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90s Cool (also known as The Matrix Effect or Bullet Time), was an aesthetic that started in the mid-1990s and emphasized martial arts-style fight choreography mixed with computer generated (CGI) effects, this aesthetic was loosely inspired by the growing rise of anime in the west, and had a very rigid use of Y2K Futurism and Cyberpunk aesthetics.

90s Cool became more prominent after the success of The Matrix movies. During The Matrix hype around 1999/2000, studios were quick to release the next Matrix by taking influence from the various styles that were done in the iconic film from 1999. The aesthetic was mostly known for its use of Bullet Time (a slow motion camera tracking shot) and its costumes which included black leather trench coats, combat boots, Oakley glasses, bullet proof vests, latex catsuits and dark formal wear.

History[]

Pre-1995 Action Cinema[]

Action films exploded during the 80's with prominent stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone - this was the power house era of action cinema, which continued on even into early 1990's - but from around 1994, action films started to take a lot of inspiration from eastern action and anime, since this type of format was starting to pick up some traction from western audiences.

Video games also became a slight influence on the action genre as certain plot details and story elements were heavily borrowed from video game tropes. The action genre at the time also started to use, computerized imaginary especially after the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

John Woo's Influence[]

John Woo was the biggest influence on not only The Matrix but most western action films from the 90's on-wards. John Woo, director of Once a Thief (1991), Hard Boiled (1993) and Face Off (1997) included a lot of 90's Cool tropes in his films even before the aesthetic took off, once he started to produce more Hollywood action movies. He carried over a lot of his signature techniques that would further add to the coolness factor, he was also one of the first to implement a sort of bullet-time one shot in the film Hard Boiled before The Matrix did.

1995-1997: The Cool Action Era[]

Once 1995 hit, action movies started to quickly adopt the cool factor, with these films being the prominent example of the aesthetic during both 1995 and 1996. The films included Hackers (1995), Desperado (1995), Heat (1995), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Screamers (1995), Mortal Kombat (1995), Golden Eye (1995), Eraser (1996), Mission: Impossible (1996), Maximum Risk (1996) and Broken Arrow (1996).

During this part of the aesthetic, there was a lot more emphasis on either hacking, espionage or lone savior tropes. The Y2K Futurism aesthetic was also used heavily around this time as a lot of the storytelling can often revolve around the growing threat of internet surveillance and digital malware - to put things in a better perspective, these films used a lot of camera techniques to hammer home the cool factor - things such as slo-motion, lomo effects, panning in and out, quick cuts and split screen splicing.

1997-2004: The Matrix Effect Era[]

At first glance it seems rather counter-intuitive that the era named after it could start before The Matrix was released in 1999. In truth, The Matrix took heavy inspiration from ongoing changes in 90's action movies. Things such as the growing rise of computer effects, anime and video game influences, the internet and of course a rise of science fiction; so the "Matrix Effect" period existed even before The Matrix was released to the masses. Movies like Blade (1998), Lost in Space (1998), The Fifth Element (1997), Double Team (1997) and Spawn (1997) all had an element of pre-Matrix action tropes that then allowed for The Matrix to eventually succeed after.

Once 1999 entered the picture, this aesthetic blew up in a major way, and that then led to the golden period which was the early 2000's. Around this time, films started to look and feel exactly like The Matrix - it seemed like Hollywood studios wanted to achieve the same success the Wachowskis managed to do with their hit film - a ton of movies around this time were called the next Matrix, or at least followed the exact formula. Films such as Simon Sez (1999), Charlie's Angels (2000), Spy Kids (2001), Blade 2 (2002), X-Men (2000), Resident Evil (2002), Sword Fish (2001), Die Another Day (2002) and The Art of War (2000).

2004-2007: Fading Era[]

Somewhere around the mid-2000s, the aesthetic was still around but winding down, especially after both the success of The Bourne films and The Nolan Batman reboot in 2005 - grittier became the norm, and overly CGI-riddled action films with a Nu-Metal soundtracks seemed out of place by 2006. This is why films like Ultraviolet (2006) did not resonate with audiences of that time, as it seemed rather out-of-date by that point. The movie was further compounded by being extremely Y2K in its visuals and looked like a long-winded music video from 2001.

