1990: The Year of Cowabunga

1990 had a lot of responsibility. Being the transitioning year from the 80s to 90s couldn’t have been an easy task. I know I had trouble making that jump as a 5-year-old. I had to ask myself the important questions…how many of my neon-colored jogging suits can I rock into the 90s? What if Michael Bolton cuts his majestic hair? Will Pizza Hut join forces with TMNT for one of the coolest and most 90s promotions ever? Let’s examine the pop culture that shaped the first year of a super fly decade.

1. Movies

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the ninth highest-grossing movie in 1990.

We got a handful of memorable films this year which, thankfully, included a good amount of Schwarzenegger and Pesci action.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first of three 90s live action movies based on the beloved sewer-residing crime fighters. Its box office success sprung it into the highest-grossing independent movie at that time.
  • We were Home Alone with Buzz’s tarantula and Joe Pesci’s gold tooth. This movie had a 27-year streak as a Guinness World Record holder as the highest-grossing live-action comedy.
  • Patrick Swayze was our favorite Ghost, and this movie became the highest-grossing movie in 1990.
  • Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner’s mustache, was also Costner’s directorial debut.
  • Ivan Reitman, the man who by 1990 had already directed favorites like Ghostbusters and Twins, gave us another Arnold wonder, Kindergarten “Who is your daddy and what does he do?” Cop .
  • …other releases include: Days of Thunder, Pretty Woman, Problem Child, Edward Scissorhands, Total Recall, and Goodfellas.

2. Music

Let’s not fail to give attention to the fact that Vanilla Ice’s real name is Robert Van Winkle.

1990 introduced us to some real random little musical numbers. No matter how much of a music mishmash we heard, we can’t say we weren’t (and still aren’t) entertained or impacted by this year of music. Among the top hits were:

  • Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice
  • Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor
  • How Am I Supposed to Live Without You – Michael Bolton
  • Freedom – George Michael
  • U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer
  • Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty
  • King of Wishful Thinking – Go West
  • Thunderstruck – AC/DC
  • Vogue – Madonna
  • Step By Step – New Kids on the Block
  • Everybody Dance Now – C+C Music Factory

3. Toys

What a time to be a kid.

The 90s are known for granting us of some awesome and revolutionary toys. 1990 kicked off the decade with some slammin’ best-sellers.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys were the highest-selling in 1990, and would keep giving us some of the coolest action figures and other toys over the years.
  • For those children that would one day turn into aspiring versions of Niles Crane, Nerf Fencing was now available to push that dream one step closer to becoming a reality.
  • With the growing popularity of NES since its release, along with everyone’s love for Mario, gamers warmly welcomed Super Mario 3 when it came out in February 1990 (in North America).
  • McDonald’s happy meal toys were essential for many kids in the 90s. 1990 brought us collectible sets like McDino Changeables, Rescuers Down Under, Super Mario 3, and Camp McDonaldland.
  • Barbie Color Change was a child-sized Barbie head to which you could “apply” makeup. And by apply, I mean wipe water onto, and colors would appear on her face. Just like real life.
  • What better idea is there than to release a toy line for a movie where a makeup-wearing, grizzly voiced Michael Keaton pesters dead folk who died a tragic death? Beetlejuice toys added to the fun by putting a kiddish spin on a morbid tale.

4. Books

The original Guardians of the Galaxy were comprised of a whole different team in the 90s. It wasn’t until 2008 that they appeared in their more commonly known form.

The act of reading was a lot different in 1990. Whether it was from Borders, the library or through a subscription, people found a way to get their hands on a physical copy of their favorite reading material.

  • Comic books had been around for a while already, but the 90s brought a renewed sensation to many of our favorite characters, as well as some new faces. 1990 delivered comic line debuts such as Robocop, Terminator, X-Men: Days of Future Present, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Men in Black, which would eventually be turned into the movie franchise we know and love today.
  • Stephen King was in his prime in 1990, having already been a published author for ~20 years. He had three best-sellers on the New York Times list this year, including The Dark Half, Four Past Midnight, and a re-released version of his popular novel, The Stand, which eventually got TV miniseries and Marvel comic book adaptations.
  • Another book on the NYT Best Seller’s list was a little dino drama called Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton’s movie-turned novel is worth a read, as it delves deeper into the JP universe than the movie. The only thing they could do to improve upon the original story-telling was add Jeff Goldblum, and that’s a scientific fact.
  • Dr. Seuss died in 1991, bringing one chapter of an amazing era to a close. Oh the Places You’ll Go! came out in January 1990, and became the last book published in his lifetime. It rose to #1 on the NYT Best Seller’s list and, like many of his books, continues to hold its popularity with all generations these days.
  • 1990 was a big year for young Disney fans. Disney Adventures magazine was launched, with none other than everyone’s favorite dad, Rick Moranis, featured on the first issue’s cover. The action-packed mag would run for 17 years, proving to be a staple in Disney-lover’s hearts. Many a time did I slip the latest issue into my mom’s shopping cart at the grocery store.

5. TV

Diane was just an early version of Alexa. “Diane, add damn fine coffee to my shopping list.”

What a year for TV. Some excellent shows were already going strong, and 1990 brought us a whole slew of new entertaining programs.

  • Twin Peaks debuted this year, and would go on to impact the supernatural drama world for years to come. Some of us can’t drink coffee, say the name “Bob” or go into a zig zag-clad room where people speak sdrawkcab without thinking of David Lynch’s cult classic.
  • Despite the common understanding that this show has been around since the beginning of time, Law & Order actually premiered in the fall season of 1990. The original was on for 20 years, and its spinoffs are still going strong today (thanks Ice-T).
  • We got the heart-warming, sexual innuendo-filled Nickelodeon staple Rugrats in ’90, in all its orange video tape glory.
  • The debut of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air came along in ’90, and would give us 6 seasons of Carlton sweaters and sassy Geoffrey quips, along with one of the most memorable TV theme songs.
  • Who else was under 10 years old when they watched the IT miniseries on TV, clearing a path for years of nightmares and a fear of clowns? This adaptation of Stephen King’s ~1,000-page novel did not have high expectations before its ABC broadcast, but ended up blowing those predictions out of the water with 30 million viewers over the two-night premiere. 90s favorites Tim Curry, John Ritter, Seth Green and the dad from Sister Sister come together to tell the tale of a monster that feeds on children.
  • Teen soap opera Beverly Hills 90210 hit all the topical issues it could possibly weave into a group of teenager’s lives. Despite a rocky reception after its first season in 1990, it went on a 10-season run, filling an entire decade with top-notch drama and Luke Perry love.

* Honorable mentions: The Simpsons and Seinfeld debuted in 1989, but gained steam in 1990 and onward, becoming two of the decade’s most treasured shows. The acts of eating shorts and eclairs out of the trash were never the same after the 90s.

Music groups Temple of the Dog, Pinhead Gunpowder, Unwritten Law, and TLC were all established in 1990.

The cast of SNL in 1990.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman met in 1990 on the set of Days of Thunder, and were married later that same year.

In 1990, Dr. Mario was released for Game Boy.

J-Law, Stephen Anthony Lawrence/Beans from Even Stevens, and Jerry Maguire‘s Jonathan Lipnicki were born in 1990.

Thanks, 1990, for starting the 90s off in a most bodacious way. 😎

One thought on “1990: The Year of Cowabunga

  1. The Simpsons premiered in 1990. The Christmas Special was intended to be a stand alone TV spectacular before Matt Groening changed all of that in 1994 by changing the title of The Christmas Special and showing it before all of the season 1 episodes for the syndication package.


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