Last Updated on June 21, 2020
Like every decade, the 90s had its fair share of moments.
These moments were found in the toys, movies, music, and TV plus much more. We thought we’d narrow down the frankly disturbing amount of pop culture moments to the very best. In fact, we’ll go one step further.
Strap in as we travel back through time, bad haircuts and all, for the epic pop culture moments of the 1990s.
Warning: around 90% of this list is guaranteed to give you nightmares.
- Pogs. These little circular cardboard shapes were the number one reason for all school playground fights in the 1990s. We could spend five minutes of our life that we’ll never get back by telling you the rules of Pogs, but let’s just say it was like Pokemon in the playground, except with extra frustrated children.
- Tickle Me Elmo. A ‘must have’ toy, as in you must buy it or your kids will hate you, when it was released in 1996 people went crazy. Fights occurred outside shops selling them. Parents would chase down delivery trucks just in case they had Tickle Me Elmo toys in there. And by the end of 1996, the entire worldwide stock of Elmos was bought.
- Bop It. This is where Hasbro suddenly came across a toy that heightened stress levels, but in a legitimate way. Basically a version of hot potato with an electronic taskmaster that brought on homicidal urges, Bop It was simply a phenomenon. It soon became one of those toys that, if you didn’t own it, you were a source of social shame. Either that, or you actually liked being sane.
- Tamagotchi. Feed these virtual pets on a regular basis, play with them and generally give them your undying attention, and it’s all good. Miss a meal time and the creature would wither and die.
Warning: Spoilers throughout this list
- Basic Instinct. We’re willing to bet good money that no-one remembers the plot to Basic Instinct. That’s because the movie was about that moment. When Sharon Stone’s character crossed her legs as part of her steamy flirtation with Michael Douglas’s character, audiences the world over gasped. And putting Stone’s character firmly into the female empowerment context (She’s sexy! And intelligent!) was years ahead of its time.
- Waterworld. When this movie was released in 1995, it was the most expensive movie ever made. It was a major flop too, critically. And while it may have made millions at the box office this still wasn’t enough to rescue Kevin Costner’s career, which ironically) sank after this gem hit the screens.
- Titanic. Spoiler alert: the ship sinks. One of the most dramatic real-life stories of our time was turned into a 72 hour long epic starring Leonardo DeCaprio’s cheekbones and Kate Winslett’s Englishness. Everything about this movie was iconic. If you saw it in the cinema it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Still the best depiction of a large boat sinking into a cruel sea in movies. And probably the only example of a $200 million movie that everyone knew the ending of that grossed nearly $700 million in sales.
- Jurassic Park. Amazingly, not as expensive as Titanic. And it ended up making over a billion worldwide all told. A high point in cinema, as Steven Spieleberg managed to show us dinosaurs that simply looked real.
- The Phantom Menace. To say expectations were high when this was released would be an understatement. Finally, fans of Star Wars would get a prequel. You either love it or hate it, but it can’t be denied that this was a huge slice of nostalgic pop culture.
- Pulp Fiction. Yes, it was messy, and yes Tarantino simply used too many words, but this was an epic movie. Everyone liked Reservoir Dogs for its brevity and it’s script, but Pulp Fiction was an overwhelming Kahuna Burger of a movie. Never again would casual, brutal violence seem so cool and stylish. And we got to see John Travolta dance like we all wish we could. And he was 39 years old.
- Britney. This pop sensation got everyone’s attention in her video for ‘Baby one more time’. Even now, when she is still making music (or dominating Las Vegas lounge shows) she will always be remembered for that controversial high school dance video. It was truly a moment in cultural history. And because she kind of ushered in a new era of saccharine teen pop, Britney became an icon.
- Wannabe. It’s hard to exaggerate the impact of the Spice Girls. They invented a new phrase in ‘girl power’, that is still incredibly important today. They also showed how a girl group could compete with the boys any time, any place. So famous they starred in their own movie, they were a truly powerful force in the 90s. They changed everything in music, simply because they were honest and created some genuinely catchy music.
- Riverdance. Michael Flatley brought this incredible and exciting dance show/style to the world. It immediately impressed anyone who saw it, and the show Riverdance went on to be seen all over the world, by millions of paying customers.
- MC Hammer. He had plenty of haters, but no one can deny that he had a huge impact on music, the pants helped. The ‘U Can’t Touch This’ video alone should be enough to seal his fate as a cultural icon.
- The ‘Vogue’. Madonna was seriously hip in the 90s. Everything she did was lapped up by the press and she was also making some damn fine music too. But the one 90s moment that seriously cemented her reputation as a fierce and empowered woman icon was Vogue. The video for Vogue said it all. Madonna and some other beautiful people dancing this crazy new style that involved staring at the camera and using your hands as a photo frame. You remember it. Yes you do.
