Our criteria for choosing the Generation X movies was pretty simple and straightforward. From Fight Club to The Breakfast Club, we asked ourselves, “Does it include a Gen-X icon and/or bear witness to the collective persona of Generation X?” Click the map below to see which movies we picked. Leave us a note if you think we got it wrong.
In celebration of Gen X, let’s take a journey through all 50 states via 50 iconic, Generation X movies!
Unfortunately, so many great Generation X movies were set in Chicago, New York City, Texas and Los Angeles it was difficult to choose just one. Also, we didn’t include St. Elmo’s Fire because it was set in Washington D.C. A few other favorites also took place across the pond like Trainspotting, One Day and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
For states that lacked a movie with the Generation X narrative, we chose something that was popular during our childhood or coming of age. In the end, the list is subjective. Your list would look different. Tell us about it! What movies do you wish we’d included? Which ones should we have left off the list?
FORREST GUMP, 1994. Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran eludes him. Jenny was played by Gen-Xer Robin Wright (born 1966).
NORTH, 1994. Starring Gen-Xer Elijah Wood (born 1981); Eleven-year-old North has had it with his parents. They are always busy with their careers and don’t give him the attention he needs, so he files a lawsuit against them. The judge rules that North should either find new parents or return to his own parents within two months. Thus he starts off on an hilarious journey around the world to find the parents that really care about him.
NATURAL BORN KILLERS, 1994
Starring Woody Harrelson (born 1961), Juliette Lewis (born 1973) and Robert Downey, Jr. Natural Born Killers was set in Arizona and New Mexico. It tells the story of two victims of traumatic, abusive childhoods who become lovers and murderers.
BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, 1993. Generation X grew up watching re-runs of the TV version of this ridiculous show. It was right up there with Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.
BOYZ in the HOOD, 1991. Saga of a group of childhood friends growing up in a Los Angeles ghetto. Starred Cuba Gooding, Jr., was born in 1968. Runners Up: Back To the Future, SubUrbia, Karate Kid, Fast Times At Ridgemont High and E.T.
RED DAWN, 1984. It is the dawn of World War III. In mid-western America, a group of teenagers bands together to defend their town, and their country, from invading Soviet forces. Starred C. Thomas Howell (born 1966) and Lea Thompson (born 1961).
MYSTIC PIZZA, 1988. Three teenage girls come of age while working at a pizza parlor in the Connecticut town of Mystic. Starred Julia Roberts (born 1967).
FIGHT CLUB, 1999. Set in Wilmington, Delaware, Fight Club starred Gen-Xers Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter. Written by Chuck Palahniuk, it included this famous quote about Generation X: “We’re the middle children of history man,. No purpose or place. We have no Great war. No Great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives…”
PORKY’S, 1982. Set in 1954, a group of Florida high-schoolers help a buddy lose his virginity, which leads them to seek revenge on a sleazy nightclub owner and his redneck sheriff brother. Just one of many R rated movies Gen-Xers under 17 snuck in to see.
LITTLE DARLINGS, 1980. Starring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol. Two 15-year old girls from different sides of the tracks compete to see who will be first to lose their virginity while at camp. WHAT MAKES THIS SO GEN-X? Tatum O’Neal (born 1963) and Kristy McNichol (1962).
RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, 1990. The R.A.S. agents, Miss Bianca and Bernard, race to Australia to save a boy and a rare golden eagle from a murderous poacher.
SMOKE SIGNALS, 1998. Smoke Signals is a humorous yet serious story about Victor, a young man who Director Chris Eyre describes as “trying to forgive his father.” The movie gives us a glimpse into the contemporary Native American world, and is created by an almost exclusively Native American cast. The film is based on the short story by the renowned Gen-X, Native American writer Sherman Alexie.
All four of these Gen X classics from John Hughes, were filmed in Chicago suburbs. They include SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984); PRETTY IN PINK (1986); THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986). WHAT MAKES THIS SO GEN-X? The Generation X Brat Pack and John Hughes.
IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES, 1984. Alternating between the past and the present, a precocious little girl sues her selfish, career-driven parents for emancipation, surprising them both. Starred Drew Barrymore.
WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, 1993. Starring Johnny Depp (born 1961) and Leonardo DiCaprio (born 1970), this film is about a young man, Gilbert, who must care for his mentally handicapped brother and obese mother. Both get in the way when love walks into Gilbert’s life.