2007 marked the death of 90s Cool, as by this point action films became more gritty and realistic, going forward with tons of shaky cam and a more "hands-on" displays of violence. With the heavy Y2K nostalgia in early-mid 2020s pop culture, one can assume that a revival of this movie-making style is overdue.

Visuals[]

Marketing[]

90s Cool is more vivid in it's marketing aesthetic, especially in posters and trailers it uses a ton of vibrant colors and displays psychedelic and abstract computerized images, usually of the main protagonist posing or facing directly towards the camera, the font is either bold or highlighted around the edges to make it stand out, and surrounding it is mostly computerized grids, this adds to the Y2K Futurism/Cyberpunk aesthetics respectively.

Costuming[]

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Blade (1998) Costume Example

Another vivid aspect of this aesthetic is the costuming which is often very dark and ominous, there is a big emphasis on looking cool so black leather is often the go to look that adds to that factor, this aesthetic also takes heavy inspiration from anime, hence why it shares similarities to shows like Tri Gun (1998), Akira (1988), Vampire Hunter D (1985) and Eat Man (1997).

The movies that really personified the look of this aesthetic were both Blade and The Matrix, reinforcing the black leather look as the new action movie standard going forward, here is a list of key elements often used in the costume design of 90s Cool:

  • Black Leather Long Coats
  • Bullet Proof Vests
  • Combat Boots
  • Dark Shades
  • Latex Catsuits
  • Black Formal Wear
  • Designer Fashion
  • Tactical Gear

Cinematography[]

This aesthetic used a lot of CGI art work and unique camera work to convey a sense of unworldliness, especially during that Matrix period we talked about earlier, campy CGI was often used in these films and it gave it a sort of unique quality. Other aspects include close up shots, split screen splicing, one take shots, slow rotation (AKA Bullet Time) and a lot of wire work in the choreography.

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Bullet Time Sequence

Material Arts is usually the main component of this visual aesthetic, although it's nothing new in action films, the material arts during 90s Cool often mixed heavy uses of special effects such as CGI with the fights to give it that otherworldly feel. There was also a lot of wire work used around this time which increased even more after the release of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000). Here are some cinematic tropes often associated with this aesthetic.

  • Rotating Camera Shot (AKA Bullet Time)
  • Wire Work
  • CGI
  • Abstract Tech set design
  • Muted Color Pallets
  • Material Arts Fight Choreography
  • Split Screen Splicing
  • Quick Cuts
  • Slo-Mo (slow motion)
  • Lo(-)mo Effects

Movies[]

Cool Era Movies (1995 - 1996)[]

These are the films during the first wave of the 90s Cool, this was before The Matrix Effect really kicked things into motion, but these films still apply as they use many of the tropes and cliches, that we have been discussing here.

  • Hackers (1995)
  • Bad Boys (1995)
  • The Net (1995)
  • Virtuosity (1995)
  • Golden Eye (1995)
  • Screamers (1995)
  • Mortal Kombat (1995)
  • Eraser (1996)
  • Mission: Impossible (1996)

The Matrix Effect Era Movies (1997-2004)[]

This is when things kicked off, movies started to actually fully adapt this aesthetic. It all then accumulated with the release of The Matrix in 1999, although there where films before The Matrix that had very similar styles and tropes that would inspire The Matrix and every other 2000s action/Sci-Fi film going forward.

  • The Fifth Element (1997)
  • Double Team (1997)
  • Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
  • Face Off (1997)
  • Men in Black (1997)
  • Lost in Space (1998)
  • The Blade Trilogy (1998-2004)
  • Universal Solider: The Return (1999)
  • Simon Sez (1999)
  • New World Disorder (1999)
  • The Boondock Saints (1999)
  • The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003)
  • X-Men (2000)
  • Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
  • Shaft (2000)
  • Art of War (2000)
  • Get Carter (2000)
  • Pitch Black (2000)
  • Romeo Must Die (2000)
  • Charlie's Angels (2000)
  • The One (2001)
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
  • The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  • Swordfish (2001)
  • Spy Kids Movies (2001-2003)
  • Resident Evil (2002)
  • Spider-Man (2002)
  • Die Another Day (2002)
  • Rollerball (2002)
  • Men in Black 2 (2002)
  • Minority Report (2002)
  • The Transporter (2002)
  • So Close (2002)
  • Clockstoppers (2002)
  • Equilibrium (2002)
  • Daredevil (2003)
  • Agent Cody Banks (2003)
  • xXx (2003)
  • Kill Bill Volume 1 & 2 (2003-2004)
  • X2: X-Men United (2003)
  • Underworld series (2003-2016)
  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
  • The Punisher (2004)
  • Catwoman (2004)

