The 90s were the golden age of kids' entertainment. Yes, they were, so keep reading because I'm going to prove it to you. Up until the 90s, when kids wanted to watch TV, they only had a handful of channels on which to hope against hope that something they liked was airing. Half of the time, they'd settle for watching something they didn't like because what other choice was there? But by the 90s, most homes had VCRs, which freed viewers from the iron grasp of the TV listings. Suddenly, kids could watch what they wanted, when they wanted it.
All those VCRs needed VHS tapes to be played on them, and film studios were more than happy to fulfill the desire for hours upon hours of on-demand programming. Lots of VHS tapes came in regular cardboard sleeves, but I'd wager that every child of the '90s gets fluttery little feelings of nostalgia upon seeing those big, puffy VHS cases. They were plastic houses of magic that held films specifically made for kids.
Nickelodeon and Disney were the powerhouses, of course, but many studios cashed in on the kids' entertainment cow. We all remember the classics like Good Burger, The Mighty Ducks, The Land Before Time, and Home Alone. But I am here to guide you through the deeper, darker recesses of your past and bring forth the memories of 25 kick-behind kids' films from the 90s that you watched but totally forgot about during your forced assimilation into adulthood.
25 A 90s Homerun
In 1995, Disney released A Kid in King Arthur's Court, the story of a boy named Calvin Fuller who is suddenly transported via earthquake to the 6th century. King Arthur believes his arrival has been foretold by the wizard Merlin and so expects that Calvin will be the savior of Camelot. By using his own smart-alecky brand of "magic" (i.e. a portable CD player, inline skates, and basically anything else conveniently stuffed into his backpack), Calvin helps defeat Arthur's enemies and saves the day.
If you recall this film at all, you probably remember it for Thomas Ian Nichols, who was a famous child star at the time. But look a bit closer and you can find Daniel Craig (yep, James Bond himself) and Kate Winslet (yes, the Academy Award winner) playing second fiddle to a cheesy teen romance.
24 Shaq's Magical Popularity
Remember the time Shaquille O'Neal played a 5,000-year-old genie living in a boom box who appears to a young boy named Max to grant him three wishes? In the summer of 1996, Buena Vista Pictures released Kazaam, in which the titular genie helps Max rekindle his relationship with his estranged father, who is in over his head with some thugs at a nightclub. Kazaam is every kid's dream genie, as shown by his ability to make it rain junk food. He also transforms a bad guy into a basketball before slam dunking him into a garbage disposal (side note: gruesome much?).
The film was a critical failure, and Shaq was widely panned for his lousy acting. But the problem with movie critics is that they aren't the film's intended audience. So why not ask the kids instead?
Kids, did you enjoy Kazaam? Heck yes, we did!
In the late 90s, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were branding powerhouses, promoting their personal line of movies, clothing, games, makeup, dolls, and just about any other product a tween could talk their parents into buying for them (it's okay to admit it if you belonged to Mary-Kate & Ashley's Fun Club, there's no shame here). But go back a bit further. Following the end of Full House in 1995, Warner Bros. released It Takes Two, which showcases the Olsen twins' first starring roles in a feature film.
It Takes Two is a Parent Trap-esque tale in which the Olsens play identical strangers who switch places to trick their respective parent/guardians (Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley) into falling in love. But what it may lack in originality, it repays in spades with humor and ultra-quotable lines. Shout out to fans everywhere of "the big gooey messy burger."
22 Who Doesn't Love Ninjas?
Often dismissed as a knockoff of The Karate Kid (and not undeservedly so), Touchstone's 3 Ninjas can nevertheless taijutsu on its own merits. The 1992 film tells the story of three brothers with the most awesome nicknames ever (Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum) who visit their grandfather in Japan annually to be trained in the arts of ninjutsu. Reveling in the Home Alone-school of cartoony violence, the boys must use their wits and their ninja training to foil a kidnapping plot and bring down a crime ring.