PAPER MOON, 1973. During the Great Depression, a con man finds himself saddled with a young girl who may or may not be his daughter, and the two forge an unlikely partnership. Starred Tatum O’Neal (born 1963) who won the best supporting actress Oscar for her performance. She was 10.
FRESH HORSES, 1988. A Cincinnati college student breaks off his engagement to his wealthy fiancée after he falls in love with a backwoods Kentucky girl he meets at a party. She claims to be 20 years old, but he learns that she’s actually just 16 and already married. Starred Molly Ringwold (born 1968) and Andrew McCarthy (born 1962).
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, 2012. Dispatched from his basement room on an errand for his widowed mother, slacker Jeff might finally discover his destiny when he spends the day with his unhappily married brother as he tracks his possibly adulterous wife.
Runner-Up: PRETTY BABY, 1978. Starring Brooke Shields (b. 1965), Keith Carradine, and Susan Sarandon, the film’s plot focuses on a 12-year-old prostitute in the red-light district of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century in 1917.
SPITFIRE GRILL, 1996. Percy, upon being released from prison, goes to the small town of Gilead to start over. She’s taken in by Hannah to help out at the Spitfire Grill. Percy brings change to the small town, stirring resentment and fear in some, and growth in others. Starred lots of flannel and Alison Elliott (born 1970).
BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999. Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
MERMAIDS, 1990. An unconventional single mother relocates with her two daughters to a small Massachusetts town where a number of events and relationships both challenge and strengthen their familial bonds. Starred Winona Ryder (born 1971).
GROSSE POINTE BLANK, 1997. Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time. Starred Minnie Driver. The actress was born in 1970. John Cusack was born in 1966.
PURPLE RAIN, 1984.
Purple Rain, starring Prince, is the story of an arrogant, young black singer, born and raised in Minneapolis, who reaches the pinnacle of stardom.
ODE TO BILLY JOE, 1976. Inspired by a popular 1967 song. Billy Joe (Robby Benson) pursues local sweetheart Bobbie Lee (Glynnis O’Connor), while harboring fears that he’s gay. Unable to cope, he dies jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge. One of the first movies to deal with the coming out crisis.
TOM SAWYER, 1973. Tom Sawyer and his pal Huckleberry Finn have great adventures on the Mississippi River, pretending to be pirates, attending their own funeral, and witnessing a murder. In 1973, every school-aged Gen-Xer saw movie on a field trip to the movie theater.
JURASSIC PARK, 1993. During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
WHAT MAKES THIS SO GEN-X? Laura Dern, born 1967.
THE HOUSE WITHOUT A CHRISTMAS TREE, 1972. A young girl named Addie, living in Nebraska in 1946, wants nothing more for the holidays than a Christmas tree, but her widowed father is bitter and refuses due to events from the family’s past. The annual TV Christmas special was the mainstay of the 1970s. Also, Lisa Lucas, born 1961, played the role of Addie.
LEAVING LAS VEGAS, 1995. Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic screenwriter who lost everything because of his drinking, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. He meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera. Starred Nicholas Cage (born 1964), and the early Gen-X sweetheart Elizabeth Shue (born 1963).
CLICK, 2006. A workaholic architect finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to overrule his choices. WHAT MAKES THIS SO GEN-X? Adam Sandler (born 1966).
LEAN ON ME, 1989. The dedicated but tyrannical Joe Clark is appointed the principal of a decaying inner-city school that he is determined to improve. The title song was virtually every senior class song in 1989.
GAS, FOOD, LODGING, 1992. A single mom raises her teenage daughters in a small New Mexico town.
PROZAC NATION, 1999. A young woman struggles with depression during her first year at Harvard. Based on Elizabeth Wurtzel’s novel. Wurtzel, was born in 1967. She published her memoir in 1994 at the age of 26. Wurtzel still lives in New York where she works for a law firm. She still writes and is active on Instagram and Twitter. Follow @LizzieWurtzel.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, 1997. Four teens are in great danger one year after their car hits a stranger whose body they dump in the sea. Stars Jennifer Love Hewitt (born 1979).
LEPRACHAUN, 1993. An evil, sadistic Leprechaun goes on a killing rampage in search of his beloved pot of gold. As ridiculous as it was, this was one of Jennifer Aniston’s first movies. The Gen-X girl next door was born in 1969.
