Looking Through Time: 1990 Movies

Story posted November 1, 2020 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff

The CommRadio Arts & Entertainment staff revisits some of the most influential films of 1990.

“Home Alone”

“Home Alone” is one of the most beloved and famously quoted Christmas movies of all time.

Chances are that at some point in every person’s life, they have heard the phrase, “keep the change, ya filthy animal.” That quote may not scream Christmas, but it certainly is recognizable around the holidays because of this movie.

This popular Christmas comedy was written and produced by John Hughes and was directed by Chris Columbus. It was the highest-grossing live-action comedy until 2011.

Audiences of all ages loved and still love “Home Alone” for its family-friendly slapstick comedy and truly remarkable cast featuring Macaulay Culkin.

Culkin’s lead in “Home Alone” was his breakthrough role that helped him land many other leads in films throughout the ‘90s. At one point, Culkin was considered the most successful child actor since Shirley Temple.

“Home Alone” is about a young boy named Kevin McCallister who gets left at home for the holidays while the rest of his family leaves for vacation. Naturally, with an 8-year-old boy left in an empty house and two dim-witted burglars on the loose, hilarious chaos ensues.

This movie is truly timeless and brings out the “kid” in everyone. From the elaborate pranks to the more serious theme of familial love, there is something for everyone to relate.  —Courtney Benedetto

“Dances with Wolves”

While “Dances With Wolves” debuted far beyond the heyday of American westerns, it is certainly the pinnacle of what a great cowboy film should be.

The film follows Civil War soldier John Dunbar, who was injured in battle and ends up discovering a life outside of anything he’s ever known. Dunbar encounters the Sioux tribe with initial hesitancy and suspicion due to previous misconceptions he had gathered on Native Americans.

However, as Dunbar grows closer to the tribe, he finds that he’s been wrong all along—it just took some introduction to understand a new culture.

“Dances with Wolves” was able to set a precedent for how western films should be created. Many of the most popular films of the ‘50s and ‘60s are riddled with racist stereotypes and cliche film tropes. The 1991 western helped break this mold to prove the potential for this genre of film to be cinematically captivating and somewhat forward-thinking.

Certainly, the film is not the end-all-be-all of western cinema, as later films such as 1998’s “Smoke Signals,” directed by Native American Chris Eyre, offer a more intimate look into the truthful culture of Native Americans. However, it was one of the first steps in the right direction to rewrite racism in film.

Along with that, “Dances with Wolves” is simply a beautiful film. Viewers will feel immediately invited into the early days of American history with director Kevin Costner’s cinematography. Additionally, there is hardly a cast member that doesn’t stand out in terms of talent.

“Dances with Wolves” was an instant classic at the time of its release. The film received the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991, and it was also nominated for 11 other awards, winning a total of seven.

With the success of the movie and the proof that film can move past racist stereotypes, the Sioux Nation took on Costner as an honorary member.

While “Dances with Wolves” certainly has its flaws, it is a staple in American film and will go down in history as one of the all-time great westerns.  —Jade Campos

“Paris Is Burning”

An eye-opening film for many, “Paris Is Burning” documents the drag scene in New York City in the late 1980s. Directed and produced by filmmaker Jennie Livingston, the film was initially released on Sept. 13, 1990 in Toronto.

The documentary follows various city youth as they participate in the ball culture that was popular at the time. It tackles issues surrounding race, gender, sexuality and social class that are still relevant in society today.

The subjects in “Paris Is Burning” experience various challenges, such as homophobia, racism, violence, poverty, disease and more. The film’s success made the audience aware of the struggles that the LGBT+ community and people of color face.

“Paris Is Burning” shines a light on a group who felt like outcasts. Livingston follows them around the city as they partake in balls, which were a form of drag queen competitions.

The content of “Paris Is Burning” is so real, which audiences and critics recognized. The documentary genre fit this idea perfectly because Livingston was able to naturally show the experiences of these marginalized groups.

The film received several awards in the ‘90s and is still recognized for its impact today. In January 1991, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it also received the Grand Jury Prize in the documentary category. Finally, “Paris Is Burning” was selected for the U.S. National Film Registry in 2016.  —Sarah Simpson


One of the greatest films to explore the inner workings of organized crime, “Goodfellas” still feels as fresh today as when it was released 30 years ago.

In a long line of classics from director Martin Scorsese, an argument could be made that his 1990 masterpiece is the crown jewels of all his projects. The movie comes across as an adrenaline-fueled dream, as Scorsese presents to the viewer new information with every shot. Not a reel of film feels wasted, as every scene is important.

