The year was 1997. White eyeliner was in. Spice Girls were on top of the world. I burst a blood vessel in my eye from sobbing during Titanic at the cinema. And while other pre-teens were possibly doing cool things like skateboarding and hanging out at the mall and prank-calling boys (oh, what an innocent time), I was most likely sitting in front of an old TV in my parents’ basement, watching Fried Green Tomatoes on VHS for the hundredth time.
I’ve talked about how much I love movies briefly on this site, most recently in this post and this post (where it is revealed how often I went to Blockbuster, and hint: it wasn’t always necessarily for the rental tapes). It doesn’t really fit into my usual “travelling/getting drunk/getting dumped” narrative that seems to permeate this blog, but I have watched an extraordinary amount of movies in my lifetime, many of them more than once. Trust me, if you are playing Heads Up, Charades, or any sort of movie trivia, you want me on your team. I even minored in Film Studies for the first year of my BA, though I switched to Music History after working for Miramax one summer and realising I never, ever wanted to work in film. I was content just to watch them.
Although I often fell behind on my movie-watching while travelling – for the love of all that is holy, I DO NOT need to see another Hangover movie played in a hostel common room – since spending more time in Canada, I’ve found myself once again getting into film. I like to watch it all: action, comedy, foreign, romance, drama.
My favourite genre of all time is probably 90s-era thrillers/suspense movies; think The Usual Suspects, Kiss the Girls, To Die For, The Pelican Brief, Fear, Primal Fear, Cape Fear, Sleepers, The Client, Seven, The Fugitive, A Time to Kill, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Double Jeopardy… man that was an amazing decade for thrillers. Also a fantastic decade for teen comedies and teen horror, I might add. The genres I watch the least of would be fantasy, horror/torture, and anime.
Even if I know before watching the movie that I won’t like it, I still often watch it just to feel on top of current movies. I’ve also made it a point to watch as many of the classics as I can – Some Like It Hot is my favourite movie of all time, though I hadn’t discovered it at 13 – and I’m often shocked by how many people refuse to watch a movie in black and white (this is one of my quasi-dealbreakers in relationships; you know, not a big enough dealbreaker to actually dump the guy, but often the rotten cherry on top of a mouldy cake).
And while I have watched literally thousands of movies in my lifetime, there are few films that have affected me as much as those I watched when I was younger. My parents were always pretty easy-going about which films I watched; they encouraged my love of film and knew I was mature enough to handle most movies (so The Usual Suspects = OK, Last Tango in Paris, maybe not so much).
Recently, I decided to embark on a film journey that would take me through viewings of all my favourite movies from when I was 13. Would I still like them? Would they stand the test of time, even 20+ years later? Would I still get all hot and bothered and suddenly feel the urge to leave the room and replenish the popcorn whenever Brad Pitt came on screen? Here’s what I discovered.
Please note a lot of fantastic dramas came out around the same time as these (The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, Heat, The Usual Suspects, and so on, but I wanted to keep this list fairly light. I also didn’t really get into drama and more serious film until I was naturally a bit older).
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fried Green Tomatoes was my JAM. Seriously, this was my favourite movie for at least a decade of my life, if not longer. Even watching the trailer makes me tear up. I absolutely loved the strength and loyalty portrayed by these women, and the female friendships that develop in two separate eras.
Something interesting I learned fairly early on in rewatching all of these films is that, without knowing it, a lot of my favourites as a kid were movies that passed the Bechdel test. For those who don’t know, the Bechdel test examines whether or not the work presented includes two women – two women who should have significant roles and/or at least be named in the work – talking to one another about something other than men. That’s it: two named women have a conversation about something – anything! – other than men. Easy, right? Hmm.
Studies show that up to 50% of films fail this test, including movies like The Avengers, Lord of the Rings (any of the films), Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, 21 Jump Street, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)… even children’s films like Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo don’t have any dialogue between two female characters. Like… seriously? You can’t have two female fish just chat about coral or something?!
That’s all to say that Fried Green Tomatoes very much passes the Bechdel test. And you know what else I wasn’t consciously aware of when watching it as a kid, although part of me must have known?
