1990 – Ushering in the New Decade



“Funny how? What’s funny about it?”

Anyone who lived through the nineties knows where the above line comes from. It’s uttered by the great Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, one of the best movies of 1990 and the 90s overall. Pesci wound up winning Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards that year.

As a year, the movies of 1990 pulled in $4,527,600,215 billion domestically according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. That’s the second worse cumulative year of the 90s (behind only 1991). Those were the days when the price of a single movie ticket was a mere $4.22 (National Association of Theater Owners). I wish those ticket prices would make a comeback.

Do you think you can guess what the biggest comedy movie of 1990 was? It was Home Alone, the story of a boy left home alone after his parents forget him on their trip to Paris. In fact, it was the second highest-grossing film of 1990 (behind Ghost), pulling in more than $476 million worldwide. 10 year-old star Macauley Caulkin became so famous from that movie that he wound up in Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video a year afterwards.


*Macauley Caulken gets a feeling of what aftershave feels like

Quickly breaking down 1990 in the movies, Julia Roberts becomes a breakout star as a prostitute that falls in love with Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore score the year’s biggest hit with Ghost and Kevin Costner directs the fourth biggest in Dances with Wolves. Arnold Schwarzenegger rules the box office that year with two films in the top 10 with Total Recall ($261+ million worldwide) and Kindergarten Cop ($201+ million worldwide). The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film is a big success ($201+ million worldwide) as is the third Back to the Future ($244+ million worldwide).

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*The cast of 1990’s biggest hit, Ghost (Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, and Whoopi Goldberg)

Speaking of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they are also a hit on TV and in the toy market as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures from Bandai takes the Toy of the Year award. Other popular toys of 1990 are the New Kids the Block play figures, Impel Marvel Universe trading cards and, of course, the Nintendo Game Boy.

Aside from the Game Boy, the video game world began seeing the rise of the Sega Genesis and the the Super Nintendo. Both are 16-bit graphics as opposed to the 8-bit graphics of the NES. The third installment of three big video game franchises have big sales: Castlevannia III, Mega Man III, and Super Mario Bros. 3, considered one of the greatest video games of all time by the industry and gamers alike.


On TV, 1990 was the year that many popular shows debuted including Fresh Prince of Bel AirIn Living Color, Beverly Hills 90210, and Law and Order. On a sad note, 1990 also marked the end of such popular shows as Charles in ChargeJim Henson’s Muppet BabiesALFMr. BelevedereAlvin and the ChipmunksFalcon CrestYou Can’t do that on Television, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The top five most popular shows of the year are Cheers, 60 Minutes, Roseanne, The Cosby Show, and Murphy Brown. Of note, 1990 is also when comedians Chris Rock and Adam Sandler joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.

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In music, Wilson Phillips takes the top spot on the Billboard singles chart with their hit, “Hold On.” Other big hits include “It Must of Been Love” by Roxette (from the Pretty Woman soundtrack) and “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor (written by the late Prince). Bell Biv Devoe also scored the fourth biggest single of the year with, “Poison” while Madonna continues to roll with another big hit in “Vogue.” America is introduced to the vocal sensation Mariah Carey with her first single, “Vision of Love.” Hip hop also sees its first Billboard #1 single with Vanilla Ice’s, “Ice Ice Baby” and “U Can’t Touch This” is a huge hit for MC Hammer.


*“Hold On” was 1990’s biggest single

The sports world watches the Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers destroy John Elway’s Denver Broncos, 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. In college football, the Colorado Buffalos and Georgia Tech Yellowjackets share the national title as Colorado finishes atop the AP poll while Georgia Tech is number one in the Coaches Poll. College basketball ends with the he UNLV Runnin’ Rebels obliterating Duke in the NCAA Championship, 103-73. The Stanley Cup goes to the Edmonton Oilers after they beat the Boston Bruins in five games. It takes the Detroit Pistons only five games to defeat the Portland Trailblazers to win the NBA championship. In baseball, Cincinnati has not won another World Series since they swept Oakland in 1990.


The world said goodbye to a few big names in pop culture in 1990, including Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, and Roald Dahl. On the contrary, a many current celebrities were born in 1990: Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Liam Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Iggy Azalea, Soulja Boy, and The Weeknd.


The daunting part of 1990 would come in mid-summer with the beginning of the Gulf War. The complicated background to why the war started will be visited in a separate blog but for now, I’ll merely mention that it officially began on August 2, 1990 when Saddam Hussein ordered Iraq to invade Kuwait. The news of the Gulf war swarmed news networks across the nation and didn’t let up for at least another year.

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As the 1980s officially became a decade of the past, 1990 introduced us splendidly to a new era of pop culture. On the downside, another war began and civil unrest was brewing. On the upside, 1990 was a great introduction to what was to come in the next ten years as independent film would thrive along with grunge rock, hip hop and the popularity of sitcoms such as Seinfeld and Friends.


Published by aaronpkahle

I like a lot of things but 90s American pop culture is my jam.

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