Trainspotting. Empire Records. Reality Bites. The Crow. Pump Up the Volume. The list of ’90s counterculture movies whose popularity has continued into — or been revived in — the 21st century is a long one, full of beloved films (many of which we celebrate on a regular basis at Flavorwire). But what happens when you need a subversive nostalgia fix and yet another viewing of My Own Private Idaho just isn’t going to cut it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this list of ten wonderful (or at least entertaining) ’90s counterculture flicks you may have forgotten — or never knew about in the first place. Impress your friends by whipping them out at your next movie night, and add your own picks in the comments.
Stephen Dorff became the filmic embodiment of Gen-X apathy in this tale of Cliff Spab, a shaggily handsome young guy taken hostage one night (along with four other people) in a convenience store by a terrorist group called S.P.L.T. Image, who threaten to kill their captives unless their seige is aired on international, live TV. Cliff’s catchphrase, even in the face of death, is “so fucking what?” — and once he escapes from the store, saving a pretty teenager named Wendy (a young Reese Witherspoon) and sacrificing his friend Joe (Jack Noseworthy), his mantra becomes a rallying cry for a generation. SFW is faintly ridiculous, but it’s also a dose of pure ’90s youth culture. And the soundtrack, featuring everyone from GWAR to Radiohead to Babes in Toyland to Soundgarden, is fantastic.
A brainy, 18-year-old late bloomer, Andrea Marr (Dominique Swain) forsakes her safe existence for the grunge-groupie life, crushing on rocker dudes, sleeping with music critics, and befriending other girls in the scene. If you’re imagining a big-screen My So-Called Life, you’ve pretty much nailed it. Girl is full of fun ’90s nostalgia, from shabby coffee houses to threadbare sweaters — and the supporting cast, which includes Sean Patrick Flanery, Summer Phoenix, Tara Reid, and Selma Blair, is pretty evocative of the era, too.
There’s nothing obscure about Richard Linklater’s teen-angst output: Every self-respecting high-school freak worships Dazed and Confused, and Slacker was canonized by the Criterion Collection back in 2004. But everyone seems to get Linklater’s subUrbia, adapted by Eric Bogosian from his own play about a group of young burnouts with names like Pony and Sooze who hang out in a convenience-store parking lot. (Yeah, for some reason convenience stores were a big setting in ’90s counterculture movies. Clerks, anyone?) The cast includes Parker Posey, Giovanni Ribisi, and Steve Zahn, among others, and the fantastic soundtrack features cuts from the likes of Sonic Youth, U.N.K.L.E., and the Flaming Lips.
Ah, college in the ’90s — a heady moment, full of angry music, downer drugs, and subversive sexual experimentation. Enter Stephen Baldwin and Josh Charles as two dudes who, through some mistake of fate, get stuck with a female roommate (Lara Flynn Boyle). Heterosexual and homosexual feelings develop, and the titular act takes place. Seventeen years later, what is funny about this movie is that Baldwin is now a fringey evangelical Christian.
Nostalgia for Gregg Araki’s ’90s output usually centers on The Doom Generation, the Rose McGowan-starring second film of the director’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy. But don’t forget that there’s more sex, drugs, and end-of-days fun in its final installment, Nowhere. The movie follows a bisexual couple (James Duval and Rachel True) preparing for a party worthy of “Armageddon Day” and boasts a staggeringly huge supporting cast of young ’90s notables: McGowan, Kathleen Robertson, Ryan Phillippe, Heather Graham, Jeremy Jordan, Christina Applegate, Mena Suvari, Debi Mazar, Shannen Doherty, and Traci Lords, among others.
The Opposite of Sex (1998)
Another entry in the annals of ’90s movies about complicated sexual identities, The Opposite of Sex stars Christina Ricci in one of her first non-kiddie roles as a brassy, manipulative, pregnant teenager who moves in with her gay half-brother, Bill, and his boyfriend, Matt. After taking advantage of Matt’s bisexuality, she pretends he’s the father of her baby, and they elope. That’s where things start to get complicated. The Opposite of Sex is a legitimately good movie; we especially love Ricci as a nutsy, mouthy blonde bombshell. Plus, Lyle Lovett is in it!
The Addiction (1995)
One of the decade’s most visible (and talented) indie-film actresses, Lili Taylor, stars in this Abel Ferrara-directed, black-and-white vampire movie. Taylor plays Kathleen Conklin, a philosophy grad student who is transformed into a bloodsucker after a violent encounter. With its noir aesthetics and tortured characters, The Addiction is more visually rich and morally complex than your average vamp flick — and, as the title suggests, it’s also a metaphor for substance abuse.
SLC Punk! (1998)
Being a cartoonish, punk-rock anarchist is charming when you’re a teenager, but what happens when you hang onto that identity post-college? That’s the subject of SLC Punk!, which stars ’90s teen-movie fixture Matthew Lillard as Stevo, the big, blue mohawk-sporting antihero who lives with his friend Heroin Bob in a Salt Lake City shithole and tries mightily to resist selling out. We won’t spoil it for you, but you can probably guess how that works out for him.
Easily the artsiest film on this list, Gummo is the directorial debut of Harmony Korine, who came to the project fresh off of Kids, which he wrote. Perhaps it’s the residual controversy from that movie that has prevented Gummo from finding a substantial 21st-century audience. Regardless of how you feel about Korine’s previous (and later) work, this strange and darkly beautiful film about a deeply odd, tornado-devastated town and its freaky residents is well worth watching. Like Korine’s other movies, it’s unsettling and boundary-pushing, but while he often seems wantonly shocking, we’d argue that nothing in Gummo is gratuitous.
High Art (1998)
You might not remember this movie, but if you’re a cinema buff, you’ll probably recognize the name Lisa Cholodenko. Best known for last year’s Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right, Cholodenko made her feature directorial debut with High Art, about a 24-year-old woman (Radha Mitchell) whose life takes an unexpected curve when she meets the bohemian lesbian couple that lives upstairs. Yes, this is another one of those “complicated sexual identity” movies.