Ruth and Idgie aren’t just best friends. They’re in love. Watching this again as an adult… it is SO OBVIOUS. The honey? The food fight? The kiss on the cheek as they’re literally dipping their toes in the water, seeing if they should give it a go?! Reading the book a while back cemented this for me, as in the book they openly have a romance.
It pisses me off that that this message was suppressed in order to make a “family-friendly” movie (big, big air quotes with that one) but if you watch this movie as a romance developing, not just a friendship, it does make the movie that much sweeter (and sadder) to watch as an adult. I still cry like a baby at least five times throughout the film, no matter how many times I watch it. This movie also addresses race – the KKK scenes are incredibly unsettling – and I loved that there was a message of finding your family and staying loyal to them, even if you aren’t related by blood.
Is this movie still good? Yes. It’s even better if you watch it as two women falling in love.
Legends of the Fall
I was ten when this movie came out. I probably watched it that year or the next with my parents, didn’t understand what was happening to me whenever Brad Pitt as Tristan came on screen, and then religiously watched this movie ~in private~ every week for about the next three years. I mean… LOOK AT HIM.
That being said, I watched this movie again at 34 and… yes. He is still mind-bogglingly beautiful. But… how on this good green Earth did I think he was a dream man?! He’s incredibly complicated, is dealing with (understandable) inner demons, and essentially ghosts Susannah (it was happening even in the 1920s, folks). Why didn’t I like Aidan Quinn as Alfred? He’s loyal, charming, loving, dependable, successful, AND he has those baby blues.
I am going to say it here and now: Legends of the Fall set me up for a lifetime of chasing Tristans when I should have been looking at the Alfreds. Damn it!
Is this movie still good? Yes. It stands up. I still weep and still ~feel feelings~ for Tristan. Now where the fuck is my Alfred?!
First Wives Club
Kind of an odd choice for a 13-year-old girl who has, you know, never been a middle-aged woman or divorced, but I LOVED THIS MOVIE. It was so funny to me then, and I used to LOVE seeing the women get justice on their husbands (again, I’m not sure what that says about my current dating life, but let’s not dwell on it). Much like my other favourite movies from this time, this movie focuses primarily on female friendship and how important it is for women to support one another. Plus it stars Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, so HELL YES TO THIS MOVIE.
Is this movie still good? Fuck yes. I still watch it every six months or so. The way Diane Keaton says, “Is she a gift?” (you can see it in the trailer above) still makes me laugh.
Death Becomes Her
This trailer does not do this movie justice AT ALL. This movie was so ridiculous – and it stars THE Meryl Streep! – and yet I probably watched it at least fifty or so times when I was growing up. Much like The First Wives’ Club, I definitely did not understand the pressure placed on women to look young when I watched this the first time, but watching it again now, it’s an interesting take on the lengths people will go to be young and “beautiful”, and the devastating effects that can have. All of that aside, Meryl and Goldie are absolutely delightful, and are obviously having so much fun in these roles. There isn’t some major “ah-ha” moment or lesson to take away from this movie… it’s just really, really fun. Oh, and I still want to look like Isabella Rossellini when I grow up.
Also, I TOTALLY didn’t “get” that that was Bruce Willis when I was younger. I just didn’t put him in this movie and him in Die Hard together, and I don’t know why.
Is this movie still good? Yes. This is one of those movies that I could start watching at any point throughout the film and totally enjoy it.
Now and Then
I read this really great article about Now and Then recently, one that posits that this movie is a lot darker than you remember. When I realised I wanted to watch this film… I couldn’t. The only way you can watch this movie today is if you buy the DVD. It is not available to stream anywhere, as it hasn’t been cleared for digital distribution. That makes me so sad, because this movie meant so much to me (and I’m sure to many young women out there).
But then I remembered… I DID own this DVD! Back in the early aughts, I would buy DVDs and CDs like nobody’s business. I’m snatch up 10 DVDs for $30 at big chain stores, or buy copies of my favourite movies no matter the cost. Back then – let me just get out my rocking chair here – the only way to watch movies was to catch them on TV, rent them from a video stores, or own the videocassette/DVD.
I dug through a huge box of DVDs in my basement (fortunately or unfortunately, I’m a bit of a packrat) and finally found Now and Then. I didn’t even have a DVD player hooked up to my TV, but I found that, too.
