The ‘90s were a wild time to be a kid — there’s no question about that. Every weekend was glorious, adventurous, and blissful. There were family flicks and television specials hitting theaters all the time, and they starred young characters, just like us, going off on adventures we wished we could go on too. From cheesy fashion to the catchy songs playing in every montage, these movies perfectly encapsulated the magic of childhood in the decade that was as fun as it was memorable.
It was also the golden age of kid stars on the big screen. Take Macaulay Culkin, for instance. Within just three short years, he became a household name thanks to classic films like Home Alone (1990), My Girl (1991), and The Good Son (1993). Similarly, we’ve watched other young characters overcome their fears, face challenges, grow up, and discover themselves in the process.
Beyond the stars, the movies themselves helped shape the idea of coming-of-age in that lively period of the 1990s. Filled with imagination, optimism, and childhood nostalgia, they submerged us in their stories and allowed us to explore the exciting possibilities that youth presents. No wonder so many who grew up in the ’90s carry a soft spot for this era. And for those who aren’t familiar with the feeling, here are 10 ’90s movies where the main characters are curious, hopeful, and adventurous kids.
10 Getting Even With Dad (1994)
Timmy Gleason thinks his life is over when his Aunt Kitty, who he’s been living with since his mother’s death, decides to go on a honeymoon. The last thing he was expecting was to be sent to live with his ex-con father, Ray Gleason. Ray, on the other hand, is planning a massive heist — a stockpile of rare coins — and does not have any time for Timmy. When Timmy wants to go to the amusement park and baseball games, he hides the coins and mishaps occur, leading Ray to take increasingly desperate measures.
The ‘90s were ruled by Macaulay Culkin — at least in the child actor landscape. So to have him play the perfect kid any young viewer could relate to was an outstanding choice. Director Howard Deutch also chose TV celebrity and comedic genius Ted Denson to play Timmy’s father, and showcase their bond as complex but hilarious. Overall, Getting Even With Dad has that mischievous but big-hearted energy of a family comedy.
9 House Arrest (1996)
In House Arrest, Kevin Pollack and Jamie Lee Curtis play Ned and Janet Beindorf, a typical couple living in the suburbs of Ohio with their two children, Grover and Stacy. However, the parents are facing problems and planning to separate. When the kids hear of this, they take extreme measures to make Ned and Janet reconcile with one another — like recreating their honeymoon, and locking them in the basement together.
Kyle Howard and Amy Sakasitz make the idea of having parents who are on the verge of getting a divorce look entertaining and fixable. Perhaps that is where the pluck and humor of House Arrest lies. Regardless, the film has a certain absurdness and sweetness to it. The ensemble cast, impressive acting, frenetic spirit, and laugh-out-loud hijinks make it a must-watch.
8 Harriet the Spy (1996)
Adapted from the iconic children’s book written by Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy follows 11-year-old Harriet, a vibrant young girl with one obsession — to become a spy. She keeps a secret notebook of observations about her neighborhood friends and classmates, noting anything about them she finds suspicious. But when her notebook is discovered, she finds all her friends turned against her.
The film brought spycraft and all its mystery to life on screen through the eyes of Michelle Trachtenberg. You may know her now as the annoyingly brilliant Georgina Sparks in Gossip Girl, but Trachtenberg was a classic ’90s kid star, and poured immense care and heart in this 1996 film by Bronwen Hughes. Beyond being a bittersweet coming-of-age movie, it also explores themes of friendship, change, and staying true to oneself, and a huge chunk of its praise goes to Trachtenberg’s inspiring lead.
7 Rookie of the Year (1993)
12-year-old Henry Rowengartner’s life turns upside down when he breaks an arm and, after healing, discovers that he can throw a baseball at impossible speeds. He’s offered to become the new star player for the Chicago Clubs, but amidst the hijinks of being a pre-teen and the pressures of playing the big game, Henry begins to fumble. That’s when Chet Steadman, a former fastballer, decides to train him.
Rookie of the Year is a hilarious fish-out-of-water story about a little boy playing in the big leagues. Less of a sports comedy and more a coming-of-age film, it remains charming even two decades later. Young Thomas Ian Nicholas is the heart and soul of the movie. His turn as Henry won over crowds in both the baseball stadiums and movie theaters with his talent and million-dollar smile.
