10 Best Generation X Movies Ever

Pop culture often defines a generation. In recent times movies have been a big part of that definition. The Graduate was a movie that defined the character of the Baby Boomer Generation (born 1943-1960). But what are the movies that define Generation X (born 1961-1981)?

Lest you think that this is just a list of my favorite movies from the 80’s and 90’s, I want to assure you that there is a scientific basis to this list. I did exhaustive research on the character of our generation, starting by reading many books on the subject (see Start Here for some examples). I then consulted the US Census Bureau for an analysis of family makeup during the 80’s and 90’s. I then moved on to cross-referencing that data with the top grossing films of that period. I added in statistics from several other proprietary sources (if I told you what they were, they would not be proprietary) and created a massive database of both the cultural values of the time and how these were represented in every major movie produced. It is kinda like the music genome project for Gen X movies. It was hard work.
After months of data gathering I finally started computing the results. I used complex ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) algorithms to make sure that everything was statistically significant. Finally, I ended up with a list of the best Generation X movies ever and I am now ready to share that list with you!

Okay, that’s a bunch of crap. I just picked my favorites and that is what you see below. 🙂

If you don’t agree, put your suggestions in the comments.

  1. Breakfast Club – John Hughes (boomer) at his best. All the characters are here. The slacker/stoner, good girl, etc… but each is an individual and all are uncomfortable with being part of anything.
  2. Slacker -Austin was the origin of the “Keep … Weird” bumper sticker, and this movie shows just why that is the case. With so many movies about X focusing on the left and right coasts, this one is a weird and wonderful take on our generations young adulthood.
  3. Dazed and Confused – If you were a teenager in the 1970’s this one will be almost too painful to watch. The keggers, stoners, jocks and even the bicentennial are all here. Richard Linklater (Boomer) directed this one (he did Slacker as well). Heck, he did “School of Rock” which also represents some great intergenerational ideas (Gen X rebel meets Millennial conformists)
  4. Singles – This list would be nothing without a film from Cameron Crowe (another Boomer who gets Gen X). Life as a 20 something Gen X’er in the center of it all: Seattle during the Grunge movement. I never much liked Curt Kobain, but everyone else seemed to. Eddie Vedderf Pearl Jam has a role as one of the band members of “Citizen Dick”.
  5. Risky Business – Paul Brickman (Boomer) directs this breakout vehicle for Tom Cruise and defines the “Get what you can, whatever it takes” character of Generation X. This movie helped reinforce the image of Generation X as slick marketers with absent parents.
  6. Reality Bites – Ben Stiller (A Gen X’er) directed a great slice of the challenging young adulthood faced by our generation. The story weaves failed dreams, selling out and making a life on your own.
  7. Wayne’s World – Before there was Youtube there was local-access cable. Although it would be easy to pass this one off as just silly comedy, the characters are definitely the sort of successful slackers that Gen X loves.
  8. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Okay, I realize this is the second John Hughes film on the list, but the guy really gets Generation X. I wished I could be Ferris and I am not even sure why! He just seemed to make things great wherever he went.
  9. Fight Club – the book was written by an X’er (Chuck Palahniuk) and it definitely has the feel of the nihilistic world that is unraveling. The closest thing these guys get to community is kicking the crap out of each other.
  10. Heathers – Mean spirited, tough, independent. The in crowd was small in my day, and Heathers spoke to that very well. Christian Slater was unforgettable with his Jack Nicholson impressions in this one.
  11. Clerks – Ultra-slacker film by the ultra-slacker bunch. I think this one represents X’ers well because of the way it was made. They put the production costs on a credit card and filmed it all with a few buddies. No big studios to help and a “fuck it, who cares” attitude. If that is not Gen X in action, I don’t know what is!

Yeah, I know, that’s more than ten. Well, this list goes to 11.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Put your angst, rants and raves in the comments below. If you are not Generation X (born 1961-1981) you can still voice an opinion (but it doesn’t mean I will listen) 🙂

66 thoughts on “10 Best Generation X Movies Ever”

  1. Beautiful list Dave. The one movie I’d add (and it was done in 1979) was Steve Martin’s
    The Jerk. That was a classic that still busts me up now. Breakfast Club is truly a fantastic
    movie.

  2. Not that I *disagree* with your list, which has some stuff on it that I could have on mine, but I am able to come up with ten great GenX movies that you didn’t mention. Not in order:

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer – didn’t have the depth that the TV show did, but the central concept – out-of-her-depth California teen forced to fight unspeakable evil – was already there.

    Willow – a fantasy epic for a late Awakening/early Unraveling. Elora Danan is the Hero baby who must be allowed to survive until the Crisis; Bavmorda is the Prophet who’s ruining everything for everybody; the old shapeshifting witch is clearly an Artist in elderhood; Willow, Madmartigan, Sorcha and the two little guys are Nomads who have to use guile to keep disaster at bay.

