Film blog: What French cinema audiences were watching in the 1990s

Film blog: What French cinema audiences were watching in the 1990s
A younger Gerard Depardieu starred in one of the biggest French films of the decade. Photo: AFP
Whether you grew up in a small town or the big city, the movies you watched in childhood and adolescence will have shaped you, but audiences in France and the USA were getting very different cultural messages, as Charlotte Jolley finds out.

The films that you watched, the characters that you fell in love with, and the storylines that shaped you are an important part of growing up and the different films that French and Anglo audiences watched in the 1990s have created some very different cultural references.

Here are the most popular films in France and the USA throughout the 90s.

READ ALSO Film blog: The French films breaking box office records in the 1980s


Jurassic Park now has its own ride at Universal Studios after the phenomenal success of the 1993 film. Photo: AFP

1990

USA: Home Alone

Almost every American has a memory of the notorious Christmas movie where the cute little boy is left home alone during the holidays and must defend his home from robbers. This movie is one of the most-quoted holiday movies that set a precedence for many more movies to come, and it’s family-friendly humor and style is an iconic treasure. 

France: Cyrano de Bergerac

While most Americans were gawking over the feel-good, family-friendly Christmas movie, French people were watching this adaptation of one of the most well-known plays in French history by Edmond Rostand. The film was monumental for a few reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is its testing of the idea of conventional beauty. The articulate hero (played by Gerard Depardieu) took the hearts and minds of many, and nobody cared how big his nose was.

1991

USA: Beauty And The Beast

This American Disney fairytale – actually based in France – is iconic for its soundtrack, its fairytale story, and its underlying message. It became the highest grossing Disney animated film of all-time in 1991 and was the first animated film to ever make over $100 million. A recent live-action remake with Emma Waston and Dan Stevens prove how much its message has lived on. The film without a doubt played a significant role in boosting theatrical animation and inspiring millions of children.

France: Tous les matins du monde

At the same time that American audiences were falling in love with the pureness of the classic Disney animated film, French people were busy watching the trials and tribulations of a man attempting to learn to play the viola.

Adapted from Pascal Quignard’s novel, All The World’s Mornings, the film tackles hardship the and irreversible nature of time.

1992

USA: Wayne’s World

One of the first Saturday Night Live sketches to ever be made into a movie, with honestly no clear plot, the movie – shot in just 34 days – is not noted for its amazing set, storyline, or acting. But it provoked an entire new set of jokes that trickled into TV shows, quotes, and even now into viral memes. A specific time in American history can be remembered by the Wayne’s World and SNL's goofy take on humor! 

France: Les nuits fauves 

Slightly less goofy, but very powerful, this was one of the first films to ever show on the big screen the struggles of being HIV positive, and dealing with racism, homophobia, and life-struggles. 

Star and director Cyril Collard died from AIDS a few years after the release of the movie, but the impact his film and death had on the public was immense. Quite the contrast to Wayne’s World, but it certainly left just as big of an impact. 

1993

USA: Jurassic Park

The classic Spielberg American film that shaped an entire era is an iconic movie series that explores the depths of adventure through a world of dinosaurs and what happens when they meet humans. The film has even spread to having its own ride in Universal Studios, and a spin-off series “Jurassic World” that came out in 2015. Okay, be honest. Is the theme song stuck in your head now? 

France: Les Visiteurs

The highest-grossing non-English language film worldwide that year, it tells the story of Godefroy, a twelfth-century knight, who asks a wizard to take him back in time before he accidentally killed his fiance's father, but instead is transported to the year 1993. An iconic slapstick comedy-meets-fantasy-world, this is one that many Francophones have happy memories of. 

1994

USA: Pulp Fiction

One of the most influential films of the decade, the movie is widely considered Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, with its unconventional structure and intense screenwriting.

The movie, relaunched the career of John Travolta and made a superstar of Samuel L. Jackson. This was also the same year that the controversial “Clinton Crime Bill” was passed in the United States because of the growing crime rate.

France: Léon: The Professional

Violence, mobsters and drugs also feature heavily in the most popular French film of 994 – the story of 12-year-old Léon. At a young age, he is already exposed to some of the harshness of life as his abusive father is in the drug business and his mother is very neglectful.

