Obligatory SPOILER warning here, although nothing that will ruin the story for you, we promise.
Have you heard yet? Captain Marvel takes place in 1995, when no one had an iPhone, grunge was in, and RadioShack and Blockbuster stores were seemingly on every corner.
From Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), unfurling a full-sized paper map (not even a MapQuest printout) to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) cracking jokes about his AOL password, Captain Marvel certainly keeps the dream of the ’90s alive with its various nostalgic onscreen references that will elicit chuckles from Gen Xers and might go way over the heads of some millennials and Gen Z viewers.
The music cues are appropriately of the moment, with songs from Nirvana, TLC, No Doubt, and Garbage, as is Carol Danvers’s wardrobe, after the intergalactic hero steals a mannequin’s outfit to fit in with the locals of planet C-53 (that’s Earth to us): a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, leather jacket, and flannel button-down to wrap around her waist. It is also correct to say, as Nick Fury notes, that her look is reminiscent of “someone’s disaffected niece.”
Here, we rank some of the ’90s references in Captain Marvel from most obvious to the deepest nostalgic cuts onscreen.
Captain obvious: Blockbuster.
Carol Danvers (also referred to as “Vers” on the planet Hala) crash lands on Earth, smack dab in the middle of a Blockbuster Video. With a True Lies cardboard cutout and VHS copies of The Right Stuff all around her, she clearly has no idea of the cultural impact of the now-defunct video rental store, but nothing says ’90s like Blockbuster.
Sure, sure: RadioShack.
Carol also uses the payphone right next door to the Blockbuster when she begins the search for a communication device that could put her in touch with her Kree brethren on planet Hala. Fairly obvious, but the nostalgia meter is nearly off the charts with this reference.
Check mark: Pagers.
Speaking of communication devices, pagers were of course ubiquitous, and Captain Marvel doesn’t shy away from explaining just how important Nick Fury’s beeper is to the entire extended Avengers and Marvel universe.
A nice touch: Actual toys.
Before kids could annoy you with a “You got games on your phone?” inquiry, they had to just play with actual toys. Troll dolls, Koosh balls, and pinball machines are all over the ship Carol Danvers and company uncover just outside of Earth’s atmosphere. But there is also a Fonzie lunchbox, which turns out to have quite an important use for our superhero aboard the ship. That reference to The Fonz does not go unnoticed, despite the fact that Happy Days is a show that ran from 1974 to 1984, and itself was a nostalgia vehicle for American 1950’s and early ’60s culture. How meta.
Still relevant: Band tees.
Not only does Carol rock a NIN tee, she also wears a Guns N’ roses shirt in a flashback scene (again, meta), and a Heart tee at one point.
Obvious, but welcome: The Fresh Prince.
Maria Rambeau’s daughter, Monica, tells her mom that she should give up an evening of watching The Fresh Prince with her to complete a top secret space mission. Plus, there’s a swift reference to Mallrats, a film which basically epitomizes disaffected teen culture in the decade.
A deep cut!: AltaVista.
Despite mentions of AOL passwords, Internet cafes, and one scene in which a file comically takes forever to upload to a computer, the actual deepest nostalgia cut in this movie is the AltaVista search engine. Before Google, and even before Ask Jeeves, there was AltaVista. No one in the audience could have anticipated a reference to the search engine pioneer, and anyone under the age of 20 years old probably had to Google, “What is AltaVista?” after the credits rolled.