    Some teen movies you didn’t mention, but could have: Sixteen Candles. Back to the Future. Go. Empire Records.

    Some movies about GenX as adults that also resonate: Office Space. Swingers. waydowntown (if you don’t know this one, it’s a Canadian movie about four office workers in Calgary who have an unusual bet that causes them to act in unexpected ways. If you like GenX movies, you need to track this one down. Highly recommended).

    And the last one, one of my favourites: The Legend of Billie Jean. Just about everything Strauss and Howe wrote in 13th GEN echoed in this movie. Pat Benatar and Billy Idol were triumphant on the soundtrack. And, like all Meaningful GenX Movies, the message ends up being actually pretty inarticulate (see also: Pump Up the Volume).

    Bonus: you mentioned School of Rock as a movie about the GenX/Millennial relationship. I have a couple of others to suggest along the same lines: Election and Bring It On. Election is obvious and kind of works as a sequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Bring It On is less obvious, but I see the previous year’s cheerleaders, the cheaters, as the last wave of GenX, and the current year’s group as the Millennials who have to deal with their mess.

    Nice website!

  3. Hey Dave,

    Ohhhh, you totally brought back the days. I have to agree with Chris and add Star Wars. The Hero Tale of OUR time! Thank you Joseph Campbell and George Lucas for thinking of us!

    I have fond memories of Ferris Buelller’s Day Off and remember quoating it quite often on my own “days off”…aka cutting class!

    Thanks for the trip.
    blessings,
    kel

    1. @Kelly: I think that Star Wars is the Boomer Hero story, not the Gen X one (although it came out in our youth). Luke is the young rebel (i.e 60’s revolutionary) trying to destroy the established evil empire (i.e. GI Generation establishment). I think that Gen X was represented by the Jawa in those movies 🙂

  4. Like others who’ve commented here, I agree that Fast Times, Sixteen Candles, Say Anything should be included, but these are your faves, and not intended to be a definitive list, correct? Also, I find Dazed and Confused to be insanely over-rated; and Office Space definitely merits inclusion in any Gen-X list.

    Btw, it’s not just Eddie Vedder: with the exception of Matt Dillon, all of Citizen Dick was comprised by members of Pearl Jam.

    Cheers!

    1. @Kiko,

      I did not realize that was Pearl Jam in it’s entirety!

      So which ones would you take off to put on Fast Times, 16 Candles and Say Anything? I can let Dazed and Confused go, although coming from a small town high school in 1984 I have to say it hit pretty close to home. And I agree on Office Space for defining our entrance into the job market.

      My wife commented that most of the films I had on there were “guy films”. Perhaps Say Anything and Sixteen Candles would balance it out more?

      Dave

  5. I would probably remove Slackers, Dazed and Confused, Risky Business (way too implausible a plot not played for laughs), and Heathers. But those are just personal choices not some sort of objective critique on my part.

    Yes, Citizen Dick are/were: Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon), Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Eddie Vedder.

  6. “Dazed and Confused” is a Joneser movie, rather than a Gen Xer movie — the protagonists include late wave Boomers and early wave Xers, rather than pure Xers (like Breakfast Club). That might be a criteria for axing “Dazed and Confused”, classic movie though that is.

    1. Jenny,

      Thanks for the comment! It’s funny because Dazed and Confused really spoke to me and I was born in 1966. Perhaps it was because I grew up in a small town where some of those attitudes lingered. And as you already know from my post about Generation Jones, I am not a big believer in that concept. But I am starting to see that Dazed and Confused may belong lower on the list than #11…

      Dave

  7. Great list. I would have to agree that Dazed and Confused doesn’t meet the X criteria and I would replace Clerks with Say Anything. Clerks could fit any generation while Say Anything produced the endurable image of Lloyd Dobbler holding up the boom box and kick boxing.

    I feel like Chevy is missing either with Fletch or a National Lampoon Vacation as a comic voice.

    Thanks for the blog comment,

  8. This may sound weird but what about “Friday the 13th” and all the horror movies that came out then? Think about it, they were basically one person, on his own, doing his thing without support from anyone else. It was almost the anti-hero but, to some degree, everyone wanted the bad guy to win. Sick and twisted but true (by the way, I wasn’t a fan of these films as I would have nightmares after watching them).

    1. @Salsaram Yeah, those movies were definitely seminal. They had all sorts of themes in them, like the kids having sex were always the first ones killed, and the killer was a kid gone bad. Definitely sent a message. But, like you, I was never a fan so they did not make the list. Maybe I should reconsider…

  9. There are also a few movies from the late 90’s/2000’s that could have made the list as well.

    Everything’s Gone Green — Small Canadian indie by Douglas Coupland involving late wave Xer’s, mostly. It does a pretty good job of showing Xer’s trying to give up the greed and complexity of today for a simpler tomorrow, but still being sucked in. Also, the lottery will ruin your life.

