In a recent live stream, the YouTuber group “the Rad Pack” issued a community challenge asking content creators to talk about nine pivotal movies in their pre-teens or pre-high school years, movies they watched repeatedly. My pre-teen years ended in 1999, and several films came to mind almost immediately. Growing up in the 90s, it was all about VHS, and thankfully, I still have most of the ones I grew up watching. So, here are my picks, as well as some honorable mentions.
RAD 9 MOVIES THAT MADE US
American Pie (1999)
Universal Pictures | 95 min | Rated R
Directed by Paul Weitz
At our local video store, if a parent consented, their kids could rent any movie they wanted. My parents trusted me, so I was able to rent R-Rated films. I was 12 years old when “American Pie” came out, and the antics of these high schoolers were everything to me. A friend had already shown me “Porky’s,” so I was well-versed in inappropriate-for-my-age movies. But “Porky’s” was from the early 80s, and a lot had changed by the end of the 90s. It didn’t end there, however. I remember getting my mom to take me and my friend to see “American Pie 2” in the theaters, which was a mere two years later.
The GREEN MILE (1999)
Warner Bros. Pictures | 189 min | Rated R
Directed by Frank Darabont
Speaking of R-Rated films, “The Green Mile” is another film that I watched a lot. I was a huge bookworm and graduated from reading the “Goosebumps” series to reading Stephen King at an advanced age. I loved reading “The Green Mile” and it was one of the first of King’s film adaptations that I remember falling in love with. It wasn’t the first film I remember crying to (that honor belonged to the 1995 film “Powder”), but it made me cry all the same.
TriStar Pictures | 104 min | Rated PG
Directed by Joe Johnston
Few films grabbed my attention as quickly as “Jumanji,” and few actors from my childhood loomed larger than Robin Williams. A movie about a board game that brings its challenges to life hit me at the right age, and I was obsessed. We had to make board games from scratch for a school project, and I made a very convincing replica of the game.
Walt Disney Pictures | 90 min | Rated G
Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker
“Aladdin” was the first Walt Disney movie I latched onto as a kid. “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” were some of the big ones to come out before that, but it was “Aladdin” that captured my imagination. I had all the Aladdin toys, my parents took me to “Aladdin On Ice,” and the VHS would run constantly in my household. It was also my first exposure to Robin Williams. It remains one of my favorite Walt Disney movies ever.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1995)
20th Century Fox | 95 min | Rated PG
Directed by Bryan Spicer & Steve Wang
If one IP was omnipresent in my life as a kid, it was the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” In that era, there were no streaming services, so if you wanted to watch something, you had to be in front of the television at a specific time. Between 1993 and 1995, Fox would air new episodes of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on Wednesday afternoons. After school on those days, I would attend Catholic religion classes, after which I would race home (I lived a block from the Catholic church) to be in front of the TV in time for the new episode. I owned every Power Ranger action figure, dressed up as the Red Ranger one Halloween, and I remember when they announced the movie, my jaw hit the floor. It was probably my first real excitement for any film because I was so attached to the series. And when I eventually held that VHS in my hands, it was the proudest I had ever been to own a movie.
Independence Day (1996)
20th Century Fox | 145 min | Rated PG-13
Directed by Roland Emmerich
“Independence Day” is the first movie I remember repeatedly wanting to see in the theater. Initially, I saw it sometime around its original release (July 3, 1996), and then when my birthday came in August, I wanted to see it again. But my family and friends all said, “you’ve already seen it,” and we went to see the Robin Williams movie “Jack,” instead. I was highly disappointed. But the case of the “Independence Day” VHS is imprinted on my brain because it was always in the VCR once we bought it.
Space Jam (1996)
Warner Bros. Pictures | 87 min | Rated PG
Directed by Joe Pytka
In 1996, I had a basketball hoop in my driveway, and my favorite thing to do was turn on my boombox and pretend I was playing real-life NBA basketball. My favorite player was Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway when he played for the Magic. I had his poster on my wall and traded basketball cards with the best of them. So when “Space Jam” came out and combined my love of cartoons with my passion for basketball, the stars aligned, and I was in heaven. Top it off with an extraordinary soundtrack, and soon I was playing “Fly Like an Eagle” while practicing my free throws.
Toy Story (1995)
Walt Disney Pictures + Pixar Animation | 80 min | Rated G
Directed by John Lasseter
I have vivid memories of watching “Toy Story” so many times that I began to memorize the dialogue. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could script the whole film from memory. So I tried. I spent days writing down every line I remembered, and when I finished, I watched the movie again to see how well I did. Of course, I missed a bunch of stuff, but it was the first time I connected to the creation and design of a movie. “Toy Story” was Pixar’s first venture, and when I saw it, I knew animation had changed. I was a kid with an immense imagination, so the idea that my toys came alive when I wasn’t in the room was one of the most exciting thoughts.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Universal Pictures | 126 min | Rated PG-13
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Movies don’t get any better than “Jurassic Park.” And even at a very young age, I knew it was on another level. Even before the movie, one of my favorite books was a huge encyclopedia of every known dinosaur species. So when “Jurassic Park” came out, with effects that made the dinosaurs look so real, I was enamoured. I would play dinosaur hunter in my backyard, climbing to the very top of trees and acting like I was face to face with a Brachiosaurus or escaping the clutches of a Tyrannasaurus Rex.
