Pop Culture in Review for the Year 1990

A year marked with an economic recession, war, and the birth of the Simpsons, 1990 is the absolute happening start a decade could ask for.  On the one hand,George Bush signed a deal with the Soviets, whereas, on the other hand, American soldiers still had to fight foreign wars in the shape of the new Gulf War. With the rise in liberalism and acceptance for all, society was truly evolving into a safe haven for all kinds of people, no matter their caste, color, sex, or creed.

Let’s take a look at what really happened during 1990 that played a part in shaping the world we live in today.


Jerry Zucker and His Ghost

This romantic fantasy thriller was a surprise box office hit and ended up smashing all grossing records back in the day. The year echoed with the success stories of this movie. It went on to win various awards, including an Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actress won by Whoopi Goldberg and another Academy for the Best Original Screenplay.

Home Alone

One of the all-time fan-favorite franchises, its first part premiered in the year 1990. The movie was a true comedy special with Chris Columbus at the peak of his directional powers and had an out of the world acting talent on display, winning hearts wherever it screened.

Home Alone was added to the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-grossing live-action comedy film ever. The movie remained in theaters for more than eight consecutive weeks and earned a whopping $476.6 million worldwide, going on to set records that would remain untouched for at least the next two decades.

The movie spawned a sequel, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” which focuses on the adventures of the protagonist, Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin), as he was separated from his family and travels to New York City. The film premiered on November 20, 1992. Along with the release of the movie, the real-life version of the Talkboy, a device that was shown on several scenes of the film, was released around the same year. To learn more about this toy and the TV ad that was produced for it, check out The Most Memorable TV Advertisements for Retro Toys.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

We all witnessed a crazy wave of martial arts and turtle suits sweeping the entire nation after the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film was the start of a super hit franchise, one that was unique, raw, and never heard of before. Although the movie faced mixed reviews, it went on to become the highest-grossing independent movie of its time and was a huge success financially.

On the other hand, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that originally aired from 1987 to 1996 is considered to be better received critically and commercially compared to the live action TMNT film. For more info on the animated TMNT show and its origins, you can read our guide on The Best 90s TV Shows with Popular Toy Lines.


The Simpsons

The Simpsons

Probably the greatest show of all time and factually the longest-running show in the history of television, The Simpsons first aired on Fox network in May 1990. The show was an instant success due to its satirical representation of the American working class, its unending conspiracy theories, and its hilarious comedy scenes. To date, the sitcom has won various prestigious awards, including 34 Primetime Emmy Awards, 34 Annie Awards, and 2 Peabody Awards.


Airing its 9th season and maybe the best season of the Cheers series, this sitcom ranked number one in the most-watched-TV-shows list for the year 1990. Although the show seemed to portray a romance between a bar waitress and the owner of the bar, it went on to receive critical affirmation for discussing various controversial topics such as alcoholism, homosexuality, and adultery in a humorous way.

The show went on to win six Golden Globe Awards and was named the Primetime Emmy Awards’ Outstanding Comedy Series for four years.

A Different World

This show probably talked about the most striking issues of society. It made its viewers ponder upon issues such as class differences, racial discrimination, and the Equal Rights Amendment, providing with a never-ending supply of humor and much-loved comedy at the same time. It was the first American TV show that talked about HIV AIDs at that time and became a trendsetter back in its days. The show was the fourth most-watched TV show that year and went on to win various awards on its journey.

60 Minutes Continues to Mesmerize Audiences

A one of its kind show, 60 minutes is maybe the most famous ‘news bulletin’ in the history of news channels and shows. Its unique way of presenting current affairs in a three-segment show was unmatched by any other, and it is still the most influential show in this genre. The show is ranked 6th in the TV Guide’s list of ‘’50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.’’ It was ranked 24th on the magazine’s list of ‘’60 Best Series of All Time’’.


Nothing Compares 2 U

Originally written and sung by Prince, Nothing Compares 2 Ubecame popular in 1990 when Sinead O Conner released her own version of the song and made it to the top ofthe billboard’s list for the respective year. The song received widespread critical acclamation and was termed as ‘’a song deeply rooted in emotion and despair which would go on to certify O’Connor and be termed as one of music history’s most unforgettable moments’’.

Rhythm and Blues

The 90s saw the rise of rhythm and blues thanks to the likes of artists such as Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. The genre was immortalized in 1990 when Mariah Carey’s self-titled album Mariah Carey became a huge success and remained at the top of billboard for 11 consecutive weeks. Her song Vision of Love was chosen as the number one single hit that year and is an iconic song to date.

Madonna Is Unbeaten Again

The mesmerizing, gifted, and pretty pop star was in headlines again with her new album and its single Vogue. The song ranked 4th in the billboard 100s list and made people dance to its beat. Critically acclaimed, the song talked about a dance form Madonna was inspired by, thus ending up making the whole of America move to its beat. The female vocalist is regarded as one of the greatest singers and performers of all time, and 1990 was just the start of things to come.



Our cherished boxing star, Mike Tyson, became the year’s highest earner with 28.6 million US dollars to his name. However, he lost the unified world heavyweight title to James Douglas, which was a massive upset for Tyson fans that year. The title was once more unsuccessfully defended when Douglas lost it to Evander Holyfield, a far superior contender to himself.


The dawning of the decade saw some baseball heroes lifting their heads up.

The 43-year-old Nolan Ryan threw his sixth career no-hitter for the Texas Rangers that year. He kept staggering with the ball at 95 miles per hour, even at his age.

The Detroit Tigers’ Cecil Fielder set the record with 50 home runs in a season, becoming the third to do so.