Fading Era Movies (2004-2007)[]

  • V For Vendetta (2005)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Elektra (2005)
  • Æon Flux (2006)
  • Ultraviolet (2006)

TV Shows[]

Growing Rise of Espionage Style TV[]

This style was also heavily featured in television too, especially some what low budget TV or shows centered around some sort of espionage plot. The main aspects of 90s Cool became a lot more noticeable around 1998/1999 or so and then continued to explode in popularity from there, we also saw a heavy emphasis on girl power around this time with TV shows mainly focused on female protagonists as well as men.

  • The Famous Jett Jackson (1998 - 2001)
  • Harsh Realm (1999 - 2000)
  • Angel (1999 - 2004)
  • Dark Angel (2000 - 2002)
  • Tracker (2001 - 2002)
  • Witchblade (2001 - 2002)
  • Mutant X (2001 - 2004)
  • Power Rangers: Time Force (2001)
  • Birds of Prey (2002 - 2003)
  • Power Rangers: Wild Force (2002)
  • Power Rangers: Ninja Storm (2003)

Music Videos[]

Matrix Homage Music Videos[]

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Liberty X - Just A Little (Music Video 2002)

From around the time of The Matrix, popular music videos used to pay homage to The Matrix or other similarly styled movies. The music videos would usually feature espionage styled aesthetics, latex catsuits, black leather outfits, high tech gadgets, bullet time, CGI Effects and lo-mo effects. This was mainly due to the videos being composed as music for the movie soundtrack hence relating it to a similar theme. This was true in the music video for Lara Crofts: Tomb Raider, the popular band U2 released their music video for Elevation which features a lot of bullet time techniques that loosely pays homage to both Tomb Raider and The Matrix. I'm going to list all of the music videos that showcased a similar matrix styled vibe that was popular within 90s Cool, this was from roughly the late 90s to early 00s.

90s Cool Music Videos:[]

Video Games[]

Mature Gaming Era (1997 - 2004)[]

During the late 90s, gaming started to appeal a lot more towards late teens and adults, especially with the release of both the Playstation and Playstation 2, gaming started to look a lot more edgy and gritty but this consigned with the rise of material arts heavy action that we discussed earlier and gaming went towards that direction, especially with the switch from 2D to 3D a lot of gaming became action orientated, this ushered in the rise of Mature Gaming with games such as, GTA Series (1997 - ), Metal Gear (1987 - ), Max Payne (2001), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) and Oni (2001).

Matrix-Styled Video Games[]

Like most things during this time it was influenced by The Matrix or the certain aspects of The Matrix seeped into these games, but a lot of action oriented games used a ton of bullet time, slow-motion, time splicing and freeze frame techniques in its mechanics to give it that unique feeling, Max Payne (2001), being the most notable as it has a heavy use of bullet time and time splicing. Another game that used matrix styled techniques is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003), in which you can rewind time before you die using a magical time altering dagger, both Resident Evil (1996 - ) and Metal Gear Solid (1998 - ) pre-date The Matrix, but still have uniquely action orientated mechanics that the 90s Cool aesthetic is known for.

90s Cool Video Games:[]
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Max Payne (2001) Bullet Time! Sequence

  • Time Crisis (1995)
  • Resident Evil (1996 - )
  • Golden Eye 007 (1997)
  • Dino Crisis (1999)
  • GTA II (1999)
  • Hitman: Codename Agent 47 (2000)
  • MDK II (2000)
  • Xbox BIOS (2001)
  • Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
  • Max Payne (2001)
  • Oni (2001)
  • Spider-Man Video Game (2002)
  • Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002)
  • Splinter Cell (2002)
  • Time Splitters 2 (2002)
  • Enter The Matrix (2003)
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)
  • Jet Li: Rise To Honor (2004)

Gallery[]

References[]

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