Heathers Was Supposed to Be Even More Twisted

When it first came out, this controversial, dark-comedy cult classic shook the genre of teen flicks. People were used to nice, preppy movies like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, but Heathers was on a whole new plane.

Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Winona Ryder / Winona Ryder / Winona Ryder / Shannen Doherty.
Source: Getty Images

It’s a tale of a ruthless female clique whose members stomp over every little weakling at school, and the two maniacs who decide to do something about it. The movie deals with heavy topics like suicide and murder, as well as peer pressure and bullying.

In truth, though, the movie was supposed to be a lot darker than how it turned out.

Based on His Sister’s High School Experience

The film’s screenwriter, Daniel Waters, drew inspiration for the movie from the terrible high-school experiences of his sister and her friends. Waters also based his script on Simon de Beauvoir’s 1949 book, The Sex Act: in particular, a section discussing the formulation of female identity.

A promotional still of the film.
Source: YouTube

1976’s movie Massacre at Central High is pretty similar to Heathers. While Waters argues that he has never seen the film, he knew what it was about and may have unwillingly used some of that information. Ultimately, Waters’ main goal was to show an honest depiction of teen angst rather than the romanticized Hollywood versions.

Brad Pitt Was Too Nice to Be J.D.

Before Christian Slater was cast in the role of bad boy J.D., many young men stood in line for the part. Actors including Jim Carrey, Johnny Depp, Judd Nelson, and Jason Bateman were all considered. However, the closest one to getting the role was Brad Pitt.

A promotional portrait of Christian Slater and Winona Ryder.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: New World Pictures

Even though he was six years older than Christian, producers thought Pitt was too nice-looking for the role. Ironically, two years later, Brad beat Christian for the role of a guy also named J.D. in the film Thelma and Louise.

Finding the Perfect Veronica

The week she received the script, Winona Ryder’s classmate committed suicide. The harrowing event made reading Heathers’ plotline all the more disturbing. Ryder’s agent warned her that her career would be over if she took the role.

A portrait of Winona Ryder as Veronica.
Source: YouTube

Before Ryder was cast, the role of Veronica was offered to other starlets, including Jennifer Connelly. However, she turned it down. Drew Barrymore also auditioned for a part in the movie. The movie ended up being a success, and it definitely didn’t harm Ryder’s career.

Heather Graham’s Parents Didn’t Allow Her to Take Part

Before Lisanne Falk was cast as Heather McNamara, the part was offered to 17-year-old Heather Graham. But because she was a minor, Heather needed her parents’ consent on the deal. When her parents read the script, though, they were horrified.

A movie still of Heather Graham.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Heather Graham’s parents objected to the movie’s gory subject matter, and they withdrew their daughter from the project. On the other hand, when Lisanne Falk auditioned for the role, she lied to the casting directors by claiming that she would be 18 years old by the time the shooting began. However, she was actually 23 at the time!

Love on Set

Several love stories took place among the cast and crew on the set of the movie. When production kicked off, Christian Slater was dating Kim Walker, who starred as the ringleader Heather Chandler. He later broke up with Kim Walker in order to date Winona Ryder.

Winona Ryder and Christian Slater arrive together at the film premiere.
Photo by Darlene Hammond/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Another love story that bloomed during production happened between a married crew member and an underage female extra (gasp). Shannen Doherty found the two in action and confronted the person in public.

A Song of Teen Suicide

One of the major themes of the film is the way in which teenage suicide is somehow popularized at school. It’s become a trend. The song “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)” is featured various times in the film by the fictional musical group Big Fun. The band is a parody of a famous rock ‘n’ roll band.

A still from the film.
Source: YouTube

The song is actually a satirical remake of Queen’s Don’t Try Suicide, a single on their album The Game (1980). An additional musical connection from the movie includes pop-punk band The Veronicas, who called themselves that after Ryder’s character in the movie.

It Was Supposed to Be Salinger’s Book

When J.D. and Veronica kill their classmates and make it seem like suicide, they leave behind underlined passages in books as fake suicide notes. The original novel that the classmates pulled from was supposed to be J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

A still of Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater at their classmate’s funeral.
Source: YouTube

However, producers couldn’t secure the rights to the book, so they picked Moby Dick instead. The shift was made due to Hermann Melville’s book being in the public domain, meaning it was free for the directors to use in the movie.