The Cincinnati Reds were the highlights of the National League, crushing all competition that year. They took it away with their ‘Nasty Boys’; Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers, with the latter two crowned as MVP.

The Oakland Athletics outstood everyone in the American League and became the favorites for the World Series, only to be swept off their feet by the Cincinnati Reds in both their encounters, a moment that marked history for the Reds.


The death of Hank Gathers, the sixth-best scorer in the nation, during a tournament game was some dreadful news for fans.

The introduction of two new teams in the professional game spiked popularity and set attendance records for the seventh consecutive time, with an attendance of over 17 million at the NBA games that year.

In the NBA finals, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Portland trailblazers with 4 games to 1. Vinnie Johnson of the Pistons won hearts and the final game as he made a jump shot with only 0.7 seconds left.


Pete Sampras got off the mark as he won his first career Grand slam, owning US open to become the youngest at 19 to do so, defeating his American comrade Andre Agassi in three consecutive sets.

Gigi Fernandez and Martina Navratilova won the women’s doubles, demolishing their Czech counterparts.


NASA All the Way

The Hubble Space Telescope was first placed in its orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery in the year 1990. It was the first largest and major optical telescope to be placed outside our world, bridging us to space. It is the first of four Great Observatories of NASA. With its unobstructed view of our solar system, it was a complete game-changer in the realm of astronomy.

In collaboration with the European Space Agency, NASA launched Ulysses, a space probe, again on its space shuttle discovery. It was meant to study the Sun, and in the coming years, it made three ‘fast latitude scans’ of the Sun and helped us study various comets.

Technology Back at Earth

Technology kept easing our lives that year. Some of the most popular developments that year were as follows:

There were rumors about superfast computers when scientists at Bell Labs, New Jersey, came up with a digital optical processor that would employ pulses of light to make calculations.

The National Institute of Health in Maryland began its first gene therapy on a human patient.

Microsoft launched Windows 3.0, that introduced icons for its applications and a Graphical User Interface that raised the bar for its competitors.

We could possibly travel to newer places without risk of losing our way as Pioneer introduced an in-car Satellite Navigation System that year.


The Day Look

People opted for clothes that would stay in style long enough. The jacket became a daytime necessity with Chanel leading the trend, introducing it loose jackets with slits at the hem. The classic leather jackets were a must-have for most of the people.

The year also experienced some alarming color explosions, with bright reds, purples, and Neons that became a go-to. The street style was never complete without denim and miniskirts. The bucket hat became a statement as well.

Polka-dotted shirts and dresses were in too, as Julia Roberts’ dotted dress in The Pretty Woman was much loved.

The Evening Glam

With laces, brocade and satins heavily embroidered, leading the charts, the sleek black dress was everybody’s choice. It was usually styled with high heeled shoes, black stockings, smoky eyes, and curled hair.

Crushed velvet dresses with their staple spaghetti straps became a popular style as well.


The US Suffers Another Economic Recession

Increased oil prices, the Federal Reserve’s policy to lower inflation, and the not-so-smart economic policies taken by Bushled America to another economic recession. There was an increase in people losing their jobs and not being able to maintain their lifestyles.

The Gulf War

Following the invasion of Kuwait By Iraq, the United Nations acted by placing Trade Embargos on Iraq, compelling Saddam Hussein to remove its troops from Kuwait. America started its Desert Shield Mission in Kuwait along with the British forces in attempts to liberate it from its occupiers.

An End to Chemical Weapons

President Bush and the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the chemical weapons accord making sure the two countries do not produce any chemical weapons in the future.

The Discovery of “Sue”

Sue Hendrickson made the world of paleontologists go-round with her discovery of the remains of a T-Rex, which was later named Sue, the most complex and well-preserved skeleton, in South Dakota.

Some Famous Trials

The longest criminal trial in the US concerning child molestation in McMartin pre-school came to an end with all of its defendants being released and not found guilty.

Marion Barry, the Washington DC Mayor, was arrested for drug possession by the FBR during one of its sting operations.


The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

O’Brien’s’ third book about Vietnam was called one of the few good things about the war. His stories of the fictional ‘Alpha Company’ make the work not just a war memoir but also an intricate craft to be studied studiously.

Popular Comics

The British graphic novel by Alan Moore V for Vendetta was a super hit comic book in America during the recession days where the common man was not so happy with the government. The novel talks about vigilante justice, anti-fascism, and white supremacy.

Spiderman 1 was a comic found in every child’s bag back then, which marked the true legacy the comic book had.

A Confidential by James Ellroy

A neo-noir-novel by James Ellroy revolves around three LAPD officers who get involved in sex, murder, and corruption. Set in the 1950s, the story is based on real-life incidents exploring various social evils such as organized crime, drug trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft

On 18th March 1990, 12 paintings worth $300 millionget stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, by two robbers dressed as policemen. The theft is considered to be the largest art theft and the biggest private property theft to date.

“The Fall of Phaeton”Purchased

The National Gallery of Art Washington DC purchased the Flemish Masters 17th century piece ‘’the Fall of Phaeton’’, where he has depicted the Greek myth involving Phaeton and Zeus.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment”

A show depicting nude and homosexual men in photographs was on display in the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center by Robert Mapplethorpe. The show provoked the Citizens for Community Values who called him out for indecency, but a jury found him innocent later the same year.


In 1990, the nation was developing its social and ethical values along with fighting wars at home and abroad of different shapes and sizes. The country was more than ever woke for the cause of equal rights, environmental protection, and liberalism.

Though we faced an economic recession of the hardest nature, a picture form the voyager really proved to us that we are nothing more than a pale blue dot, and the only thing that matters is humanity in its pure senses.

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