Jawbreaker (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Stein
Written byDarren Stein
Produced by
  • Lisa Tornell
  • Stacy Kramer
CinematographyAmy Vincent
Edited byTroy T. Takaki
Music byStephen Endelman
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dates
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million
Box office$3.1 million[1]

Jawbreaker is a 1999 American dark comedy film directed and written by Darren Stein. The film stars Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, and Julie Benz as girls in an exclusive clique in their high school. Charlotte Ayanna has a non-speaking cameo role as the murdered fourth member of the group. The film was inspired by the 1988 film Heathers, and is often compared to it, particularly the plot involving a popular female clique, the use of bright pastels, and the ostensibly accidental killing of one of its members.

Of his concept for the film, Stein has stated, "The jawbreaker just came to represent the duality of the poppy sweetness of the girls, of high school and of youth, versus the whole idea that this thing could break your jaw."[2] The film was released on February 19, 1999, and was a critical and financial failure, although it has come to gain a cult following.


The "Flawless Four" are the most popular girls in Reagan High School, consisting of Courtney Shayne, Marcie Fox, Julie Freeman, and Liz Purr. Of the foursome, only Liz is genuinely kind-hearted and loved by the entire school. Julie is popular because of her looks and being best friends with Liz, while queen bee Courtney and her airhead follower, Marcie, demand respect through terror.

On the morning of Liz's 17th birthday, Courtney, Marcie, and Julie bind her with ropes, gag her with a jawbreaker, and seal her mouth with duct tape. The girls lock Liz in the trunk of a car and drive off, planning to take her to a restaurant for breakfast. Upon opening the trunk, they discover Liz has choked to death on the jawbreaker.

Julie wants to report the situation to the police, but Courtney instead calls the school to tell them Liz is ill and cannot attend; the three later go to school. When Principal Sherwood sends outcast Fern Mayo to deliver Liz's homework at the end of the day, she encounters the three girls and Liz's dead body. Courtney says Liz was killed by a rapist, and spreads false rumors she was actually a rebellious, promiscuous girl.

Having admired Liz to the point of hero worship, Fern flees in horror. The girls catch her and buy her silence by accepting her into the clique. Courtney and Marcie transform Fern into a beautiful exchange student named "Vylette."

Overwhelmed by guilt at her part in Liz's death, Julie distances herself from the clique, but is tormented by her former friends and become a new target for abuse throughout the school. Her only real friend during this time is her boyfriend and drama student, Zack. As Vylette's popularity soars, Julie silently watches as Courtney tries covering up the murder and maintaining her popularity. Julie learns that, after they returned Liz to her house, Courtney seduced a stranger at a bar and had sex with him in Liz's bed, making it seem as though he had raped Liz.

Vylette becomes intoxicated with her new-found popularity, which has eclipsed Courtney's own. Courtney and Marcie post enlarged yearbook photos of Fern all over the school, revealing Vylette's true identity and leaving her humiliated. Julie sympathizes with Fern and forgives her for falling under Courtney's influence.

While Courtney attends the senior prom with jock Dane Sanders, Julie is at home going through a bag of Liz's belongings that were given to her. Finding a recordable greeting card she was fiddling with when Courtney was faking Liz's death scene, Julie discovers it has recorded Courtney's culpability in Liz's death. Julie, Fern, and Zack travel to the prom.

When Dane and Courtney are announced as prom king and queen, Zack secretly broadcasts the card's message over the sound system, revealing the truth behind Liz's death. Dane quickly abandons Courtney while Marcie hides under a table. With her crimes now exposed, Courtney flees as the rest of the angered students pelt her with corsages and call her a murderer while blocking any paths of escape. Julie snaps a picture of her former friend's anguished face to immortalize the occasion.



Director Darren Stein brought his script to executives at Columbia Tri-Star, who agreed to finance the film if he could cast either Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet or Rose McGowan.[3] The role of Julie originally went to Rachael Leigh Cook, who was eventually replaced with Rebecca Gayheart because the producers felt she did not have the right chemistry with the two other actresses.[3] Gayheart had auditioned for the roles of Fern and Marcie before she was selected for Julie. Marilyn Manson, who was then dating McGowan, agreed to appear in a non-speaking cameo role.

