8 Nineties cult classics you have to watch this summer

Posted by for Life

“Comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll on TV with Vic & Bob and Newman & Baddiel, while films all had pumping soundtracks: Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Do The Right Thing…

The 90s were nothing if not bedroom-door-slammingly angst-fuelled; as Garbage sang, “I’m only happy when it rains.” 

Happily, a new season at the British Film Institute in London is celebrating the rule-breaking films and TV shows of the decade, and the agitators who starred in and made them. Entertainment director Helen Bownass picks out what to see.

This Life

Writer Amy Jenkins will discuss her pacy, genre-shifting BBC Two drama about aspiring young lawyers sharing a house. Drug use and casual sex are met without judgement and the characters are as multifaceted as they are ambitious. (1 Aug)

My Own Private Idaho

Before the Keanu renaissance, there was Keanu 1.0. Gus Van Sant directs the young Reeves alongside River Phoenix as a narcoleptic, gay hustler in this original road movie. (5, 16 Aug)

“Before the Keanu resistance, there was Keanu 1.0”

The Watermelon Woman

A wonder to be discovered, this smart film written by and starring Cheryl Dunye tells of a black lesbian working in a video store who aspires to be a film director and becomes obsessed with a 1930s actor. (8, 23 July)

Queer As Folk

From the moment it burst onto Channel 4 in 1999, this had Middle England’s knickers in a twist as it followed the exploits of three gay men in Manchester. Russell T Davies (the man behind YearsAndYears) will talk about creating the show that broke every TV taboo going. (8 Aug)

Do The Right Thing

One of Spike Lee’s most important and iconic films. Do The Right Thing covers 24 hours on a block in Brooklyn, New York, during a heatwave and the simmering racial tensions that erupt there to tragic effect. (5 July)

Giancarlo Esposito in Do The Right Thing            


Imagine being allergic to the 20th century. Housewife Carol (played brilliantly by Julianne Moore) doesn’t have to – her body is physically rejecting modern life in this eerie and unique thriller. (6, 18, 26 July)

Bhaji On The Beach

Blackpool is the setting for this film about a group of Indian women on a day out to the beach. Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) directs this warm look at people trying to fit into new communities and modernity versus tradition. (18, 20 August)

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The film that launched Ewan McGregor’s career. This classic about a group of friends – and heroin addicts – in Edinburgh feels just as funny and vital today. Choose life. (22 July)

Ewan McGregor and Kelly MacDonald in Trainspotting

BFI Southbank, SE1; bfi.org.uk

Photography: Courtesy of the British Film Institute, Getty Images

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Recommended by Helen Bownass