Per usual, critics slammed the film (adults just don't understand!), but it performed well enough among the kiddie crowd to earn three sequels in six years. And truth time, we also have to admit that we maybe kinda sorta watched it because of the three super cute boys in the lead roles (Colt 4-ever!).
21 Monkey See, Monkey Steal
In 1994, New Line Cinema released Monkey Trouble, starring adorable Thora Birch (in her prolific pre-American Beauty acting days) as Eva Gregory and Finster the monkey as Dodger the pickpocketing Capuchin. Eva longs for a pet of her own, but for various reasons is denied by her parents. She finds Dodger and, thinking her wish has come true, decides to secretly keep him. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong when she finds out he’s been trained by his former owner to steal everything he can get his fingers on.
Although it performed poorly at the box office, Monkey Trouble is a classic among 90s kids. I mean, who wouldn’t want a freaking monkey for a pet? Plus in this film, all the grown-ups have to admit at the end that they were totally wrong, which is pretty much priceless. A kid can dream, right?
20 Like Barney But Better
Produced by Amblimation (the animation department of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment), 1993’s We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story made kids everywhere curse the heavens because we couldn’t have a dinosaur for a best friend too. When aliens feed a super-fortified breakfast cereal called Brain Grain to dinosaurs, the dinos become intelligent and can be transported to the present day so kids can meet them. Naturally, there are bad guys who want to ruin everything, so it’s up to two kids named Louie and Cecilia to save the day.
There’s a decent chance you remember this film simply because it was full of dinosaurs, but step away from the anthropomorphized T-Rex for a second and look at the voice cast. We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story features the talents of Jay Leno, Julia Child, Martin Short, Rhea Perlman, and a bunch of other names you were too young to appreciate at the time.
19 A Seal Of Approval
Ten years before she rocked the side-pony in 2004’s Napolean Dynamite, Tina Majorino starred in this gut-wrencher of a true-story-turned-kids-film. Set in the 1960s, Andre is about an orphaned seal pup who is adopted by the Whitney family. Tensions are high among local fishermen and the wild seals they believe are interfering with their trade, so there’s drama and violence and maybe we shouldn’t have watched this as kids after all. But we did, and we were so glad it had a happy ending.
For real, though, between the drowning of Andre’s mother stuck in a fishing net to the people who keep trying to shoot Andre or stab him through with a pitchfork, this film puts audiences through a whole new level of trauma before rewarding them with the seal’s happy reunion with the Whitneys. Was it worth it? As soon as I stop crying, I’ll let you know.
18 A Song Of Dogs And Dolphins
Steve Guttenberg (a perpetual presence in ‘90s kids films), along with Kathleen Quinlan and Miko Hughes (otherwise known as the mom and the little kid from Apollo 13), lead the cast in 1997’s Zeus and Roxanne. This film tells the story of the friendship between a dog named Zeus and a dolphin named Roxanne. There are some human plots too involving family and loss and love and blah blah blah, and eventually, the film pulls a Free Willy, ending with Roxanne being returned to her family in the wild. But every kid knows that we came here to see the dog riding the dolphin and to secretly plot how we could train our family dog to do the same. Now if we could only find a dolphin…
17 Warning: Baby Off Board
The film that probably single-handedly inspired the helicopter parenting movement, 1994’s Baby’s Day Out is about Bennington Austin "Bink" Cotwell IV’s unsupervised adventures in Chicago. Three kidnappers steal baby Bink in the hopes of receiving a huge ransom from his wealthy parents. Bink easily escapes his captors, however, and wanders the city for an hour and a half before reuniting with his family.
Baby’s Day Out was a complete box office bomb, and when viewing it from adult eyes, it’s easy to see why. It relies almost completely on absurd situations for humor (including a now uncomfortable Harambe moment) that get tired very quickly. However, if you were the right age when your parents brought home this VHS tape and thought there was nothing funnier than seeing a baby use a cigarette lighter to set a man’s crotch on fire, then this movie was probably near and dear to your heart.
