When the subject of Generation-X films comes up, everybody remembers the John Hughes classics The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, and Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything and Singles, and Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Chasing Amy. A more attentive movie buff might also remember Repo Man or Kids or Blue Velvet, or there’s even the possibility that a few of you wandered naively into The Crying Game or Paris is Burning and never have been able to forget what you saw. Or maybe you went out on a limb once or twice back in the ’80s and ’90s and tried to watch those cool new movies people were talking about, like Slacker. But there’s so much more . . . and these ten are ones you might have overlooked, or if you didn’t overlook them, you might have wished you had.
Bad Boys (1983)
This movie about life in a juvenile prison for boys is both dark and brutal. Sean Penn has the lead role, playing Mick O’Brien, who is incarcerated for killing his street rival’s brother. In prison, actors Esai Morales and Clancy Brown play two really scary teenagers who target Mick. Any male Gen-Xer who watched this one on cable TV from the comfort of his living room couch had only one thought, I don’t ever want to end up in prison.
Class of 1984 (1982)
From the terribly-violent-high-school-you’d-never-want-to-attend genre, this thriller has mainstay Perry King (who would later star in the series Riptide) as a music teacher who refuses to accept the bullying of a small gang of punks who are selling drugs at the school. This story is more than Rebel Without A Cause gone wrong. The gloves are off in this one.
Human Highway (1982)
’60s folk rocker Neil Young and new wave mainstay Devo team up for this extremely poorly acted portrayal of a very poorly crafted story. The movie centers on a diner near a nuclear power plant that leaks toxic waste, but the story veers off into the minds of Young and Devo. There’s a prolonged staccato version of Young’s “Hey Hey My My” in there. If you like things that are so bad they’re funny, you’ll like this. If not, you’ll never get back that hour and a half of your life.
Shakes the Clown (1991)
Oddball comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite stars in this film, which offers a grim perspective on the life of a birthday-party clown, including the attendant alcohol abuse and lechery behind the scenes. Goldthwaite was pretty easy to digest in mainstream movies, with his silly growling speech impediment, but this movie takes the same hard left turn that Adam Sandler took in Punch Drunk Love. Fans of Bobcat’s more well-known work were probably deeply disappointed, and possibly deeply offended.
Not the big-budget thing from 1996 that tried to capture our generation, but the early ’80s one made by Penelope Spheeris. Another bleak film, this one was cast with mostly no-name actors, the exception being Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The story centers on a makeshift group home for runaway punks in an abandoned housing project where packs of dogs scavenge for food and where a pair of bitter, unemployed blue-collar workers try MAGA-style to show the punks who’s boss.
Once again, director Penelope Spheeris who once again includes Flea in the cast, but this time, she had John Cryer who was fresh off the role of Duckie in Pretty in Pink and Daniel Roebuck who had just played the cold-blooded killer Samson in River’s Edge. This movie has the classic Gen-X feature of juxtaposing completely unlike things in wacky ways – in this case: punk rock, road trips, and the American West – while including punk band The Vandals, an Elvis impersonator, a pink Cadillac, a pretty female tow-truck driver, a jailbreak, and a heroic final showdown with the bad guy.
Liquid Sky (1982)
Something between a sci-fi alien story and a social commentary on androgyny and sexual repression, this slow-paced, awkward movie is set in the early new-wave scene in New York City. In the movie, two blonde models, one male and one female who are played by the same actress, deal with sexual animosity and ambiguity: for the female model, it is having everyone want her, and for the male, it is wanting to be sexless. That would be complicated enough but there’s also a hidden alien space craft that is incinerating people one by one.
Roadside Prophets (1992)
This movie was not good, but it probably should’ve been. It stars John Doe of the punk band X and Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys who ride cross-country on motorcycles. And it also has acid king Timothy Leary, folk singer Arlo Guthrie, and Kung Fu star David Carradine. But quirky and weird crossed over into downright dumb. Trying to capture the Gen-X penchant for randomness didn’t work this time.
Streets of Fire (1984)
Heavily stylized noir, this action film pits cool-dude Michael Paré against a motorcycle gang led by a really creepy Willem Defoe in an effort to rescue his sultry girlfriend Diane Lane, who had just been in the movie adaptation of The Outsiders. Alongside Rumble Fish, which shares some similarities to this one, this movie stands as one of the more unique films of the time.
The only viable response to watching this movie is: Man, I’m glad I don’t live like that. This is probably one of the last films that I would say belongs to Generation X, since the age-span of our generation in 1997 would have been 17 to 32. The movie was the first film made by Harmony Korine, who was then in his mid-20s. (Korine is featured in the 2008 documentary Beautiful Losers.) Put simply, Gummo is bleak and bizarre and creepy.