Again, this movie reiterates just how important – and just how complicated – female friendships are. What is a story of one summer is also a story of grief, maturity, disappointment, betrayal, and more. Watching them reunite as adults is equally fraught with sometimes uncomfortable and awkward moments, just as it would be to reunite with my best girlfriends from over two decades ago (with the exception of those I’ve kept in close contact with, of course).
Is this movie still good? Yes, most of it. The constant fat-shaming of Chrissy bothered me a lot, but overall I found the movie to be a lot deeper and sadder than I remembered it being.
A League of Their Own
The fact that I named my dog after this movie’s main character should probably tell you everything you need to know. I fucking love this movie. I realise now that so many of my favourite movies as a girl were setting me up for a lifetime of being passionate about women’s rights and feminism, as well as setting me up for valuing my female friendships as much as I do. I love that this movie also easily passes the Bechdel test – it’s kinda gross to realise how many movies DON’T pass this test – and that the women in it discuss real, relatable issues, including wanting to be taken seriously. I loved the message of this movie then, and I love the message of this movie today. I actually got the idea for this blog post by rewatching this on a plane recently (thank you, WestJet, for having an awesome selection of movies).
A major issue that I feel I should address is that this list is very devoid of people of colour, as there are very few (barely any) main characters in these films that aren’t white. 21 years ago, I didn’t notice this. Now, of course, it is so blatantly obvious just how whitewashed Hollywood was (and still is). I mention this under A League of Their Own because there is a scene where a baseball rolls over to young black woman who throws it back to the catcher with power, causing all of the other (white) players to gawk.
Many have thought that this woman is supposed to represent Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who wasn’t allowed to try out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, though she did go on to play (along with two other women) in the male Negro Leagues.
If this movie were made today, I would hope that this issue would have been addressed sufficiently, and not boiled down to a ten-second scene. Similarly, there aren’t nearly as many coming-of-age movies like Now and Then for young women of colour, though that is slowly (too slowly) changing. Zoé Samudzi reflects on this in her article What White Girl Coming-of-Age Movies Don’t Do For a Black Girl.
Is this movie still good? Absolutely. It still makes me laugh, makes me cry, and, now, makes me think of my dog.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
Oh god, this movie. It’s just so ridiculous and so fun. Despite me side-eyeing any dialogue about their dieting techniques and obsession with being thin, I just can’t not like this movie. While I never wanted to wear their fashion myself, I used to love seeing all Romy and Michele’s get-ups on the screen. In the end, the film still has the “you just have to be yourself” message that I obviously loved as a 13-year-old outsider, even if I probably didn’t get a lot of the sex jokes in this movie. Plus, bonus points for Janene Garofalo.
Is this movie still good? I think so, but I also think I’m biased. I can see why someone without any nostalgic connections to this film would think it was a bit too silly. I’d imagine all of us who watched this in the 90s, though, reflect on it as a sweet movie about two women totally loyal to one another throughout the years (and the outfits).
This. This is what I wanted. This is what I thought I’d find when I finally left the shackles of high school – “nobody gets me!” – and found my funny, artsy group of friends. This is what I thought I’d find when I went to university. I wanted nothing more than to have a pixie cut, wear vintage clothing, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, and have ~deep~ conversations. Ben Stiller’s character in this movie? Everything I didn’t want in life, that disgusting yuppie. I wanted to make music and film documentaries and drink cheap wine and LIVE, goddamit, live. Oh, and wear babydoll dresses with Docs.
SO. I rewatched this movie recently and… holy shit, why on Earth did I want to be any of these people? With the exception of Janeane Garofalo’s character (again, bonus points), who is dry and witty and still has awesome fashion, and Steve Zahn’s Sammy, everyone else is a loser. Winona’s character, Lelaina, just seems lost and naive, where as Ethan Hawke’s character, Troy, is downright AWFUL. No, seriously, he is the worst. The fact that Lelaina ends up with Troy (spoiler… you’ve had 24 years) made me want to rip my TV off of my wall.