The movie, directed by Luc Besson, has actually some similarities to Pulp Fiction but with a more straightforward nature with more overt symbolism than its American counterpart.

1995 

USA: Clueless

Based on Jane Austen's Emma, Amy Heckerling's coming-of-age romance tells the story of Cher, a rich, socially successful, and spoiled teenager from Beverly Hills as she embarks on her journey of matchmaking, love, and life. 

It was rooted in many important life-lessons such as the importance of friendships, being comfortable in your sexuality, and not settling for people who do not treat you how you deserve to be treated. The film and its lessons has lived on for over 20 years and will always be an icon for its feminist messages.

France: Le bonheur est dans le pré

By contrast Jura, a businessman, lives a very depressing life. He is miserable and much of his life is going wrong. He is admitted into the hospital, and there he discovers a family that claims their missing father looks exactly like him. Now is his chance for a fresh, new life. Through this new adventure he finds something from life he did not think he ever would again. This film explores the “what-if’s” of life and how it really is never too late. 

1996 

USA: Space Jam

Space Jam, the cartoon and live-action crossover movie, is iconic in American cinema for many reasons. With a cast including Danny DeVito, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Bugs Bunny… you really cannot go wrong. The film is an archetypal sports story of what happens after Michael Jordan’s retirement and up until his comeback in 1995 where the Looney Tunes characters recruit him to help them win a basketball match. A true one of a kind.

France: Un Air De Famille

Cédric Klapisch's drama revolves around the struggles, humour, and hardships of every family.

Set over the course of one evening in a restaurant, the characters recount the family history, tensions, ups and downs, and complexities. Very witty, the film also proved highly relatable to many French families.

1997 

USA: Titanic

Many millions of people throughout the world have at one time attempted to recreate the famous Titanic scene where Jack has his arms around Rose with her arms opened, and they look into the distance as Rose yells, “”I'll never let go. I'll never let go, Jack!”.

The movie is so well-known in American culture that is has become a cultural reference and grossed over $933 million worldwide. I guess you could say that the movie itself is pretty unsinkable.

France: La Vérité si je mens

La Vérité si je mens (The Truth If I Lie) tells the story of Eddie, who is looking for work in Paris and eventually is hired by a rich Jewish manufacturer because he mistakes Eddie to be Jewish as well.

Eddie, pretending to be Jewish, becomes a very successful part of the community and ends up falling for his new boss’s beautiful daughter. This is one of the first French films to really showcase Jewish presence in French society and the film helps brings light to some of the stereotypes Jewish members of French communities were faced with. Although the movie is a classic comedy, it also was very influential to the Jewish and French communities.


Asterix the Gaul is a legendary figure in France. Photo: AFP

1998

USA: The Parent Trap

The classic American summer camp, coming-of-age movie tells the story of two girls who meet each other at a Summer camp and find that they are identical to one another. Of course, they soon discover that they are sisters and their parents never told them about one another. So, they do what any curious child would do in that situation: they switched places. The story then evolves to the two sisters attempting to mend their parents relationship so that they can all become one family again. Lindsay Lohan played both the main characters through a split screen.

France: Le Dîner de Cons

There was later an American remake of the film in 2010 (Dinner For Schmucks starring Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd) which tells the story of snooty businessmen competing to bring along the best 'idiot' to dinner. The film, with its classic helping of French farce, ends up bringing two unexpected friends together for a great story. 

1999

USA: Fight Club

This iconic and very American movie, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, tells the story of men creating an underground club with strict rules where everyone essentially releases their rage onto one another. The movie has been quoted for years and the struggles the characters face in the film are very real. However, we all know the first rule of Fight Club. And the second. So I will stop here. 

France: Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar 

While an illegal underground fight club was happening on American screens, the comedy fairytale Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar delighted Francophones.

Based on the highly popular comic book series, the goofy comedy explores magic, exploration, and the seemingly impossible as the last unconquered village in Gaul uses magical potions to stop the Roman invaders. 

Charlotte Jolley works for Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that screens French films with English subtitles, to open up the word of French cinema to English-speakers. Find out more about their programme here.

 

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