30 Biggest Pop Culture Moments Since 1990

From scandals that rocked Hollywood to award show wins that had us cheering, we're celebrating the 30 biggest moments of pop culture over the past three decades in honor of E!'s anniversary.
By Kelsey Klemme Jun 20, 2020 2:00 PMTags
Related: Unforgettable E! Moments That Defined Pop Culture

This June, E! turns 30! To celebrate, we're looking back at the most monumental moments in pop culture.

While the past three decades have been packed full of unforgettable moments in pop culture history, there are some that we'll never stop talking about, or have changed Hollywood forever.

After all, you probably remember where you were when the Oscars accidentally announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner (when it was actually Moonlight) or how your jaw dropped when Britney Spears and Madonna shared a smooch at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

The past 30 years have seen plenty of highs, such as Parasite's Best Picture win (making it the first foreign language film to take home the honor) or both Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton's weddings.

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We've also banded together through some trying times, such as the deaths of many of our most beloved stars like Whitney Houston and Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, and watching the touching tributes of the millions who adored them.

Getty Images; Zumapress; Marvel; E! Illustration

In honor of E! turning 30, we've rounded up the 30 biggest pop culture moments that we'll always be talking about.

Check them out below!

Influential Sitcoms (1990-2020)

Over the past 30 years, we've seen so many influential sitcoms permeate pop culture that it's hard to even narrow down a top 30 of our favorites over the past three decades.

Some sitcoms still stand out, though, for their impact, such as the insanely popular show The Office—which Netflix revealed is their most popular acquired show on the streamer—to iconic series like Friends, whose stars are so popular they basically break the Internet when they join platforms like Instagram (we're looking at you, Jennifer Aniston) and whose fans were thrilled when it was announced that there will be a reunion on HBO Max.

Additionally, the past 30 years have shown an important and needed growth in representation, with series like Fresh Off the Boat being introduced after a long hiatus of seeing an all-Asian cast on TV, or Kenya Barris' show black-ish, which is so popular it has led to two spin-offs.

OJ Simpson Trial (1994-1995)

The white Bronco, the gloves, Marcia Cross' haircut: To this day, no celebrity trial comes close to the impact OJ Simpson's arrest and proceedings had on pop culture, both because it was one of the first in the era of 24/7 news (100 million people tuned in to the trial's verdict of not guilty) and how it split Americans down racial lines as to what outcome they were hoping for.

The trial has also spawned plenty of documentary and narrative retellings of the events, such as the Emmy award winning FX show The People v. O.J.: American Crime Story.

Selena Quintanilla's Death (1995)

Selena Quintanilla was a beloved musician whose impact could be felt on an international scale as one of the most influential Mexican-American entertainers of all time.

The singer was still a rising star when, at just 23 years old, she was murdered by Yolanda Saldívar, the president of Selena's official fan club.

Her death reverberated in the Hispanic community, and politician George W. Bush designated her birthday as a holiday in Texas, where the musician was born. Her death also led to conversations around the boundaries between fans and their idols.

JonBenét Ramsey (1996)

The nation was gripped by the mystery around toddler beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey's murder, both because of the horrifying nature of the crime as well as the still unsolved mystery as to who killed the young girl.

To this day, plenty theorize around potential suspects, but the glamour photos of Ramsey are still a heartbreaking reminder of the tragedy.

Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. Murders (1996 and 1997)

The East Coast versus West Coast rivalry ran strong in the '90s, and loyalties to the rappers Tupac or The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a Biggie Smalls) felt like a way to represent which coast you called home.

However, shockingly both legends were taken too soon.

In September of 1996, Tupac was gunned down on Las Vegas Boulevard, and with his murderer having never been found, theories swirled as to who killed the star. One theory that circled around at the time was was Smalls could have been behind the killing in some way, with the two being rivals, but only six months later, Smalls was also killed, again with no answer to who his murderer was.

While conspiracy theories still swirl, the lasting legacy of both of these rappers can still be found in music today.

Harry Potter Books and Movies (1997 and 2001)

In 1997, the children's book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published, the first installment of of what would eventually become the best-selling book series in history.