The 90210 Connection

After the film’s release, Fox considered adapting Heathers to a TV series. However, when the content was deemed “too dark to pursue,” the show was reimagined and ultimately became the hit sitcom Beverly Hills, 90210.

A still from the Beverly Hills, 90210 opening theme.
Source: YouTube

It was also Tori Spelling who saw Shannen Doherty star in Heathers and suggested that she be cast in 90210 to her dad and producer, Aaron Spelling. Even though Doherty plays a tough and ruthless character as Heather Duke, her iconic role of Brenda Walsh in 90210 is exactly the opposite.

The Original Ending

In the original script, Heathers was supposed to end with Veronica shooting J.D. to death by attaching a huge bomb to her body and blowing herself up. This would have been followed by a bizarre prom sequence in Heaven.

A movie still of Winona as Veronica.
Source: YouTube

In Heaven, several of the students in high school who didn’t get along as classmates actually get along quite well. They dance and mingle in harmony with one another. The idea was ultimately scrapped because it was deemed too dark.

Winona Ryder Was Just 16 Years Old

It’s safe to say that Heathers has both entertained and insulted its viewers due to its dark humor and wacko script. These qualities even caused many parents to keep their children away from the cinemas until they feel that it was appropriate.

Winona Ryder is in a scene from the film.
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So, it may come as a surprise to some that Winona Ryder was actually quite young when she was cast in the iconic role of Veronica. She was only 15 when she first signed on! And she turned 16 during the filming of the movie.

Planned Sequel

Following the success of the movie, writer Daniel Waters contemplated shooting a sequel (an idea Winona Ryder showed interest in for decades). The storyline would have revealed J.D. as a secret CIA agent, and Veronica becoming an assistant to a powerful Senator played by Meryl Streep.

Winona Ryder speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

The end of the movie would see Veronica being blackmailed by the CIA. They were supposed to coerce her into assassinating the President of the United States in order to save the country from doom! Unfortunately, the idea never saw the light of day.

Brands Didn’t Want to Appear in the Film

Brands normally welcome the chance to be featured in movies, especially if they’re successful films. They often run after the opportunity to place their products on the screen and potentially boost their profits as a result.

An exterior shot of a 7-11 convenience store.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

With Heathers, though, this was a completely different story, mainly because the movie was so bleak. Brands were actually against appearing in Heathers. They were worried about clients straying away from their products as a result. 7-11 was one of the companies that spoke out against the film.

Christian Slater Thought He Wouldn’t Get the Part

Director Michael Lehmann and Daniel Waters searched for a skilled actor with a specific type of energy to compliment Ryder’s character, Veronica. They ended up choosing Christian Slater, whose performance as J.D. was both funny and frightening.

A still of Ryder leaning her head over Slater’s shoulder.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: New World Pictures

Christian remembers those days of filming fondly, but back when he first tried out for the role, he thought he would never be cast. “I threw the script in the garbage angrily,” he once recalled. Little did he know, the 19-year-old actor was going to get a welcome aboard call real soon!

Winona Ryder Was Cast Because of Beetlejuice

Before being cast as Veronica in Heathers, Winona Ryder was known for entertaining viewers with her role as the iconic Lydia in Tim Burton’s crazy and quirky masterpiece Beetlejuice. There’s actually a neat connection between the two movies.

A movie still of Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice.
Source: YouTube

Once the work on Beetlejuice wrapped up, Winona was out and about looking for new projects. Then, the screenwriter of Beetlejuice, Michael McDowell, had picked up the script from Heathers and envisioned Ryder in it. He passed the script on to the actress and insisted that she try out for the role of Veronica.

Ryder Loved Playing Veronica

There are a handful of A-list stars who now cringe at some of the roles they agreed to early on in their careers. However, Ryder isn’t one of them. Well, at least when it comes to her role as Veronica. To this day, the movie holds a special place in her heart.

A picture of Winona Ryder.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Veronica Sawyer is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played,” Winona once revealed. “And I never ever felt finished with her.” The pleasure she derives from the character comes through in her lively acting!