    Totally F***ed up, The Doom Generation, Nowhere — Gregg Araki’s “teen apocolypse trilogy.” Very 90’s nihilism, a dark view of the future if any exists at all. Lots of risk taking, cigarette smoking, drug use, and elder generations that are either incompetent, clueless, or absent, plus some great shoegaze and industrial music soundtracks. I still adore these movies.

    Go — Mostly later wave Xer’s, still struggling to find a way to pay the rent and have a good time in a world that’s unfriendly to them…despite much of it being their own doing.

    1. @keith, thanks for those suggestions, I will have to put them on my netflix list. Don’t know if my wife will be able to take them 🙂 Maybe I will save them for a solo viewing! Thanks for the comment.

  10. How about Terry Gilliam’s Brazil? Powerless middle-manager gets into trouble because of devious corrupt boomer boss; tries to exist in hopeless doomed society and ends badly. Definitely Heathers, Clerks.
    I agree I think Star Wars was just too boomer.
    Interesting point about Buffy the Vampire Slayer – maybe Gen X’ers are more defined by TV series.

    1. @susan – Yeah, Brazil is a classic of the dark side of the corporate culture that Gen X faces regularly. And you may be right that our generation may be more about TV than movies!

  11. Hi, been pondering,
    Don’t you think we have to include something by Tim Burton (true, he misses Gen X status by a couple of years, but I mean more the impact his films had on the times) – his films do seems somewhat dated now, but surely we should have one of…Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Batman (with Keaton), Beetlejuice, or Nightmare before Christmas? I guess there’s the tension – are we including the best films or the ones that were most evocative of the generation or the times.

  12. Dave, I know I’m way behind the times here, but I must compliment you on this list.

    As for my personal opinion, I’d dump Reality Bites (I always thought it tried too hard, and that showed) and perhaps Singles (another one that I thought tried too hard, much as I admire Cameron Crowe, though Say Anything and Almost Famous are vastly superior efforts) and would absolutely recommend Fast Times at Ridgemont High and either Swingers or Go (both from a pre-action flick (some would say pre-sellout) Doug Liman); though Swingers probably would get the obvious edge, Go is an underrated gem.

    Dazed and Confused is a tough call, and I’d tend to leave it on this list, if only for Matthew McConaughey’s performance and the small-town keggers we all remember. If you wind up knocking it off but want to keep it at 11, I’d bring in Say Anything rather than Singles to get your Cameron Crowe representation in. Just my opinion. Great list all around.

    I’m a huge Star Wars geek, but I see your list as more about the Times We Live In for Gen X’ers, not so much every flick that influenced us and broadened our imaginations. Kudos.

    1. @Icepick. Thanks for the suggestions. I should probably do another post with the updated items. I like how you describe Reality Bites and Singles as “trying too hard”. I agree they were both stretching to capture the ennui of our generation and may have just caught the stereotype in the process. Swinger is one of my favorite films of all times, and although I did not relate to it much personally, I know many people did. I will have to see “Go” after a couple mentions here. I have Harold and Kumar on for tonight!

  13. I agree with Icepick. Those films tried too hard. I'd also agree that Dazed and Confused felt familiar,but more like it happened to a friends older sister type of thing.

    Secondly, I'd just like to say that this is probably the first blog that I actually read the post and the comments in their entirety. Wow, I found something interesting and it was about Gen X stuff. Does anyone smell the clove cigarettes outside the coffee shop?

    And even though I didn't really like watching Clerks, this discussion reminds me of the type of conversational style made popular by Kevin Smith.

    Lastly, I am glad to see that other people make the joke "this one's got eleven." I appreciate it. Additionally, I can't call my daughter's lumbar punctures spinal taps without thinking of this movie.

    1. @Dirty Mouth Mama – Hehe, I love that, “the clove cigarettes outside the coffee shop”. It is funny how us X’ers have a common way of talking, like in a Kevin Smith movie. Thanks for reading the blog and catching that Spinal Tap reference. That movie is still one of the funniest I have ever seen.

  14. Great List! I would add two Oliver Stone movies. Wall Street and Platoon. Both with Gen X charly sheen. Wall Street was all about the 80s and maybe the 90s and maybe 00s as well. 🙂

    I would add Platoon because growing up in the 70's and 80's Vietnam was not mentioned too often perhaps as it was so defining during the time before that. So Platoon for me was an eye opener and a first glimpse at non-heroic look at War.

  15. Ravi,

    Interesting picks – I am not sure if I agree on Wall Street and Platoon, although I do see where you are coming from with the environment we were raised in (and the fact that Sheen is a great Gen X actor). And I do see your point about the \”non-heroic\” War – that was a big influence on many of us Gen X'ers. So maybe they should go on the list…

    Dave

  16. I'm an early X'r, and see this as a pretty good collection. As to Dazed and Confused, I would say the bullied freshman are the Gen X'rs, and the older crew are late Boomers. I'd add Lost Boys, Detroit Rock City, definitely Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Trainspotting.