With the first book selling a whopping 120 million copies, it was no surprise it eventually spawned a film adaptation, and in 2001 Danielle Radcliff, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were cast as the leads of the movie franchise.

Now, Broadway adaptations of book sequels have seen multiple runs and Universal Studios brings fans a life-size experience of the Wizarding World at their theme park.

Princess Diana's Death (1997)

On the morning of August 31, 1997, the world woke up to the shocking news that the beloved Princess Diana had passed away.

The philanthropist died after being chased by paparazzi through a tunnel, leading to increased scrutiny around how invasively the press would hound stars for coverage.

Her funeral was also broadcast and watched by millions, including the heartbreaking moments of seeing Prince William and Prince Harry watching the procession.

Ellen DeGeneres Comes Out (1997)

Thankfully, we have seen a huge increase in LGBTQ+ visibility in the past several years, and there's no denying that Ellen DeGeneres was a huge part of that growth.

The iconic comedian made headlines when she came out on her sitcom Ellen during "The Puppy Episode," alongside guest star Laura Dern. 

She then was the cover star of a Time magazine profile confirming she was indeed a gay woman, becoming the first-ever on a TV show to do so.

Now, Ellen has built an empire including her own talk show, multiple game shows and has even accepted the Golden Globes' Carol Burnett award earlier this year.

Music's Shocking Deaths - Aaliyah (2001), Michael Jackson (2009) and Whitney Houston (2012)

The past 30 years have unfortunately seen the untimely ends to many of our favorite musicians, whose deaths still affect us to this day.

In 2001, fans of music were shocked to learn the passing of Aaliyah, who had just wrapped filming her "Rock the Boat" music video before boarding a small plane that caught fire on the runway, killing the 22-year-old star and everyone on board.

Later, in 2009, we also were in shock when the news broke that Michael Jackson had passed away in his home, seemingly impossible given the musician's larger-than-life persona and influence on music.

Then, in 2012, the tragic news broke that Whitney Houston had passed away in a bathtub at the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, leading to tributes at shows like the BET Honor Awards to pay homage to the Grammy-winning star.

Social Media is Born (2003)

With the Internet only taking off in earnest in the early '90s, we've truly seen over the past 30 years the full evolution of being online, from the now-defunct AIM Messenger to the social media sites we basically live on today.

Sites like MySpace and LiveJournal set the initial stage for how we interact with one another, but the explosion of Facebook in 2007 and then sites like YouTube, Instagram and Twitter have revolutionized communication as well as democratized how we can share and create content.

Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston Split (2005)

It just made sense when Hollywood's golden couple, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, got married in 2000, as both of them were at the height of their celebrity.

However, when the two suddenly split and Pitt quickly paired up with Angelina Jolie, it got ugly quickly with fans picking sides (remember those Team Jolie or Team Aniston shirts?) and with plenty of magazine coverage that fueled the fire, such as the W Magazine shoot with the new couple and Aniston's damning interview with The Hollywood Reporter, it was one of the most buzzed about breakups that still gets fans riled up to this day.

Britney Spears "Meltdown" (2007)

Britney Spears made headlines in 2007 when the press snapped photos of the pop star shaving her head and then attacking a car with an umbrella.

The incident—and the resulting media storm that continually played or showed coverage of the star—went viral during the early age of social media, but has since sparked discussion around mental health.

Streaming Services (2007)

Before this past decade, the only ways for movies and shows to be distributed was through the movie theaters and traditional networks and cable stations.

However, that quickly changed when Netflix altered it's DVD rental model to creating original programming to live on an owned and operated streaming service, releasing premium shows like House of Cards that quickly rivaled it's broadcast competitors.

Now, it seems that everyone is getting in on the streaming game, with companies like Amazon and Apple having their own services and studios such as NBC and Disney also releasing their services earlier this year.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians Premieres (2007)

In 2007, Keeping Up with the Kardashians premiered and introduced us to Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian and the rest of the family.

Since the series' premiere, each sister has risen to fame and success outside of the show, like Kim with her KKW Beauty, Kylie Jenner with her cosmetics line, Kendall Jenner with her modeling career, Kourtney with her lifestyle brand Poosh and Khloe with her E! show Revenge Body.