HEATHERS, 1988. Winona Ryder, A girl who half-heartedly tries to be part of the “in crowd” of her school meets a rebel who teaches her a more devious way to play social politics; killing the popular kids. Starred Winona Ryder (born 1971), Christian Slater (1969) and Shannen Doherty (1971).
A city teenager played by Kevin Bacon moves to a small, conservative town where rock music and school dances are banned. His rebellious spirit inspires the local youth and challenges the town’s value system. Also stars Lori Singer. Serious Runner-Up: The Outsiders, 1983.
Runner-Up: THE OUTHSIDERS, 1983.
Starring many Gen-X favorites including C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze
Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Leif Garrett. Set in Tulsa in 1965, the film features the rivalry between two gangs, the poor Greasers and the rich Socs. Things become intense when one gang member kills a member of the other.
STAND BY ME, 1986
A coming of age film based on a novella by Stephen King. The movie tells the story of four boys who go on a hike across the countryside to find the missing body of a dead kid. Starred the late River Phoenix, an early Generation X icon. Phoenix was born in 1970.
Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania was the setting for TAPS. The 1981 film starred Timothy Hutton (born 1960), Sean Penn (born 1960) and Tom Cruise (born 1962). Military cadets take extreme measures to save their academy from closing.
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, 1998. A man gets a chance to meet up with his dream girl from highschool, even though his date with her back then was a complete disaster. Starred Ben Stiller (born 1965) and Cameron Diaz (born 1972).
DEAR JOHN, 2010. A romantic drama about a soldier who falls for a conservative college student while he’s home on leave. A favorite among late-wave Gen-Xers, it’a post 9-11 movie starring the young Gen-Xer Channing Tatum (born 1980).
SON IN LAW, 1993. Starring Gen-Xers Pauly Shore (born 1968) and Tiffani Theissen (born 1974). Having gotten a taste of college life, a drastically changed farm girl returns home for Thanksgiving break with her best friend, a flamboyant party animal who is clearly a fish out of water in a small farm town.
THE FIRM, 1993. A young lawyer joins a prestigious law firm only to discover that it has a sinister dark side. Starred Tom Cruise (born 1962) and Jeanne Tripplehorn (born 1963).
REALITY BITES, 1994.
Generation X graduates face life after college including limited job opportunities. Starring Gen X actors Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garafalo and Ben Stiller. Serious Runners-Up: Slackers; Dazed and Confused
SLC PUNK, 1998. In the early 1980’s Stevo and Heroin Bob are the only two dedicated punks in conservative Salt Lake City.
SHOP GIRL, 2005. A film about a complex love triangle between a bored salesgirl, a wealthy businessman and an aimless young man. Starred the late-wave Gen-Xer Claire Danes (born 1979).
DIRTY DANCING, 1987. Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances “Baby” Houseman falls in love with the camp’s dance instructor Johnny Castle. The ultimate cusper between Baby Boomers and Generation X, Jennifer Grey (born 1960) was among the first in a long line of actresses named Jennifer. Others include Aniston, Garner, Love-Hewitt, Hudson, Lopez, Lawrence and Connelly.
SINGLES, 1992. A group of 20-something friends, most of whom live in the same apartment complex, search for love and success in grunge-era Seattle. WHAT MAKES THIS SO GEN-X? Bridget Fonda (born 1964), Matt Dillon (born 1964) and Kyra Sedgwick (1965).
SHILOH, 1996. Marty Preston, a small-town Southern boy, must rescue a young beagle from abusive owner and recluse Judd Travers. The film was bsed on a Newberry Medal winner from the 1970s that was a favorite among school-aged Gen-Xers.
DAMIEN: OMEN III, 1981. Damien the Antichrist, now thirteen years old, finally learns of his destiny under the guidance of an unholy disciple of Satan. Meanwhile dark forces begin to eliminate all those who suspect the child’s true identity. This was just one in the litany of child-devil movies that reflected the anti-child phase in which Generation X was born and came of age.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977. After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen. Every kid in my junior had a Close Encounters of the Third Kind T-shirt.
Reality Bites, Pretty in Pink and more
What are YOUR favorite Generation X movies? My personal favorites include Reality Bites, Footloose, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Taps, Spitfire Grill, Stand By Me and so many others!