Before there was The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale. Many of us remember high school as a war zone, and in this ludicrous, disturbing, fascinating Japanese film, from crime-epic master Kinji Fukasaku, the feeling is made literal: in some near future on the verge of youth-gang social collapse, Japan’s fascist government randomly selects a class of teens and strands them on an isolated island with one imperative: that they kill each other until one student is left standing. Battle Royale, a very emotional film (try to find a Japanese or Korean film about high school that isn’t), and the kids’ catalog of slights, betrayals, ostracisms, jealousies, and clique-creation becomes, suddenly, a matter of homicidal payback and adolescent prairie justice. You think you had it bad.
A massively clever, thick-as-a-brick screenplay by Daniel Waters gave this teen satire plenty of ground to tear up—it mockingly endorses, among other things, in-school murder, terrorism, and teen suicide, while dishing homosexuality, teachers, parents, football, and bulimia—all in fun, of course. Winona Ryder’s wary clique-follower hangs with the cool, big-haired girls of 1980s Westerberg High (named after Paul, famed lead singer of the Replacements), and has her homicidal fantasies realized by new kid Christian Slater (doing a killer Jack Nicholson). Conceptually Heathers is outlandish, right up to the climactic bomb, but it’s also endlessly inventive, line for slangy line, and the feeling of teen social crisis is there.
Real Genius is a supremely silly 1980s teen comedy about a private high school for scientific geniuses, featuring a fantastically zingy Val Kilmer as the senior class’s reigning brain, who has already decided that being smart will not prevent him from being a complete clown. As the new kid in town, Gabe Jarret is too convincingly awkward.