  17. Also don't from get St Elmos Fire, and all the ones that came out in the 90's like, Goodfellas, Thelma and Louise, Speed, Pulp Fiction, and Seven. There were also Gen X movies as well.

  18. Reality Bites isn't very good. Ethan Hawke is so ludicrously unlikable in that movie, it totally sinks the whole pic. He's so much better in Before Sunrise. A hugely underrated one you missed here that would prob. be my favorite Gen. X movie is "Kicking and Screaming," directed by Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Fantastically acted, brilliantly written–while Reality Bites indeed tries too hard, Kicking and Screaming seems not to try at all and succeeds admirably.

  19. dude i am generation y and only 14 but you totally picked some of the best movies ever! the breakfast club is my favourite movie and ferris beulers day off was well good. 😀

  20. I think your definition of Gen X is a bit off. The Baby Boom ended in 1964, when I was born, so that would be the start of Gen X, and it would go up to 1969, but I will be generous and say 1962 to 1970.

    1. Albert, are you saying that Gen X is from ’64 – ’70? If so, that is way off man. It is widely documented that an X’er goes from around 63/64 to 1982 (sometimes up to 85).

  21. Speaking of going to eleven, “This is Spinal Tap” merits a place on the list. So does “The Princess Bride”.

    1. Joe – I would agree that Spinal Tap and Princess Bride are favorites of many Gen X’ers, but I don’t think they particularly reflect Generation X values. But I could be wrong…

  22. I think ‘Office Space’ should have a place on this list…………. just for it’s representation of gen x in the work place…

  23. Just discovered your site- great work. However you missed one obvious movie: River’s Edge. The portrayal of the adults (Feck the biker and the aging radical teacher) are spot on portrayals of Gen X’s viewpoint of that generation. The movie is a bit nihilistic however it portrays an almost perfect view of us older Gen Xers

  24. How could you forget some of the greats like:

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
    Hackers
    Kids
    Office Space (has to be mentioned again)
    The Big Lebowski
    This is Spinal Tap (definitely should be on there)
    Princess Bride
    Boyz in the Hood
    American Pie (although they may be considered early Millenials)
    Trainspotting
    Clerks
    Mallrats

    and last but not least

    Empire Records

    Also if I had to put a musical anthem to Gen X it would be the song Freshman by the Verve, does anyone else agree with this?

    1. Some good ones on this list. I would agree with most except maybe Spinal Tap (very Boomer) and The Big Lebowski (also Boomer). The rest are all good examples of the Gen X ethic, IMO. Thanks for commenting.

  25. Also I have to disqualify School of Rock
    I don’t think you can count it as a Gen X movie when even the latest of our generation was legally drinking.

    1. Although School of Rock came out after our youth, it was not the youngsters in the movie I was referring to by putting it on the list. Jack Black’s character (and his friends) are the Gen X’ers in the movie, while the kids are (sheltered, overachieving, conformist) Millennials.

  26. IMHO… I would have to include ‘WarGames’ circa 1984? First use of the term “hacker” ? A subtle warning of home grown terrorism/espionage, and big government spying on citizens, the coming computer (digital age) revolution… a not so subtle warning about the ‘cold war’ and gobal thermonuclear war… and then there are Mathew Broderick and Ally Sheedy as teenagers, taking on the powers that be. Very Gen X.

  27. Nice list. I would definitely put Office Space, and Pump up the Volume in the top 10, however.

    Reality Bites seems to get alot of hate from some, but I really enjoyed it. Much less pretentious than Kicking and Screaming, and more realistic than Empire Records.
    Glory Daze is another good “moving on from college” movie with a great punk soundtrack.
    Also, we are totally Han Solo in Star Wars.

    Some other movies to consider(that others haven’t mentioned already): Kramer vs Kramer, Valley Girl, ET, Revenge of the Nerds, Less than Zero, Gross Point Blank, Goonies, Some Kind of Wonderful, Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, PCU, Matrix, Half-cocked, Suburbia(both), S.F.W., SLC Punk, Decline of Western Civilization, Ladies and Gentleman The Fabulous Stains, Times Square, All Over Me, Adventures in Babysitting, Real Genius, Legend of Billy Jean, Pretty in Pink, Gleaming the Cube, Three O’ Clock High, Repo Man, Wet Hot American Summer, Bad News Bears, Meatballs, Wall Street, Skateland, Summer School, Dead Poets Society… I may be reaching a bit with some of them.

  28. I would like to add The Faculty (yes that is exactly what high school was for gen X) and Borat (totally innapropraite for any other generation lol).

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