The iconic reality show also ushered in the era of the influencer, where non-traditional entertainers have been able to build shows and brands entirely around their persona, as well as premiered when reality TV like Jersey Shore proved to the networks that unscripted television was a huge ratings boom.

Twilight (2008)

The Stephanie Meyer books were popular in their own right, but the Twi-hards were at fever pitch when the films released and rocketed Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson to fame.

Adding fuel to the fire were that Edward Cullen and Bella Swan were dating IRL, only for fans to freak out when Stewart was spotted kissing her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders in 2010 while still dating Pattinson, leading to an onslaught of shaming around the young starlet and subsequent conversations around how problematic that type of shaming is.

Twilight fans will also be able to look forward to even more pop culture moments around the franchise in the next 30 years, too, as Meyer's latest book, Midnight Sun, has been announced, which will retell the series from Edward Cullen's POV.

Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008)

When Iron Man premiered in 2008, it introduced us all to a new kind of superhero film tone that ended up spawning the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where interconnecting superhero films would go on to dominate movie theaters for years.

Last year, Avengers Endgame brought together the multitude of storylines that had been set up over the years—including Spider-Man, Black Widow, Black Panther and more—to a star-studded conclusion that brought in $2.8 billion to the box office.

Unforgettable VMAs Moments (2003-Present)

Every year, the VMAs are memorable, but some shows have moments we are still talking about, from Britney Spears and Madonna's on-stage kiss to Miley Cyrus' twerking appropriation.

But the most unforgettable has to be the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, where Kanye West hopped up onto the stage as Taylor Swift was about to give her acceptance speech for her video "You Belong With Me." Confused, the singer gave the rapper her mic, only for him to proclaim that the real winner of the award should be Beyoncé for her nominated video, "Single Ladies."

The incident set off a now decade-long feud between Kanye, Taylor and eventually Kim Kardashian that has continued to develop even in recent months.

RuPaul's Drag Race (2009 to Present)

In 2009, drag queen, singer and actor RuPaul brought ballroom to broadcast with his competition show, RuPaul's Drag Race, which helped mainstream LGBTQIA+ culture and acceptance, as well as representation and visibility.

The show has also led to many firsts, such as the first program to win both Best Reality Competition Program and Best Reality Host in the same year.

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle Become Royals (2011 and 2018)

Everybody loves a royal wedding, and the past 30 years have brought us two with both Kate Middleton and Prince William's marriage in 2011 and then Meghan Markle and Prince Harry getting wed in 2018.

Both weddings were broadcast to millions of spectators and each bride's wedding guest list was a star-studded affair.

Since Markle's wedding, she and Prince Harry have famously left their posts after constant media attacks against the former actress (which, many noted, seemed racist as Middleton was often spared from the viciousness) and are now raising their son Archie in Canada.

Katie Holmes Leaves Tom Cruise and Scientology (2012)

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise were seemingly the perfect Hollywood couple, until Holmes shockingly fled from the relationship and her newfound religion of Scientology, which she had converted to and praised back in 2005.

After she fled the religion, Scientology has increasingly come under scrutiny within media, including the Emmy-winning documentary, Going Clear, which explored the abuse ex-members described seeing or hearing about within the church. Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, also hosted a three-season docuseries on A&E that exposed shocking stories as well.

Celebrtiy Nude Photo Hack (2014)

In 2014, dozens of celebrities saw their iCloud data hacked, including nude photos that were then distributed without their consent.

Stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and more came forward to confirm that their photos were a part of the hack, and created increased urgency of online security for celebs, as well as conversations around revenge porn.

Memorable Award Show Moments and #OscarsSoWhite (2016)

While we are huge fans of award shows and the red carpet fashion that comes with it, there has been a disappointing lack of diversity in many of the award shows nominees.

In 2016, activist April Reign called out the 2015 Oscars for featuring only white nominees in all four acting categories, sparking thousands to adopt the hashtag demanding further representation and consideration for top honors.

While there is a ways to go, there have been memorable wins and nominations both before and after the movement that were huge moments in pop culture history, such as Halle Berry becoming the first black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, Jordan Peele being honored as the first screenwriter to win Best Original Screenplay and John Singleton's Best Director nomination being a first for a black director.

