Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Lehmann|
|Produced by||Denise Di Novi|
|Written by||Daniel Waters|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||Norman Hollyn|
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
|Box office||$1.1 million|
Heathers is a 1989 American black comedy film written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. It stars Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. The film portrays four teenage girls—three of whom are named Heather—in a clique at an Ohio high school.
The film brought director Michael Lehmann and producer Denise Di Novi the 1990 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Daniel Waters also gained recognition for his screenplay, which won a 1990 Edgar Award. Despite high critical praise, the film was not a big hit in the box office but went on to become a cult film, with high rentals and sales business. In 2015, it was ranked number 5 on the Entertainment Weekly list of the "50 Best High School Movies". It was ranked number 412 on Empire's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".
The film has been adapted into a musical and a 2017 television series is currently in production.
17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) is one of the most popular girls at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio. In addition to Veronica, the popular clique consists of three wealthy and beautiful girls with the same first name: the leader, Heather Chandler (Walker); the bookish bulimic Heather Duke (Doherty), and the weak-willed cheerleader Heather McNamara (Falk). Though they are the most popular students, the Heathers are feared and hated. Veronica has had enough of their behavior and longs to return to her old life and her nerdy friends.
When a new student, a rebellious outsider named Jason "J.D." Dean (Slater) pulls a gun on school bullies Kurt Kelly (Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (Labyorteaux) and fires blanks at them, Veronica finds herself fascinated with him. When Veronica attends a frat party with Heather Chandler, but refuses to have sex and throws up, Heather vows to destroy her reputation. J.D. shows up at Veronica's house and they end up having sex outside, after which Veronica tells J.D. she wants to make Heather puke her guts out. The next morning, Veronica and J.D. break into Heather's house. J.D. serves Heather a liquid he claims is a hangover cure but is actually drain cleaner, killing her. J.D. urges Veronica to forge a dramatic suicide note in Heather's handwriting.
The school and community look on Heather's apparent suicide as a tragic decision made by a popular but troubled teenager. Heather Duke soon steps into Heather Chandler's former role as clique leader and begins wearing a red scrunchie that had belonged to Chandler.
Several days later, Kurt and Ram spread a rumor about Veronica giving them oral sex, ruining her reputation. J.D. proposes that Veronica lure them into the woods with the promise to "make the rumors true"; then shoot them with nonfatal German bullets. J.D. shoots Ram but Veronica misses Kurt, who runs away. Veronica realizes that the bullets are real; J.D. chases Kurt back towards Veronica, who panics and shoots him. J.D. plants "gay" materials beside the boys, and a suicide note stating the two were lovers participating in a suicide pact. At their funeral, the boys are made into martyrs against homophobia. Although she keeps dating J.D., Veronica is alarmed by his behavior.
Martha Dunnstock, an obese, regularly bullied student known as "Martha Dumptruck", pins a suicide note to her chest and walks into traffic. She survives but is badly injured and is mocked for trying to "act popular". Heather McNamara calls a popular radio show one night while Veronica and Heather Duke are listening and talks of depression in her life; the next day, Heather Duke tells the entire school about Heather McNamara's radio call; McNamara attempts to take her life by overdosing on pills in the girls' bathroom but is saved by Veronica.
Veronica tells J.D. that she will not participate in any more killings. He climbs into her room with a revolver to kill her, but Veronica has used a harness to make it look like she has hanged herself. Assuming she is dead, he rambles about his plan to blow up the school during a pep rally. A petition he has been circulating via Heather Duke to get the band Big Fun to perform on campus is actually a mass suicide note. Most of the students had already signed, so the mass murder would appear to be a mass suicide instead.
Veronica confronts J.D. in the boiler room, where he is rigging timed explosives. She shoots him when he refuses to stop the bomb. As J.D. collapses, he stabs the timer and it stops. Veronica walks out through the pep rally with everyone cheering. The severely injured J.D. follows her outside with a bomb strapped to his chest, offers what amounts to a personal eulogy as Veronica looks on, and detonates the bomb.
Veronica confronts Heather Duke, takes the red scrunchie, says "Heather my love, there's a new sheriff in town" and invites Martha Dunnstock to hang out on prom night and watch movies with her. Martha and Veronica walk down the hallway while Heather Duke watches them with disbelief.
