The thing you associate the most with any given year says a lot about where you were during that time. Some people might recall 1993 as the year they got married or had a baby or graduated college; others connect it with Jurassic Park because they were six years old at the time and OMG LOOK AT THAT T-RED. It’s tricky circling only ONE thing in 1994, though, because SO many great things happened in pop culture then. Here are 20 of the best movies, albums, and TV shows to either come out or premiere 20 years ago.
1. Illmatic by Nas
Release Date: April 19th
What Else Was Happening That Month? April 1994 was a great month for music, and also the worst. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, the last consensus ROCK STAR, shot and killed himself on April 5th; a public vigil was held five days later. Meanwhile, the Offspring released the multi-platinum Smash on April 8th (it’s still the highest selling indie album of all-time), while the otherwise unrelated Hole and Superchunk released their career masterpieces in Live Through This and Foolish around the same time.
2. Ready to Die by the Notorious B.I.G.
Release Date: September 13th
What Else Was Happening That Month? September 13th is no November 9, 1993, when both Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) dropped, but it’s a sneaky good day for music. Biggie is obviously the highlight, but Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and They Might Be Giants’ John Henry also came out that day. Elsewhere in the month, you have a classic release from Sugar (File Under: Easy Listening), Kylie Minogue’s titular debut, Thug Life: Volume 1, and R.E.M.’s Monster. Also, Under the Table and Dreaming, which is a big deal for Starburns.
3. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails
Release Date: March 8th
What Else Was Happening That Month? There’s not a more quintessentially 1990s day than March 8th, when The Downward Spiral AND Soundgarden’s Superunknown taught an entire generation of angst-heads to f*ck like an animal.
4. The Blue Album by Weezer
Release Date: May 10th
What Else Was Happening That Month? There was a little something for everyone this May. Swamp Ophelia by Indigo Girls for lesbians and mothers; Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star by Sonic Youth for scene kids in New York; Ill Communication by Beastie Boys for bratty rap fans; Diary by Sunny Real Estate for self-loathing white people; The Very Best of Kenny G for those in need of an ironic Christmas present; and Seal II for fans of the greatest song of all-time, “Kiss From a Rose.”
5. Dookie by Green Day
Release Date: February 1st
What Else Was Happening That Month? While the Fugees where Blunted on Reality, the Reality Bites soundtrack spun the bottle. (It also includes one of the few U2 songs that doesn’t make me want to bash my head with a sack of potatoes, “All I Want Is You.”) Jawbreaker also got their 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, but whatever, that has nothing to do with Juliana Hatfield.
6. MTV Unplugged In New York by Nirvana
Release Date: November 1st
What Else Was Happening That Month? The first day of November 1994 was a who’s who of big names in the music industry. Nirvana’s Unplugged is the best of the bunch, but other releases included the Black Crowes’ controversial Amorica, an Aerosmith compilation, Willie Nelson’s inessential Healing Hands of Time, Tom Petty’s beautiful solo album Wildflowers, Megadeth’s followup to their mainstream breakthrough Youthanasia, AND Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas. I take it back: that album is more of a must-own than Nirvana’s because it includes “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Sorry, Kurt.
7. Resurrection by Common
Release Date: October 25th
What Else Was Happening That Month? Resurrection is Common at his best, but the same compliment can’t be paid to Madonna, whose Bedtime Stories, which also came out that October, is one of the worst albums in her lengthy discography. If you’re looking for something that’s actually worth listening to from this month, check out Suede’s Dog Man Star or the Smashing Pumpkins’ Pisces Iscariot.
8. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
Release Date: February 14th
What Else Was Happening That Month? See the Dookie entry.
9. Dummy by Portishead
Release Date: August 22nd
What Else Was Happening That Month? Well, I turned seven years old, but for some reason, my parents didn’t preorder 6 Feet Deep by Gravediggaz, Come by Prince, Grace by Jeff Buckley, Definitely Maybe by Oasis, or the Natural Born Killers soundtrack for me. I may have gotten Boyz II Men’s II, though, which is kind of creepy in retrospect.
10. Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices
Release Date: June 20th
What Else Was Happening That Month? Aaliyah made an instant impression with her debut Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, while Da Brat taught the world how to get Funkdafied. John Mellencamp also put out something called Dance Naked, but no.
11. Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14th
What Else Was Happening That Day? Two of the most beloved films of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, were released that day (TECHNICALLY, Shawshank was in limited release a week earlier, but the full roll-out wasn’t until the 14th). The, um, BDSM “classic” Exit to Eden fought for marquee space that weekend, too, but I didn’t make my dad pay for any of those films. No, I was busy falling in love with Little Giants. ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO.
12. Ed Wood
Release Date: September 30th
What Else Was Happening That Day? The River Wild and The Scout disappointed fans of Meryl Streep and Albert Brooks. It was par for the course for Brendan Fraser defenders.
13. The Lion King
Release Date: June 24th (wide release)
What Else Was Happening That Month? The Lion King actually started setting records a week earlier, but it only played two theaters in California and New York. Not that it mattered: whether the competition was Wyatt Earp (limited release competition) or Little Big League (wide release), The Lion King destroyed ’em all. It would become the highest grossing movie of 1994.
14. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective/The Mask/Dumb and Dumber
Release Date: February 4th/July 29th/December 16th
What Else Was Happening That Day? Has any actor had a more successful year than Jim Carrey did in 1994? Ace, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber collectively earned more than $700 million at the box office, which adjusted for inflation is approximately $27 billion. Chris Pratt’s 2014 comes close (The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy), but he never spoke out of his butt, so Jim Carrey wins.
Release Date: October 19th
What Else Was Happening That Day? See Pulp Fiction entry.
16. My So-Called Life
Premiere Date: August 25, 1994
What Else Was Happening That Night? My So-Called Life was the ill-advised lead-in to McKenna, which was cancelled after only one season but its still notable because Jennifer Love Hewitt starred, and Matlock. Not that anyone was watching any of those three shows…
Premiere Date: September 22nd
What Else Was Happening That Night? …because everyone was tuning into NBC on Thursday nights. Friends was originally scheduled at 8:30 p.m., right after Mad About You, but in the spring, it was moved to the plum post-Seinfeld 9:30 p.m. timeslot. The ratings domination didn’t end there.
Premiere Date: September 19th
What Else Was Happening That Month? That’s right: E.R. debuted only three days before Friends, and it was even more of an immediate smash. It was the second highest rated show on television in its freshman year, and wouldn’t drop out of the top-10 until season 11.
19. Space Ghost Coast to Coast
Premiere Date: April 15th
What Else Was Happening That Month? It’s hard finding scheduling information for cable shows, but Seth Rogen, Emma Watson, and Maisie Williams all celebrate birthdays on April 15th, so it’s a pretty cool day.
20. The Critic
Premiere Date: January 26th
What Else Was Happening That Month? ABC’s The Critic premiered in January in the timeslot right before Home Improvement‘s. It was too clever for the average Tool Time fan, and Jay Sherman was removed from TV in March, only to return in June for some burn-off episodes. It would air for another pity season on Fox, but The Critic deserved better. The way it was ignored by the general public, well, IT STINKS.