Actual quote by Troy: “I’m sorry, Lelaina, but you can’t navigate me. I might do mean things, and I might hurt you, and I might run away without your permission, and you might hate me forever. And I know that that scares the shit out of you, because I’m the only real thing that you have.”
This is exactly the kind of thing that 13-year-old me would have pined for (so complicated! so dark!) while 34-year-old me would be looking for something to gouge my eardrums with so I wouldn’t have to listen to that manipulative, non-committal bullshit from a man. “Hey! Here are all my sorry excuses right off the bat, so don’t blame me when you don’t like that I’m a total tool!” Honestly, Troy is the absolute worst. I would hate to think that a movie actually affected what I thought was a normal, healthy relationship between two adults, but now I’m realising I may have just been subconsciously hate-dating Troys my entire life.
Is this movie still good? Again, I loved watching this for the nostalgia factor. It encapsulates 1994 perfectly, if you happened to be a white, entitled, mediocre artist who had amazing fashion. Also, thanks for all my years of chasing “complicated” douchebags, Troy. UGH!
How to Make an American Quilt
Let’s just go over this cast, shall we? Winona Ryder (#winonaforever), Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Alfre Woodard, and Maya Freaking Angelou?! Throw in one of the hottest men to ever grace the silver screen – Dermot Mulroney… I can’t be the only one who thinks this, right? – and I was SOLD. I watched this movie so many times as a kid. Like other movies on this list, I LOVED the multitude of storylines in this film, jumping back and forth between past and present.
I honestly think I based all of my fantasies of love off of three storylines in this movie:
- The way that dude looks at Samantha Mathis as she’s about to jump in the water (I thought she was the most beautiful woman ever)
- The way that other dude smears paint on his chest when he’s painting his muse/lover/wife
- The way that other other dude laughs when he’s with Alfre Woodard’s character in Paris… in the rain (of course in the rain)
Here are the problems with that way of thinking:
- That dude ends up LEAVING Samantha Mathis in the middle of the night with a bunch of kids, so fuck that guy
- That other dude ends up cheating on his muse/lover/wife with tons of other muses/lovers, because he’s just ~so passionate~, so fuck that guy
- That storyline lasted exactly one evening, which just breaks my heart and seriously, why even tempt Cupid in Paris in the rain, you know?
I will forever love this movie for, again, its depiction of complicated female friendships. Throw in some romance – especially romance coupled with heartbreak, which toyed perfectly with the fragile hormones of a preteen – and I was so in. Watching it today, however, I can’t help but feel disappointed at how immature and selfish Winona’s character is; I was NEVER into Johnathon Schaech’s character, and felt like I spent the entire time watching like, “Girl, you have such a good thing going with Dermot, don’t screw it up!”
Also, never write your entire thesis on a typewriter, have only one copy, and leave it by an open window.
Is this movie still good? Yes, I still enjoyed it a lot, even when watching it through adult eyes. My anger at Winona dragging the quilt through the mud at the end of the movie still stands. They spent the entire movie making that damn thing for you! Have some respect!
Obviously I was obsessed with this movie. Peak 90s fashion, witches, the stakes of female friendship, Skeet Ulrich AND Fairuza Balk?! C’mon. It’s a little messed up that I liked this movie so much – it’s certainly pretty dark – but that didn’t stop me from buying books on witchcraft and Wicca (oh, what my parents had to deal with). I actually did try a bunch of spells to get boys to like me in the mid-90s… and now I’m kinda wondering where those books were, because why not, I’ll anoint some candles if it means I can go on a decent date.
Similarly, I wanted to include Practical Magic on this list, but as it came out when I was 14, I thought that would be cheating. Another witchy movie makes an appearance below, though.
Is this movie still good? If you are looking for an amazing cult classic from the 90s, this has to go on your list. It’s super twisted but still entertaining.
I loved everything about this movie so much when I was a kid. I loved the fashion, I loved the music, I loved the message (damn the man!), and I loved, LOVED Ethan Embry. This movie, along with Reality Bites, was totally my vibe at that age; I seriously thought I’d find my crew of lovable misfits, all of us creative and slightly awkward but passionate and loyal. All I wanted to do was work at an independent record store like Empire Records… somehow HMV in St. Vital Mall just didn’t have the same ring to it.