Literary References

Surprisingly, Heathers is a film packed with literary references. The main one concerns the characters Betty Finn and Veronica Sawyer. Their first names are references to two figures in the classic Archie comic series.

A movie still of Shannen Doherty and Winona Ryder's school scenes.
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Their last names, Finn and Sawyer, are references to Mark Twain’s unforgettable characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. These are just a few of many neat details that Daniel Waters slipped into the script of Heathers.

The Teen Film to End All Teen Films

One of the main reasons Daniel Waters wrote Heathers was to give an honest and twisted account of what it was like to be a teenager. Fed up with all the regular, lovey-dovey Hollywood teen flicks, he decided to create a creepy alternative.

A still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were considered top-notch cinema. And Daniel wanted to go against the grain. So, instead of taking the conventional approach, he shook up the genre with something totally unexpected. “We really wanted to make the teen film to end all teen films,” Winona noted.

Shannen Doherty Was Somewhat of an Outcast

Before appearing on Heathers, Shannen Doherty was already a well-established young actress. At 16 years old, she had already appeared in popular projects like Little House on the Prairie and Our House. But despite being familiar with the industry’s demands, she didn’t fit in on the set of Heathers.

A portrait of Shannen Doherty as Heather Duke.
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In fact, she was actually a bit of an outcast amongst the cast members. Director Michael Lehmann was quoted calling Doherty a “bit of a handful,” while actress Carrie Lynn added that “the only one in the cast who stuck out like a sore thumb was Shannen.”

Jennifer Connelly Rejected the Part of Veronica

By the late ’80s, Jennifer Connelly was already an extremely impressive young star with credits in films like Once Upon a Time in America and Labyrinth. The actor was in very high demand when the brains behind Heathers started casting for the film.

Jennifer Connelly attends an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Connelly was one of the filmmaker’s top choices for the role of Veronica Sawyer because they believed that her famous name would help attract viewers to theaters. She ended up refusing the part, and good thing she did! Winona’s performance was spectacular.

It Failed Miserably

While there are several ways to determine how successful a film is, the box office is a pretty accurate gauge. Interestingly, a lot of studios shied away from producing the dark teen comedy because they thought it would be difficult to market to viewers.

A photo of Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, and Winona Ryder.
Photo by New World Pictures/Getty Images

Sadly, they were right. When it first came out, the film was a complete box office bomb. It cost $3 million to produce and earned just one-third of that in the cinemas. Nevertheless, it went on to gain a huge fan base in the following years and has been a cult movie ever since.

Daniel Waters Based His Script on Real Experiences

Waters’ script is sharp, witty, and unique, so much so that the dialogue in Heathers instantly makes an impression on the viewer. It’s truly one of a kind! Since the movie’s release, Waters has shared his secrets on how he made his script sound so original.

Daniel Water discusses the movie during an interview.
Source: YouTube

The screenwriter said that the key to his authentic dialogues was that they were based on real-life experiences. He “stole” a good amount of the film’s catchy one-liners from students he knew in real life, when he was a teenager in school.

They Originally Doubted Winona Ryder

Today, it’s practically impossible to picture anyone other than Winona Ryder playing Veronica Sawyer. But back then, some of the producers weren’t sure that they wanted the actress on board in their movie. Ryder had to practically beg for the part.

A dated portrait of Ryder talking to the press.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

The filmmakers simply didn’t believe that the young girl from Beetlejuice was the right fit for the wild and vicious character of Veronica. Good thing that Winona managed to convince them to change their minds!

Veronica Was Supposed to Be Even More Twisted

There’s no doubt that Heathers is a pretty eerie and unsettling film. However, Daniel Waters revealed once that in the movie’s first drafts, it was way darker than in the final cut. The character of Veronica was reportedly a lot more twisted.

A still of Slater and Ryder plotting in a bedroom.
Source: YouTube

Veronica was so dark that Waters actually pictured her as a female version of the chilling lead character of Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle. Later, Waters credited the actress for adding a bit of humanity and empathy into Veronica.

