into the television series. This is all long before Disney would do the same thing with their Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the 90s, four films remained released. One featured the original crew of the Enterprise from The Original Series. The other three featured the crew of The Next Generation’s Enterprise.
Star Trek is a franchise that has proven it can endure time, hardships, and strife. Not everything that came out of its Golden Age was great, see Voyager’s episode Threshold. But it was all still doing what Star Trek does best. It talked about modern social and political issues through the lens of the future. Some may argue that the Golden Age ended in 1999 when DS9 went off the air.
As Voyager had a mixed reputation and a rocky behind the scenes history. But the Golden Age did continue on into the next decade as Voyager ended in 2001. Star Trek: Enterprise began in 2001, airing until cancelation in 2005. And one more TNG movie in 2002.
3. Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, based off of the book of the same name, had special-effects that were a thing of beauty. The mixture of CGI and animatronics murdered muppets and stop-motion in modern film. This turn of events is a positive or negative depending on who you ask. While not the most accurate in facts, you can’t forget how the first shot of one of the dinosaurs made you feel when it first appeared.
We got a great story about a theme park surrounding de-extinct dinosaurs that involves plenty of action, while also questioning the rights of animals created under capitalist circumstances. This depth helps garner the longevity of its intellectual property.
Jurassic Park has multiple movies and spans mediums like video games, theater attractions, and toys. By 2000, this franchise generated $5 billion dollars in revenue, which makes it ones of the highest-grossing franchises. You won’t find a match in any other place.
2. Babylon 5
In the year 2018, if you look back at Babylon 5 it seems like an ordinary show. But in 1993, a long serialized storyline that connected every episode and every season of a television show was unheard of, especially on American television. Babylon 5 was so revolutionary that its effects on the industry are still transpiring to this very day.
On a technical side, Babylon 5 was the first show to use entirely CGI for its special effects. No models remained made of ships, planets, space stations or anything of the sort. This was originally done as a cost-cutting measure, but no TV show had done this before. CGI prevailed to enhance the model work but never used completely in its stead. Babylon 5 basically wrote the instruction manual for how to use CGI on a TV show quickly, effectively, and on budget.
But what Babylon 5 is best known for is its ongoing storyline. Conceived by show creator J. Michael Straczynski as a novel for television, the story was broken into the 5 act structure. Introduction, rising action, complication, climax, and dénouement. Each season represented an act in the story and would receive its own title much like a chapter in a book.
Standalone episodes where rare and even then they often had something introduced that would come back later or be used to further a character’s personal arc. Babylon 5 set the standard for how to write a story for television. And it remains the most well-constructed serialized narrative in American television, as it was all planned out years before it was ever pitched to executives.
1. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
You can’t really expect a top 90s pop culture sent out in October to not include a spooky-themed number one. I mean this list wasn’t in any particular order, but Are You Afraid of the Dark? is notable for its popularity. Despite being made for a kid-friendly audience, watchers had something to be worried about whenever they saw that iconic campfire and the Midnight Society. There was every trope possible within this anthology from clowns to dolls to ghosts.
It included such hits like “The Tale Of the Midnight Madness” that involved the dangerous Noserfastu and “The Tale of the Pinball Wizard” that exemplifies being a teen in the 90s with its mall and video games. If nothing else, you’ll remember the terrible fashion.
In addition, you may recollect teenage isolation, hapless adults, and death and divorce, but that’s a less fun time to be had. You’d rather deal with the concepts that are less real and will still horrify you. Are You Afraid of the Dark? promises you both the supernatural and the real side of fear.
Honorable Mention: Fantastic Four (1994)
Marvel’s first family has remained wrapped up in rights issues in recent years, but this was true back in the 90s as well. German film producer Bernd Eichinger had acquired the rights to the Fantastic Four in 1983, after a bidding war between Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures. However, due to the cost of acquiring the rights, he put off making the film until several years later. He then decided to produce a low budget film in order to recuperate the costs and keep the rights.
Enter Roger Corman, a man known for producing cheap B-movies. In 1994, he obtained the director’s chair for the adaptation of one of the most famous superhero teams in comic history. What came out of this was one of the worst films in existence. Human Torch sneezes fire and Sue Storm is well over ten years younger than Reed Richards. There is a fight scene that would have taken too long to film so the camera just spins around. When the camera stops spinning the bad guys are unconscious. It was so bad, that it was never released to the general public. It was only produced to keep the rights and would have cost too much to release it.
Due to vendors getting their hands on it and selling it at cons, it became an instant phenomenon. Most people have heard of it, and seen clips. An entire season of Arrested Development remains dedicated to parodying the production of this film. If you want to watch it, the entire thing is available on YouTube. But beware, it is one of those “so bad it’s good” films.
Honorable Mention: Batman and Robin
There are moments in life where you have to live with the consequences of your actions. Warner Bro Picture’s Batman and Robin ranks high up there on the complete embarrassments to the Batman mythos. If you do like puns and poor costuming choices, I do a recommend a watch to roast this bad boy. This 1997 superhero film is hilarious.
The 90s – Batman and Robin; Warner Bro Pictures
Batman and Robin had big names like George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Uma Thurman, but I still can’t quite put a name on what exactly happened in the plot in a paragraph or less. The roughest estimate one can give is that Mr. Freeze wants to hold Gotham ransom in order to cure his wife’s disease and Poison Ivy wants to save the environment. Their team up, however, doesn’t make sense because their powers work against the other’s goal, but it’s fine. It’s fine.
In terms of money, it’s the lowest grossing live-action Batman film to this very day. The greatest award to Batman and Robin’s legacy is that “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” by The Smashing Pumpkins won a Grammy. This achievement does not say great things, but it does say something.