16 A Different Type Of Troll
Although it’s called “Don Bluth’s worst film” (which is like saying that chocolate is the worst flavor of ice cream or that a labradoodle is the worst type of puppy to be surprised with on your birthday), 1994’s A Troll in Central Park suffers mainly from being misunderstood by (once again) grown-up film critics. It also received only limited release following a meager promotional campaign, almost as if Warner Bros. saw the success of Disney’s The Lion King (released just four months earlier) and gave up before they even started.
The film is about Stanley, a troll with a magical green thumb who would rather befriend kids than eat them. So what if it’s light on plot and its songs can’t complete with Elton John’s? It’s still got Bluth’s signature so-cute-it-makes-your-chest-hurt animation and a story that teaches kids to just be themselves. So guess what, film critics? I’m on #TeamStanley!
15 It's A Small World After All
Based on the book of the same name, 1995’s Indian in the Cupboard was directed by Yoda by Frank Oz. The story is about Omri, a boy who receives a magical cupboard and locks a plastic Indian (okay, let’s just get this out of the way: the film is not what you’d consider PC) figurine inside. The next morning, he discovers the figurine, named Little Bear, has come to life. Omri and Little Bear become friends, but of course, since Little Bear (and the other playthings Omri locks in the cupboard) is now a living being rather than a toy, the situation gets complicated pretty quickly. Omri learns responsibility, returns Little Bear to his world, and everything is very touching in the end. But let’s be real: the thing we liked most about the movie? Crushing on Little Bear, played by Native American rapper Litefoot.
14 A Movie Rich In Lessons
The film that marked the end of Macaulay Culkin’s career as a child actor, Richie Rich was Warner Bros.' entry into the 1994 holiday movie season. The film tells the story of the ultra-wealthy (the 1% of the 1%) but good-hearted Rich family as their son Richie makes friends with “regular kids” and brings them over to enjoy his private theme park and eat at his personal McDonalds. Bad guys attempt to kill Richie’s parents and take over the Rich Corporation, but family and friendship prevail.
What kid didn’t watch this movie and dream of what they’d do with all that money (You know what, dad? I WILL have that pony. In fact, make it ten ponies.), even though the moral of the story is that money isn’t important. But when the lesson is delivered by characters who own a private jet called Billion Dollar One? Oh, okay, sure.
13 A Curly Yet Endearing Tale
John Hughes was a 1980s juggernaut, and he directed a couple films you might know (like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). In 1991, he released Curly Sue, his final film as director. The movie stars Jim Belushi and young Alisan Porter (in her breakout role) as a homeless father/daughter duo who rely on cons to get by. Things start to unravel when they trick a lawyer into letting them stay in her apartment, and Bill (Belushi) is forced to make some tough choices with regards to Sue’s (Porter) welfare. Though the movie’s ending is so happy it’s almost a little hard to swallow, the audience has been so traumatized over what’s come before (when has a haircut ever been so heartbreaking?) that it doesn’t really matter. Plus, Sue was the coolest. Who didn’t beg their parents for suspenders after seeing this film?
12 JTT's Best Vests
Jonathan Taylor Thomas (or JTT as he was known to the Tiger Beat crowd) stars opposite Chevy Chase and Farrah Fawcett in 1995’s Man of the House. Ben Archer (JTT) enjoys life in Seattle with his mother Sandy (Fawcett) until she becomes engaged to Jack Sturges (Chase), a federal prosecutor. In an attempt to chase Jack away, Ben talks him into joining the Minotauk Indian Guides, a father-son group, but naturally, the plan backfires, and Ben finds himself growing closer to Jack. But when trouble brews with some thugs that want revenge on Jack for sending them to prison, Ben and Jack must work together to save the day.
If by some chance you never saw this as a kid, you should watch it now for Chase and Fawcett, but don’t forget to enjoy JTT’s rockin’ vests along the way.
11 What A Goofy Experience
In 1995, Disney released A Goofy Movie as a follow up to their afternoon cartoon series Goof Troop. The movie features Goofy and his teenage son Max attempting to bond during a cross-country road trip. At least, that's how Goofy sees it. Max, on the other hand, is trying to redirect the destination from Idaho to California so that he can sneak his way onstage with Powerline ("the biggest rock star on the planet") to impress his crush, Roxanne.