- Winona Ryder as Veronica Sawyer
- Christian Slater as Jason "J.D." Dean
- Shannen Doherty as Heather Duke
- Lisanne Falk as Heather McNamara
- Kim Walker as Heather Chandler
- Penelope Milford as Pauline Fleming
- Glenn Shadix as Father Ripper
- Lance Fenton as Kurt Kelly
- Patrick Labyorteaux as Ram Sweeney
- Carrie Lynn as Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock
- Jeremy Applegate as Peter Dawson
- Jon Matthews as Rodney
- Phill Lewis as Dennis
- Renée Estevez as Betty Finn
- Jennifer Rhodes as Mrs. Sawyer
- Bill Cort as Mr. Sawyer
- Kirk Scott as Big Bud Dean
- Mark Carlton as Mr. Kelly
- John Ingle as Principal Gowan
Daniel Waters wanted his screenplay to go to director Stanley Kubrick, not only out of profound admiration for Kubrick but also from a perception that "Kubrick was the only person that could get away with a three-hour film". (The cafeteria scene opening Heathers was written as an homage to the barracks scene opening Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.) After a number of failed attempts to get the script to Kubrick made Waters realize the futility of the enterprise, he decided to give the script to Michael Lehmann, who then took it on with Denise Di Novi.
Many actors and actresses turned down the project because of its dark subject matter. Early choices for Veronica and J.D. were Jennifer Connelly, who turned down the role, Justine Bateman and Brad Pitt. Pitt auditioned for the role of J.D. but the filmmakers rejected him because they thought he came across as "too nice" and therefore would not be credible. Winona Ryder, who was sixteen at the time of filming and badly wanted the part, begged Waters to cast her. Eventually she was given the role with Christian Slater being signed shortly thereafter. Heather Graham, then seventeen, was offered the part of Heather Chandler but turned it down. Kim Walker, who was dating Slater at the time, was offered the role instead. Graham was then cast as Heather McNamara, but her mother wouldn't allow her to accept the role, so Lisanne Falk was given the role instead.
The film uses two versions of the song "Que Sera, Sera", the first by singer Syd Straw and another over the end credits by Sly and the Family Stone. On the film's DVD commentary, Di Novi mentions that the filmmakers wanted to use the original Doris Day version of the song, but Day would not lend her name to any project using profanity.
The song "Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It)" by the fictional band Big Fun was written and produced for the film by musician Don Dixon, and performed by the ad hoc group "Big Fun", which consisted of Dixon, Mitch Easter, Angie Carlson and Marti Jones. The song is included on Dixon's 1992 greatest hits album (If) I'm A Ham, Well You're A Sausage.
The film's electronic score was composed and performed by David Newman and a soundtrack CD was subsequently released.
The film was acclaimed by critics and audiences. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 43 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dark, cynical, and subversive, Heathers gently applies a chainsaw to the conventions of the high school movie -- changing the game for teen comedies to follow." At the website Metacritic, the film earned a favorable rating of 73/100 based on 19 reviews by mainstream critics.
Desson Thomson of the Washington Post wrote, "Wickedly funny. In fact, Heathers may be the nastiest, cruelest fun you can have without actually having to study law or gird leather products. If movies were food, Heathers would be a cynic's chocolate binge." Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote that the film "...is a morbid comedy about peer pressure in high school, about teenage suicide and about the deadliness of cliques that not only exclude but also maim and kill."
Some reviewers have discussed similarities between Heathers and Massacre at Central High, a low-budget 1976 film. Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters has stated that he had not seen Massacre at Central High at the time he wrote Heathers, but that he had read a review of it in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies, and that the earlier film may have been "rattling around somewhere in my subconscious".
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Heathers was first released onto VHS in 1989, where it received strong sales and rentals, and is where it first became well known after being unsuccessful at the box office. It was released again on Laserdisc on September 16, 1996 with restored stereo sound. This widescreen edition was digitally transferred from Trans Atlantic Pictures interpositive print under the supervision of cinematographer Francis Kenny. The sound was mastered from the magnetic sound elements. The film was first released onto DVD on March 30, 1999, in a bare-bones edition.
In 2001, a multi-region special edition DVD was released from Anchor Bay Entertainment in Dolby Digital 5.1. The DVD was released in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe to high sales. In 2004, a limited edition DVD set was released, and only 15,000 were produced. The set contained an audio commentary with director Michael Lehmann, producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters, a 30-minute documentary titled Swatch Dogs and Diet Cokeheads, featuring interviews with Ryder, Slater, Doherty, Falk, Lehmann, Waters, Di Novi, Director of Photography Francis Kenny and Editor Norman Hollyn. It also includes a theatrical trailer, screenplay excerpt, original ending, biographies, 10-page full-color fold-out with photos and liner notes, an 8 cm "Heathers Rules!" ruler, and a 48-page full-color "yearbook style" booklet with rare photos.