In addition, stars in other award shows became "firsts," such as Sandra Oh representing the first woman of Asian descent to collect more than one Golden Globes trophy, Ava DuVernay earning the first nomination for a black female director up for a Golden Globes award and Laverne Cox bringing the LGBTQIA+ community a win as the first openly trans person to be nominated for an acting Emmy award.

Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo (2017)

Super-producer Harvey Weinstein was one of the most influential men in Hollywood, but behind all of his power was a man who had been harassing and assaulting women behind-the-scenes.

Actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan stepped forward in October to tell their stories to The New York Times, sparking additional victims to step forward and tell their stories about Weinstein.

In light of these revelations, women started sharing their own stories about misconduct by powerful men alongside the hashtag #MeToo (a movement originally started by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and further amplified by Alyssa Milano in 2017), leading to demands for change within the industry.

While the movement is still ongoing, with foundations like Time's Up being formed to advocate for victims, some justice was finally served earlier this year when Weinstein was found guilty of third-degree rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree against Jessica Mann and Mimi Haley, respectively, resulting in a 23-year prison sentence.

The Oscars Mix-Up and Moonlight's Underdog Win (2017)

We all remembered just how much we enjoy watching live TV when, in 2017, the Oscars accidentally mixed up the winners for Best Picture and spent eight minutes fixing the mistake while millions watched on.

Originally, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced that Damien Chazelle's musical La La Land had won the top prize, only for worried producers to swarm the stage and require that host Jimmy Kimmel interrupt to announce a mistake had been made.

Instead, the indie film Moonlight—a heartbreaking drama centering around a young, gay black man over three chapters of his life—had earned the trophy, making it the first-ever LGBTIA+ film to achieve the award.

Fyre Festival (2017)

If an island getaway filled with music, tents and more sounds too good to be true, it may be because it is, as we saw in 2017 with the failed Fyre Festival.

The event, which was heavily promoted by influencers and produced by Ja Rule, ended with thousands of attendees stranded and spawned two documentaries detailing the complete disaster.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

When the highly-anticipated Crazy Rich Asians hit theater screens in 2018, it was the first all-Asian cast to star in a modern film since 1993's Joy Luck Club.

The film became a box-office success, earning over $238 million worldwide and earning the cast nominations at shows like the Golden Globe Awards.

It also led to conversations around the need for more Asian representation in Hollywood, as well as introduced many of us to the hilarious Awkwafina, who then went on the next year to become the first-ever Asian-American to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her portrayal in The Farewell.

Beychella (2018)

Beyoncé continued to make history in her already storied career when, in 2018, she became the first black woman to headline the Coachella festival.

The singer's performance was praised for shining a light on the HBCU experience, with the show's band players consisting of students from black universities and incorporating themes of black Greek life, such as step shows and strolling.

In addition, the entire experience was then captured for the Grammy-winning and Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary, Homecoming.

College Admissions Scandal (2019)

The country was shocked when, in 2019, Operation Varsity Blues revealed a conspiracy ring of parents who had allegedly bribed college officials and inflated test scores to get their kids into elite colleges.

Among those charged included Full House's Lori Loughlin and Desperate Housewives' Felicity Huffman, the latter of which pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and was sentenced to 14 days in jail. Meanwhile, Louhglin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, entered a guilty plea to charges of multiple counts of wire and mail fraud, with the two due back in court on Aug. 21 for sentencing.

The incident also ignited conversations around celebrity privilege and nepotism.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant's Deaths (2020)

On a foggy, January day, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others were headed to a basketball practice when their helicopter crashed, killing everyone on board.

The basketball legend's death sent shockwaves through the NBA, Hollywood and beyond. A memorial service was set at the Staples Center with speakers like Vanessa Bryant, Jimmy Kimmel and more remembering the former Lakers player, friend and father, and inspired thousands to pay tribute to Kobe with at the Lakers arena and around the country with murals.

Parasite's Best Picture Win (2020)

This year, Oscars history was made when Parasite, Bong Joon-ho's critically-acclaimed social thriller, became the first-ever foreign film to win the show's top award of Best Picture.

The Korean movie also swept the additional categories of Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.