The 90s gave us a lot of wonderful things, but for those of us growing up in it, it still feels a little like a mass acid trip. What else can explain Moon Shoes, the mysterious ‘S’ symbol from our notebooks, or the contagious pre-Internet rumors that spread through playgrounds worldwide?
The movies of the decade don’t help, and for every Oscar-winner and Disney Renaissance classic, there’s a bizarre Baz Luhrmann or an adaptation of something that probably never should have seen wide release. Here’s my five favorite films released in 1995 and 1996, and they run the gamut from ‘sweet, heartwarming childhood classic’ to ‘whatever they were smoking, I want some’.
“WHAT YEAR IS IT?” It’s 2017, and Jumanji has officially been out for 22 years. Jumanji, for those of you strange people who haven’t caught parts of it on TV, is about the board game from hell. Robin Williams’s character is trapped in it for years and only freed when the game is found by two kids moving into his old house.
What makes it a favorite? For me, it’s the sheer chemistry between all four main cast members as they take on various CGI threats. It’s not a movie filled with Oscar-winning performances, but the actors bounce off of each other with a lot of skill.
Jumanji is definitely weird, but by far not the strangest thing to come out of the 90s. A solid 2/5 on the ‘90s Acid Trip’ scale.
“I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Fighting words! Matilda adapts the Roald Dahl book of the same name. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in their 20s in North America who isn’t familiar with this movie. Mara Wilson’s plucky and justice-fueled Matilda is a cultural icon.
Growing up as a weird kid who read too much, Matilda was a common comfort movie. Even as an adult, the sheer karma of her victories is wonderful to watch. Here’s a bullied and ostracized kid who gets back at her parents and teacher, without once becoming actively vindictive or nasty.
Any adaptation of Roald Dahl is going to be quirky. Between a toddler getting thrown by her pigtails, the horrible nail-studded Chokey, and the entire sequence at Mrs. Trunchbull’s house at night, Matilda is a lot stranger than it’s given credit for. 3.5/5 on the ‘90s Acid Trip’ scale.
“I’ve never felt such tension. It’s like riding a psychotic horse towards a burning stable.” Where does one even start with The Birdcage? It’s a farce about a gay, Jewish couple who own a drag club. They end up pretending to be a “normal” family for a night to impress their prospective daughter-in-law’s family. It’s an excellent movie starring Robin Williams without being a Robin Williams movie, a feat in and of itself.
I can’t remember the first time I watched The Birdcage, but I’ve always loved Williams and Lane’s depiction of an old married couple. The gay jokes fly, but the point of it is that they love each other. It’s what keeps me coming back to this movie, even 20 years later.
Sweet or not, there’s no denying that it’s off-the-wall. Between jokes about Williams’ foundation, Lane’s exaggerated emotional outbursts, and the great ‘comedy of errors’ that is the night of the dinner itself – it’s a solid 4/5 for ‘90s Acid Trip’.
The 90s had no shortage of Shakespeare adaptations, good and bad, but Baz Luhrmann’s unforgettably tacky and charmingly sincere modern adaptation of Romeo+Juliet stands out. The Montagues and Capulets are family run companies – their henchmen start gang wars in the streets, Romeo and Benvolio play pool in baggy Hawaiian shirts, and Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is a drug-fueled rant. Amid all the bright colors and gorgeous music, the dialogue of Shakespeare’s play is left intact, leaving readers in an anachronistic dream-world.
I love Shakespeare adaptations, but I love them, even more, when they’re as bizarre and entertaining as this one. Besides, who doesn’t love a young, floppy-haired Leonardo DiCaprio speaking love poetry with a smile?
Everybody knows how this story goes – it’s the trip that manages to be dazzlingly colorful. Edging up the scale, Romeo+Juliet is a 4.5/5 on the ‘90s Acid Trip’ scale.
Long before Charlize Theron’s buzz cut graced the big screen, Mad Max already got its feminist spin in Rachel Talalay’s 90s adaptation of the Tank Girl comics. In the film, the eponymous Tank Girl is captured by Water and Power and teams up with Jet Girl to escape. They blaze through the desert wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia in search of water, revenge, and killer kangaroo mutants.
If that sounds a little like stoner Mad Libs, you’re not far off. Tank Girl takes sadistic pleasure in its own bizarreness and is unapologetically a feminist power fantasy. It’s been a favorite of mine since I was far too young to watch it. Unfortunately, it suffers from a low budget and, well, the nineties, but it’s still a wonderful hidden gem that too few people even know about.
All of the above and the bizarre cartoon sequences take it firmly up to a 5/5 on the ‘90s Acid Trip’ scale. You don’t need to be drunk or high while watching this – the movie does it all on its own.
What are some of the strangest movies you remember from the 90s?