I don't care what anyone says, this movie is the bomb. It's got humor, super quotable lines ("How many cups of sugar does it take to get to the moon?"), and an obscene amount of Cheez Whiz. It's hands-down the whole package. And if you try to tell me that you did not legit rock-out to the Powerline song at the film's climax, then you are lying through your teeth.
10 The Best Kept Secrets
There have been a handful of film adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, but I'd be willing to bet money that the one you saw as kid but only vaguely remember is the 1993 version starring Kate Maberly (who would later go on to play the telepathic girl in the miniseries of Stephen King's The Langoliers). Since you only vaguely remember it, the story is about an orphan named Mary who is sent to live with relatives in a mansion in England. There she discovers a hidden garden on the property, and in working to revive the garden, she and her new friends begin to heal their own wounds.
It's strange that pretty much everyone has seen this movie but nobody really remembers it. Fans of Downton Abbey will have reason to know it now, however: Dame Maggie Smith plays Colin's caretaker, Mrs. Medlock.
9 Every Little Leaguer's Dream
"Did he say funky [behind]-lovin'?" It's like the secret password to an exclusive club. If you find somebody who not only knows that phrase but uses it regularly in everyday life, then you've found someone who, just like you, wore out their VHS copy of 1993's Rookie of the Year from watching it over and over. The film stars Thomas Ian Nichols (Who cares about American Pie, really? This is his best role.) as Henry Rowengartner, a 12-year-old Little League benchwarmer with dreams of the MLB. When Henry breaks his arm, the tendons heal too tight, giving him the ability to throw crazy fast fastballs and catching the eye of the Chicago Cubs.
Nichols is great in the movie, but Daniel Stern (also the film's director) steals the show as Brickma, the team's equipment manager ("Hot ice! You heat up the ice cubes! It's the best of both worlds!").
Part live-action, part animation, 1991's Rock-A-Doodle is another Don Bluth entry on this list (and my personal favorite). A rooster named Chanticleer achieves Elvis-esque rock star fame in the city, unaware that the farm he left behind is flooded with rainwater because he's not there to crow and raise the sun. It's up to Chanticleer's friends and Edmond, a boy who's been turned into a kitten by the evil Grand Duke of Owls (better known as Uncle Dukey, if you're a fellow fan), to fetch Chanticleer, defeat Uncle Dukey, and save the farm.
The best part of this film is Uncle Dukey's straggly nephew Hunch. He gets all the funniest lines (as well as the last laugh over his uncle). And I don't care how old I get, I will always, ALWAYS pronounce it "adequate pipe."
7 Like The NFL But Better
This movie was basically on repeat at our house. Warner Bros.' 1994 film Little Giants is the greatest football movie of all time, and I will fight you on this. When Kevin O'Shea (played by Ed O'Neill) cuts the loser kids from his Pee-Wee Cowboys football team, his brother Danny (played by Rick Moranis) rounds up the kids to form a new team, the Little Giants, and challenges his brother to a playoff.
Little Giants has everything you could ever want from a sports movie: humor, lovable underdogs to root for, legit exciting gameplay, and cameos by John Madden, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith, and Steve Emtman. It also has perhaps the greatest sports villain ever, the only-refers-to-himself-in-third-person Spike Hammersmith. If "Spike don't play with girls" is not the best movie line ever, I will question everything I have ever known.
6 Books Are Fun!
With Getting Even with Dad in June, Richie Rich in December, and The Pagemaster in November, movie audiences saw a lot of Macaulay Culkin in 1994. The story of The Pagemaster is basically a 75-minute hallucination brought on by a traumatic head injury. Richard Tyler (Culkin) slips on a wet library floor, knocking himself unconscious. When he wakes up, he finds himself a cartoon with three talking books for companions. In the quest for the library exit, the group has to face obstacles from classic literature, such as Moby Dick, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and the pirates from Treasure Island.