6 Hocus Pocus (1993)
Max Dennison moves to the town of Salem and immediately makes friends with Allison. One day, while exploring an abandoned house with his sister Dani (and after ignoring the many warnings from Allison), Max unwittingly brings back to life three witches, Mary, Winifred, and Sarah Sanderson, who were hanged in the 17th century. Now delighted at their return, the witches vow to suck the life force out of all the children of Salem to become youthful once again.
Despite being remembered for the absolute riot that Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy cooked up in the ‘90s, Hocus Pocus is a film that puts two kids, Max and Dani, in charge of protecting their parents and other children from the wicked witches. Their hilarious hijinks to outsmart the Sanderson Sisters and the memorable musical numbers that fill the gaps make Hocus Pocus the perfect spooky season treat.
5 Richie Rich (1994)
Based on the beloved comic character created by Alfred Harvey and Warren Kremer, Richie Rich is another quintessential ’90s kids movie. Popular kid Richie Rich has all the luck: he gets girls, gadgets, and money in abundance thanks to his billionaire parents. But when he learns of the greedy CFO Lawrence Van Dough’s plans to take over his father’s company, Richie decides to save the day.
Macaulay Culkin was born to play the world’s richest boy. As the adorable, well-meaning Richie, he uses his quick wit and big laugh to charm us all. Director Donald Petrie fills the huge Rochester estate with the most wacky characters and madcap fun to allow Culkin’s character to exploit the premise and emerge victorious. After all, the endgame is to save Rich Industries, and save Rich Industries he does!
4 Little Big League (1994)
After his grandfather passed away, 12-year-old eccentric Billy Heywood suddenly inherits the Minnesota Twins, a baseball team about to enter an important season. Billy decides to manage the team himself, making the players both skeptical and confused. But in order to gain their trust, Billy not only fires the manager the team dislikes, but also defuses tension and scandal. Soon, the unlikely underdogs start winning against all odds.
Luke Edwards perfectly captured the heart and hope of Billy’s vision. Surrounded by a charming cast, his inspired leadership and advocacy for teamwork showed that talent has no limits. Directed by Andrew Scheinman, Little Big League endures both as a sports drama as well as a film filled with that pure magic of childhood that we all grow nostalgic for time and again.
3 Camp Nowhere (1994)
Summer is anything but fun for Morris “Mud” Himmel, whose parents force him to go to a computer camp every year. Rather than face the nerdy kids there, Mud gets help from his friends and together, they blackmail their deranged drama teacher to persuade his parents to send him to a makeshift camp, where Mud and his friends can pull pranks, light fireworks, and live out their wildest summer dreams.
Christopher Lloyd holding down the fort as the kids’ irresponsible teacher Dennis Van Welker, brings warmth to the madness that is Camp Nowhere. Jonathan Jackson plays Mud, and along with his friends, he is a hoot, oozing with the freedom of childhood and celebrating summer in a way that feels refreshingly authentic. Whether they’re climbing up the roofs or writing letters home, there’s magic in every scene.
2 Matilda (1996)
Release Date August 2, 1996
With its sweet and soulful story, Matilda cemented itself as a classic ’90s film. The plot follows Matilda Wormwood, who may seem like a tiny little thing, but she has a big imagination and a mind sharp enough to trick her parents and cruel headmistress. After being poorly treated and tortured by those around her, Matilda teams up with her one confidant, her teacher Miss Honey, and uses her wondrous psychic abilities to bend the rules — and the world — around her.
The film is based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel. Director Danny DeVito poured an incredible amount of heart in making the magical world of Matilda real on screen. Mara Wilson, another iconic child actor, became synonymous with the titular role during the ’90s for her big-eyed wonder and courageous spirit, capturing the thrill of taking control of her own life. Overall, with its glorious numbers and little graces, Matilda changed the landscape of family-friendly movies in the ’90s.
1 Home Alone (1990)
Release Date November 16, 1990
Home Alone sees eight-year-old Kevin being left behind at Christmas by his large family, who travel to Paris for the holidays. Unbothered by the situation, Kevin decides to transform the house into his own by doing whatever he wants. But when two dimwitted burglars enter the picture, he’s forced to lay a series of booby traps and defend his home. What follows is a hilarious cat-and-mouse between the home-alone kid and the adult goons.
By far the biggest holiday hit at the box office of its time, Home Alone not only launched the career of Macaulay Culkin but also became a quintessential Christmas classic, compelling the viewers to return year after year to witness the hilarious and spectacularly funny moments that encompass every corner of the film. Culkin’s brilliant and expressive Kevin is the heart of this movie. Whether he’s evoking empathy or being the hero that stops crime with duct tape, his talent has no bounds.