Lessons Learned From ’90s Sci-Fi Movies

Graffiti painting of an alien on a wall in Vittoria, Spain.
Another quintessential ’90s movie I watched not long ago was the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. While watching ID4, I couldn’t help but think about all the different cliches, characters, storylines and plot devices that were used not only in this movie, but pretty much all ’90s sci-fi movies in general. In ID4, you have the GenX-ers out to save the world, the shadowy military and government officials overseeing massive cover-ups and keeping them secret even from their Commander-in-Chief, the West Wing-style White House official torn between duty and family, the jocular fighter pilot out to make the aliens wish they’d never heard of planet Earth, and of course, the aliens themselves in all their shiny FX glory.

And with these cliches and characters come lessons to be learned for Life. “What are some of these lessons,” you ask? Here are ten lessons that can be learned from these movies:

1.) Cyberpunks rule! No matter if they’re the sexy badass futuristic girl like Lori Petty’s Tank Girl or the disease-stricken and hardwired cyberpunks in the 1997 sci-fi hit Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves, you can always count on a cyberpunk to stick it to some future totalitarian ruler. Or to hack into supercomputers that are powered by an organic brain. Or to help stave off some deadly worldwide plague as in JM. Despite their freaky, gothic outward appearance, most cyberpunks are extremely intelligent, have a good heart and are the future of the world. So please, give cyberpunks a chance!

2.) Always beware of Big Brother. No matter if it’s government officials in our own age hiding top-secret codes in crossword puzzles as in 1997’s Mercury Rising, an authoritarian government running a futuristic post-apocalyptic state in the 1995 movie Judge Dredd,  shadowy government agents viciously guarding secret government programs from Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory, or an alien race secretly hotwiring all of humankind in the Matrix trilogy, you’ve always gotta look over your shoulder. You never know who those creepy, paranoid military guys in the movies are or what they’re going to do next…

3.) Always take your laptop with you. You just never know when you’ll need it to hack into some highly-advanced alien computer system, as Jeff Goldblum did in ID4, or to protect yourself from big bad government hitmen as Sandra Bullock did in The Net. Of course, if you’re a character in ’90s movies, you have this magic ability to get online via a dial-up connection when no telephone cord is anywhere in sight…..

4.) Always beware of aliens in disguise. That guy in line behind you at Starbucks or the gal sitting in the doctor’s office just might be an ugly alien disguised as a human. Just ask Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones aka Men in Black’s Agents J and K. Or Charlie Sheen in The Arrival.

5.) Be compassionate toward cyborgs. Let’s face it: some cyborgs are good, while others are not so good. Some cyborgs, like Luc Deveraux/GR44 (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in 1992’s Universal Soldier or RoboCop, are really good guys who are loveable at heart and may even still have some humanity underneath all the cybernetic technology. Others, like Andrew Scott/GR13 (Dolph Lundgren) in US, are complete psychopaths who you’ll want to steer clear of at all costs. And sometimes, even whole species of cyborgs such as the Borg in the various Star Trek TV series and movies deserve a certain amount of pity and compassion every once in a while. Even if they did turn Jean-Luc Picard into a Borg!

No matter how many times they try to turn the human race into their own kind or cause widespread destruction, always remember this: It’s not really their fault. They were just born that way or they were programmed that way by some evil government scientists in experiments gone awry. 

6.)  If you want to be a bad guy in a movie, take shooting courses. It seems like in all sci-fi and action movies, the bad guys can never shoot straight. That goes for not just movies made in the ’90s, but also virtually any movies made before and since then.

7.) Learn some martial arts and basic diving skills. That way, even if you’re just a college kid working in the science lab or a secret agent who has had her/his memory erased (i.e. Douglas Quaid in Total Recall), you can still have the magic ability to whup all the bad guys when they come storming in with pure black-belt moves and swim away from the subsequent shootout, dodging all the bullets zinging past you as you somehow manage to keep your eyes open underwater.

8.) Generation X and Generation Y, baby! No matter if it’s a bunch of young geeky computer hackers bringing down some Cold War-era government conspiracy or saving the world from aliens as in ID4, the future of the world was upon the shoulders of GenX/Y – and our advanced cyber-skills, inclination toward the grunge/goth subculture of the time, and open-mindedness in general.

9.) The greatest movie hacker of the ’90s was Angelina Jolie in 1996’s Hackers. Enough said.

And finally, the 10th life lesson to be learned from ’90s sci-fi movies is this:

10.) If you’re facing a worldwide crisis of cataclysmic proportions, Keanu Reeves is the man to save the day. No matter if it’s a government conspiracy that’s been uncovered on the Internet, aliens plotting to take over Earth, (movie) terrorists causing chaos, or an uber-cool GenXer is needed to have their mind wired into some kind of advanced computer, Keanu Reeves is your man. He played all of these roles throughout the ’90s (and well into the ’00s) and defined the GenXer cyber-geek movie character in the process. To this day, whenever a young dude saving the world becomes a topic of conversation, it’s hard not to think of him as Neo in The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, or Klaatu in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If you can think of any other life lessons to be learned from these ’90s classics or if you just want to share your favorites, feel free to drop a line below! Oh, and please remember that this list was written in the spirit of good, tongue-in-cheek fun. I’m just as much of a fan of these movies as everyone else is and watch them very regularly!

Alien graffiti image copyright: Zarateman. Used via Wikimedia Commons.
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