35 Years Later, Heathers Has Been Often Imitated, Never Duplicated

Heathers was released in theaters March 31, 1989, capping a decade of teen movies more defined by John Hughes comedies (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) than wickedly acidic satire. Other high school-centric films in 1989 included Say Anything, Dead Poets’ Society, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure—wildly different movies that all share a certain earnestness. Heathers, meanwhile, looked at its audience, rolled its eyes, and asked, “What is your damage?”

Though Heathers has lived on in a musical (which played Off-Broadway in 2014; and London’s West End in 2018) and a TV series (which ran one season in 2018 on the Paramount Network), it’s the original film—written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehman, both making their feature debuts—that still makes the most impact. It remains a scathing indictment of the cruel high-school caste system in an era before social media, and its incisive ideas are couched in an almost ridiculously quotable script (“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”) that’s just as entertaining as it was in 1989. That said, some elements haven’t aged as well as others; the cast is 95% white, and the homophobic jokes—which do serve a story purpose and come only from the mouths of blatant idiots and bullies—are a bit jarring to hear in 2024.

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