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Movies of 1988 Bracket Game: Heathers Vs. Beetlejuice

Today’s bracket is one of my favorites.  We have two wickedly funny comedies and as an added bonus they both feature Winona Ryder!  These two movies launched the careers of not just Ryder but also Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater.  Both of these eccentric movies veered into dark territory in different ways.  Beetlejuice introduced mainstream audiences to Tim Burton’s unfiltered imagination while Heathers is the most black-hearted high school comedy ever made.  It’s up to readers to decide which creepy comedy advances to the next round.

Before we pit these two Ryder vehicles against one another, let’s see who came out on top in yesterday’s battle of the road trips.

This one was the closest contest yet in this year’s game.  For much of the day, Rain Man and Bull Durham were separated by no more than two votes.  In the end, Ron Shelton’s baseball comedy pulled ahead with almost 58% of the votes.  It is I suppose appropriate that a movie about a team of underdogs pulled off an upset victory over the movie that dominated both the 1988 box office and Oscar season.  The general consensus among commenters was that Rain Man just hadn’t aged very well.

Beetlejuice began with a very dark, violent script.  Tim Burton became attached when he was developing Batman for Warner Brothers.  Believe it or not, the studio wasn’t sold on making a superhero movie so they encouraged Burton to work on something else while rewrites were underway.  Burton didn’t like most of the scripts the studio showed him, but he decided he could do something with Beetlejuice.  The script was rewritten to downplay the graphic nature of the original and introducing more comedic elements showing the afterlife as a bureaucracy.

The title character was originally written as a murderous Middle Eastern man of short stature.  Burton wanted to go in a different direction.  He envisioned Sammy Davis Jr. in the role.  And the urging of producer David Geffen, Burton met with Michael Keaton for the first time.  He was quickly convinced that he had found his Beetlejuice and a fruitful collaboration was born.  Ryder was cast after Burton saw her as the tom boy in Lucas.  Catherine O’Hara was immediately interested, but the rest of the cast took some convincing based on the weird, hyper-violent script.

Ultimately, Beetlejuice opened to positive reviews and solid box office.  It opened at the top spot and ended up earning enough to place as the 10th highest-grossing movie of the year.  In the three decades since, Beetlejuice has retained enough cultural relevance that Burton, Keaton and Ryder are still talking about a possible sequel.

Heathers was a small movie.  It’s budget was around $3 million dollars and it grossed just over a third of that.  As the 167th highest grossing movie of 1988, it is easily the lowest-grossing movie in this game.  And yet, even more than Beetlejuice, Heathers is the movie that made Winona Ryder a star (and Christian Slater as well).  Even though almost no one saw Heathers in theaters when it was released in 1988, the few people who did see it could not stop talking about it.  The positive word of mouth made the movie a must-see on video.  It has inspired countless clones from Jawbreaker to Mean Girls.

Writer Daniel Waters intended for Heathers to be a much bigger movie than it actually was.  He saw it as a three-hour epic directed by none other than Stanley Kubrick.  He eventually set his sights a little lower and gave his script to novice director Michael Lehmann.  He took the script to Denise Di Novi who was a new executive at the independent studio, New World.  Heathers launched all of their careers.  Di Novi went on to head Tim Burton Productions while Waters and Lehman reunited for Hudson Hawk.

What made Heathers such an influential movie was Waters’ ear for zippy dialogue.  The characters speak in a made-up slang which made Heathers one of the most quotable comedies of all times.  Unfortunately, most of the best quotes aren’t suitable for a family site like this.

Which dark comedy still tickles your funny bone?

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Posted on January 6, 2018, in Bracket Game, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I’m going with Heathers because I fell like its third act delivers at a higher level. Beetlejuice kind of makes a lot of promises tonally that the final conflict doesn’t really live up to. That said, I have a great deal of affection for both of these movies. I was one of those people who saw Heathers on the big screen. The Naro in Norfolk was responsible for introducing me to lots of quirky film in the late 80s and early 90s.

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  2. Here you got two that have aged well. And another one that’s quite tricky.

    I loved Beetlejuice when I first saw it during its theatrical run. In fact, I saw it three times in theaters. First my mom took my cousin and I to see it when she was spending the weekend with us. Then, a week or so later I was itching to see it again, so my mom took me a second time. Then, my dad was curious about it, so I went with him to see it.

    Today I still love Beetlejuice, unlike a few other childhood faces that no longer have any appeal. A few years ago my dad was going through my DVDs and observed “you have Beetlejuice?” “Of course” I replied.

    Heathers I saw on TV in the early 90s. It’s one movie that took a while to grow on me. Today, I see it as a dark comedy cult classic. Most of the films that ripped it off didn’t dare to be as mean as it is. That’s why most of them don’t hold up (aside from Mean Girls, which I admit to having a soft spot for, and not just because I went to high school with one of its stars).

    So it’s a tough one. I ended up going with Beetlejuice. But if Heathers wins, that’s cool too.

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  3. I actually prefer the satire and commentary of HEATHERS to the goofiness of BEETLEJUICE.

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  4. Two more good comedies here—I’m going with Heathers as it’s been a favorite of mine for nearly thirty years.

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  5. Heathers is probably in the top five best films of the 80s and the best of 88.

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