This movie also gains serious brownie points for a) Debi Mazar and b) the fact that I can know instantly if I’ll get along with someone if I quote, “Oh Rexy, you’re so sexy”… and they get it.
Is this movie still good? Despite this movie getting terrible reviews, I still find it totally fun to watch.
Romeo and Juliet
I thought I was so badass for loving this movie so much, because at the time, it really did seem badass. This was peak Leo for me; combined with Titanic, which came out a year later, his face was EVERYWHERE. I would dutifully cut out pictures of him from Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, YM, Seventeen, and Teen (you know I had subscriptions) and then paste them into my “Leo Book”, a purple notebook I kept in my desk.
Do you think I’m joking?
I told you I was a packrat. Needless to say, I watched this movie so many times that I was convinced Leo might one day look at me like that. You know which look I’m talking about…
Is this movie still good? I’m still a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s style of directing, and I still believe this is a fun, unique way to tell the story (and to get teenagers interested in Shakespeare). Plus, I would still count this as one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. That being said, while I love Leo’s acting, he sounds like kind of a d-bag these days. I doubt I would have felt this way about Leo back in ’96 if I had known about his *barf* “Pussy Posse“, but who knows. I was a lovefool. Get it?
I was a preteen girl when Clueless came out. Need I say more?! I could quote this entire movie to you.
Is this movie still good? Even if it doesn’t bring back the nostalgia for you like it does for me, there’s no denying its appeal. It would be easy to brush this movie off, but watching it again today, I was taken by its satire, its wit, and the fact that the characters all seem to be in on the joke.
C’mon now, what did you expect? This movie was made for me, i.e. made for preteen girls in the 90s, and is much lighter and funnier than The Craft. I had THE BIGGEST CRUSH on Thackery Binks (um, the boy, not the cat… just clarifying). This cast is delightful, and I legitimately still laugh out loud watching it. I can also sing every word to Sarah Jessica Parker’s song as she flies over the town, luring the children away. Goddamn it, I can’t believe I’m saying this… but I kinda miss the 90s.
Is this movie still good? Um… YES. I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t watch it on Halloween this year. I was on a date this summer and mentioned that I had just rewatched this movie, and the guy was like, “Oh, that dumb movie about witches?” In the words of Ariana Grande (no, I never thought I’d be quoting her on this blog, either)… thank u, next.
This is still one of my favourite movies of all time. No other Jurassic movie, even the recent Jurassic World movies, can hold a candle to this film. I simply had to include it on this list because I make a point of watching it a few times a year, and still get chills every single time.
Is this movie still good? Hell yes. Considering this movie is 24 years old, the visuals are incredible, not to mention the sound effects. Also…
I totally didn’t appreciate Jeff Goldblum’s hotness when I was 13. I do now, Dr. Malcolm. 😉
OK, I really don’t know what to say about Outbreak except that it’s really weird that I was so obsessed with a movie that was about a horrendous viral pandemic. This movie is still scary as fuck to me. The end.
Is this movie still good? I mean… I guess? I’ve forever been terrified of a rabid monkey jumping out of the bushes in my backyard so it must have had some sort of impact on me.
Honourable Mentions, because I could do this all day: Welcome to the Dollhouse, Mermaids, Ace Ventura (my brother and I were all about Ace Ventura… I watched this on a bus with a bunch of teenagers recently – don’t ask – and none of them laughed. This one doesn’t hold up with younger generations), The Addams Family, Addams Family Values (I should have been focusing on Morticia and Gomez’s romance… now THAT was true love), Encino Man, Benny and Joon, Home Alone, Dazed and Confused (amazing soundtrack to this day), Dumb and Dumber, Son-in-Law, Mad Love (WAY darker than I remembered it being), Little Women, Cry-Baby, Casper, Twister (“I gotta go, Julia, we’ve got cows”), Stand By Me, Fear (that roller coaster scene… c’mon), The River Wild, The Birdcage, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Burbs, Jumanji, The Sandlot, Wayne’s World, and Heathers (which, holy shit, I didn’t get when I was 13, because that movie is DARK)
Are you into movies? What were your favourite movies growing up? Are they still your favourites today?