In the Dark: Box Office Gross
Eric D. Snider
For as long as there have been movies, there have been movies designed for teenagers. Teens have always been the biggest movie-going audience, having, as they do, a lot of free time, extra money, and very little common sense in determining what they should see.
This is why most teen movies are stupid. Filmmakers know that teens aren't basing their choices on whether a movie will feature good acting, a clever story, or even whether it will entertain them. Teens want sex, and lots of it. Unable to acquire it in real life, they seek it out in the cinema.
This has always been true, though movies of several decades ago had to make the sexuality more subtle. The 1950s had James Dean, a great teen idol because he never smiled and wore a leather jacket — two things that told the teenage boys that he was really cool, and the teenage girls that he would have sex with them. Never mind that James Dean, like John F. Kennedy, would now be remembered as having been rather mediocre had he not died in an extremely tragic and untimely manner. The fact is, he was a sex symbol. Though the grownups couldn't quite put their finger on what it was, they knew there was something sexual about him. Then his head pretty much came off in a car accident, and so much for that.
Another '50s sex symbol was Marlon Brando, whose performance in "A Streetcar Named Desire" pulsated with lust. Granted, that was not a teen-oriented film. Granted also that now, no one can imagine Marlon Brando as anything other than the bloated, egomaniacal monstrosity he has become. But back then, he was setting ladies' undergarments on fire, right there in the theater.
So teen movies have always been about sex. By the '80s, it was blatant, with movies like "Porky's" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." At some point in the '90s, though, someone decided that "teen movie" should also mean "disgusting movie." The teen films of today no longer contain just sex. Now they have women using hair gel of dubious origins, young men violating pastries, and twelve-foot mutant hamsters raping talented comic actor Larry Miller (in "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," an unfortunate situation indeed, considering there were about seven Eddie Murphys hanging around the set who were much more deserving of forced rodentine coitus than was Mr. Miller).
I maintain that the best teen movie ever made is 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." This film is funny and even poignant (watch Cameron fixate on the George Seurat painting at the museum and figure out what it means to him, and what it means to the movie). It also manages to do this without being disgusting, sexual, vile, or insulting, nor is a single item of food ever used in a manner not intended by the FDA.
Why do I love this movie, even though I'm no longer a teen? Perhaps there is still enough of the rebellious, cordially angst-ridden teenager in me to identify with Matthew Broderick's titular character, a part of me that still wants to believe it's possible to fool every single authority figure on the face of the earth, and that truly yearns for an opportunity to enjoy a parade down the middle of downtown Chicago on a midweek work day. I know there's a part of me — a big part — that enjoys seeing Jeffrey Jones fall in the mud and be bitten by a dog. And who doesn't like to watch Charlie Sheen use both hands to push Jennifer Grey's elephantine nose out of the way before he can sloppily kiss her in the police station? In fact, if there is anything wrong with "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," it is that this movie alone shoulders blame for the fact that it is now impossible to turn on your television set without being assaulted by the utterly charmless Ben Stein. (It was also written and directed by John Hughes, who went on to write "Home Alone," for which he should not be forgiven.)
You think James Dean was rebellious and primal? (Of course not. Admit it, you've never seen a James Dean movie, have you?) Well, he may have been. But did he ever trick a snooty head waiter into letting him and his friends into a fancy restaurant without reservations or neckties? Did he rig up a recording of himself snoring so as to fool his impossibly dimwitted parents? No, he did not. And that's why Matthew Broderick is now married to the very hot Sarah Jessica Parker and James Dean doesn't have a head.