- Grunge. This arguably started with Nirvana, who weren’t the first group in the Grunge story, but were most definitely the biggest. Once Nirvana hit the big time, Seattle became a Mecca for music fans, and it all ended with one fateful night for Kurt Cobain. The 90s gained a hero and lost one soon afterwards. And music would never be the same again.
- Sinead and the Pope. On Saturday Night Live, Sinead O’Connor tore up a photograph of the Pope. It caused shockwaves around the world and changed her life and career forever. What was interesting here though is that it was simply an act of free speech, in the country that protected free speech. If anything, it was a testament to the power of music.
- Milli Vanilli. These two ridiculously good-looking men seemed to have it all. They had the looks, the music, the lifestyle, and they could sing like angels. Except they couldn’t, and when they were exposed as lip-synching (as in not singing their songs at all, ever) they were dismissed by the entire world. The music industry had a wake-up call, only to make the entire thing happen again (kind of) years later with the overwhelming presence of autotune. Music was sullied by the whole thing, and people started to pine for real musicians once again.
- Nirvana at the VMAs. The Video Music Awards were well established by the time Nirvana won big in 1992. They had rules and protocols. And Nirvana basically ruined everything. For starters, they played the one song that they were told not to, ‘Rape Me’. This kind of set the mood for the rest of the performance, which at one point involved Krist Novocelic throwing his guitar in the air and being hit in the head when the instrument came back down. It was a beautifully arrogant, subversive few minutes.
- Rap and Rock crossovers. There is so much to deal with here, but it has to be said that Rap and Rock, for better or for worse, had a bit of a crossover thing in the 90s. We had REM (for worse) and KRS-One on Radio Song. It wasn’t that bad, but if you listen to the track now, it still feels weird and perhaps a little scary. Sonic Youth did better with Kool Thing with Chuck D. However, the idea of Rock and Rap working together has kind of vanished a little now. The 90s was the decade when the record labels gave it their best shot.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This particular show deserves a mention simply because it was pivotal in the career of Will Smith. And that means a lot. Not only did we have the awesome actor going from strength to strength in major movies, but we also got Jaden Smith, who may turn out to be the reason why the world ends in a few years time. And right at the heart of it all was a show that had a wealthy, hard-working professional black family making everyone laugh and cry. And Carlton. We always had Carlton Banks.
- Chris Evans. Not Captain America, but a bespectacled genius radio DJ who had a legendary capacity for alcohol, a ridiculous ego and, for part of the 90s, one of the most exciting shows on TV. With TFI Friday, Evans changed the way celebrities were managed in interviews, created new ways of keeping audiences entertained, and generally made sure that Friday night didn’t begin until his show started. It was an iconic UK TV show, and it made him into a broadcasting legend.
- Friends. Still making people laugh now, and also responsible for some truly incredible TV moments. A great script, and a great theme tune. It was happy and smart, and it made us believe that beautiful people could live in the same apartment block and be funny too. It launched careers and killed careers. And it was always, always funny.
- Reality TV. Yes it started in the 90s with The Real World, and blew up with Big Brother. Now it’s a little exhausting and essentially has made YouTube annoying (think about it). But back then, you had to be invested in the lives of people who are essentially talentless and lacking in personality. And if you weren’t watching that first series of Big Brother (or talking about it) then you simply didn’t have the right to exist. The genre is now a mess, and we could do without most reality TV stuff now. But cast your minds back to the origins of the phenomenon, and you’ll agree that watching people embarrass themselves and act like your annoying cousin for 24 hours a day really was unmissable stuff. And yes, we stayed up to watch the live feed from the Big Brother House. Didn’t you?
- Twin Peaks. There was nothing funny about it, but it was definitely odd. And also incredibly, breathtakingly poignant at times. The death of Laura Palmer and the impact on the small town of Twin Peaks was compulsive viewing. Remember when it nearly got axed and there was a huge petition to bring it back? And you knew you were watching truly amazing TV when Agent Cooper was the normal one…
- The X Files. Iconic and sexy, Mulder and Scully flirting was part of our lives during the 90s. There is really only one episode that explains why this was the coolest SCi-Fi TV ever. It involved a quadraplegic mother living under a bed and her sons running wild. That episode, ‘Home’, was the X Files at is scariest. And it’s rarely been shown. That the rest of the series was scary too shows just how incredible the show was.
- The Simpsons. This was the era the Simpsons ruled. It never got better than this, and while the show is now coming to a close, it has to be said that the 90s episodes were everything you wanted in 20 minutes or so of animated comedy.
The 90s was a beautiful, crazy and kind of innocent decade. If you lived through it you’ll agree that it was game-changing when it came to popular culture. From toys to TV, it was frankly a bonkers and fun ten years.