The Best Documentaries of the 1990s

Keaton Robbins | May 19, 2023

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Grunge music, big-city-buddy sitcoms and crazy kids’ cartoons; The 1990s were a decade of change and innovation, and the world of documentaries was no exception. 

From politics and social justice to music and art subcultures, the documentaries of the 1990s captured the pulse of the era. 

In this article

  1. Rise of Grunge Music: 
  2. Emergence of Hip-Hop as a Mainstream Genre: 
  3. The Popularity of Alternative Culture: 
  4. Impact of the Internet: 
  5. Hoop Dreams (1994) 
  6. The War Room (1993) 
  7. Crumb (1994) 
  8. A Brief History of Time (1991) 
  9. When We Were Kings (1996) 

The 1990s were a decade of significant cultural change, marked by a series of technological, social, and political developments that had a profound impact on society as a whole. 

For those nostalgia lovers, here are some of the key cultural trends of the 1990s: 

Rise of Grunge Music: 

Grunge music, which emerged from Seattle in the late 1980s, became a dominant cultural force in the 1990s. Bands like ‘Nirvana’, ‘Pearl Jam’, and ‘Soundgarden’ helped to define the sound of the decade, which was characterized by heavy guitar riffs, introspective lyrics, and a rejection of the slick, commercial sound of 1980s pop music. 

Emergence of Hip-Hop as a Mainstream Genre: 

While hip-hop had been around since the 1970s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it became a dominant force in popular music. Acts like ‘Tupac Shakur’, ‘The Notorious B.I.G’., and ‘Wu-Tang Clan’ helped to define the sound of hip-hop in the 1990s, which was characterized by gritty lyrics, sample-heavy beats, and a focus on storytelling. 

The Popularity of Alternative Culture: 

The 1990s saw the rise of alternative culture (or alt-culture), which rejected the mainstream in favor of a more independent, “Do-It-Yourself” ethos. This trend was reflected in everything from fashion (think flannel shirts and Doc Martens) to film (with the rise of indie cinema) to the emergence of alternative lifestyles (like veganism and environmentalism). 

Impact of the Internet: 

While the internet had been around since the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it began to have a real impact on society. The widespread adoption of personal computers and the emergence of the World Wide Web helped to transform the way we communicate, consume media, and interact with the world around us. 

Let this video take you right back to the clothing styles and visual aesthetics of the 1990s, while NBC explains “Internet” to you.

So, on the heels of these cultural moments, documentary filmmaking began to come into its own, both in the number of documentaries being made and the amount of people sitting down to enjoy this growing film genre.

Here are the top documentaries of the 1990s, listed in no particular order: 

Hoop Dreams (1994) 

Directed by Steve James, this documentary follows two high school basketball players in Chicago over a five-year period as they navigate the challenges of pursuing their dreams of playing in the NBA. The film is a powerful exploration of race, class, and the American dream. 

The War Room (1993) 

Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, this documentary offers a behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Featuring interviews with campaign staffers and strategists, the film offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of politics and the art of winning elections. 

Crumb (1994) 

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, this documentary examines the life and work of the controversial underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. The film offers a fascinating glimpse into the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and the ways in which art can both reflect and shape the cultural moment. 

A Brief History of Time (1991) 

A Brief History of Time is a fascinating and accessible documentary about the life and work of physicist Stephen Hawking. The film offers a glimpse into the mysteries of the universe and the mind of one of the greatest scientific minds of our time.

When We Were Kings (1996) 

When We Were Kings is a thrilling and inspiring documentary that captures the 1974 heavyweight boxing championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. The film explores the cultural and political significance of this historic event and the charisma of Ali, who emerges as a true hero.

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  • Avatar for Xeno Goku
    Xeno Goku
    June 8, 2023, 6:17 pm

    I love it