Don’t get us wrong–we love the suburbs, we’ve lived in the suburbs–but movies sometimes paint a less-than-pretty picture of these not-quite-city-not-quite-country neighborhoods. Whether they’re satires highlighting the desire to conform or horror stories that reveal that we don’t know who are neighbors are, films have a way of showing suburbia at its worst. These are our favorite anti-suburbs movies.
David Lynch’s masterpiece begins with what looks like a standard scene in small-town America, complete with white picket fences and all. But then his film starring Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, and Isabella Rossellini descends into madness, revealing the ugliness beneath the surface of Lumberton. This is a cinephile’s favorite for a reason; it’s full of beauty and disturbing images that will haunt you.
Who knew Connecticut could be so stifling? Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reteam for this drama from Sam Mendes based on Richard Yates’ novel. The gorgeous, seemingly perfect couple of Frank and April Wheeler see their relationship deteriorate as they try to create a perfect life in 1950s New England.
Funnier–and a bit less dark–than its predecessors on this list, this black comedy from director Joe Dante still doesn’t pull any punches in its fight against life in suburbia. This ’80s gem stars Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher as a couple who live in a seemingly quiet cul-de-sac in Hinkley Hills, but their new neighbors may not be what they seem.
4. American Beauty (1999)
Another Sam Mendes film, this one won five Oscars for its biting approach to life and marriage in the suburbs. Everyone always praises Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham (or that paper bag scene), but the undersung hero of this modern classic is Annette Bening’s Carolyn, who is brittle and perfectly believable.
5. Little Children (2006)
Just what does Kate Winslet have against settling down in the suburbs, hmm? Based on Tom Perotta’s novel, Little Children examines life in a Massachusetts small town when two lonely parents meet. Todd Field’s film also stars Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, and Jackie Earle Haley.
6. Arlington Road (1999)
Set in Reston, Virginia, this movie shares a similar premise to The ‘Burbs, but here it works to chilling effect. Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges) begins to suspect that his new neighbors, the Langs (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) aren’t quite as innocent as they seem, but is it in his head or are they really a danger?
7. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut may look dreamy and ethereal, but there’s a dark undercurrent to her drama set in Michigan in the 1970s, as indicated by its title. The Lisbon sisters (including Kirsten Dunst’s Lux Lisbon) are secluded from outside life by their overprotective mother (Kathleen Turner) with deadly consequences for the family and the surrounding neighborhood.
8. Mean Girls (2004)
Written by Tina Fey, this beloved teen comedy shows how hard it can be to move to a new town. In this case, Lindsay Lohan’s Cady starts fresh at an Evanston, Illinois, high school and struggles to fit in, thanks to the efforts of the titular clique, led by Rachel McAdams’ Regina George. Money and class definitely play a role in shaping the school’s hierarchy, in a way that will feel familiar to many who attended high school in the suburbs.
9. Happiness (1999)
The pursuit for the eponymous feeling confounds the characters of this darker-than-dark Todd Solondz comedy that remains controversial–and not for everyone. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker, Jon Lovitz, Lara Flynn Boyle, and other recognizable faces populate the New Jersey town as they seek fulfillment in their lives.
10. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
One of the themes of this early Tim Burton film is that suburbs are no place to be different. Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands finds himself isolated amongst cookie cutter home, but he finds some solace with a family led by Avon lady Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest). But just like in inspiration Frankenstein, the townspeople soon turn against him for what sets him apart from them–and makes him special. We’re not crying. You’re crying.
We promise we’ll do a future feature on movies that scare us away from the city (Candyman; A Most Violent Year; Bright Lights, Big City) and the country (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, You’re Next, most horror movies, come to think of it), so our beloved suburbs don’t feel slighted. Which movie is your favorite look at suburban life?