25 greatest moments in sci-fi from the 1990s

Contributed by
Sep 8, 2017

September 2017 is Syfy’s 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back. Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!

We live in an age in which sci-fi dominates the pop culture landscape, but it all started back in the ‘90s when movies like Independence Day and shows like The X-Files brought geeky entertainment exploding into the public consciousness. As we continue SYFY’s 25th birthday celebration, here are 25 moments from the ‘90s that have stood the test of time.

Age of Apocalypse

This 1995-1996 comic event was one of Marvel’s biggest stories of the decade. It altered the entire landscape of the Marvel universe and is a stark reminder of the days when it all still revolved around the X-Men. It was ambitious, twisty, and dealt with multiple timelines — something Marvel is more than happy to dabble in nowadays.

Babylon 5 EPIC Battle Montage

Babylon 5's CGI effects

Premiering in 1994, the ambitious space opera Babylon 5 kicked off at the cusp of the CGI effects revolution. Where previous shows had mostly used models and practical effects, Babylon 5 helped usher in the first wave of modern CGI effects work on television. It would go on to inspire pretty much every sci-fi show that came next, and helped pave the way for VFX.

 

Batman Returns (5/10) Movie CLIP - Meow (1992) HD

Catwoman's "Meow" in Batman Returns

Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is a seminal work when it comes to comic book films, and one of its greatest moments revolves around Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Her introduction to Batman and the Penguin comes after cartwheeling into the middle of them as a department store explodes behind her. Her first words to the Dark Knight? “Meow.” Meow, indeed. 

Buffy 2x22 - Spike Meets Buffy Again

Buffy's "Becoming: Part 2"

It's hard to pick a single greatest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but if you're looking for something that truly encapsulates what the show is about, then "Becoming: Part 2" is that episode. Following an intense season of love and betrayal and death and mourning, Buffy finally faces down her lover-turned-enemy Angelus in a battle that tests her mettle, her strength, and her force of will, and at the end of it all, she may have won, but victory is far from sweet when it comes at such a high price.

 

Blade (2/3) Movie CLIP - Blade vs. Frost (1998) HD

The release of Blade

The first Blade film was a critical and commercial hit, spawning a few sequels and a whole lot of fans. But more than that, it helped kickstart the modern comic book movie renaissance. It was a decade before Iron Man, sure, but Blade was one of the first comic book films to actually take the medium seriously. It showed this content could be done, and done well, without a heaping helping of camp.

 

DS9 'Emissary' O'Brien/Picard Farewell Scene

Deep Space Nine premiere

Deep Space Nine's debut, "The Emissary," is notable for a lot of reasons. For one, it introduced, for the first time in Trek history, a single black father as a lead for the most popular American science fiction TV franchise of all time. It also boldly decided to set the standard that religion and science don't have to be mutually exclusive for there to be an even remotely utopian society. And DS9 also set out right away to be the first Star Trek ever to focus on long-form narrative, something that has become the standard in modern sci-fi storytelling. Also, it's a really good pilot, maybe the best one Trek ever produced.

DS9 - In the Pale Moonlight

Deep Space Nine's "In the Pale Moonlight"

"In the Pale Moonlight" is the moment DS9 completely throws moral absolutism out the window for the Federation. Yes, there were other moments of ambiguity previously, but to have Sisko, our lead and guiding light for how a Starfleet officer should be, to lie, cheat, and be accessory to murder all in an effort to trick an entire race into going to war -- it had never been done before. Was he right? Was it worth it? You can't say for sure, even all these years later, which is why "In the Pale Moonlight" is still considered to be a benchmark for writing in Star Trek.

The release of Doom

If you look back on the critical moments in the video game industry, none loom larger than the release of Doom in 1993. It was the first first-person shooter game to break through to the mainstream, and showed just how immersive the video game medium could become. Staring from the top down at Link is one thing, but blasting through hallways of demons? That’s a very different type of game, and it served to inspire a whole new generation of game players and makers, not to mention bringing us the multiplayer online “death match” that would practically spawn an entire gaming industry.

The first Harry Potter book released

No one could’ve known that, when the first Harry Potter book hit shelves in 1997, J.K. Rowling was planting the seeds for a fantasy dynasty that would rock not just the book world but Hollywood as well. The franchise would go on to sell more than 400 million copies and usher in decades of similar young adult sci-fi/fantasy books and films trying to capitalize on its success.

 

Image is founded

Marvel and DC Comics ruled the comics realm for a long time, and they still do, but they gained some major competition in 1992. Image Comics was founded by heavy hitters like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and Chris Claremont as a place for creator-owned comics and creative freedom. Before long, it became a major player in its own right, and is now home to acclaimed comics like The Walking Dead, The Wicked + The Divine, Spawn, Invincible, and Saga.

vjFG-4Ge668

World monuments destroyed in Independence Day

Roland Emmerich’s 1996 alien invasion movie Independence Day basically served as the prototype for the modern-day sci-fi popcorn flick — and it took out most of the world’s biggest monuments to do it. Though dozens and dozens of films have destroyed New York and London in the years since, Independence Day was one of the first films to show off this world-destroying havoc on the big screen. It was a perfect storm of filmmaking, the evolution of effects work, and Will Smith’s cigar-chomping attitude.

 

The internet becomes available to fan communities

The 1990s was the decade when personal computing, and genre fans were among the first to embrace it for fandom. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek gathered in early online forums to discuss their favorite plot points, characters, and episodes. Creators even stopped by on occasion to answer questions, much as they still do now on Twitter. Fandom lives and breathes online nowadays, but it all started in those lo-fi message boards.

