Grunge was more than just a fashion or a new music style, it was a significant counterculture movement of the 1990s that inspired some of the most recognizable moments in 1990s pop culture, TV, and of course, movies. Grunge was a major part of the Gen X identity, helping to define the generation as drastically different from the pastel and bright color aesthetic of the 1980s as well as helping to bring important social issues to the forefront of pop culture and possessing a strong desire to remain as authentic as possible.
Films of the time incorporated the grunge aesthetic and views, helping to create some of the best movies that help to reflect and portray the anti-corporate, non-conformist mood of the 1990s. So sit tight and grab your red flannel, distressed jeans, and oversized denim jackets, this list is here to showcase some of the best films of the ’90’s that capture the best of the grunge subculture.
Originally a novel written by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting is a monumental piece of Scottish cinema as well as a perfect depiction of the underbelly culture of the 90s through the story of a group of heroin addicts who try their best to stay above water and get clean. The film is gorgeous and beautifully shot, filled with a striking and surrealist art style that emphasises the intense lifestyle of drug addiction.
It is a stunning, visual time capsule that shows off all the best of 90s grunge fashion, especially with Ewan McGregor’s character Mark Renton, and it portrays all the feelings of Gen X adults as they felt the anxieties of growing up under an uncertain financial future as well as their reluctance to join the dissatisfying world of conformity.
‘My Own Private Idaho’ (1991)
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry V, this film stars the excellent talents of Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix and is not only an incredible Shakespearean retelling but also a beautiful piece of LGBT+ cinema.
The story follows Mike (River Phoenix), a gay man working as a sex worker and Scott (Keanu Reeves), a fellow sex worker and son of a wealthy mayor, as they grow closer and rely on each other for emotional survival and warmth. It is a heartfelt, tender depiction of queer love and embodies all the style of 90s grunge attitude and is a must-watch just to see River Phoenix’s sensational acting skills alone.
‘Reality Bites’ (1994)
Arguably the most quintessential film that shows off grunge, Reality Bites stars Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn as four roommates trying to survive all the fears and struggles that come with a post-college life.
Reality Bites is the ultimate representation of 90s life and attitude, as well as being impeccable when it comes to peak grunge fashion with each character following the grunge trends of dark color palettes, oversized shirts and floral print dresses reminiscent of Kurt Cobain, the utmost king of grunge. It’s true to life with some scenes too awkward to sit through, showing an unflinchingly realistic representation of living in your mid-20s through the specific lens of 90s sensibilities.
As one of the greatest and most influential indie films of all time, Clerks is a hilarious and perfect snapshot of the mundanity of retail work as well as relishing in the joy of complaining and having an angsty attitude, a key element of the grunge mindset. It was a hit with audiences when it was first released, as well as spawning a sequel in 2006 and even a new film coming later this year.
The film made a star out of its writer, director, and actor Kevin Smith and it also introduced the iconic duo of Jay and Silent Bob to the world, who would then appear in almost all of Kevin Smith’s future films.
Slacker is a 1990 film that follows a group of young-adult friends on a single day in Texas as they discuss issues such as the rise of unemployment, fear of terrorism, the government’s control over the media, and anxieties relating to social exclusion and political marginalization.
It is filled with eccentric characters that never stay in one place for long, as they talk about wild conspiracy theories that are equally as ridiculous as they are perfect insights into their psyches and a quick reveal of their fears. Slacker embodies all the essence of the politics of grunge, not only in how the characters dress but also in how they show the deep distrust and speculation of the government’s best interests, as well as the general nihilist attitude that follows.