Shannen Doherty Wasn’t a Fan of the Script’s Foul Language

Another entertaining bit of the movie Heathers is its odd and original insults and swearing, scattered on nearly every page of the script. Some of the lines are so foul yet funny that people now use them in their day-to-day conversation.

Doherty laughs at Ryder in a still from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: New World Pictures

But Shannen Doherty, who has some of the strongest-worded lines of the bunch, was against such foul words. She had a conservative upbringing and had never used or even heard the kind of words she was asked to recite in Waters’ script.

Winona Ryder Is a Huge Fan of Daniel Waters

Not many people know this but Ryder isn’t just an actress; she’s a writer as well. She’s a huge literary fan and is extremely well-read. Therefore, it comes as a mega compliment when Winona flatters your script, which is precisely what happened after she read Daniel Waters’ work.

A picture of Winona Ryder during a press conference.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The screenwriter of Heathers earned the ultimate stamp of approval from Ryder. She once said that she considers the script of Heathers to be “among the greatest literature that I’ve ever read.” She even compared it to novels from great writers such as Philip Roth and Ezra Pound.

Winona Ryder Got a Makeover

Winona Ryder might be a top-notch A-lister nowadays, but at the time Heathers’ casting directors were looking for their Veronica, Ryder was just a rising star who had appeared on Beetlejuice. Among the antics she used to convince them to take her, Ryder used her appearance to stand out.

A portrait of Winona Ryder in the character of Veronica.
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She recalled going to the local shopping mall and getting an entire makeover at the makeup store, all in order to convince the filmmakers that “she was pretty enough.” Clearly, she must have made an impression, because she got the role right after.

Kim Walker’s Creepy Tragedy

One of the absolute saddest ironies that came from the making of Heathers has to do with the actress Kim Walker. She was Christian Slater’s girlfriend at the time of filming and was offered the role of Heather Chandler when filmmakers struggled to find the right girl.

A closeup of Kim Walker in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

In the film, she has one of the most iconic quips when she says in one scene: “Did you have brain tumor for breakfast?” Tragically, Kim Walker passed away after being diagnosed with brain cancer. She died in 2001 and was only 32 years old at the time.

Christian Slater’s Performance Was Inspired by Jack Nicholson

Before his role in the dark teen comedy, then 19-year-old Christian Slater had an impressive number of roles under his belt. But by 1988, he was sick of doing the same style of roles. Instead, Slater wanted to take some creative risks.

A portrait of Jack Nicholson.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

He strived to get the role of J.D. and committed himself to perfect it. The eager actor even went so far as to pick up some acting shticks from one of his favorite performers – Jack Nicholson. He has shared that his performance in Heathers is a tribute to Nicholson, a person he believes to be “the best actor around.”

Stanley Kubrick Was the First Pick for Director

Michael Lehmann surely delivered in his work as the director of Heathers. He did justice to Waters’ characters and made sure that the script turned out to be just as witty and captivating on screen as it was on paper.

Michael Lehmann gives direction to Winona Ryder behind the scenes.
Source: Moviestillsdd.com/ Copyright: New World Pictures

But before Michael came along, Daniel Waters had another director in mind – Stanley Kubrick. While writing his first drafts of the movie, Waters wrote the script with Kubrick in mind. He wanted the legendary director to work behind the camera of his film.

The Rebooted TV Show Was Scrapped

Worldwide fans of this cult classic rejoiced when Paramount Network revealed that it would be rebooting the film into a television series. The network went ahead and wrote a full season. They even filmed the entire thing!

A still of Winona Ryder in the film.
Source: YouTube

The show was set to premiere in the spring of 2018. However, they eventually scrapped the project. They cited “challenging subjects” as the reason for the cancellation. Things like gun violence made it so the show couldn’t air.

Winona Ryder Is Still Waiting for a Sequel

After the movie first premiered with an embarrassing box office outcome, nobody was really thinking about a sequel. However, the film’s huge cult following that gained momentum in the years after, demanded a sequel.

Winona Ryder speaks to the media.
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Winona Ryder, who adored playing Veronica, is completely on board. She revealed that she’s been pushing for a sequel for years. She would love to see Veronica develop into an even crazier persona.

