The Geeky Nineties

The Geeky Nineties

Sunday (July 9th) at 9:00, CNN will debut

The Nineties

the latest in the Tom Hanks/Gary Goetzman/Mark Herzog pop culture decade documentaries.

I’ve been writing about the decades from the geek perspective…and the 1990s had its share of iconic entries.

Overall, the decade felt like the mainstreaming of geek culture had become mature. The transformation had really begun in the 1970s with The Exorcist, Jaws, and Star Wars. It was still a surprise to see them do so well in the 1980s, but by the 1990s, not having geek-friendly movies dominating the box office would have been a surprise. The respect they had garnered became apparent, with the talents and tools of geek-friendly works moving into mainstream works (James Cameron directed the special-effects laden Titanic, and Robert Zemeckis also using the new technology in Forrest Gump).

However, the momentum was moving out of the movie theatres and on to the videogame systems…


  • Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (that’s not a moon…it’s the box office! There was a lot of controversy with this movie, even with the concept of a prequel ((not to mention the execution and characters)), but it changed the game)
  • The Disney Renaissance began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, but really dominated in the 1990s: Beauty and the Beast (nominated for Best Picture), Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan all happened during the 1990s. Disney partnered with Pixar (which they would later purchase) in issuing the ground-breaking computer animated movie Toy Story (and the sequel, Toy Story 2, was in the top ten grossing movies for the decade). Also, 101 Dalmatians with Glenn Close presaged the life action remakes we are seeing now
  • So much Star Trek!  The Star Trek Next Gen crew had First Contact; Star Trek: Generations (Kirk and Picard); Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; Star Trek: Insurrection
  • Steven Spielberg directed the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and for many people, brought dinosaurs back from the cinematic dead (echoing the plot)…and Jeff Goldblum ruled the geek screen scene!
  • Speaking of Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day came out in 1996…with another geek star, Will Smith, showing that Goldblum didn’t rule alone! Roland Emmerich directed  blew up  a lot of landmarks. Emmerich also directed Moon 44, Universal Soldier, Stargate, and Godzilla in the 1990s)
  • M. Night Shyamalan burst on to the scene directing and writing The Sixth Sense, which got six Oscar nominations and everyone talking
  • Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith were the Men in Black, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and based on Lowell Cunningham’s comic (which radically departed from the concept of Men-in-Black in ufology…you can read my coverage of that here)
  • Yes, that was Jack Nicholson in Wolf
  • For some people, Ghost is still the most romantic movie, but it is also solidly geek-friendly. It also won two Oscars, including one for Whoopi Goldberg
  • Oh, behave! We met Austin Powers…and befitting a time traveler, had a second date with The Spy Who Shagged Me
  • Seven years after the original, the Terminator was back in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  • Michael Bay directed Meat Loaf music videos before directing Armageddon (which had competition from Deep Impact)
  • This seems familiar…Groundhog Day
  • Drew Barrymore starred, and Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien had a small part in Ever After
  • Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney all starred in Batman movies (following Keaton’s first turn in 1989)
  • “Never give up, never surrender!” Galaxy Quest
  • Tom Cruise did decide to accept the Mission:Impossible give to him by Brian De Palma
  • Geek-friendly can be funny, as was the case with Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar and The Mask (and the latter introduced us to Cameron Diaz)
  • We took the red pill in 1999 and entered The Matrix
  • John Travolta and Nicolas Cage were the stars, but a lot of interest was in the director of Face/Off, John Woo
  • Houston, we have a problem…but not with Ron Howard’s Apollo 13
  • Alrighty, then! Jim Carrey was Ace Ventura, Pet Detective in two movies (but not in the animated series)
  • Bond, James Bond was Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough,
  • The Blair Witch Project created the “found footage” genre, and was incredibly profitable
  • Babe, a pig raised by sheepdogs, was
  • Michael Jordan was in the animation/live action hybrid, Space Jam
  • Anaconda tried to put the squeeze on J-Lo
  • Luc Besson brought us his vision of The Fifth Element
  • There were three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies (following the animated TV series), and two TV series
  • Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia were Mortician and Gomez in The Addams Family
  • Some other movies: A Bug’s Life; The Mummy; The Santa Claus; Dr. Dolittle; The Green Mile; The Flintstones; The Nutty Professor; The Truman Show; Hook (“Bangarang!”); Total Recall; Wild Wild West (the song was popular, but the movie was a misfire with many fans); Interview with the Vampire (Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, based on Anne Rice); George of the Jungle (Brendan Fraser…and John Cleese as the voice of Ape); Phenomenon (John Travolta); Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty and Madonna); Scream (Wes Craven); The Prince of Egypt; Tim Burton, who was a major factor in 1990s, directed Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in Sleepy Holllow; Carl Sagan’s book Contact was given the big screen treatment (and treated as “serious” science fiction movie); The Rugrats Movie; Casper; Jumanji; Matthew Broderick starred in another cartoon to live action adaptation; Michael (John Travolta as a down to Earth angel); Flubber; The Haunting; Antz; Waterworld; Back to the World Part III (1990); Pokemon: The First Movie; The X Files; Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Gary Oldman); The Nightmare Before Christmas; Deep Blue Sea; Mortal Kombat (Christopher Lambert); Blade (Wesley Snipes); Lost in Space (Jonathan Harris didn’t cameo…he said they offered him a bit part, and he had never done a bit part in his life and wasn’t about to start); Beavis & Butt-Head Do America; Flatliners; Misery; The Devil’s Advocate; Fantasia 2000 (which came out in 1999); Natasha Henstridge starred in Species; name ten Meryl Streep movies: was Death Becomes Her one of them?; Bicentennial Man; Demolition Man; Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys; Edward Scissorhands; Forever Young; Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection; What Dreams May Come; Halloween H20: 20 Years Later; Spawn; Starship Troopers; Small Soldiers; Arachnophobia; Dragonheart; The Crow; Mighty Joe Young; Angels in the Outfield (Christopher Lloyd); Stigmata; The Rocketeer; Practical Magic; RoboCop 2; Meet Joe Black; Timecop; The Jungle Book (Jason Scott Lee); Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990); House on Haunted Hill; Encino Man; Pleasantville; The Faculty; Hocus Pocus; Urban Legend; Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey; Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie; Mars Attacks!; Sphere; My Favorite Martian; Junior; A Goofy Movie; Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare


