They walk down the school hallway in slow motion, perfectly dressed, hair blowing in the draft. No one crosses them, because crossing them would mean certain death, or worse, the death of social status. Everybody hates them. They all want to be them.
The Heathers, The Plastics, you name it – every generation has a movie dedicated to beautiful high school mean girls. They have more bite than cozy rom-coms or nostalgia-fueled coming-of-age movies, and often the girls are out for blood, whether through social sabotage or literal murder.
This subgenre has wicked fun with teenage conventions, especially when it comes to design choices. These films are tied together in iconic ways and specific visual palettes that play on the popular aesthetic conventions of their respective time periods. They bring an edge and toughness to items often associated with tiny childhood, whether it’s bold lipstick, pink miniskirts or red scrunchies.
But even more central than the various visual motifs are the female relationships at the center of these films. The most catastrophic and disarming relationships these girls have are with each other, and these relationships are simultaneously their saving grace and their ultimate undoing. And that thread ties together the more over-the-top elements with a grounded relationship: demon-possessed best friends who eat children aren’t exactly common, but they’re toxic best friends who humiliate others in order to climb on top of them. are.
With its pastel-hued outfits and intriguing lead duo, the Netflix series get revenge is a worthy entry in the genre. In honor of these dark comedies that aren’t afraid to show the dark side of high school popularity, we’ve selected a few quintessential classics in the ruthless teen canon.
The movie that started it all was actually a box office bomb. But despite not recovering even half of its budget, heathers it became a cult classic. Writer Daniel Waters intended the film to lampoon how the media sensationalized teen suicides and to be a darker counterpart to the often cloying portrayals of high school life in the 1980s. (Hello, John Hughes.) And while that may have been controversial, Winona Ryder’s agent begging her not to take the part, woke up audiences at home.
Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), the fourth member of a ruthless cabal of mean girls known as the Heathers (since the other three are all named Heather). She is a reluctant follower, because she knows that siding with the Heathers and helping them forge gate passes and excuse notes is better than being targeted by her. But she finds herself attracted to rebellious new student JD (Christian Slater), and after the leader of the Heathers turns on Veronica, she and JD hatch a plan. What was supposed to be a harmless prank turns into a murder, and soon Veronica finds herself covering up a number of bodies and disguising them as suicide bombers. JD’s plans become more sinister, the two remaining Heathers grapple with a power vacuum, and Veronica tries to fix everything that went wrong.
Weather heathers absolutely set the stage for this type of movie, it’s also notable for being the only example on our list to have a male character play a major role in the cabal’s downfall. Still, the focus shifts back to Veronica, working her way out of the clique and after JD’s misanthropic influences, ultimately extending a hand to her former friend Martha and the more understanding Heather.
heathers is available to stream on Tubi and first video.
The Trade (1996)
Technically, The ship it’s a supernatural horror movie, not a dark comedy, and technically, it’s not about popular girls, it’s about mean girls (don’t worry, we’ll get to Bad Girls in a little bit). But it’s worth including on this list for how literal the “hell is a teenage girl” part comes into play and how much focus it puts on the internal dynamics of the friend group in question. Also, it’s not particularly scary.
The ship follows a group of teenage witches who unlock powerful magic to get revenge on those who have wronged them and get what they want from life. That magic eventually causes her group of friends to break apart, splinter, and be eaten alive. Like many of the other examples on this list, it’s a group of four girls, three who already know each other and a new interloper who disrupts the already established dynamic.
As for the iconic and specific visual palette? They are Catholic school uniforms, mixed with some traditional gothic elements. As heathers started this genre by proposing a counterculture alternative to the popular teen movies of the 1980s, it’s nice to have an entry that really embraces the counterculture aesthetic.
The ship is available to stream on Paramount Plus.
Jawbreaker is what would happen in heathers if the other Heathers accidentally killed their queen bee and tried to cover it up. After a prank goes terribly wrong, the popular girls of Reagan High struggle to hide their involvement in Liz Purr’s death. Rose McGowan plays ruthless bad girl Courtney Shayne, a bad bitch who bribes ditzy Fern (Judy Greer) to keep her mouth shut about manslaughter by giving her an extreme makeover, even changing her name to Vylette, and incorporating her into the popular group. Meanwhile, Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), the most understanding of the cabal, falls out of favor with them.
With its bright splashes of Y2K colour, JawbreakerThe visual palette of is bold and over-the-top, complementing the outrageous actions Courtney takes to maintain her status as the most popular girl in school (and blame someone else for Liz’s death). Meanwhile, Julie hatches a plan to expose Courtney’s involvement to the entire school on prom night. (School proms are another recurring theme in these movies; after all, a queen should have her official plastic crown.)
Jawbreaker is available to rent at first video and YouTube.
Mean Girls (2004)
No one go dead in Bad Girls – but that doesn’t make it any less fierce. New girl Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) finds herself entangled with the most popular clique in school: The Plastics, ruled by Regina George (Rachel McAdams). Cady’s new friend Janis (Lizzy Caplan) sees this as an opportunity to take Regina down once and for all, and they hatch a plan for Cady to infiltrate the group and destroy Regina. But the more time Cady spends with Regina, the more she begins to become a certifiable bad girl in her own right.
Even without a body count, Bad Girls’ Intricate revenge plot, focus on social status, and vicious verbal insults (and also the fact that Regina gets hit by a bus), fits into this list. And the filmmakers definitely acknowledge the greats who came before, with nods like the ’80s plaid skirt that Regina disparages (a style in vogue during the heathers era) to the scene where he plants photocopied pages of the Burn Book around the empty hallways of the school (a similar scene takes place in Jawbreaker).
Bad Girls is available to stream on Netflix.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Many of these films flirted with a sapphic subtext, whether it be Fern’s obsession with Liz Purr or Cady’s fixation with Regina George. But Jennifer’s body it embraces the inherent homoeroticism of being in love with the most popular and beautiful girl in school, or in this case, also having the sexiest girl in love with you.
Scholar Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and popular Jennifer (Megan Fox) may not have much in common on the surface, but they are the best of friends. One night, after breaking into a local seedy bar, Jennifer is kidnapped by a skeevy indie gang and used as a sacrifice for a demonic ritual, but it doesn’t quite work, and Jennifer wakes up hungry for meat.
As Jennifer kills and eats children, her power grows and the already toxic friendship between her and Needy begins to disintegrate. There is no central clique in Jennifer’s body but the focus on Needy and Jennifer’s intense friendship is enough to sustain it. Needy is the one person Jennifer resists her urge to kill her for, but also the person whose life she most wants to destroy.
Jennifer’s body is available to stream on first video.
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