the most stylish sci-fi movies of the 90s
If there’s one thing that separates 90s sci-fi movies from any other sci-fi movies, it’s style. Here’s our rundown of the best out-of-this-world style, from The Fifth Element to The Matrix.
If there's one thing that separates 90s sci-fi movies from any other sci-fi movies, it's style. A shit-ton of style, to be slightly more specific. Sure, you could make the case for the futuristic fembot in Metropolis or the shiny surfaces of H.R. Giger's sets for Alien, but they're not exactly the kinds of movie you want to step inside. You don't look at the costumes, slack-jawed, thinking, "Hey, I wonder if they do that in a size 10?" And yet, often, this is something that happens with 90s sci-fi. You want to climb inside the mouth-wateringly stylish world on screen. It's definitely hard not to feel that way about The Fifth Element, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, and which is the only place to start a list of the most stylish sci-fi movies of the 90s. Roll film…
The Fifth Element
With costumes designed by none other than Jean Paul Gaultier, it's no surprise that Luc Besson's madcap movie is the most stylish sci-fi of the 90s. You can pinpoint the exact scene, early on, when you realise this. Milla Jovovich -- then 19 years old -- is lying in a glass tube, a newly reconstructed humanoid woman, white straps clamping down over her naked body. Her hair is flame-orange, the exact same orange as Bruce Willis's skin-tight vest seen later. Right then, right there, you notice something about this movie: that the colours flow as if they were all part of one giant painting. The same goes for the costumes and the crazy sets. Never before has saving the world from imminent destruction looked so damn beautiful.
I've seen the IMDb synopsis and I know The Matrix is a film about an illusory world system, about questioning the very foundations of our reality. I hear you. But it's also a film about long leather trench coats and how to make them look dope af. First, Neo, with his thin-rimmed shades and pistols strapped to every part of his body. He works this look. He thinks he's the man, and he kinda is. He hears Rage Against the Machine on the soundtrack as he dodges bullets in slow-mo; when he's hand-planting the floor as he UZIs a SWAT team, his jacket whooshing all around him. Trinity, likewise, in an even longer coat worn over her glossy catsuit. They both own it, with their steely don't-fuck-with-me glares. But you know who doesn't own it? Literally every single person who went out and bought one after they saw the movie. *Shudders*
It was Madonna's stylist, Arianne Phillips, who did the costumes for this mid-90s comedy about a girl who rides a war tank in a landscape devastated by a comet. The style is dystopian riot grrrl, with Lori Petty's Tank Girl looking every inch the punk from the future: bleach-blonde hair, partly shaved, ripped clothes, safety pins, dog chains, candy necklace. Think of Mad Max, only swap Mel Gibson for Gwen Stefani circa '95. Directed by Rachel Talalay, with a soundtrack featuring Hole, Björk, and Iggy Pop, Tank Girl is pure, distilled 90s sci-fi.
Ghost in the Shell
The Matrix clearly owes a debt to this one. Especially in the style department, with its rapid-fire camera tricks and sleek cityscapes. Then of course there's the iconic looks. The Mamoru Oshii-directed anime features a badass cyborg policewoman who, when she's hunting an elusive hacker called the Puppet Master, is often semi-naked, in white stockings and white gloves, like a half made-up mannequin. The whole thing is like an extended version of Chris Cunningham's video for Björk's All Is Full of Love, where the singer appears as a milky cyborg doted on by machines. Not a look us mere mortals can easily pull off, that's for sure.
The style of Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! couldn't be more different. It's not classy like Ghost in the Shell. And that's kind of the point. Burton's sci-fi is an ode to the naff sci-fi B-movies of the 50s, with his trademark splashes of colour and cartoonlike characters whose eyes pop out at you. It's not always clear who's an alien and who's human. Especially when the human is Sarah Jessica Parker, here playing a sassy journo clad in bright turquoise boots, 90s wrap-around shades, and an array of candy-coloured jackets. As for the aliens in human disguise, one lands on Earth dressed like a 50s backing singer, with a beehive hairdo, vase-like figure, and a giant eyeball for a ring (okay that's not so 50s). Only Burton could pull off this kind of circus. Only Burton could pull off such, ahem, out-of-this-world looks.
Kathryn Bigelow's dystopian flick about a black marketeer who uncovers a conspiracy in late-90s LA is more understated than the rest of this list. By which I mean it's not an in-your-face, all-caps SCI-FI with flying cars and crazy costumes. Set in 1999 but filmed three years prior, its style is gritty, with LA's seedy underbelly on full show. Emerging from the dark streets littered with trash-fires is Ralph Fiennes and his glorious curtains. But the real show-stealer here is Juliette Lewis. She lights up the screen with her silver coat and shock of bright red hair. To top it all off, Bigelow employed the forward-thinking trip hop of Tricky and the alt-grunge of Skunk Anansie. A shot of nostalgia straight to the heart.
Text Oliver Lunn