The acting performances from an outstanding cast featuring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and a career defining act out of Joe Pesci help elevate the film to give it the true markings of a classic.

Joe Pesci’s performance as Tommy DeVito is a performance that will be studied for years to come. Exploring the mind of a psychotic mobster who can’t handle any ounce of disrespect, Pesci delivers an undeniably strong performance.

The dialogue is also impressively sharp, as every line in the movie feels quotable, ranging from “I’m funny how?” to “Now go home and get your shine box.” Before filming, a good amount of the dialogue had been improvised and incorporated into the script, giving off the feeling of authenticity throughout the picture.

The film also stands out as a brutal depiction of life within the mafia. Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s 1985 non-fiction novel “Wiseguy,” it’s not hard to understand why “Goodfellas” feels so authentic, and it’s mainly because the events the film tells are true.

There’s a clear reason why “Goodfellas” is still hailed as a landmark for American cinema even three decades after its release. The film walked a fine line between portraying and glamorizing the mafia lifestyle.

By the end of the film, a paranoid Henry Hill leaves the mafia lifestyle and turns into an informant, ratting on his fellow mobsters, relegated to a life of egg noodles and ketchup. Luckily for the viewer, this film is no egg noodles and ketchup but rather an authentic home-cooked meal of spaghetti, leaving the viewer wondering when they will get their next helping.  —Paul Martin

“Edward Scissorhands”

1990 was a great year for films, and it served as the birth year for one of Johnny Depp’s multiple personas he has taken on over the years: Edward Scissorhands.

From the bizarre mind of Tim Burton, this gothic-toned fantasy follows the movie’s namesake, Edward Scissorhands, as he is brought into a brand-new world, contrasting from the dark corridors that he was created in.

The film spends its time showing the audience how Edward makes his way through the suburban setting all while learning to fit in, setting a sweet tone as the movie progresses, only to take a vicious, startling turn come the very end.

With “Edward Scissorhands” marking the first collaboration between Burton and Depp, the film was met with praise from both the general public and critics alike. It received mostly positive reviews and was particularly applauded for Burton’s reinvention of the “Frankenstein” monster with his own modern twists and turns.

“Edward Scissorhands” has also seen several bits of media inspired by it. Metal band Motionless in White wrote the song “Scissorhands (The Last Snow),” which pays homage to the film and its impact on gothic subculture. Additionally, IDW Publishing released a 10-issue comic book sequel to the movie that takes place several decades after.

Burton considers “Edward Scissorhands” as “epitomizing his most personal work” and acknowledges that the main themes of the film are about self-discovery and isolation.

Truly, “Edward Scissorhands” is a must-see classic for any Burton fan.  —Colton Pleslusky


Courtney Benedetto is a freshman majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email cmb7747@psu.edu.

Jade Campos is a junior majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email jmc7727@psu.edu.

Sarah Simpson is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact her, email sus816@psu.edu.

Paul Martin is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email phm5095@psu.edu

Colton Pleslusky is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email csp5289@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

Jade Campos's photo

Jade Campos

Junior / Print/Digital Journalism

Jade Campos is a junior from Caroline, Virginia. She is a director of the arts and entertainment department of CommRadio and a co-host on the talk show The Nittany Record Club alongside Colton Pleslusky and David Fortunato. Along with CommRadio, Jade is currently the assistant lifestyle editor for the Daily Collegian. In the past, she has interned with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Colton Pleslusky's photo

Colton Pleslusky

Fourth-Year / Telecommunications

Colton S. Pleslusky is a fourth-year from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania majoring in telecommunications at Penn State. He is a director and writer for the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Department as well as the host on Nittany Stories and a co-host on Nittany Record Club alongside Emily McGlynn. He does behind the scenes tasks, including directing, producing, programming and more for the Centre County Report. To contact him, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Paul Martin's photo

Paul Martin


Sarah Simpson's photo

Sarah Simpson

Senior / Film-Video

Sarah Simpson is a senior from Irwin, Pennsylvania majoring in film-video, and minoring in Journalism and Spanish at Penn State. She is a member of Centre County Report. She is also the president of Penn State Network Television (PSNtv), Penn State’s student-run television network, as well as the director for PSNtv’s weekly news broadcast PSN News. She has interned with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a photo/video intern and Penn State Athletics as a live video production intern. If you’d like to contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Courtney Benedetto's photo

Courtney Benedetto

Freshman / Print/Digital Journalism

Courtney Benedetto is from Dover, Delaware. She is a freshman pursuing a print/digital journalism major and a creative writing minor. Courtney is a member of the arts & entertainment department of CommRadio as well as a lifestyle candidate for the Daily Collegian. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).