On July 1, 2008, a new 20th anniversary special edition DVD set was released from Anchor Bay to coincide with the DVD of writer Waters' new film Sex and Death 101. The DVD features a new documentary, Return to Westerburg High. On November 18, 2008, Anchor Bay released a Blu-ray with all the special features from the 20th Anniversary DVD and a soundtrack in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.
Possible film sequel
On June 2, 2009, Entertainment Weekly reported that Ryder had claimed that there would be a sequel to Heathers with Slater coming back "as a kind of Obi-Wan character". However, Lehmann denied development of a sequel, saying "Winona's been talking about this for years — she brings it up every once in a while and Dan Waters and I will joke about it, but as far as I know there's no script and no plans to do the sequel."
Planned television series
In August 2009, Sony Pictures Television announced that Heathers was to be adapted for television to air on Fox. Mark Rizzo was hired to write the series, and Jenny Bicks was to co-produce with Lakeshore Entertainment. The program was described as a modernized version of the original story, and all characters from the film were expected to be scripted into the adaptation.
On September 12, 2012, it was announced that the television network Bravo would begin developing a Heathers reboot unrelated to the earlier announcement by Sony Pictures Television. The storyline was to pick up twenty years after the events of the film when Veronica returns home to Sherwood, Ohio with her teenage daughter, who had to contend with the next generation of mean girls, all named "Ashley". They were to all be the daughters of the two surviving Heathers. Neither Ryder nor Slater were attached to the project. However, in August 2013, Bravo declined to order the series.
In March 2016, TV Land ordered the series as an anthology dark comedy series set in the present day, with Veronica Sawyer who will be dealing with a very different but equally vicious group of Heathers. The series will be written by Jason Micallef and Tom Rosenberg, and Gary Lucchesi will executive produce for Lakeshore Entertainment. In January 2017 the Heathers Anthology was ordered to Series at TV Land. Original star Shannen Doherty guest stars in the pilot.  In March 2017, Lifetime moved the series to Paramount Network.
In 2010 Heathers was adapted into a stage musical directed by Andy Fickman. Fickman also worked on the musical Reefer Madness, a parody of the anti-cannabis film of the same name which was turned into a feature film on Showtime. The Heathers musical, which opens with a number depicting Veronica's acceptance into the Heathers' clique, received several readings in workshops in Los Angeles and a three-show concert presentation at Joe's Pub in New York City on September 13–14, 2010. The cast of the Joe's Pub concert included Annaleigh Ashford as Veronica, Jenna Leigh Green as Heather Chandler, and Jeremy Jordan as J.D.
The musical played at off-Broadway’s New World Stages with performances beginning March 15, 2014 and an opening night on March 31. The original cast of the Off-Broadway production included Barrett Wilbert Weed as Veronica Sawyer, Jessica Keenan Wynn as Heather Chandler, Ryan McCartan as JD, Alice Lee as Heather Duke, and Elle McLemore as Heather McNamara. It closed on August 4, 2014.
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- Kane, Joe (2000). The Phantom of the Movies' Videoscope: The Ultimate Guide to the Latest, Greatest, and Weirdest Genre Videos. New York: Three Rivers Press. p. 524. ISBN 9780812931495.
We probably would have liked [Heathers] even better if we hadn't seen much the same story before, as 1976's Massacre at Central High... Heathers replaces Massacre's fascistic male clique with a femme one but otherwise clones the earlier flick pretty closely.
- Siegel, Scott; Siegel, Barbara (1997). The Winona Ryder Scrapbook. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group. pp. 51–52. ISBN 9780806518831.
Heathers... spoofed the 1976 schlock horror classic Massacre at Central High... about a new student at a Southern California high school who doesn't like how other students are terrorized by a gang, so he decides to off the gang members one by one in gruesome fashion.
- Bowie, John Ross (2011). Heathers. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press. p. 14. ISBN 159376457X.
I [Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters] had most definitely not seen [Massacre at Central High], but I do remember reading about it in the beloved book Cult Movies by Danny Peary... so I guess it was rattling around somewhere in my subconscious.
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