Where Are They Now? Winona Ryder

After starring on Heathers, Winona Ryder gained awards show recognition for her performances in movies like The Age of Innocence, 1994’s Little Women, and Mermaids. She earned Oscar nominations for the former films!

Scott Mackinlay Hahn and Winona Ryder attend an event.
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Winona also went on to have a publicized relationship with her Edward Scissorhands costar, Johnny Depp. She’s been dating Scott Mackinlay Hahn since 2011, and according to several magazines, the actress isn’t interested in an official marriage.

Where Are They Now? Christian Slater

Christian Slater played J.D., a dangerous student who murders kids at his school for being bullies. After the movie, he went on to have a successful acting career, making a name for himself in the business, starring in various shows and movies like The Forgotten and Robin Hood: Den of Thieves.

Christian Slater attends an event.
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

More recently, you may have seen Slater star on shows like The Lion Guard and Dirty John, and, of course, on Mr. Robot, a show that has earned numerous awards. In 2016, the show won a Golden Globe for best drama TV series, and Slater himself went on to win the award for best performance in a supporting role.

Where Are They Now? Shannen Doherty

After her role as Heather Duke, Shannen went on to star in other huge projects. Apart from her part in Beverly Hills 90210, she also played Prue Halliwell on the Charmed series and guest-starred for the Heathers reboot show before it was scrapped.

Shannen Doherty attends an event / Shannen Doherty cries during an interview.
Photo by Phillip Faraone, FilmMagic, Getty Images / YouTube

In 2015, the actress revealed that she was battling breast cancer. Finally, in 2017, she announced that she was in remission. However, sadly, in 2020, her breast cancer returned. “For me, I’m just trying to live the best I can, to be the best example at this moment,” she told Variety.

Farewell Kim Walker

Following the movie Heathers, Kim Walker went on to star in A Reason to Believe, Say Anything, and The Outsiders TV version. But her job offers began to dwindle in the late ’90s, right about the time she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

A picture of Kim Walker.
Source: Pinterest

Her good friend, Jennifer Aniston, recalled her final days, saying that she remained by her side until the very end. Kim was only 32 years old, one year older than Aniston, and it seemed surreal that her friend should leave the world so soon.

Where Are They Now? Lisanne Falk

Lisanne played Heather McNamara in the movie, the cheerleader who was convinced she was cursed when it came to finding love. After Heathers wrapped up, Lisanne went on to star in the popular movie Say Anything, released in 1989.

Lisanne Falk takes a picture of herself.
Source: Facebook

She went on to land a few other acting roles, but in 2002 she announced that she was officially retiring. Not much is known about her life nowadays; however, she has an active Instagram account where she makes sure to upload all sorts of neat pictures.

Where Are They Now? Patrick Labyorteaux

In Heathers, Patrick played Ram Sweeney, one of the jocks at the school whom Veronica absolutely hated (spoiler alert – she ends up killing him). After the movie was released, Patrick went on to land other acting roles on shows like Castle, Scandal, and American Crime Story.

A portrait of Patrick Labyorteaux
Source: MUBI

He has also appeared in teen shows including iCarly. More recently, Patrick has starred in the TV films The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time and Rent-an-Elf. Ram has sure come a long way since his bullying days in school.

Where Are They Now? Lance Fenton

Lance played jock number two, Kurt Kelly, who, like the other popular guys at school, found much pleasure in bullying the weaker kids. This cocky character even tried to ruin Veronica’s reputation after she turned him down, prompting J.D. to seize the opportunity and kill the guy.

A portrait of Lance Fenton.
Source: Facebook

A year after Heathers wrapped up, Fenton appeared in a TV film. Later, he was involved in a chiropractic practice in California named Fenton Family Chiropractic. However, as of today, the building is no longer open.

Where Are They Now? Renée Estevez

In the film, Renée played Betty Finn, Veronica’s BFF until she started hanging out with the Heathers. After Heather Chandler was murdered, Betty visited Veronica’s house to play croquet with her, as if nothing had happened.

A picture of Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Renée.
Photo by Ryan Miller/Getty Images

Estevez is actually the half-sister of actors Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. She’s still active in the show biz, working as both a writer and actress. Since Heathers, she’s appeared in projects like The Way, Sleepaway Camp, and The West Wing.