The Lion King (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures | 87 min | Rated G
Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
If “Aladdin” was the first Walt Disney film to garner my admiration, “The Lion King” was the next (it was also the next film released after “Aladdin,” so that tracks). The animation, the songs, and the voice cast carried the movie to the next level. It wouldn’t surpass my love for “Aladdin,” but it would be a close second. Walt Disney would win me over with their next release of “Pocahontas,” as well. And that would end the short stint of me being interested in Disney movies because all the films that followed (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Hercules,” “Mulan,” “Tarzan,” etc.) would not be films that I would be interested in.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Universal Pictures | 115 min | Rated PG
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Truth be told, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” freaked me out as a kid. But for the longest time, it was the only VHS we had because, as my list of films suggests, I wouldn’t start getting movies until I was six or seven. So, whether I liked it or not, I would watch “E.T.,” and the line “E.T. phone home” would be repeated by my friends and me endlessly.
Universal Pictures | 114 min | Rated PG-13
Directed by Jan de Bont
Growing up in the Midwest, the potential of tornadoes was always present in the summertime (and still is). But, thankfully, I never had to see one up close. So seeing “Twister” was a way of getting to experience them from afar. The film’s plot hooked me as the team of scientists tried to get weather-detecting technology into the storm clouds. Helen Hunt’s character also grabbed my attention as this intelligent, independent woman. I was a horror fan from a very young age and appreciated any horror film that found a way to be different. And making tornadoes the movie’s villain was about as diverse as possible. A few years later, my family and I would take a trip to Orlando, Florida, where I got to go on the “Twister” ride at Universal Studios, resurfacing my love for the movie.
THE RETURN OF JAFAR (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures | 100 min | Rated G
Directed by Toby Shelton, Tad Stones, & Alan Zaslove
If you look back through my list, you’ll see no sequels. “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” is about as close as you’ll get since it was a continuation of the television series. But my first exposure to sequels was “The Return of Jafar.” Imagine not knowing that sequels could exist, and then your favorite movie, “Aladdin,” which you thought was over and done with, comes back. I was obsessed. Revisiting it now that I’m older, it is so much worse than the original, but back then, it was worth its weight in gold.
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
Universal Pictures | 134 min | Rated PG-13
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Speaking of sequels, I would be remiss not to mention “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Again, “Jurassic Park” was my favorite film ever, and suddenly, it had a sequel with Jeff Goldblum returning. It didn’t live up to the original, as most would agree, but at the time, it was everything I ever wanted. It still has some of the most iconic moments out of any of the sequels since. I still remember the line of toys from the movie, like the giant mobile lab RV and the magnetic compies, and the blue Jeff Goldblum figure with a hang glider attached that had nothing to do with the movie.
HOMEWARD BOUND (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures | 84 min | Rated G
Directed by Duwayne Dunham
“Homeward Bound” is an honorable mention because after “Toy Story,” “Jurassic Park,” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” it’s the VHS I most vividly remember. It’s another VHS cover imprinted in my mind. The movie is iconic in its own right, but it wasn’t a favorite, just a tape we had in the collection.
SMALL SOLDIERS (1998)
DreamWorks | 110 min | Rated PG-13
Directed by Joe Dante
“Small Soldiers” took my love of “Toy Story” and gave it an edge. It was about toys starting a war, and that thrilled me. I never owned the toys because, by 1998, I was getting interested in professional wrestling and was only spending money on wrestling figures. However, had the movie come out a few years earlier, I would have bought everything I could. I also had a crush on Kirsten Dunst from her “Jumanji” role, so seeing her again was a bonus.
Columbia Pictures | 109 min | Rated PG
Directed by Fraser C. Heston
As an avid reader, one of my favorite things was buying companion books to movies. So when I saw “Alaska,” I remember buying the book at my next school Scholastic Book Fair (I would do this with Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” as well). And I read that book repeatedly. Also, growing up in Minnesota, I would pretend I was stranded like the characters in the movie, traversing the treacherous snow with a baby polar bear in tow.
Walt Disney Pictures | 93 min | Rated PG
Directed by Les Mayfield
Again, Robin Williams loomed large in my childhood, so seeing him in a live-action Walt Disney movie with CGI flubber was a big deal. The humor was precisely what I wanted at that age, and even though the film doesn’t quite hold up, I remember watching the heck out of the VHS.