TV saw a few important geeky high points. We made our first trip into the Whedonverse…yes, the Buffy movie was in the 1990s, and there was Toy Story, but it was really with the Buffy TV series that we were there. While it wasn’t the first time that we’d had female led geeky TV series, Buffy and Xena brought straight up fighters (although there was much more to them than that). Xena was part of Sam Raimi’s shows, having spun off from Hercules. The X-Files was groundbreaking, but it’s really worth noting how animated series got quirkier and in some ways, more grown up. That was in part due to the fracturing delivery landscape, with Nickelodeon rising. Batman: The Animated Series was a milestone, and we would particularly cite Space Ghost Coast to Coast and The Tick animated series.

  • Family Guy
  • South Park
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager
  • Stargate SG-1
  • The X-Files
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
  • Charmed
  • Futurama
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers
  • Batman: The Animated Series
  • Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
  • Babylon 5
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess
  • The Flash
  • Pokemon
  • Spaced
  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
  • Lexx
  • Dragon Ball Z
  • Roswell
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Spider-Man (1994 animated series)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun
  • Farscape
  • Goosebumps
  • Dinosaurs
  • Rugrats
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?
  • Sliders
  • X-Men (1992 animated series)
  • Highlander
  • Passions
  • The Outer Limits (1995 series)
  • Batman Beyond, The New Batman Adventures
  • Hey Arnold!
  • Touched by an Angel
  • Barney & Friends
  • The Pretender
  • Sailor Moon
  • Animaniacs
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
  • The Lost World
  • Arthur
  • The Powerpuff Girls
  • Relic Hunter
  • Blue’s Clues
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Millenium
  • Gargoyles
  • Dexter’s Library
  • Early Edition
  • The Secret World of Alex Mack
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog
  • The Magic School Bus
  • Superman
  • Rocko’s Modern Life
  • The Odyssey
  • Teletubbies
  • The Wild Thornberrys
  • The Ren  & Stimpy Show
  • Digimon
  • The Worst Witch
  • Young Hercules
  • The Wiggles
  • SeaQuest 2032
  • Weird Science
  • Spawn
  • Beast Wars: Transformers
  • The Tribe
  • The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
  • Swamp Thing
  • The Tick (the animated series)
  • Bob the Builder
  • ReBoot
  • Trigun
  • Earth: Final Conflict
  • BeastMaster (1999 series)
  • Pinky and the Brain
  • CatDog
  • Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
  • So Weird
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
  • Gullah, Gullah Island
  • Detective Conan
  • Jumanji (animated series)
  • Space: Above and Beyond
  • Bear in the Big Blue House
  • Darkwing Duck (“Let’s get dangerous!”)
  • The Sentinel
  • Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles
  • Aladdin (animated series)
  • Forever Knight
  • Get Smart (1995 series)
  • Seven Days
  • Ocean Girl
  • Talespin
  • The Tommyknockers
  • V.R. Troopers
  • Space Ghost Coast to Coast
  • Duckman
  • Beakman’s World
  • Harry and the Hendersons
  • Bill Nye, the Science Guy
  • Caillou
  • Eerie, Indiana
  • VeggieTales
  • The New Addams Family (1998 series)
  • Wishbone
  • Timon & Pumbaa (series)
  • Big Wolf on Campus
  • Big Bad Beetleborgs
  • Celebrity Deathmatch
  • Bobby’s World
  • Dark Shadows (1991 Ben Cross series)
  • Happy Tree Friends
  • The Hunger
  • Tiny Toon Adventures
  • Crusade
  • NightMan
  • First Wave
  • Men in Black: The Series
  • The Adventures of Sinbad
  • Poltergeist: The Legacy
  • The Angry Beavers
  • Spider-Man Unlimited
  • The Little Mermaid (series)
  • Get a Life
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
  • Animorphs
  • Earth 2
  • Back to the Future (animated series)
  • The Mask (animated series)
  • Cow and Chicken
  • Freakazoid!
  • The Crow: Stairway to Heaven
  • Svengoolie
  • The Land of the Lost
  • Robocop (TV series)
  • Team Knight Rider
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (TV series)
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (TV series)
  • Kindred: The Embraced
  • Archie’s Weird Mysteries
  • Goof Troop
  • Now and Again
  • Space Precinct
  • Highlander: The Raven
  • Zooboomafoo
  • The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest
  • The Incredible Hulk (animated series)
  • Tarzan (Wolf Larson)
  • Legends of the Hidden Temple


