Following the audacious displays of big hair and loud neon colors in the 1980s, the 1990s seemed relatively sedate, with “Grunge” taking hold. Dad’s old clothes suddenly became a fashion statement for men and women. We also ushered in the Clinton years and what some saw as the co-presidency of Bill and Hillary. Car styling continued to evolve with many models gaining fame on the big screen or in the era’s top television programs.
1. Ford Explorer XLT – Jurassic Park
The first “Jurassic Park” movie featured a pair of 1992 Ford Explorer XLT SUVs painted in an awesome green, yellow, and red color scheme. The modified Explorer was outfitted with an oversized brush guard and included a big-brick television monitor inside. Both vehicles had self-navigation systems and were operated along a predetermined route.
Although not particularly outstanding SUVs, the Explorers played a key role in the movie, especially when a certain Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared, looking to make the vehicles’ occupants its next meal. Neither vehicle survived the attack, but most of the occupants did.
2. Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6 – Bad Boys
The 1995 flick “Bad Boys” wasn’t an award-winner, but it did quite well at the box office. A certain German sports car garnered the bulk of the accolades.
That car was none other than a 1994 Porsche 911 (964) Turbo 3 driven by Mike (Will Smith) and endured by Marcus (Martin Lawrence), who complained about the lack of cup holders. The most memorable scene was a drag race pitting the Porsche against a Cobra Roadster, with the Porsche winning. Racing enthusiasts insist the Cobra is easily the faster of the two, but this is the movies, and anything is possible.
3. Audi S8 – Ronin
Car chases and spy-action thrillers go hand-in-glove and this 1998 flick starring Robert De Niro had plenty. The focal point of the movie was a mysterious briefcase, contents unknown, and a host of characters determined to acquire it. The chase scenes through much of Paris and Nice offered excellent views of both cities.
But it was a 1998 Audi S8 fitted with a nitrous oxide power-booster that generated all the attention. Up to 150 stunt drivers were used throughout the film, driving at speeds of up to 120 mph. Dozens of cars were intentionally wrecked as well, adding to the drama.
4. Dodge Viper – Viper
Was the “Viper” action-adventure TV series made for the car, or was the car made for the series? Perhaps a bit of both. The show originally launched in 1994, was canceled and brought back in 1996 for three additional seasons. The human stars don’t easily come to mind, but the Vipers were certainly memorable.
The Viper Defender was the “star car” for the series, which featured prototype models outfitted with armor plating, a hologram projector, and four-wheel drive mode. As the seasons progressed, additional equipment was added, including missile launchers, lasers, and flamethrowers. No, this wasn’t special equipment you could order from Dodge.
5. GM “New Look” Buses – Speed
Our fifth and final choice isn’t a car, nor was it built in the 1990s. It’s the 11 GM “New Look” transit buses featured in the 1994 classic movie, “Speed.” The modestly budgeted film returned nearly 12 times its investment thanks to its thrilling plot: a bomb-rigged city bus was set to explode unless a $3 million ransom was paid.
But car fans were hardly disappointed as various new models of that era were woven into the storyline, or made a quick appearance as the camera scanned the set. Look closely and you’ll find an assortment of mostly Ford products, including a rare 1993 Probe GT, a 1992 Taurus, and a 1992 F-150.
And a not-so-hot honorable mention
Not every 1990s-era movie or TV series featured hot cars from the final decade of the 20th century. For example, the 1992 comedy film “Wayne’s World” is forever etched in our collective psyche, not just for the antics of a couple of rock ’n roll dorks, but also for their awesome-yet-ridiculous flame-emblazoned 1976 AMC Pacer.