Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Lehmann|
|Produced by||Denise Di Novi|
|Written by||Daniel Waters|
|Narrated by||Winona Ryder|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||Norman Hollyn|
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
|Box office||$1.1 million|
Heathers is a 1988 American cult 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 a fictional 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 its high critical praise, the film was not a big hit in the box office but went on to become a cult classic, with high rentals and sales business. In 2006, it was ranked number 5 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies" and in 2008, 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 as of 2016 a television series was in pre-production.
The most dominant clique at Westerburg High School in Sherwood, Ohio, consists of three wealthy and beautiful girls named Heather: the leader, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the quiet, bookish and bulimic Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), and the weak-willed cheerleader Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk). Though they are the most popular students, the Heathers are both feared and hated. They recently invited 17-year-old Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) to join their group, by association making her a very popular girl as well. However, as the film begins, Veronica has had enough of their selfish behavior and longs to return to her old life and her nerdy friends.
At school, a rebellious outsider named Jason "J.D." Dean (Christian Slater) pulls a gun on school bullies Kurt Kelly (Lance Fenton) and Ram Sweeney (Patrick Labyorteaux) and fires blanks at them. Veronica finds herself fascinated by this dark and quirky sociopath. When Veronica embarrasses Heather Chandler at a frat party by refusing sex and vomiting, Heather vows to destroy her reputation. Later, J.D. shows up at Veronica's house and they end up having sex after an impromptu game of strip croquet. 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. Although initially shaken by their act, J.D. regains his composure and 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.
Several days later, Kurt and Ram spread a rumor about Veronica giving them oral sex at the same time. To get even, J.D. proposes that Veronica lure them into the woods with the promise to "make the rumors true", then shoot them with what he promises are nonfatal "Ich lüge" (which translates to "I'm lying" in German) German bullets that only break the skin but do no real damage. Afterwards they would humiliate Kurt and Ram by writing a fake suicide note explaining that the two were secret lovers, and planting gay paraphernalia, such as a Joan Crawford photo, mascara, and mineral water, alongside their unconscious bodies. At the rendezvous in the woods, J.D. shoots Ram but Veronica misses Kurt, who runs away. Seeing Ram dead on the ground, Veronica realizes that the bullets are real after all. J.D. chases Kurt back towards Veronica, who panics and shoots him dead. J.D. plants the paraphernalia and suicide note beside the boys. At their funeral, the boys are made into martyrs against homophobia.
Due to J.D.'s betrayal and increasingly murderous behavior, Veronica breaks up with him, but he says he knows she'll come back. J.D. then shows Heather Duke old photographs of her and Martha "Dumptruck" Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn) when the two girls were friends. Since Martha is an obese and very unpopular student, Heather Duke doesn't want the photos to be seen. J.D. says he will give her the negatives of the photos if she does him "a favor." J.D. then persuades Heather Duke to step into Heather Chandler's former role, which Heather Duke gladly embraces. Duke begins wearing the red scrunchie that had belonged to Heather Chandler as a symbol of her new status, and starts acting as badly as Chandler had acted. Once Heather Duke establishes herself as the school's alpha female, J.D. tells her to start a petition to get the band Big Fun to play at the school pep rally. In return, he gives her the negatives of the photos.
The fake suicides prompt an epidemic of similar attempts. Martha pins a suicide note to her chest and walks into traffic. She survives but is badly injured and is mocked—mostly by Heather Duke—for trying to "act popular". That night, Heather McNamara calls a popular radio show while Veronica and Heather Duke are listening and says she feels like she is cursed, and begins to cry. The next day, Heather Duke tells the entire school about Heather McNamara's radio call. Heather McNamara, humiliated, attempts to take her life by overdosing on pills in the girls' bathroom, but is rescued by Veronica; afterwards, the two become real friends.
Veronica and Heather Duke have a fight in which Heather reveals that the petition was J.D.'s idea. J.D. then attempts to rekindle his romance with Veronica, but she rejects him, angering J.D. When Veronica returns home she finds that J.D. has left her threatening notes and objects implying that he will murder her and frame it as a suicide.
That afternoon, Veronica has a vivid dream that J.D. murders Heather Duke, and at Heather's funeral Veronica talks to Heather Chandler.
That night, J.D. climbs into Veronica's room with a revolver to kill her, but finds Veronica hanging from a noose. Thinking she's dead, he talks about his plan to bomb the school during a pep rally. He reveals that the petition he had been circulating via Heather Duke was actually a mass suicide note. Almost everyone except Veronica signed, so the mass murder would appear to outsiders to be a mass suicide instead. However, unbeknownst to J.D., Veronica faked the hanging by rigging herself with a harness around her waist.
Now clued in to J.D.'s mass-murder plot, she confronts him in the boiler room below the gym where he is rigging timed explosives. After a brief struggle, Veronica shoots him three times, removing his middle finger. As J.D. collapses, he stabs the timer and it stops. Veronica walks outside to find the severely injured J.D. with the bomb strapped to his chest, which he detonates as an apathetic Veronica looks on with an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. J.D. blows himself up; the blast singes Veronica and lights her cigarette.
As the students rush outside to find out what happened, Veronica confronts Heather Duke. Veronica relieves Heather of the red scrunchie, saying "Heather, my love, there's a new sheriff in town." Free at last of the Heathers' toxic influence, she invites Martha to hang out on prom night and watch movies with her.
- 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."
A number of reviewers noted similarities between Heathers and a low-budget 1976 film, Massacre at Central High, and Winona Ryder's biographers affirmed that Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters had "purposely spoofed" the earlier film. However, Waters has maintained that any borrowing was "subconscious".
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 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 propaganda 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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Heathers (1989)... was a riff on Rene Daalder's Massacre at Central High.
- Lyons, Donald (1994). Independent visions: a critical introduction to recent independent American film. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 135. ISBN 9780345382498.
Heathers wed the theme of Massacre [at Central High] to the flip, épater sarcasm of Beyond the Valley [of the Dolls].
- Spitz, Marc; Mullen, Brendan (2001). We Got the Neutron Bomb: the Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York: Three Rivers Press. p. 153. ISBN 0307566242.
My [director Rene Daalder's] teenage movie Massacre at Central High, which anticipated punk, Heathers, and Columbine back in '76.
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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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