Harry Potter: drop the mic! Just kidding, there were a lot of geeky books of note. I listed

90 books of the 1990s

in my I Love My Kindle blog, but those include non-geeky titles, too. I’d particularly note:

  • Jurassic Park and the sequel by Michael Crichton
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
  • Man After Man by Dougal Dixon
  • I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy
  • The Golden Compass (AKA Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman (first of His Dark Materials)
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (kicked off a successful book series, which was later adapted for TV)
  • Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (the first of the Pendergast series)
  • The Children of Men by P.D. James
  • Blindness by Josè Saramago
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (first in the series)
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Star Wars books by Kevin J. Anderson (Champions of the Force, Dark Apprentice, Jedi Search, Darksaber); many other people were writing Star Wars novels, too
  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
  • Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear
  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (1st of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books)
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #1)
  • Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth #1) by Terry Goodkind
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (start of the Mars trilogy)
  • The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Of course, the Animorphs series (starting in 1996) had a big impact on younger readers.


There was significant innovation in home videogames in the 1990s; arguably the biggest innovations since then (Virtual and Augmented Reality) are just really happening now. That’s not to say that there wasn’t innovation in the intervening period (there was), but the groundwork was laid for most of what followed.

The videogame consoles debuting included the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy, the Playstation, the Sega Saturn, and the Dreamcast. CDs began to replace cartridges, haptic feedback became a thing, and of course, online gaming took off (the term MMORPG ((Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game)) was coined).

Some notable games:

  • Street Fighter II
  • Virtua Fighter (arcade)
  • Tekken
  • Dead or Alive
  • Doom
  • Wolfenstein 3D
  • Goldeneye
  • Quake
  • Half-Life
  • Wing Commander
  • Super Mario World
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Gran Turismo
  • Ultima Online
  • EverQuest
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid
  • Alone in the Dark
  • Resident Evil
  • Silent Hill
  • Baldur’s Gate
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • Oddworld
  • Battletoads
  • Pokemon
  • Diablo
  • Duke Nukem
  • Earthworm Jim
  • The Elder Scrolls
  • Fallout
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Monkey Island
  • Rayman
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon
  • Spyro
  • Super Smash Brothers
  • Tomb Raider
  • Warcraft

Toys (edited to add)

Tech toys were big, but so were simpler, low-tech items. Collectibles were big, perhaps spurred in part by the rise of eBay in 1995 and other innovative ways to convert pop culture to cash.

  • Beanie Babies (geeky? Yes, there was a unicorn, for one thing)
  • Furby
  • Sky Dancers
  • Tamagotchi
  • Tickle Me Elmo
  • Magic: The Gathering

I’m going to stop there for now (after all, this is over 2,000 words) because I want to get it out before the first episode is broadcast. I haven’t covered comics (and that’s not because the 1990s have…a reputation for not being the best comics decade), Bufo’s Weird World, science…but what I’ve done so far should show you that the 1990s were geeky!

Feel free to suggest some of your own geek-friendly items for the 1990s by commenting on this post.

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