On a small budget of $3.5 million, Jawbreaker was filmed at locations in and around the Los Angeles area. 'Reagan High School' was actually University High School in West Los Angeles, with the cafeteria scenes filmed at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.[3] The diner that the girls drive up to at the beginning of the film is Johnie's Broiler in Downey, California, the filming site for many film and television productions. McGowan based her performance on that of Gene Tierney's sociopathic character in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).[3]

The distinctive costumes were designed by Vikki Barrett, who drew on 1980s and 1950s-era fashion trends blended with fetishistic elements like lycra skirts, all in bright candy colors to evoke the jawbreaker.[3]

Before the film could be released, the MPAA objected to a graphic sex scene between McGowan's and Marilyn Manson's characters, which had to be cut down to give the film an R rating instead of an NC-17.[3] To accompany the release of the film, Imperial Teen's music video for the song "Yoo Hoo" featured McGowan as Courtney Shayne harassing the band members with jawbreakers.[4]


Many critics pointed out the film's similarities to the 1988 cult-classic Heathers and accused Jawbreaker of plagiarism. On Metacritic the film has a score of 22% based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[5] On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 14% based on 64 reviews, with an average of 3.6 out of 10. The website's consensus states: "This throwaway comedy falls victim to its hip sensibilities."[6] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave Jawbreaker a grade D+.[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half out of four stars, stating, "The movie is a slick production of a lame script ... If anyone in the plot had the slightest intelligence, the story would implode."[8] Francesca Dinglasan from Boxoffice magazine gave the film one and a half out of five stars, criticizing the film's humor and similarities to Heathers.[9]

James Berardinelli gave the film a more favorable two and a half out of four stars, calling it "palatable, and occasionally even clever", but concluding, "while the film offers more than a Heathers rehash, it never fully develops its own identity.[10]

McGowan was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain, but lost to Matt Dillon for his role as Pat Healy There's Something About Mary.[11]


Despite the negative critical feedback, Jawbreaker found success through home video release and subsequent television airings; it has developed a cult following. Vice magazine called the film a "teen classic" when it published a retrospective in 2016 titled "Perverting the Youth of America: The Oral History of Teen Classic Jawbreaker".[3] Similarities have been drawn between Jawbreaker, Heathers, and the 2004 film Mean Girls.[12] Dazed magazine published a similar feature, crediting the film with inspiring 2004's Mean Girls, and praising the dark tones and performances.[13]

McGowan's Courtney Shayne has become something of a pop culture icon on social media,[14] with TribecaFilm.com declaring of McGowan's performance that "...every single line-reading was a thing of Bette Davis-aspiring beauty, and with any justice, it's a performance that will only grow in esteem over time."

Jawbreaker's costumes have also been celebrated,[15] drawing praise from the likes of Vogue[16] and Rookie magazines.[17] The scene where the actresses strut down the hallway in slow-motion to Imperial Teen's "Yoo Hoo" has become a signature feature of the film, drawing homage in film and television, most notably Mean Girls, and being parodied in films like Not Another Teen Movie (2001).[3][18]

In 2014, Judy Greer said in an interview: "I really didn't think it was anything special while we were shooting it, but when I saw the final product, I knew it was really good. I was so proud of it. I thought it looked beautiful. It had just the right amount of sexy, pop culture fun to it. I do think it's quite special."[19]


  1. "Yoo Hoo" (Imperial Teen) – 3:31
  2. "I See" (Letters To Cleo) – 3:56
  3. "Next to You" (Ednaswap) – 2:35
  4. "Don't Call Me Babe" (Shampoo) – 2:58
  5. "Bad Word for a Good Thing" (Friggs) – 2:53
  6. "Stay in Bed" (Grand Mal) – 4:49
  7. "Flow" (Transister) – 5:59
  8. "She Bop" (Howie Beno) – 3:06
  9. "Water Boy" (Imperial Teen) – 1:36
  10. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" (Scorpions) – 4:14
  11. "Rock 'n' Roll Machine" (The Donnas) – 2:54
  12. "Beat You Up" (The Prissteens) – 2:36
  13. "Trouble" (Shampoo) – 3:21
Songs not included on the soundtrack

Connie Francis did not approve the use of her song "Lollipop Lips" in this film, which was used without her permission and was heard during a sex scene.[20][21] Francis filed two lawsuits over the unauthorized use of her song in Jawbreaker.[20][21] In 2002, Francis sued her record company Universal Music Group (UMG) for allowing several of her songs to be synchronized to "sexually themed" movies.[20] Jawbreaker was specifically mentioned by name in the lawsuit.[20] Francis was unsuccessful and the judge threw the case out of court.[22] The second lawsuit involved Francis suing the producers of Jawbreaker for the unauthorized use of "Lollipop Lips" in the film.[21]

Musical adaptation[edit]

In 2010, efforts began to adapt Jawbreaker into a musical. On July 29, 2010, a Los Angeles concert presentation occurred starring Shoshana Bean, Lesli Margherita and Jenna Leigh Green. Original film writer-director Darren Stein returned to write the book while Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann wrote original music and lyrics. Jen Bender directed the production with musical direction by Adam Gubman.[23]

On October 13, 2011, a Manhattan reading occurred with Diana DeGarmo in the role of Fern Mayo. Gabriel Barre directed this reading.[24]