This movie earned Culkin a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor (an honor eventually won by Kevin Costner for his role in Wyatt Earp), but I think that's pretty harsh. Kids know this is an awesome movie; it's got action, adventure, and voices by Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, and Leonard Nimoy.
5 A Twist On A Classic
In 1995, Buena Vista Pictures released the teen heartthrob fest, Tom and Huck, starring JTT, Brad Renfro, and The Baby Sitter Club's Rachel Leigh Cook in her pre-She's All That days. The film tells the story of Tom Sawyer (JTT) and Huck Finn (Renfro), two friends who witness a murder and, fearing retribution, swear an oath of secrecy. When guilt gets the better of Tom, he breaks his oath to save a falsely-accused man, but then the murderer comes after him. Will Huck stand by him even though he broke their promise?
Tom and Huck is loosely based on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and thus can be a little problematic for modern audiences. But it still has some crazy fun scenes, like when Tom tricks the neighborhood boys into doing his chores or when he shows up at his own funeral...and gets what he deserves.
4 Kicks And Giggles Abound
I never played soccer, but after watching Disney's 1995 comedy The Big Green, I wanted to so bad. When a new teacher arrives from Britain in tiny Elma, TX, she rounds up the local misfit kids to start a soccer team. Called The Big Green and sporting a green goat mascot, the team gradually finds success and revitalizes the spirit of the whole town. Oh, and Steven Guttenberg is in this movie, too.
It's a total feel-good story, which is great, but what audiences really loved were how cool the kids were in the movie. There's the phenom Juan, tough girl Kate, cute little Newt (Bug Hall from The Little Rascals), twins Lou and Sue, and so many others. But the funniest by far was Larry the goalie and his over-the-top hallucinations of the other teams. Don't forget, losers kiss the goat!
3 A Wild Ride
If you had a crush on the 3 Ninjas boys, then 1997's Wild America was where you discovered true love. Set in 1967, the adventure story stars a trio of hotties (JTT (his third appearance on this list), Devon Sawa, and Scott Bairstow) as brothers who dream of making a nature film of dangerous animals. When their mother loans them the money, they begin their road trip, seeking (and finding) some of the most deadly animals America has to offer, including alligators, wolves, and F-4 Phantom planes (?), naturally with hazardous results. Kids, seriously, don't try this at home.
Though its box office earnings recovered only 15% of the film's $46 million budget, Wild America was one of the few movies on this list to be generally well-received by critics. Huh, I guess sometimes critics and kids CAN agree.
2 Flintstones, Meet The Flinstones!
When you saw 1994's The Flintstones as a kid, you probably thought it was funny because you kinda liked watching reruns of the old cartoon. Maybe you even recognized Rick Moranis (playing Barney Rubble) as the dad from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids from five years earlier. But you need to go back and watch this film as an adult. Seriously, do it. Because this movie is bursting at the seams with celebrities you were too young to recognize. John Goodman plays Fred Flintstone, Elizabeth Ann Perkins is his wife Wilma, Rosie O'Donnell plays neighbor Betty Rubble, Kyle MacLachlan plays the bad guy, Halle Berry is the sultry secretary, Elizabeth Taylor is Wilma's mother, and Jay Leno and Sam Raimi and the B-52s and Mel Blanc and just about literally everyone in the film will make you go, "Wait, is that...?!" There are even cameos by William Hanna and Joseph Barbara!
1 Come On And Slam!
In 1996, Warner Bros. decided to mix Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes, because why not? When an alien entertainment mogul tries to enslave Bugs Bunny and friends, they challenge the aliens to a basketball game to earn their freedom. Naturally, the aliens cheat, stealing the hoop skills from NBA stars Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. Bugs recruits Jordan for their side, and it's game on.
There are so many reasons why Space Jam deserves the #1 spot on this list that I don't even have room to put it all here. For starters, the sequence of the NBA stars dealing with the loss of their talents is flipping hilarious. Next, the original Space Jam website still exists in all its '90s glory. And the jammin' theme song by the Quad City DJs? That's got a permanent spot on my iTunes faves list.