Jurassic Park (4/10) Movie CLIP - Tyrannosaurus Rex (1993) HD

The T-Rex in Jurassic Park

The film may be decades old, but the effects work in Jurassic Park still holds up great. One of the most stunning scenes? The T-Rex attack, with the monstrous dino wreaking havoc in the pouring rain. It was a testament to movie magic, showing Hollywood really could do anything in the modern age. You disappeared into that scene, and for a few terrifying minutes really could believe that a T-Rex had come back to life.

The Matrix - Bullet time + Helipad Fight Scene Super High Quality

Bullet time from The Matrix

Whatever you think of the final two Matrix films, the first one in 1999 was a sci-fi action masterpiece. The Wachowskis turned the action genre on its head, led by some mind-blowing effects work that made for some truly mind-bending action. The biggest game-changer? “Bullet time,” the spinning, slow-motion camera that would be imitated for years to come. VFX technology has only gotten more impressive, but nothing can touch the original.

 

Milestone Comics formed

The first major acknowledgment of African American comic fandom came in 1993, when Milestone Comics was formed and actually started to take African American heroes and comic stories seriously. The line was led by heroes like Static and Icon, and helped prove that there was an audience that had been underserved for years. It didn’t just take these characters seriously, it paved the way for Marvel and DC to do the same in their mainline properties.

Sci Fi Channel Promos (Early 2000)

Debut of the Sci-fi channel

Yeah, we know. This is the mothership of SYFY WIRE. HOWEVER, in all objectivity, the debut of the (then named) Sci-Fi channel in 1992 was a big deal because it was the first station fully focused on science fiction programming, kicking things off with horror classics and Star Trek re-runs.

Do You Like Scary Movies? - Scream (1/12) Movie CLIP (1996) HD

Drew Barrymore's death in Scream

The horror genre was getting a bit on the stale side by the time Wes Craven’s Scream hit the big screen in 1996, but no one could’ve predicted it’d turn Hollywood on its head. Scream was the first meta, self-referential horror film that actually acknowledged what it was and cracked wise about it. To make it clear this wasn’t your typical horror flick, the film cast A-lister Drew Barrymore and used her in most of the early posters and trailers — then killed her off in the first five minutes. A gutsy move, even by today’s standards.

Spawn #1

This indie comic antihero created by Todd McFarlane has been around for more than two decades now, and was one of the first dark, adult series to really hit a nerve with readers. It showed indie comics could still sell millions of copies, paving the way for future indie hits like The Walking Dead. The series is also one of the longest-running of the modern age, and McFarlane has never renumbered it.

Star Trek Generations - Captain Kirk Saves The Enterprise B

Star Trek: Generations premieres

It’s easy to forget, but the early-to-mid 1990s were a tenuous time for Star Trek. The franchise had made the jump to a new cast with The Next Generation on the small screen, but Picard and his crew still had a lot to prove on the big screen. The 1994 film Star Trek: Generations bridged the gap between Kirk and Picard, combining both casts and passing the torch to start a whole new generation (sorry) for the franchise.

mt3MVP3FizQ

The final scene of Star Trek: The Next Generation

The final moments of Star Trek: The Next Generation's swan song, "All Good Things ...," do the impossible: They wrap up a story thread you don't realize needed catharsis until it happens. Picard, who for seven seasons has always been the outsider, the captain who can't completely unwind with this crew for fear that it will somehow make him weak and unable to maintain absolute authority, finally decides to play poker. It doesn't sound big if you're unfamiliar, but the poker game became the symbol of crew camaraderie on TNG starting from Season 2. Picard never joined until the final moments of "All Good Things ..." and, as he doles out the cards for the first (and final) time, you realize that this was the one thing that had always been missing: Picard admitting that this is his adopted family and that he loves them. In its own subtle way, this is maybe the most emotional scene in TNG's history, and it's incredibly emotionally satisfying because it's so happy and yet also completely earned.

Jedi Council Scene | Star Wars The Phantom Menace (1999) Movie Clip

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Landing just at the end of the 1990s, the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy was a cultural event when it opened in 1999. Sure, it would go on to arguably be one of the worst Star Wars film ever made, but it still ignited a firestorm of fan frenzy and proved the franchise had a whole lot of life left in it. If not for The Phantom Menace, we may never have gotten the new sequel trilogy and spinoff films. For better or worse, it all tracks back to Episode I.

The Death of Superman

The 1992 DC Comics arc The Death of Superman was one of the biggest comic events in history, and enraptured the entire country at the time. It found the biggest hero in the world facing something even he couldn’t punch to death, Doomsday, and finally falling in a battle that peaked like a pop culture tidal wave. Sure, comic characters die and come back every other week these days, but this was one of the first times it’d been attempted on such a scale.

Waterworld (10/10) Movie CLIP - Catch of the Day (1995) HD

Waterworld

Yeah, we realize this movie was pretty bad, but it represents one of the first mega-hyped box-office bombs of the modern age. It was the most expensive film ever made when it was released in 1995 and rode a wave of negative hype due to its troubled and out-of-control production. Not surprisingly, it tanked at the box office.

The X-Files Opening Credits

The X-Files Debuts

The X-Files was one of the most influential television series of all time, and this is where it all began. From the moment Agent Dana Scully walks into the X-Files offices to shake hands with Agent Fox Mulder, there was no denying the chemistry that would carry the show through nine seasons, two movies and a reboot. This episode introduced audiences not only to our heroes, but to aliens, monsters and the vast conspiracies at the heart of the show.

Clyde Bruckman sums it up

The X-Files - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"

An early-ish episode in the series (Season 3) but easily one of the best. It features everything there is to love about the X-Files Monster of the Week episodes: great performances with plenty of humor amidst a serious topic. Peter Boyle gives one of the most memorable guest turns in a series full of great supporting performers.

Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which sci-fi, fantasy, and supernatural moments of the '90s you’d put on your list. And check out all of our other 25 lists we've put together here.