On September 26 and 27 in 2013, MadBromance Productions hosted a 29 hour reading of Jawbreaker: The Musical in Manhattan. Starring Elizabeth Gillies as Courtney Shayne, Gillies was joined by JoJo (singer) as Julie, Diana DeGarmo as Fern Mayo, and Libby Servais as Foxy. Gabriel Barre directed once again while Shea Sullivan choreographed, and James Sampliner provided musical direction.[25]

The musical has been described as having a "propulsive pop score that ranges from Lady Gaga-style synth pop to lush melodic ballads, Jawbreaker feels both timeless and today, presenting a mythic high school story that speaks to the teenager in us all."[26]

Television series[edit]

It was announced in February 2017 that the film would be reimagined as a television series for E! Darren Stein, the writer and director of the original film, was said to write and produce the series,[27][28] but no further developments were made.


  1. ^ "Jawbreaker". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet (February 19, 1999). "'Jawbreaker': Teen Queens of Mean". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 21, 2018. Retrieved December 20, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Sunderland, Mitchell (August 14, 2016). "'Perverting the Youth of America': The Oral History of Teen Classic 'Jawbreaker'". Broadly. Archived from the original on April 1, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  4. ^ Imperial Teen Yoo Hoo Music Video. YouTube.com. February 5, 2011. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  5. ^ "Jawbreaker". Metacritic. Archived from the original on June 25, 2021. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  6. ^ "Jawbreaker". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on September 4, 2022. Retrieved July 20, 2022.
  7. ^ JAWBREAKER (1999) Archived 2018-12-20 at the Wayback Machine CinemaScore
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 19, 1999). "Jawbreaker". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  9. ^ Dinglasan, Francesca (August 1, 2008). "Jawbreaker". Boxoffice magazine. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2010.
  10. ^ Berardinelli, James (February 19, 1999). "Jawbreaker". Reelviews.net. Archived from the original on April 18, 2020. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  11. ^ "1999 MTV Movie Awards Coverage". DigitalHit.com. Archived from the original on November 1, 2022. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  12. ^ Gordon Cox (October 18, 2013). "'Mean Girls', 'Heathers', 'Jawbreaker', Heading to New York Theater". Variety. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  13. ^ Taylor, Trey (2014). "Rose McGowan and Darren Stein on Jawbreaker". Dazed. Archived from the original on March 14, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  14. ^ Peitzman, Louis (September 11, 2013). "25 Reasons to Worship Courtney Shayne from "Jawbreaker"". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on December 21, 2018. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  15. ^ Isabella, Laura (July 6, 2014). "Top Ten 1990s Teen Movie Outfits". hungertv.com. Archived from the original on January 16, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  16. ^ Satenstein, Liana (February 16, 2017). "Jawbreaker Is Coming Back as a TV Series! Here Are the Film's Best Fashion Moments". Vogue. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  17. ^ Lodi, Marie (September 11, 2013). "Role Models Power Suits: High School Edition". Rookie Magazine. Archived from the original on June 29, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  18. ^ Lambe, Stacy (January 14, 2014). "Exclusive: The G.B.F. Cast Recreate Jawbreaker's Famous Slow-Mo Walk". Vh1.com. Archived from the original on December 24, 2017. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  19. ^ Weiselman, Jarett (April 23, 2014). "How Judy Greer Became Hollywood's Most In-Demand Best Friend". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on February 16, 2019. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d Self, Henry (2003). "Moral Rights and Musicians in the United States" (PDF). 2003–2004 Entertainment, Publishing and the Arts Handbook 165. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 16, 2012. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  21. ^ a b c "Who's sorry now, indeed – the Buzz – Connie Francis suit against Universal Music Corp". The Advocate. Liberation Publications, Inc. April 16, 2002. Archived from the original on February 17, 2023. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  22. ^ Bureau of, National Affairs (2003). BNA's Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal. p. 228. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  23. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Bean, Margherita, Thomas and More to Sing Jawbreaker in Los Angeles". Playbill. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  24. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Jawbreaker Musical Will Have NYC Reading With Diana DeGarmo". Playbill. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  25. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Readings of Jawbreaker: The Musical, with Diana DeGarmo, Kate Flannery, Elizabeth Gillies, Presented Sept. 26-27". Playbill. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  26. ^ Wolman, Lauren. "STAGE TUBE: JAWBREAKER: THE MUSICAL". Broadway World. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  27. ^ Petski, Denise (February 15, 2017). "'Jawbreaker': E! Developing Series Adaptation of Teen Cult Film". Deadline. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  28. ^ "'Jawbreaker' TV Series in the Works at E!". The Hollywood Reporter. February 15, 2017. Archived from the original on March 3, 2020. Retrieved May 22, 2017.

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