Heathers: has this 1988 classic passed its ‘use by’ date?

Winona Ryder, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker in Heathers

Heathers has been a cult classic for 35 years. It’s about killing off the mean girls and bullies who make high school life a nightmare. Is it still possible to watch it without thinking of how many American kids head for school every day knowing it might be the day they die?

Heathers was praised for its dark comedy and humor. It’s lived for all these years as a cultural reference point. As a society, we’ve all kind of agreed that sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia in old movies be ignored as a relic of a different time. What about murder, can we overlook that?

The question seems relevant, because Heathers: The Musical is set to come out of Britain soon.

Christian Slater and Winona Ryder on a poster for Heathers with critics quotes praising the film
Praise galore

Look at the praise on this poster from the critics when the film first came out. It made stars of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The three oh-so-popular mean girl Heathers were played by Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker.

When James Dean knockoff Jason (J.D.) Dean (Christian Slater) shows up at the high school, Veronica (Winona Ryder) is immediately attracted to him. She hangs around with the Heathers, but isn’t quite as unkind as they are.

Christian Slater, Winona Ryder, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, and Kim Walker in Heathers
Heather whack-a-mole

Veronica and J.D. get together, but it doesn’t take long for J.D. to start knocking off people. At first Veronica goes with the program, but soon realizes J.D. has a serious problem. When he wants to blow up the whole school, she attempts to stop him.

The film released in 1988. Before Columbine and all the horrific school shootings since then. I couldn’t help seeing a direct line from the black comedy that used humor to suggest killing off the people in school who you hated to the current situation. Outcast boys like the J.D. character in this film feel entitled to walk into a school building and start shooting an assault rifle at anyone they see.

Yes, I could still see the humor in the situation and the poetic justice of the ending, but I couldn’t stop connecting it to the modern sickness of guns and trauma. Have you watched this film recently? How did you react to it with 2023 eyes?

Heathers is available on AMC+, Prime Video, Apple TV+, Roku and several other streamers.

6 thoughts on “Heathers: has this 1988 classic passed its ‘use by’ date?”

  1. Having grown up when Heathers came out, and you went to see it in the funky old movie theater that showed “alternative,” super cool movies, I can affirm that this movie was a touchstone for my generation. Yet, all of us formerly cool moms have recently been asking the question of whether Heathers is no longer relevant, as we watch our own teens weather Code Blue after Code Blue after horrifying social media video after horrifying social media video. I think this movie has had its moment. It’s too close to home now. Once it was outrageous, over the top social commentary – so much so that we couldn’t ever imagine these things ever happening. Now, it’s every single day for our children. And that’s no film anyone wants to watch.

      1. One thing I wanna say is, as a teenager, I love this movie. I don’t think it should be banned, or censored. It’s cut and dry. Yes, it’s exaggerated. That’s the point. It’s made to caricaturize the John Hughes movies of the time. It’s supposed to be the polar opposite. What’s next? Heathers may have been the first, but it’s certainly not the last. Jawbreaker, anyone? Mean Girls? Yes, it’s a much toned down story, more reminiscent of a John Hughes film, but you can see Heathers’ influence on the film. (Side note, the man who wrote Heathers is the brother of the man who directed Mean Girls) According to Daniel Waters, (writer) he often gets told by fans that the movie “couldn’t be made in today’s time,” to which he responds with, “it couldn’t be made then, either.” Heathers was originally much darker. Wayyyy darker. It was cut and censored from the 3 hour original film, to what we have today.

  2. christopher swaby

    i dunno. i loved the film when it came out and i have enjoyed every subsequent viewing. i understand how a film or tv show or even a book might face scrutiny over time but should we take these forms of entertainment for more than they are? i am against editing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer even though most Americans would agree that there are offensive terms and characterizations in the book. we could look back on any war movie that seems to glorify one side and demonize the other. i was watching an old Dick Van Dyke show last night and was struck by the jokes made based on 60s gender roles – one of the best tv comedies ever and so terribly out of date today. Heathers is a bit like Dr. Strangelove isnt it? a comedic satirical look at an issue?

    1. Yes. I think about the right wingers trying to erase the past, ban it. It seems better to learn from the past.

      In this story, maybe the lesson is that unhappy young men shouldn’t have access to dynamite (or assault rifles) in order to punish anyone they don’t like.

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